The Tip Jar of Motel 5

Praveen Gupta was sitting in the office of Motel 5, waiting for the next customer to come through the door. Through the corner of his eye, he spotted some movement at the front desk, started to lift himself off his swivel chair, but then heard Vandana’s voice: “Praveen! You got a tip! Come, see!”

“How much?”

“One dollar!” she shouted, as though they could now sell the motel and retire to India. “Come, see!”

He found his middle-aged, sari-clad wife smiling broadly and shaking the tip jar, an empty peanut butter container on which he had stuck a paper with the words “Tips very welcomed.”

“It’s your first tip,” Vandana said. “You should frame it!”

Motel 5Praveen put his fingers inside the tip jar, fished out the dollar and stared at it.

“You finally got a tip,” she said. “I told you to be patient. Aren’t you happy?”

“Yes, I am happy to see a dollar in the tip jar,” he said. “I would be more happy if it wasn’t the same dollar I put there this morning to show people what to do. You know, the power of suggestion.”

The tip jar had been there for almost a week, yet no one had bothered to drop a single penny inside it. Perhaps they found it strange to see a tip jar at the front desk of a motel. But times were changing, the economy was stagnating and tip jars were appearing everywhere. Praveen had seen one at Bunty’s Pizza Parlor, another at the Tim Hortons coffee shop, and a third at the Mercedes-Benz dealership. Even the homeless guy on the street had gotten wise and written “tip jar” on his mug.

Maybe I should do it too, Praveen had thought. After all, the economy was affecting the motel business too. He was lucky if half the rooms were occupied on weekends. Even if he collected $10 a day in the tip jar, it would be enough to pay for the pens he left in rooms, the ones bearing the motel’s slogan: “You’ll survive at Motel 5.” (The motel was on the outskirts of Detroit and Praveen was proud that no one had ever been shot there. Three people had been stabbed, but that was it.)

When Vandana first saw the tip jar, she shook her head vigorously. “Look what you’ve written,” she said. “Tips Appreshated.”

“Isn’t that right?”

“No,” she said. “You can’t have ‘hated’ in ‘appreciated.’”

Spelling was important, she reminded him, and he nodded. He had learned his lesson last October when he had changed the electronic sign in front of the motel and tried to attract travelers with “FREE WIFI.” But he had mistakenly displayed “FREE WIFE.”

It was only after a dozen truckers showed up in the lobby that he realized his mistake.

“How do I get the free wife?” a stout man in overalls asked him.

Praveen misunderstood the question and summoned Vandana from the hallway, where she was chatting with a maid. She was surprised to find a roomful of men looking her over.

“Is this her?”

Praveen nodded. “Yes, this is my wife.”

The stout trucker snickered. “Mister, not to be rude or anything, but you’ll have to pay me to take her off your hands.”

When he realized what was going on, Praveen screamed at the trucker. “How dare you insult my wife, you stupid man? You cannot find a wife like this if you drive from here to Ahmedabad.” The trucker was much bigger than him, so to be on the safe side, Praveen screamed in Gujarati.

Thankfully, Vandana was a good sport about it. “’Free Wife’ brought in so many customers! Now we should try ‘Free Husband.’”

Recalling the incident, Praveen was quick to change the words on the tip jar. But it didn’t seem to help. After three days, only one person had dropped something in the tip jar: a note with a message scrawled in pencil: “Clean your windows.”

Praveen wondered what he could do to entice patrons to leave a monetary tip. He tried smiling at them more and saying, “Thank you for staying at Motel 5. Isn’t it great to be alive?” But still no tip.

He tried putting a picture of a puppy on the tip jar, the cutest puppy he could find on the Internet. But still no tip.

And finally, he tried putting a dollar inside the tip jar, but that didn’t work either. Everyone seemed to ignore the dollar on the first day. And on the second day, someone made off with it.

“Praveen, your dollar’s gone!” Vandana shouted.

He rushed out of the office. The tip jar was empty.

“I should have known,” he said. “It’s risky to have a tip jar without guarding it these days.”

“Look at the surveillance tape,” she said. “You can catch the person.”

He shook his head. The economy was weak, people were hurting, and if someone needed a dollar so badly, let them have it. At least they hadn’t insulted his wife.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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