Sleep tight

When I haven’t enjoyed the hospitality of family and friends, I’ve been staying at motels and hotels along the road. I only book when I’m heading to the big cities, otherwise take pot luck.

The need for this was brought home to me when it took me til 2am to find a place in St Louis, having travelled all around the city then paying top dollar. The VFM equation didn’t improve with the fire alarm in the room going off twice during the short night. Lesson learned.

I generally choose motels – the places that I recall with fondness from our 1960’s family holidays. Mom and dad were keen on Holiday Inn, and my job when we arrived was to get the ice for their martinis. Once when I’d done my job, I was offered a drink which I took to be water – I took a large swig of martini. Lesson learned.

Typical 1950s/1960s motel, this on Route 66 in Oklahoma City, OK

Motels haven’t changed much from their heyday in the 50s and 60s.  Indeed, in some, you’d recognise the decor from then – even the old tube TV in one motel. They have direct access from the road, so ease of entry, but often ill-fitting doors – not too bad for me in the warm weather season of my road trip.

Typical accommodation at the Middle Fork Motel, Corum MT

Motel prices ranged from $65 to $120 per night – I was offered a room at the Cowboy Motel in Amarillo TX at $50 but realised it was smoking, as was the whole hotel. Some places are actually back in the 1950s.         

Cowboy Hotel, Amarillo Texas, rooms at $50 but all smoking

Seems many of these motels are mom and pop business, often run by south Asian families. Irrespective of what a place might look like on the outside, it is invariably clean on the inside. I have never been disappointed, even if the place looks like a prop for Psycho.

Cabin in the Sky, Psychotype location, Virginia City NV

When I choose a hotel, I tend to negotiate on the rate. Often, I’m arriving late so ask for the ‘brown banana’ rate – like bananas, rooms go off if unsold, so they’re more open to offering a discount. My late Wabash friend, Jim Czarniecki, tutored me on this method when we took our road trip from Seattle to Denver back in 1998.

Westward-Ho in West Yellowstone MT, clean rooms and brown banana rate

I’ve driven past many motels whose days are not only in the past, but have also been given a burial. Often this is because of the re-routing of a road, or the decline of a town or tourist attraction. On the opposite side of the equation, an interstate junction is a magnet for budget hotels for the weary traveller. The same holds true in the UK, with the sad sight of derelict hotels in villages that have been passed by.

Motel in Cinnamon CO
RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach CA, sadly now closed as a hotel and moored against a derelict sub

And then there are the grand hotels that have been resurrected. I stayed in the Davenport in Spokane WA – its heyday of the early 20th century has been recreated for the 21st with stunning effect. Equally are the grand hotels of the national parks and, though I haven’t stayed in any, they are an inspiration to walk through as remnants of 19th and 20th century entrepreneurship, supported in some cases by the hard work of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) of the 1930s.

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite NP CA
Lobby of the restored Davenport Hotel, Spokane WA

WiFi is a given nowadays, as is the multitude of TV channels – I used to think NBC, ABC and CBS were enough back in the 1960s. Now, I generally search for sports to have on in the background in the evening – baseball, football or basketball. I also tend to switch between MSNBC and Fox to vary my political experience. My news is from the Today programme on BBC radio in the morning – it’s difficult to get news in the US, with the offering being more opinion wrapped up as news.

Multitude of TV channels

The motels and hotels have not varied too much across the country but, once I left the west, the toilet paper seemed to get thinner. This seems to be a false economy on the part of Midwesterners, as you need to use double or triple the amount. I generally comment on my stay, but I’ll give this a pass.

Finally, though I’ve had the fortunate to have a roof over my head each night, sadly, I came across many folk who did not. I saw many sleeping in tents in the big cities, or just covered up on the streets. I also came across Jason who’d been kicked out of the motel in Waterloo, Iowa that I was checking into – he didn’t have the money for a room, so I subbed him room and burger. Hopefully he’ll get back to family and work in Chicago.

Jason, Waterloo IA
Tent accommodation, Portland OR
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