Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hotel Heaven

Where have all those cheap, independent motor hotels gone? You know the ones where the window panes don’t match and the place needs a fresh coat of paint. I think we can safely say “by the wayside” down here, and probably to “hotel heaven” if you are a person of faith. No I’m not talking about the marginally fancier, Best Westerns, Days Inn, or those hotels whose name escapes me right now with the very red roofs. No, I am remembering those unique one-story, quaint (a tad homely), 10 to 20 unit motor courts that you park your car in front of the door.

I miss those little motor inns that dotted America’s highways when I was a kid. They were a little ‘less perfect’ and some of the furnishings did not match, but every place was an adventure to visit. Now most hotels and motor inns are just homogenized cookie cutter experiences. They all look the same, feel the same and cost about the same. Yes they are all bigger, more consistently maintained, and offer more amenities like coffee, exercise rooms, continental breakfasts, and free wireless internet. But with all that, they are not special or memorable in any significant way.

I fondly remember a motor inn that I visited named the “Monkey Tree Inn”. You know with a name like that, the place was going to have palm trees on the matchbooks – and they DID! On Lake Michigan’s Western side, we stayed in a tiny motel just off the sandy shoreline. The location was gorgeous but the hotel was unapologetically tattered and the water smelled of sulphur. No big name hotel would ever build a property with the smell of rotten eggs percolating throughout the water supply. But for my kid, to wander and wade endlessly on the beach, from dawn until dusk - yes the place was PERFECT for us.

The only exercise room at these type of places was the great outdoors. Most small motor inns had some kind of hole in the ground filled with water that passed for a pool. They were often surrounded with cracked concrete or the water was a tad ‘greener’ than ideal. But after a long day on the road, there was nothing better than a dip in the pool to stretch out and cool off before dinner. We relished every minute, because all too soon, the quarters would run out in the “magic fingers” vibrating bed, and early the next morning our family was off on our next adventure.

Yeah I miss all those heaven-sent weird motels of old. Unlike today, such establishments were never pretentious ‘wanna-be’ resort destinations. They were more of a means to an end; a way regular people could travel without going into debt all year to do it. Their style was in the fact that they had ‘no style’ and that was ok. Because, our only expectation was a temporary respite from the endless ribbon of highway, and a brief look into a small, but odd window into American life.

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