One of the great joys when traveling along America’s highways is when you need to look for the nights lodging. Yea, right! We all know it is a big pain in the ass.
With the advent of the superhighways, it seems like there has been a strategic effort to place an abundance of chain motels at the highway exits. This way, you will never have to venture too far off the road and actually mingle with, dare I say, locals.
So as evening approaches, we dig out our AAA guidebooks or just pull off when we see that big “Comfort Days Super Holiday 6 Inn” sign looming off in the distance, at the next exit. I am totally convinced that all of these motels are now owned by the same family, although it is apparent that they didn’t all pass their hospitality classes with honors. But these are easy and for the inflated price you get a reasonably clean room and a bed with variable degrees of firmness. Of course, most of the time the variations are randomly placed throughout the mattress.
At least the AAA books, and some of the other travel guides, will sometimes direct you into an actual town that lies off in the distance– those places you weren’t supposed to venture off towards. Most of the motels that can be found like this are the remnants of the days when people travelled on the old two-lane highways. Those great roads that ran between and through small-town America. The motels listed in the guide books rarely offer the best deals, however, at least they give you an alternative to the sterile atmosphere of the roadside enclave. Of course, while searching for the Ponderosa Wigwam Motel, you pass other great old motels that aren’t listed, look way more interesting and offer even better deals.
Admittedly, searching these motels from the ’60s and before is not for everyone. In fact, I won’t mention his name, but Carl about mutinied on me when we stayed in some of these gems while doing our Amtrak work. I have to admit that there were some that were certainly substandard. The worst of these was really the only game in town that night. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, literally, we just made do! Carl’s first room had a slow gas leak, so they moved him next door so the impact would be a little less direct if it blew. I actually slept fine–in a different building–but then I have been known to sleep most of the night, on the floor, in front of a guitar amp pumping out music at full blast from a record player that was piped through it–Sorry, I realize some of you will have to probably google “record player“.
Now, I don’t want to start this off in a negative way, but I do believe I found the worst of my many trials this past summer. I was coming into Winnemucca, seems I go there a lot, and wanted to stay in a motel that I had been at a few years earlier. It turned out they were booked, but the motel next door, which they also managed, had some rooms available. The woman warned me, but I am always up for an adventure. The picture here shows the size of the cell. None of the windows locked, but at least the crack whores didn’t seem to be too busy that night. No, I am not kidding, the manager mentioned something about the local meth addicts or something of that sort. There were several rooms that only had plywood doors on them although mine had a real door. I won’t even show the other photos of this room, as I realize some of you might be eating now. The biggest question your asking yourself is why did I stay there and, in reality, I just think it was because I knew I shouldn’t!
I could probably go on and on about the various experiences of staying at these motels over the years, but most of the time they are good stories. Some great finds in the last few years have been along old route 66. The Palomino in Tucumcari gave the 3 of us a room larger than most apartments and was going to be $32 for the night. We ended up getting an extra $3 off the room because we didn’t want the complimentary sodas we were offered!
Then there was the La Loma in Santa Rosa, NM. I stayed here a few nights after my wonderful Winnemucca experience, so I was adamant about checking out the room– I actually checked out the room in Winnemucca and stayed anyway! This is where I met Eddie “no money” Shields. Now asking Eddie to see a room is really pretty much a take your life in you hands sort of proposition. As soon as I asked, he went into a litany of why I didn’t need to see the room or worry whether it was clean. That he cleaned it himself and that it had a new mattress, a remote control A/C unit, a new color TV (do they make b/w’s anymore?) and he would guarantee my satisfaction! He, maybe not so tactfully, let me know that this place also offered good old American Hospitality–see the sign! (I suppose one could hope that that was an euphuism for a friendly visitor to your room, but this wasn’t Nevada and I think it rather was directed towards that family that owns all those chain motels) I was worn out by the end of it and was actually starting to laugh, not at him, but with him. I paid for the room and since I was in a moving van, he directed me to the far end of the place, a second building with larger parking spaces. I was told to park over the gravel pit, a remnant from the old days that was designed to catch the dripping oil from the cars and keep it off the asphalt. So, I drove down there, parked and went in my room, I was the only one at this end of the complex.
A few minutes later, after getting settled, I walked out to get some dinner. There was Eddie, waiting. I hadn’t parked right, I wasn’t within the lines and was on the gravel, not OVER the gravel. I looked around and wondered what it mattered, but I dutifully moved the truck to its proper position. Although I might have been ready for a good argument, I realized that it would have been futile.
It was then that Eddie let me know that he was probably related to Brooke Shields, seeing how they had the same surname. But then, that would only be a distant relation since Shields was his adopted name and that he was actually more likely related to Garth Brooks since Brooks was his birth name. Somehow, he also was possibly related to one of the Hogan’s Heroes actors, the French guy I think, due to his mothers lineage. I also learned that he has a credit on the movie “Cars”. If you go to the La Loma Motel website, they describe Eddie as quite a character and they are right. He was a great sport and I made some really nice photos of him in front of the place.
So, in a couple of weeks, I will be off and I am looking forward to about 30 nights of hunting for these great old places. I am sure there will be some winners and some losers, but there wont be another one like in Winnemucca!