Category Archives: Motel

12 Uplifting Observations: USA Motels

Palm Springs motel: Dave Har1. The protective plastic covers have been removed from the lamp shades;

2. The No Soliciting sign on the door has been replaced by an Emergency Evacuation Plan;

3. The two sachets of coffee are Wolfgang Puck;

4. The mugs are made of something other than Styrofoam;

5. There is a lamp;

6. The plug is still attached to the lamp;

7. The lamp has a bulb;

8. The windows open;

9. The receptionist is not sitting behind reinforced glass;

10. The sink is not pink;

11. The usual synthetic brown blanket has been replaced by a duvet inside a white duvet cover – and it doesn’t appear to have been used;

12. There’s nothing on your Google search to confirm your suspicion your room has been the scene of a gruesome crime.

[Incidentally, the picture was taken – by Dave – at the Royal Sun, Palm Springs, which is really nice . . . in an old-fashioned way].

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USA Roadtripping: Motels & Hotels

super8cupIf I’d travelled in summer, I’d have camped a few nights. If I’d got in the car each day knowing where I was headed, I’d have done an obsessive amount of planning (spreadsheets) and I’d definitely have used 9Flats and AirBnB more. But I didn’t. Aside from the 9Flats and AirBnB accommodation (booked in advance), and a few places we just parked outside in a hopeful fashion, everything was found and booked via Priceline, Booking.c0m, Orbitz, and Expedia on a mobile on a bouncing knee in the car in the dark, and generally, only a few minutes before we wanted to stop. Obviously this approach has its pros and cons.

Pro: You have an address of a motel or hotel to tap into the SatNav / GPS.  Con: You are committed to staying in it. Pro: your considerable – and stress-inducing – effort coupled with eye-strain and nausea and the nuisance of having to extricate a credit card from some bit of under-seat metal tracking has been rewarded by a small discount of a few dollars. Con: the motel is offering a better rate to last minute walk-ins. And so on.

Anyway, here’s the list of accommodation (starting with a bonus tip for top accommodation in Toronto), incomplete because I can’t remember all the places we visited, or the motel names or the room rates, but possibly of interest to someone else who intends to drive across the States and back on a bit of a budget.

Apartment, Art & Design district, Toronto: sole occupancy of well arty apartment in artsy block off Queen Street West, Toronto (yes,yes, Canada). Highly recommended, great location close to the pricier and often fuller Drake and Gladstone hotels, as well as to Ossington Ave with the best concentration of restaurants in the city. Stylish pad, cosy, plus nice owners, and represented by a newish, European rent-from-owners agency, 9Flats. Original post.  9Flats.com.

The Detroit Homestead, Detroit, Michigan: private room. Recommended, the location is best described as coming up . . . slowly, but the hospitality is topnotch, and the hosts are part of Detroit’s fascinating and complex regeneration. Original post; Book through AirBnB

German Village Motel, Columbus, Ohio: the German Village neighbourhood is lovely, the motel is joyless but cheap. Actually we’d meant to book the German Village Inn but someone made a mistake.  Original postWebsite, 920 S High St, 43206 Columbus.

Highland Inn, Atlanta, Georgia: old, quirky, affordable hotel with friendly staff and a great location close to Little Five Points and plenty of bars and eateries. Website, 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, Tel: 404 874-5756

Microtel Inn and Suites, Auburn, Alabama: spotless, big, light and aesthetically pleasing plain rooms from $48 per night. Not sure why you’d want to stay there unless you were too tired to make it to Montgomery, or Mobile or New Orleans, or you lived in Auburn but you’d lost your keys . . . but nice place anyway.  2174 South College Street, Auburn, AL, Tel: 334 826-1444

Hotel Royal, New Orleans, Louisiana: booked the better-located St Helene, but ended up here. Long story. Ground floor room opened onto dark courtyard, not a balcony over streets filled with rowdy jollity, but bedding sumptuous and everywhere’s close in the French Quarter.  Original post (for that long story). 1006 Rue Royal, New Orleans, Tel: 504 524-3900.

Bayou Cabins, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana: romantic, authentic, slightly rickety cabins of different proportions on a bayou with breakfasts and warm hospitality provided by the friendly Lisa. Original post. Book direct at www.bayoucabins.com.

Days Inn, Beaumont, Texas: a just-can’t-drive-any-further motel located in a big empty space off the Interstate opposite Starvin’ Marvin’s Bar & Grill. Might be a big old chain but the person on reception was out-of-her-way helpful. Website 2155 North 11th Street  Beaumont, Tel: 409 898-8150

Carefree Inn, Luling, Texas: I have a soft spot for Luling, and this place is almost funny. They have their own promotional video. Located at  1908 East Pierce Street  Luling. Tel: 830 875-5635.

Microtel Inn & Suites
, Austin, Texas: clean and pleasant. Good value. Located at  7705 Metro Center Drive  Austin – by the airport (which is handy if your car breaks down and has to be towed to the airport car rental office and replaced). Tel: 512 386-7800

Highland Inn, Alpine, Texas: hardly stylish but fine rooms right by the train tracks in a useful, down to earth Texan town, a short drive from Marfa. The owner has done a lot of film location work and has Tales to Tell. 1404 east HWY, Alpine, Tel: 434 837 5811

Old Cuchillo Bar & Hotel, Cuchillo, New Mexico: unique opportunity to stay in a great, weird place with a top host. Original post, Close to the magnificently named Truth or Consequences. Book through AirBnB.

Howard ‘HoJo’ Johnson, Scottsdale, Arizona: one of the first of the old chain to be re-styled and revitalised, and they’ve done a good job. Great value at, from memory, about $58 including tax, but avoid using the cheap coffee makers. Original post. 7110 E Indian School Rd, Scottsdale. Tel: 480 361 6001.

3 Palms Scottsdale, Arizona: clean, modern with, of all things, a restaurant across from reception. Relatively swish motel with – at that time – rather snooty reception staff, good value. 7707 East McDowell Road.

Royal Sun Inn, Palm Springs, California: not a monument to desert modernism, but fine and friendly, with loyal clientele, pool and mountain views. 1700 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Tel: 760 327 1564

Newport Channel Inn, Newport Beach, California: probably best seen on a sunny day, but fine, affordable rooms right on the West Coast Highway – that’s Highway No.1. 6030 W. Coast Hwy
, Newport Beach. Tel: 949 642-3030

Motel 6, Carpenteria North, California: industrial-sized misery fest with sluice-down yellow walls and the charm of a high security jail and more expensive than HoJo, Scottsdale. There is a pool. Anyway, in case you also find yourself stranded in a storm, it’s at 4200 Via Real, Carpenteria off the W. Coast Hwy.

Fernwood Motel Cabins Big Sur, California: love this place that combines campsite, cabins and the best sort of quirky motel. Set amongst dripping redwoods on the coast road. Loads of character, good shop and cafe, and bar serving welcome drinks and hearty food. Think we paid $110 for motel cabin. Retro! Website. Tel: 831 667-2422 from $110.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn, San Francisco, California : Hurrah. Motel accommodation doesn’t get easier. Good location, central and close to marina area, on a block lined with restaurants. Plenty of parking, big rooms, reasonable price. Original San Francisco postWebsite. 2190 Lombard Street, San Francisco. Tel: 415 921-5800

Smiley’s Schooner Saloon and Hotel, Bolinas, California: Creaky, antique-filled rooms behind local bar with colourful history by lagoon and sea. Top spot, loads of character. Tourists tolerated. Website 41 Wharf Road  Bolinas. Tel: 415 868-1311

Days Inn, Fresno, California Days Inn Fresno South: Only if absolutely necessary. Grungy room and smell of burger grease outside. 2640 South 2nd Street, Fresno, CA. Tel: ‬559 237-6644 ‬‎

Luxor Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Luxor Hotel & Casino
, Nevada: Probably the best-value accommodation on the trip – particularly on weekday nights, and it’s certainly got a more than average amount of amenities – shows and exhibitions, slot machines, pool, nicknack shops, bars, restaurants, food courts and chapels! Good fun (for a bit). 3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
 Las Vegas, NV.

Howard Johnson, Flagstaff, Arizona: Not one of the revitalised HoJos – at least not when we stayed. Good interstate access. Can’t complain at $41. 2520 E. Lucky Lane, Flagstaff.

Inn of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico: nice hotel close to the heart of the place, with lively local bar serving good margaritas and good nachos, and stylish rooms some with fireplaces. We paid $129 but ours didn’t. Website 101 West Alameda Street  Santa Fe. Tel: 505 982-4333

Super 8, Wichita Falls, Texas: super-friendly, helpful staff work wonders with this unprepossessing – okay, sinister – budget motel and transform it into a place people actually want to stay in. Like the sign outside promoting their Grrr8 Rates! Close to intersection of HWY 287 and 44 at 1307 Kenley Ave, Wichita Falls.

The Czech Inn, West, Texas: independent hotel built on a large scale in the style of a chain motel. The most comfortable beds of the road trip bar none. The place to stay when Czeching out West. Original post.  Website. 114 Melodie Drive  West. Tel: 254 826-0900

La Quinta Inn, Huntsville, Texas: north of Houston, convenient for drivers on I-45 (exit 116) and the jail. At $64, slightly more than the Days Inns and Microtels but no doubt worth it in the summer, given the big pool. 124 I-45 North Huntsville, Texas. Tel: 936 295-6454

Budgetel Inn and Suites, Little Rock, Arkansas:  This was a very, very weird place. Like staying at a public baths. Rate was $39.95 which is proof that you can be too cheap. 111 West Pershing Boulevard North Little Rock.

Best Western PLUS, Music Row, Nashville, Tennessee: perfectly fine with nice, big rooms and reasonably priced at around $95 per night, but a short cab ride (rather than walk)  from the nightlife. 1407 Division Street, Nashville,Tennessee.

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Motels and Shootings

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The road trip was initially going to be from east to west. That was so nice, I added a return trip – west to east. The minute the car was turned around to face Europe, or at least Atlanta, the journey was touched with poignancy. Not only was there the knowledge that we were going back (that it was a bit over, and more over every day) but, involuntarily, through a series of coincidences, I found myself in the summing-up phase, making ‘best of’ lists, defining themes, fumbling towards conclusions as the days finished earlier.

We’d started the cross-country leg of the trip in Atlanta, birthplace of Martin Luther King, then we’d travelled along one thousand and one Martin Luther King Boulevards until turning around in Northern California, and now, we were nearing the end of the road trip in Memphis where King had been assassinated. When we had left Atlanta it had warm, crisp, bright, encouraging; now, some weeks later, pulling up in Memphis the day was damp, cold, depressing. It was unfortunate scheduling that saw us in this particular spot just as the whole country was discussing shootings and grief and what to do. I’d grown up believing that the shooting of Martin Luther King was a crime that helped people to think enough was enough. If I hadn’t been staring at tail lights trying to make some sense of America, I probably wouldn’t have put the assassination of King and the Sandy Hook School shooting in the same box, but they are connected by something so blindingly obvious it’s generally overlooked: that guns give people with the least to offer the ability to take away the people with the most to offer – whether that’s fully fledged ideas, or potential, or love. And that’s as much the truth in 2012 as 1968. No big change there.

No big change in South Main either. While the area bisected by South Main Street is called the Historic Arts District it feels like it hasn’t been so much actively preserved, as left. For all the alleged fledgling arty happenings, it can’t be much different to the rundown place it was the day that King was shot. The Lorraine Motel is exactly as it was moments before the shooting, everything left in the rooms untouched from rumpled beds to cigarette butts in the ashtray, and his car parked beneath the balcony. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum (across the road), and possibly the most moving, compelling part. In the museum itself, there’s a film that focuses on King’s last 24 hours, showing him overcome at the end of the magnificent and prescient Mountaintop speech, describing how the church shutters banging in the storm made him jump, and revealing the jokey conversations in the moments leading up to his assassination. At the motel though, you climb the stairs and walk along the balcony passing rooms 306 and 308, and the corner where King fell, and you stand at the railing his foot stuck out from under as he lay dying, and it all looks for all the world like a place you’ve just checked into, that everything happened yesterday and could happen again tomorrow. Of course, I have been spending a lot of time in motels recently, but to me it felt real; I was as close to being there on the day as it gets. It’s somewhat sobering when the past is a bad past, and you feel it all around you.

I don’t know if this lack of artifice is a Memphis thing, but somewhere else that effortlessly transports visitors into the past is The Arcade, the South Main diner that Elvis favoured. I’d read about it, but then finding it quiet and half-full, and the local clientele chowing down on the usual eggs, bacon, pancakes, hash-brown combos, and a complete absence of ‘Elvis dined here’ signs, I reckoned I’d made a mistake. However just as I was finishing my peanut butter and banana sandwich I spotted a family sliding into the end booth and posing for pictures. Turns out it was his favoured booth (and if you look closely, there is a small picture above the table). I found that quietly exciting although as shrines, or even tourist attractions go, it’s pretty low-key.

Anyway, melancholy was the overall mood in Memphis. Only going on hunch here, but I imagine King would be fairly disappointed to see the state of things today, regardless of the fact the President is black. Anyway, here’s an excerpt from that Mountaintop speech given at the Mason Temple the night before he died. His flight to Memphis (where he was marching in support of equal rights for African American garbage workers) was delayed by a bomb threat, so the risk was real and on his mind. But this is still an extraordinary speech for someone to give the night before they die. Hear it at the National Museum of Civil Rights.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

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High-Rolling in Vegas

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I’m going to address the issue of confusion soon, but it might have started here, staying in a pyramid with a back view of Excalibur, an enchanted Disney castle, padding bleary-eyed through a casino full of cowboys to get my morning coffee – from Starbucks of all places (desperate; not my fault).

People generally come to Vegas to get married for a month, or to go crazy in the high stakes poker rooms; I decided it would be a good place to get some washing done and sort out our baggage (no euphemism). Such a quantity of coats, bags and cases travelled in the lift to the top of the pyramid in the lift with Dave and the bellhop that people assumed Dave was famous, someone even going so far as to jab him in the chest and tell him they knew him, who was he? It was helped by the fact he was wearing dark glasses inside the Luxor Hotel Casino a place (like the ones connected to it by walkways) where sunlight – or even daylight – never permeates. The bellhop (who’d worked in Vegas for decades and could tell some crazy stories . . . and then didn’t) said Dave worked for Interpol which shut them up.

Aside from the many large elderly folk plugged into Megabucks and Return of the Sphinx slot machines and Dave, who’d stopped tucking his Western shirt into his jeans and was now “working a Bill Nighy look”, the whole place – the miles and miles of deeply-carpeted interconnected casinos – was packed with cowboys wearing crisp shirts, Wranglers and Stetsons. There were whip-cracking girls, child cowboys, cowboys roping bulls streamed live in the bars, All-You-Can-Eat-Ribs, a special Cowboy Menu (basically take the head and hooves off, B-B-Q the rest), VIP Cowboy areas, and boards advertising events like the Redneck Rodeo, Million Dollar Bucking Bull Championships, Free LoCash Cowboys Concert in the Gold Buckle Zone, and the chance to win a saddle. Turns out this wasn’t normal, but Vegas’s inaugural Vegas Cowboy FanFest. I’m very interested in cowboys. Yes, sir-eee. If I could have hung around a few days and lined up at the Cowboy All-Star Autograph Session with eight-time all-around world champion, Trevor Brazile of Decatur, Texas, I would have, yes.

Something else that caught my eye was Thunder Down Under, advertised by bare-chested men on a big billboard near our pyramid, but Dave said it would ‘be disappointing’. We did plan to see the Titanic exhibition, but in the end got distracted by working our way through the Luxor coupon book, mapping a route based on free cocktails and Dos Equis. One exhibition that is unmissable is staged every morning at the Valet Parking collection point where fresh-faced families, fragrant ladies of the night just coming off-shift, bleary-eyed losers and nauseated students wait in the shade for their cars.

I know a lot of people come here and lose money, (although I did I win BIG: $16.10 paid out with a sad smile by the cashier), but the accommodation at Luxor was really good value, particularly after maintenance started drilling through the bedroom wall and we were refunded and upgraded to a gigantic gilded suite.

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16hrs in San Francisco

That’s 16 hours in San Francisco with 6 spent asleep. Much to see, no time to waste. If you too happen to be passing through in winter, exhausted with an urgent desire for alcohol and lettuce, follow the blind and try the following:

Do the Golden Gate Bridge thing: Over you go & back you come.

Drink in Mission. This is San Francisco’s old heart: edgy, arty, tatty, wearisome and energetic in equal measure. Population is predominantly Latino and Hipster plus flamboyantly dressed old writer/artist types; a fair few wealthy arrivistes joining in, and a fair few people shuffling by with shopping trolleys in the street waving their fists and holding animated, abusive conversations with lamp posts. Parking’s tricky but there are plenty of people eager to look after your car.  Head for Mission, Valencia and 24th streets and find the party. “I’m so-o-o-o happy. I’m in love with life” said the friendly man who joined out table outside some bar. “I’m. In. Love. With. Life. Man” . (A friend who lives there recommends Doc’s Clock).

Do the driving up and down the steep hills thing. Yes, like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but slower, and pausing at the intersections.

Check into Cow Hollow Motor Inn in Cow Hollow, a relaxed neighbourhood which is either in the Marina District or on the border of it, depending on who’s talking. It’s not the most glamourous choice but it’s good and nice and affordable and an easy, easy option with parking. And it also has a load of fine restaurants and bars within walking district.

Eat healthy food at Plant. This was a right treat. Almost everything in the streets around Cow Hollow is a restaurant or bar, but there are only so many nachos and tacos a girl can eat, and Plant Organic Cafe proved irresistible – and it was fabulous. There are a number of branches in San Francisco but this one’s on Steiner St and Chestnut St.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 00.57.11

Have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in (opposite) on Lombard St. Maybe ‘The Elvis’: scrambled eggs, chorizo, green chile, Monterey Jack cheese and a whole load of other stuff, like toast and jelly. Plenty of chrome, booths and jukeboxes, staff in black and white and a menu of 50s staples (root beer, banana splits, spaghetti and meatballs, sundaes). Mel’s declined, closed and reopened in the late 80s, but now has its kitschy charm preserved by grateful and nostalgic patrons. The original Mel’s was demolished shortly after starring alongside Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in American Graffiti but this one’s just like it.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn 2190 Lombard St 415 921 5800 http://www.cowhollowmotorinn.com.

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Big Sur

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The plan is to drive north up Hwy 1 to San Francisco, taking in the spectacular sights, specifically, Big Sur. Dawn finds us as far as Carpinteria, south of Santa Barbara. Wrestling a bit of sticky curtain away from the window at Motel 6, I see there’s a lorry parked by the pool and, above it, the highway, and over that, slashing rain. It’s an unusual deluge apparently, and there are mudslides and rock falls and whatnot. We have breakfast at the Shoreline Beach Cafe, Santa Barbara, get caught for speeding and can’t see Hearst Castle for the thick fog (although do enjoy the sci-fi weirdness of the announcements echoing through the cavernous entrance hall: ‘ticket holders for the 2.15 tour proceed to Gate No. 3 . . .’, and the marketing: Hearst jerky, Hearst sweatshirts, Hearst wines). Everyone looks wet, cold and miserable except the people in the fuzzy archive film showing in the shop who look merry and rich.

Brave the driving wind to watch elephant seals cavorting by a car park (on a beach, obviously). The first of the big males have arrived from Alaska, says the guide ranger man, referring, presumably to the seals. And then, miraculously the sun comes out and turns everything into steam, just in time for sunset and expensive but, to be fair, great Californian wine at Nepenthe, jutting out over the Pacific. Everyone loves Nepenthe; it’s been a stop between San Francisco and LA for decades. Rita and Orson, Henry Miller and Richard Burton and Liz Taylor all figure in its much-touted history.

After trying one lodge that was charging $550 a night we were kiss-the-ground grateful to spot Fernwood. The Children at Play sign at the top of the dark dripping trail to the Big Sur river was a little creepy late on a December night, but the cabins under the redwoods by the store and Redwood Grill were cosily rustic, and the food, hot and hearty. Lots of wood, chopped and growing. There are tent cabin things and camping sites by the river, camping supplies and maps of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on sale, and while the campers I spotted hunched over their Macs, seeking shelter in the bar didn’t look ecstatic, I reckon this would be a top base for a few days should it ever get warm again.

Nepenthe: 48510 Highway #1, Big Sur, (831) 667-2345

Fernwood: 47200 Highway 1, 831 6672422 http://www.fernwoodbigsur.com. Cabins from $110.

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