Category Archives: Practical

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 The No Soliciting sign on the door has been replaced by an Emergency Evacuation Plan;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 The usual synthetic brown blanket has been replaced by a duvet inside a white duvet cover – and it doesn’t appear to have been used;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].

Tagged , ,

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.

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

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leaving Texas for Little Rock

somewheresville route mapFort Worth to West, to Huntsville to Little Rock Arkansas: 599 miles, 9 hours, 57 minutes.

I recommend a trip to the Czech town of West (B). I was itching to visit an Amish community south of West, and also Waco, but Dave said we didn’t have time. Anyway, if I hadn’t have been going to see Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion at Huntsville, I probably wouldn’t have seen that patch of eastern Texas or gone to a drive-thru liquor store in a barn. The area down towards Huntsville, is hilly and forested and bucolic. Huntsville is better known as the birthplace of Sam Houston, and for it’s vast prison (and many Death Row inmates). The drive to Little Rock was pretty boring, a necessary evil.

Tagged , ,

Confusion in Flagstaff, Arizona


Unlike flying which forces you to rapidly readjust your grip on reality while half asleep waiting for a shuttle bus, driving is about gradual transitions. And that’s why I like it. It’s not unreasonable after a 3 and a half hour drive to expect the world to be roughly the way you left it. I get in the hot Chevy in hot, sunny Vegas; I get out of the hot Chevy at Flagstaff where it’s 5 o’clock and dark, and the temperature is 36 degrees fahrenheit, finally deciphered (and checked) as being -2 degrees centigrade.  Merry red-cheeked townsfolk pass by in fur-lined boots, and bobble hats, carrying skis, singing Ding Dong Merrily on High.

Okay, not the carols (further adding to confusion the streets are actually loud with the sound of Santana blasting from speakers somewhere), and they’re not carrying skis, but there are skis on the walls of the bar, and lots of them.  Over a pint of the local speciality, Moose Drool, I work it out. It’s not hard – the bar’s called Altitudes Bar & Grill and it’s built like a wooden ski chalet. It’s located at 6,900 ft in a city that averages 100 inches of snow a year. The unfolding horror continues as I research further. There’s a Flagstaff Alpine Ski Team, a junior snowboard team, plants growing out of ceramic ski boots, a Year-Round Alpine Playground with ‘challenging trails’ and over 2,300 ft of vertical drop just ‘minutes away’, and there’s a good chance it’s going to snow tomorrow.  On top of that it’s Christmas. Hipsters are wearing Santa hats ironically, there are icicle style fairly lights in the bar, and there’s a semi-inflated Santa by the door of the Howard Johnson we end up in (a branch which, as it happens, has not had the HoJo makeover).

At the start of the road trip, I had some facts and insights about possible destinations, and lists of Top Ten Bars, film locations, boutique hotels, crime scenes, and settings for songs, but they’ve all run out so now everything from the geographic spread of the taco to the size of Walmart, and now the winter wonderland that is Flagstaff – generally 15 degrees centigrade colder than just-down-the-road Phoenix  – is a great big surprise.

Five weeks in, I also get a big surprise waking up with the bathroom and window in a different place every morning. I’ve stayed in room number 311, 211, 503, 217, 1053, 25, 3, 629, 329 and 229 and a couple of dozen more, and tried keycards in wrong doors. Sometimes, walking down a hotel corridor, I’ll be trying to work out what town I’m in. The whole time zone thing is also making everything very confusing. I quite liked it getting earlier and earlier as we crossed west from Eastern, to Central, to Mountain and Pacific. I hate  driving east and being late for everything, with the sun setting before you expect it to set, and breakfast over because you didn’t put your watch forward. Motel breakfasts are generally foul, but miss one and it’s tragic.

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

Tagged , , ,

Scottsdale HoJo

Back in February Wyndham Worldwide announced they were going to resuscitate their Howard Johnson chain of motels, news that was met with general scepticism and derision. HoJo, as it likes to be called but seldom is, had been synonymous with cheapest of the cheap, lowest of the low for many years, a victim of brand confusion, sell-outs and red-hot competition in the lowest of the low sector. Speaking to USA Today, CEO Eric Danziger referred to HoJo as a great American power brand, a part of Americana, at risk of going the way of Pan Am (a pretty strong metaphor for down).

Mr Howard Johnson, First World War veteran started out with an ice cream business in 1925, then a chain of restaurants, before expanding into motels in 1954 and enjoying the benefits of a boom in American road travel, expanding coast to coast through the 60s. Obviously it all went swimmingly until it didn’t, hence the Wyndham HoJo system-wide revamp plan which is being rolled out as I type.

One of the early makeover beneficiaries is Scottsdale’s HoJo. On the hotel’s Facebook page, a Sami M nicely captures the general mood of suspicion and cautious optimism among HoJo guests up and down the land: “Our actual room was pretty nice, even had a luxury feel. The decor was not cheesy or dirty-looking, including the nice bathroom counter, shower tiling, a picture above the bed, and decorative mirror above the work area. The bedding was white and crisp, and the comforter was heavy and snuggly. Pillows looked strangely smaller than the pillow cases (maybe this is a common hotel thing so they stay completely covered?), but were clean and firm, with no soft spots or lumps.” Excellent.

Having stayed at a lot of motels (which I’ll be ranking and reviewing in a later post), I can say hand on heart that none had real fruit in bowls in the reception area 24/7. The Arts District location is great, the lobby surprisingly designer cool, and the young receptionist, friendly and helpful (not obstructive, ‘hilarious’ or laconic).  There’s the pool, the palms and the bougainvillea, and then the rooms which are huge, pleasant, well-lit with crisp white bedding on a big, good bed.

I’d estimate the rate per night at around $180 – it was actually just over $40. With free wi-fi, parking, coffee, soap, a confusing number of TV channels and maid service that works out as a lot cheaper than paying a mortgage and municipal pool fees in the UK and the weather is better. Move in, why don’t you.

In true it was the best of times, worst of times fashion, however, I do have to add a caveat. Sitting, working at the one desk shared with desk level sockets and the coffee-making paraphernalia I reached to lift a jug of freshly percolated bubbling coffee and the handle flexed away, the glass broke and ahoy, my Mac was bobbing on a hot brown sea.  It’s my personal opinion that a) a quality jug is strong enough to hold coffee (yes, yes, well under the max fill level) and b) that if it had been standing on a tray with a rim all the liquid would have been contained, and let’s throw in a c) desk-mounted power sockets + coffee: not a great idea. Maybe they should provide one place for working and one place for brewing? Basically, I reckon a little bit of budget design and fitting lingers on in what is otherwise a rightly vamped property.

Emergency Mac diagnosis was quoted over the phone as starting at $750 + $800 for data + cost of new Mac. Turned out I got it repaired (shout-out for Mac Masters, Scottsdale) for just under $500. Great. Spent the day hanging around outside Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and not buying Southwestern jewellery or Indian nicknacks, and celebrated the we can fix it with a margarita at Saucy Senoritas, but lost a day of filming. I do think HoJo were liable, and I’d like to think the next time it happens they upgrade their coffee makers and stand them on proper trays. They didn’t reimburse me the repair costs, but they did apologise and refund the price of the room. I’d probably stay there again, but I’d stick to cold drinks.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: