Tag Archives: where to stay

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 The No Soliciting sign on the door has been replaced by an Emergency Evacuation Plan;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 The usual synthetic brown blanket has been replaced by a duvet inside a white duvet cover – and it doesn’t appear to have been used;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

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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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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.

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