Part 3 in the family odyssey out west series in which we go back to the thrilling days of yesteryear before exits with seven different chain motels offering you morning breakfast existed. Before anything resembling Embassy Suites or Comfort Inn.
There WERE, of course, Holiday Inns (and Rodeways, and TraveLodges and Best Westerns) in 1970, but we didn’t stay in them. For my dad, who paid for our Yellowstone vacation with a LOAN from Sun Finance, they were way out of our price range.
So we stayed in some of the shittiest fleabag motels in the American West. . .at that time.
|I kid you not – often they would look like this.|
In fact, a Motel 6 in Davenport, Iowa on the first night of the trip was probably the best of the bunch. Most of the dives we stayed in were family run joints (the kind you’d see before the Interstates wiped them out and the chains took over) — and I use ‘family’ only in the ownership sense. The owner must have had a family — somewhere.
The all-time nightmare stay was when we rolled the VW van into North Platte, Nebraska. My father went looking for the cheapest hobo dive he could find and not only that, dad believed you negotiated for a room the same way you’d negotiate for a car.
We’d watch him go into the little shack marked ‘office’ in green neon and wait. And wait, while Slick Eddie would try to, well, as he would say, um, ‘ethnic slur’ the innkeeper down in price. Years later, innkeepers would actually laugh at him but he remained undeterred.
Some of these motels were so cringe-worthy, even from the outside, that I would pray silently in the car, hoping dad would lose the motel equivalent of ‘Let’s Make A Deal.’
If successful, dad would walk out raising the keys high as if he just won a bowling trophy and smiling to beat the band. If not, he’s walk out shaking his head in a way that said ‘can you believe what that guy wanted for a room?’
Unfortunately, he got his room and came out jingling his keys in triumph.
Yeah, these keys (I’m old):
|Drop in any mailbox. . .|
For some reason, I remember what dad paid for a night in Nebraska’s Motel Hell: $9.
In 2014 dollars that would be $54. You do the math of what kind of room you’d get for that today.
The first thing I remember is the smell of propane gas. It was everywhere. The beds looked liked they were purchased second-hand from the local lunatic asylum. Nice quilts, though. To say the wooden furniture was spartan would be putting it mildly. Dad wasn’t bothered by any of this because, well, he got a DEAL. And, besides, we had TELEVISION. OK, so it was an ancient 9-inch black and white, but it was still TV and it came with the room.
At the Davenport Motel 6, they had a PAY television. Dad grudgingly shelled out 25 cents so we could watch Lassie. But in cosmopolitan North Platte, we got it with the room.
Well it had been a long day. I don’t know what we did for dinner, but after a little TV, we settled down under the big quilts for a decent night sleep. Me with dad and my sister with mom.
The thing I had to do was get to sleep before dad since his snoring could shake the pictures off the wall. I was successful that night and thank God for that.
Because when the lights went of the fun started. My parents wouldn’t tell me what happened for days later but they were pretty tired the next morning. I didn’t know why.
In the dark, every high plains critter, every cockroach, every locust, every fly, mosquito and doodle-bug came out of the walls and swarmed, I guess that was the word my parents used, over us. Mom and dad spent the night waving their arms over my sister and me so the assorted bugs would not light on us. All. Night. Long.
Thankfully, I knew none of this.
It was the first adventure but by no means the last. We’ll get back to Rapid City next installment.
But my dad always drilled into me ‘you get what you pay for.’ I just wish he’d have taken his own lesson when it came to motels.