11 January 2008

More from Out West, circa 1977 (XXXI-YAT)

"And away we go, like a herd of turtles!" -Dad Gleck

"The Deviled Ham Chronicles", part two

Continuing with our trip diary from July 1977, we left our no-phone, no-pool, no-pet, but otherwise dandy ol' Kayenta, Arizona Holiday Inn room, and resumed our journey. Our next stop: Four Corners National Monument. It was neat seeing four states coming together in a single spot. The monument itself is an elevated slab of concrete, with a survey marker embedded which marks the exact spot. It's not on the main drag; one has to turn off the highway northward onto a county road. It's about a mile or so away.

And yes, there's a picture of me, on all fours, so I could have one appendage in each of the states. Hardly original, but at age 12 I felt like I was so witty.

Or something which rhymes with that word.

Back on the main slab, we crossed into Colorado, and wound our way back into Utah. We found ourselves on U.S. Highway 666 (why this number was allowed by the National Highway Administration is beyond me!). A stop at Arches National Park was pretty cool, if not the deviled ham sammich consumed therein. We picked up I-15 at Provo, and drove through Salt Lake City at rush hour. Joy.

Night #5:
Ogden, Utah. I think it was another Holiday Inn, but I'm not certain. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was a Best Western. Whichever it was, or wasn't, it had a helluva pool. I guess I shouldn't say "hell" -- we're in Utah now. Let me rephrase it:
Gosh! That was one flippin' great swimming pool. But what the fruit was up with the all the klieg lights? Oh, silly me, that's the reflection from the Osmonds' toothy smiles.

Night #6: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Wagon Wheel Village Motel. Did I mention it too had a black & white television? Rustic, log cabin style living. Yeah, boy.

Eh, at least the telly didn't have a coin box attached to it.

One very notable event occurred this evening: it was the big NYC blackout of July 13, 1977. I remember this because it caused all the network affiliates to lose their feeds. The TV stations all had to think fast and rack up a fill program. Back in those (good ol') days, when infomercials were verboten, said "fill program" would likely be something watchable. The station we had on plugged in an episode of the game show Break the Bank. Too bad we weren't close enough to Flyspeck .... *sigh* Those people didn't lose network television, y'know.

The next day we spent touring Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks. And, at a picnic table somewhere, it was yet another can's worth of Diablus Spamibus between slices of Home Pride Butter-Top Bread. ("we add the butter, and let it bake riiiight in")

It was very, very late in the afternoon when we left the Yellowstone area. We stopped in Cody for supper on the run: Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was another 80 mile drive to our next destination ... I ate my three-piece finger-lickin' good box meal as we continued through the Wyoming darkness. Which looks little different from Wyoming daytime. To say, there's not a flippin' thing to look at. (gotta say "flippin" -- Utah isn't that far away)

Night #7: We arrived at Thermopolis, Wyoming about 9:00. Don't remember the name of the motel, but - like back in Gallup - it was old and beginning to show its age.

I was so ready to get the hell out of Wyoming ... it makes I-16 look fun and exciting. Our next state was "colorful Colorado."

Night #8: Estes Park, Colorado. Hobby Horse Motel. Had a really big area in the back, complete with a playground and pond. And geese. One of them decided he didn't like this Talmadge person, and began chasing me all over creation.

I hate geese.

Mom left her nightgown in the room. That much I remember, too.

After a wonderful drive through Rocky Mountain National Park (even thinking about it today, it feels strange to see patches of ice in the middle of July!), we meandered our way back to I-70 to go eastbound. Through Denver and toward Kansas. We turned off of 70 at Oakley to go southbound on US-83 toward Garden City. Our destination was Dodge City -- Festus, Miz Kitty and Matt D. himself, I'm sure.

We'd turned back eastward at Garden City, and were no more than 10 miles out of town when, suddenly, BANG!!-thumpthumpthumpthump.... The left rear tire shed half of its rubber along the hot asphalt of U.S. Highway 50. Nice. Dad got out and put the spare on the car.

Then we backtracked into Garden City, where - lucky for us - there was a Sears store, with auto service building out front. And it was still open.

After a new tar was procured for our Grand Safari Truckster, we resumed our trek toward the wilds of Dodge City.

Once we got the hell into Dodge, we ran smack into a major problem. There was a convention of some sort going on, and most of the motels were booked solid. Was this Karma from Dad's leadfooted passing of that poor family back outside of Kayenta?

Night #9...#9...#9...: One motel had a room available, and it was called The Bel-Air. A simple Google shows it still in business. I remember it being small, and brother is it small -- nine (9) rooms.

It still puzzles me how Dad badmouths Motel 6 after experiencing The Bel-Air Motel. It wouldn't be as bad as Bob's Motel. Yeah, Bob's Motel. It's in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and we stayed there one night during our Trip Up North in 1979. Anyhoo, the Bel-Air was nasty. Very, very nasty. As in, the carpet was more animated than a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon. It was the first time I'd ever seen so many cockroaches in my life. Yes, it was that bad.

Y'know, I've never seen vermin in any Motel 6 where I've stayed.

After that experience, we shook the roach eggs out of our hair and embarked on a tour of Dodge City. I found it lukewarm; this was mostly Dad's thing, him being a big fan of westerns, and all. (If Marshal Dillon were real, HE would've done something about the bugs in that motel)

After a lunch of Underwood deviled ham, Wonder bread and Lay's Potato Chips, with Shasta Cola (*cringe*) to wash it all down, we were back on the road.

Night #10: Fort Smith, Arkansas. In a fit of hysteria and lapsed reason, Dad -- get this -- made a reservation. We had a room waiting for us at the Holiday Inn. Strangely enough, it was located on I-540 .... very out of character for my Dad, I have to say. He hated and hates going one mile out of the way for anything while on a trip. He has no appreciation for anything historical, offbeat or anything ... unless it has something to do with John Wayne, the Old West, or "The War Of Northern Aggression." So why he left I-40 (which skirts Fort Smith to the north) is a mystery to me. Certainly there were motels along I-40 ... I mean, it's not exactly an abandoned two-lane!

Well, we checked into the Holiday Inn. It was a second-floor room, and not a "down-and-out'er." We opened the door, and the smell just about knocked Mom clear over the walkway in a backward flip toward the parking lot below.

It was m-o-l-d-y ... and the water stains on the ceiling told the story. Swiss cheese roof. Aye-yi-yi.

Fortunately, we got another (and better) room in that motel, but that experience was a brutal wake-up call: Kemmons Wilson's great creation was beginning to show the ravages of age. Many of the first-generation Holiday Inns had clearly jumped the shark, and with increased corporate control of the chain, and less hands-on by Kemmons, quality control was going into the toilet. The late '70s marked the decline of Holiday Inn as an institution. Too many properties were allowed to deteriorate without any real accountability.

(That's why I love Drury Inn so much -- no franchising, and that family wisely knows what happens when you sell your good name for untold fortunes and explosive growth)

After we ate supper, Mom picked up one of Holiday Inn's 'comment cards.' In 1977, they used the (ironic) slogan "The best surprise is no surprise." Mom began writing, "Well, you sure surprised us!" She mailed the postcard after we got back home.

Unbelievably, we actually ate a real lunch on our last day of traveling. No deviled ham. We stopped outside of Little Rock at a Minute Man - a now-defunct hamburger chain ("When you're hungry, it only takes a Minute Man"). And............

Night #11 -- back home to the salt mine of Tupelo, People's Aryan Republic of Mississippi. Vacation time's over, back on your heads.

One important lesson I learned, both from this trip, and the Canada vacation two years later, was the wisdom of making reservations. While you give up a bit of spontaneity, there's the peace of mind that comes with knowing 1) where you'll be staying that evening, and 2) that you'll have a room waiting.

4,000 Bel-Air cockroaches can't argue with that logic.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Backseat Turtle" Gleck

Irrational lampooned vacation

Two posts down, I referred to our stay at Motel 6 in El Paso, Texas. It was part of a big family trip in the Summer of 1977. In family lore, it's come to be known as "The Trip Out West." I was 12, and my brother was 8.

Said trip was quite the adventure. It was taken in a 1974 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon, yellow, with - yes - faux wood grain side panels ... our own Wagon Queen Family Truckster! Clamshell style back gate (with power glass), AM/FM radio with the infamous GM in-windshield antenna (read: piss-poor reception), and power windows. Oh, yeah, and - standard equipment on a typical Degenerate Motors vehicle - an oil leak. ("Where's the drip?", I can hear Dad saying)

We picnic'ed at roadside parks for lunch, and every day it was the same golldurned thing: Potato chips and deviled-ham sandwiches. Every golldurned day. And since that trip, I cannot even stand the look, sight or smell of deviled ham. I revile the stuff. I'm feeling queasy just thinking about it, I tell you.

More than three decades later, I can still remember the exact route we took, where we spent each night, and - in most cases - the name of the motel.

We left Tupelo, Mississippi some time in the afternoon, and headed up US-78 toward Memphis, then I-40 into Arkansas. It was already dark as we left Little Rock, and picked up I-30 toward The Big-Ass State That's Like A Whole 'Nuther Country.

Night #1:
The Sands Motel in Dallas, Texas. Outside, I sat on the grassy knoll while my brother Zaprudy ran the Super-8 movie camera. Mom and Dad came along in their Grand Safari Truckster. Mom was wearing a pink dress with pillbox hat, and Dad ....

Never mind, that's getting a little too morbid. And does that look like Jack Ruby's ghost coming over here to pistol-whip me?

I'd better hurry up and grab my textbooks from this "depository" before they run out of the one for my Antisocial Studies class.


Night #2:
After a long haul across Texas (borrrrrrr-innng!), we found ourselves in El Paso, and the tiny confines of our Motel 6 room, coin-op TV and all. The next morning saw us doing a tour of Juarez, Mexico.

Night #3:
Gallup, New Mexico. I do not remember the name of the motel, but what I do recall was that it was an older property, a tad bit run down, there was a Texaco station out front, and it was on the left side of the road. The interstate ended on each side of town; Gallup had yet to be bypassed. What I didn't know at the time was that the Gleck family was staying in a gen-ewe-ine Route 66 Motel. Ever the crazed road geek, even then, I had no idea the magnitude of roadside history we were part of. In 1977, US-66 was still a real highway (it would be decommissioned in 1985).

Night #4:
Kayenta, Arizona. After a fun-filled day exploring Meteor Crater, and experiencing the Grand Canyon, we were heading toward Four Corners -- the only spot in the U.S. where four states meet. It was getting dark, and we were on a two-lane desert road, the kind where you can see the town damn near 20 miles away before you actually reach it.

There weren't many lodging options in the northeast corner of Arizona, and we had no reservations of any kind. Dad was rocketing along the highway, and passed another car that was slow-pokin' along at a leisurely 80 MPH. This becomes important in a minute.

As we got toward Kayenta, we noticed that there wasn't much to this settlement. It was a small junction in the road, with a collection of houses, stores ... and a certain motel. We could see the Holiday Inn "Great Sign" miles away -- THIS, FRIENDS, IS WHY HOLIDAY INN WAS STOOOOPID TO GET RID OF THAT THING!! It was a beacon. Dad began rejoicing! That pulsating Great Sign was functioning as it should: a siren call of the roadside.

Dad pulled in and got out to see if any rooms were available. There was one. And only one. "But the phone doesn't work", the clerk told him. Dad replied just as I would have had such a scenario presented itself to me: "I DON'T CARE!"

As Dad walked out with the key ("she said give it to me, and I'll unlock the door" -er, um, anyway), the car we'd passed earlier pulled into the breezeway right beside us.

Sorry, no room at the inn.

Kayenta was a weird one -- it looked like a tiny place, no bigger than 1,000 people ... but by golly they had their own Holiday Inn!

Had there been no vacancy, we'd have been on the road for at least another two hours -- Durango, Colorado was the next evidence of civilization. And we would've missed the opportunity to see the Four Corners monument the next morning.

The room was good, the TV worked (if memory serves, it could pick up just one channel), the Holiday Inn restaurant didn't disappoint, and then we all slept nicely.

* to be continued *

Flavor #6

"From a Buick 6" -Bob Dylan
"From a Motel 6" -Tom Bodett

A couple of thoughts, as they pertain to Motel 6.

1) Motel 6 really came into its own after Tom Bodett was tapped as its spokesman.

2) His commercials, which ran in the late '80s and into the '90s, were things of beauty. Another "lost composure" moment on the radio involved one such advert.

It was the last commercial coming out of a network newscast. The chain had just begun offering a reservation number (curiously, not toll-free), and Bodett was doing a parody of the singing number jingle popularized by Sheraton and Best Western. Bodett began 'singing' the phone number in his classic monotone, and terribly off-key. His close? Instead of the usual "...we'll leave the light on for you", he said "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and ...... boy, am I embarrassed." I was already having fits of laughter, but that curve-ball at the end sent me over the edge. Thank all that's holy I didn't have anything live to read, that it was straight out of the newscast, into a legal ID (carted jingle) and then the first record. Phew!

3) The 'man' shown in the car from the artwork in that 1977 Motel 6 Directory looks an awful lot like a plumped-out, blond George W. Bush.

I'm Talmadge Gleck for Flavors 5, and .... boy, am I sick.

Ciao for niao.

Mr. Bodett didn't kill the lady ... it was his mother.

Motel 6. Budget lodging chain. Perennial punchline. So named because, upon its founding in the early '60s, all rooms went for $6.00 a night. Logical enough, yes?

The first time I'd ever stayed in a Motel 6 was during our family trip out west in July of 1977. It was in El Paso, Texas, and by then inflation had caught up with the 6'ers: rooms now went for $8.95 a night ($10.95 double). No credit cards or checks of any kind were honored, either. Cash only.

The above scans are from the 1977 Motel 6 directory, a copy of which I procured while here.

The two things I remember the most about the room were the TV and the "Magic Fingers" box on the middle table, next to the phone.

By the '70s, nearly all motels offered color TVs without extra charge. Never mind that the color on those sets boggled the mind -- we're talking purples where reds should be, oranges where you'd expect a nice yellow shade. I remember seeing a magazine advert for Motel 6 in the late '70s, lampooning the off-kilter nature of the lowly, abused motel color TV. Motel 6 had a novel solution to this problem, too: they didn't have color sets. As late as 1980, Motel 6 had BLACK & WHITE televisions in all of their rooms.

But wait, there's more. Mounted to the side of these B/W Admirals was a coin box. And that's why Motel 6 could get away with charging such a low nightly rate. You had to pay to watch the TV (I seem to recall it being 25 cents per half-hour), and unless you wanted to miss the first minutes of The Bob Newhart Show, you had to feed 'er another quarter before the end of Mary Tyler Moore. Dad was not a happy camper.

Dad parted with a 25-cent piece, and the TV sprang to life. It was tuned to a station from across the border, and suddenly another language filled our teeny-tiny Bodett Boudoir. I looked up, and saw a commercial for Kent Cigarettes. Obviously, one could still advertise coffin-nails on TV stations in meh-he-coh.

I had a quarter on my person, but I was more fixated on the Magic Fingers machine. I wanted to make that bed shake, rattle and roll like two people screwing each other silly as if they were hyperactive weasels in a Cuisinart. But I wanted my brother off the bed before I did that. I might be from Alabama, but I ain't that perverted.

I dropped a quarter into the box, anxiously awaiting a fate that would soon befall Clark & Ellen Griswold. The quarter dropped. I heard a hollow *clunk!*, as if it were a piggy bank. That thing had no freakin' innards! So I had to eat my Arby's roast beef sandwich (yes, I remember what we had that night) on a static mattress with more lumps than Wile E. Coyote after an ACME product backfired.

Here's a picture from the next morning, as we were about to make a side trip into Juarez, Mexico (bought a wooden chess set down there, which I still have ... in a box somewhere ...). I'm the one on the right.

Amazingly enough, Motel 6 locations had swimming pools. Although I'm surprised they didn't have coin boxes, either. I think you had to pay 25 cents if you wanted to pee in the pool -- very astute bidness folk these Motel 6 innkeepers, they wanted to cash in on the "pay toilet" craze. How dare you circumvent the regular bathroom rate??

Yes, Motel 6. After that experience, Dad refused to go near another one. 31 years later, you can't drag him within two statute miles of a Motel 6 property! It took me awhile myself, but I eventually gave it another chance. In 1990. By then, the TV was color, and there was actually more than one set of towels in the bathroom. Motel 6, indeed, is spartan -- which is the whole point, anyway. When I'm traveling alone, I'm an incredible cheapskate about lodging. I ask of nothing from a motel except a clean bed, a clean shower and a clean set of towels.

I must say that I haven't had a bad experience at a Motel 6 in my adult life. And it should be noted that most of 'em are company-owned. Meaning, no corner-cutting by a staff seemingly more interested in brewin' another container of curry than making sure their paying guests are comfortable and happy.

So, what got me thinking about Motel 6? It was an old e-mail which I found this evening. It's called "Top 10 failed slogans for MOTEL 6" .... (my favorite is #5). Here we go:

10) Because you deserve better than the backseat of a car

9) As seen on "COPS"

8) If we'd known you were staying all night, we'd have changed the sheets.

7) We left off the "9" but you know it's there.

6) Sure you could stay at a nicer place, but then you wouldn't have money for the hooker.

5) We'll leave the Lysol for ya.

4) Not just for nooners any more.

3) It's hookerific!!

2) Blurring the line between stains and avant-garde sheet art since 1962

And the number one failed slogan for Motel 6?

1) We put the "HO" in hotel.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Light done burned out" Gleck