"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
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