11 January 2008

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

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