21 April 2008

Superiority complex

A little e-Bay splurging last week brought this motel directory into our mailbox today. $4.00 and change, with shipping, gave me the 1967 Superior Motels "Complimentary Directory."

Just look at that line-art "family" above. The kid is wearing a friggin' suit! The only thing missing on Mr. Patriarch is the requisite hat. He appears to be traveling on business and bringing the wife and kid along for a little ancillary fun and frolic. Dear ol' Dad looks like he's fixin' to whip out that Diners' Club card and charge themselves a nice, upscale $12.99 room.

In addition to your Atlantic-Richfield gasoline card (today they're known as ARCO), you could also use your American Express -- that old shield logo just brings back those idyllic days of traveling -- or the original plastic, Diners' Club, or that really high-falutin' card, Carte Blanche.

Some locations even accepted the new BankAmericard (today Visa), but not many. MasterCharge didn't exist yet. You see, the 1960s were still the golden age of the so-called "T&E card." (That's "Travel and Entertainment" (I did not say "T&A card", so get that tongue back into your mouth and stop snickering like Beavis & Butt-head).

T&E cards were mainly for the upper-crust bidness traveler and high-roller personal jetsetter and globetrotter. You had to be careful, 'cuzzin the entire balance was due at month's end.

So, what was Superior Motel? It was a "referral chain" - a group of independent motels who banded together to compete with the monolithic chains like Holiday Inn, Motel 6 or Alamo Plaza. Together, they were able to achieve better economies-of-scale, more buying power (read: centralized purchasing, just like Holiday Inn, et al), yet retain each property's individual charm.

Other groups in this category included Quality Courts (the first referral chain), Best Western and Master Hosts (doorknocker logo). They were all non-profit groups made up of fellow innkeepers, who vigorously enforced quality control and didn't hesitate to kick out a property if they didn't meet certain standards of cleanliness, amenities, appearance, etc.

We know them today as meaningless "mission statements" but in 1967 some businesses had what were called "creeds" which they took seriously. Read the above. It seemed like these motel operators actually gave a squadron of flying f-bombs about pleasing the customer.

Those rates. Those amenities. The innkeepers' names being .... horrors! ... something besides rhymes-with-"K-Tel" I love the whole feel of the Spartanburg motel's owners being listed as "Your hosts."

Referencing my post last year about Santee, South Carolina, there were once two (2) Superior member motels: the Gamecock and the Lake Marion Inn. The Gamecock description above indicates its finger-lickin' good restaurant features "Kentucky Fried Chicken."

And the Lake Marion Inn north of Santee sits abandoned along old US 15/301, and there is but one remnant of its old affiliation, a portal sign:
"A ... Motel." Enter. Stay with us. You, a bed full of field mice and a homeless wino or two. Circulating water drips constantly from the leaky ceiling.

While it's long gone as an organization, there's one "Superior Motel" still in existence up in Farmington, Maine. Same signage, too.

One Superior property would make free reservations for another fellow member motel in another city, using a simple phone call. You paid the clerk of your departing motel and all you had to do is present the receipt voucher and it was good as cash at your next night's stay.

Somehow I don't think the line-art images of smiling people were far off the mark. Compare that to now, when finding "warm, friendly hospitality" in a motel today is like pulling teeth, unless you're near a Drury Inn property.

Doesn't all this just make you wish it were 1967 again?

Ciao for niao.

--Talmage "Superior to Inferior" Gleck

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