Tuesday, January 27, 2015



I have a persistent affection for the American Motel. 

We have always been a nation of travelers. As paved roads and improved motorcars spread across our land Americans abandoned the railroads and chose to drive to the next town or the next state. 

It wasn’t until the 1930s that you could ride from coast to coast entirely on paved roads. In the process driving became something more than simple transportation; it became recreation. The great American road trip was born. The “getting there” became almost more important than the “there” got to. And motels were where we stayed. Motels and America’s highways grew up together.

I’ve spent a lot of time in motels, and I plan to spend more before my riding season is over. For most touring motorcyclists there is no more convenient way to sleep dry.

Motels are always handy to the route you’re on…just off the interstate or a block or so in town. My favorites are the single digit motels, the 6s, 8s, or 9s… one-story units with parking right at the door.  

Many touring bikes end up with bits and pieces of luggage bungeed on them like gear on a prospector’s mule. Getting into your room with tank bags, saddlebags, helmet, riding clothes, and camping gear you don’t want to leave exposed in the parking lot over night can be a three trip journey.

The last thing you want is to have to carry that stuff up two or three flights of stairs.

I never worry about my car being stolen when I’m travelling by car, but every motorcyclist believes that someone wants to steal his bike and is reassured by being able to look directly out his motel window and see it. In one instance I was able to look right out my window and see my motorcycle had been stolen. So much for “window parking” as a theft prevention tool.

I’m afraid that motels are in decline. The new ones being built are three stories tall, have  rooms accessed only from indoor corridors, and one elevator. In other words they are morphing into hotels, but with none of the conveniences of hotels. There are no helpful bellmen, no “lounge” and no coffee shop. 

At one of my stops a summer ago the motel was located just off an interstate highway; just outside of a town I had no interest in visiting. Although it was one of the “morphing into a hotel” places I had a main floor room just inside the door at the end of a corridor. The motel was part of a truck stop complex: One restaurant, three fast food franchises, a trucker’s convenience store, a casino, and a twenty pump gas station. All one would wish.

My requirements on the road are simple. A reasonably firm bed, a decent shower and a television set with HBO. I’m not looking for a resort, or luxuriously landscaped grounds. 

I am perfectly content if the walls of my room are free of artwork.

In my favorite single digit chain the rooms are identical, the furniture unobtrusive and intuitively arranged. You can get up in the middle of the night, and wander around in the dark, without stubbing your toe.

Each night in one of these rooms is exactly like the one before or the one to come. I feel perfectly at home. As a matter of fact in one respect  these rooms are just like home…where every night is spent in a room exactly like the room slept in the night before.    

“How boring,” say my critics. “You should seek out a nice Bed and Breakfast place.”

Not on your life. I have never been in a B & B that was conveniently located, easy to find, or where I felt comfortable wandering around in the middle of the night. Although I was paying more than I might at one of the single digit joints, the extra cost did not leave me feeling freer, or more luxurious. After all I was a “guest” in someone’s home.

Conversations are whispered so as not to be a ‘bother.’ You don’t ask the nice retired couple, or the widow lady ekeing out an insufficient pension, to rise to provide breakfast at 5 am so you can get an early start. There is no TV. The bathroom is across the hall.

I have never been in a B &  B that wasn’t over-decorated: Twee little stuffed animals, pictures of clowns or big-eyed children, gaily decorated vanities,  type boxes filled with colored beans, lamp shades with fringe… Martha Stewart gone mad. Or maybe just Martha Stewart.

You can lie awake at night in one of these places and hear things in the room whispering, “Wouldn’t you like to take me to the Salvation Army?”

No thanks. When all I want is a place to sleep dry, 6s 8s or 9s are road-trip perfection.

(Reprinted from a piece that appeared in The Desert Leaf more than

ten years ago.....but truth is eternal.) 


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