Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Fascination of old Motels

It's hard to explain this fascination I have for old motels. I suppose it's a number of things:

(1) Economics: I'm usually on a tight budget when I travel so I seek out the best "bargain".

(2) Supporting "small business": I am a small business owner so I believe in supporting other small businesses, (yes, I know: many "independent" motels are owned by people who own big corporate franchises).

(3) Uniqueness: many older motels have their own style (such as Wayside Motel near St. Louis) while the big chains pretty much look all alike.

(4) Having worked for a number of motel chains, I know a goodly percentage of what you pay goes toward Franchise fees ($20,000+) and Royalty fees (between 5 and 10 percent).

I confess though: finding a decent "independent" motel (or "mom & pop" if you prefer) is a crapshoot. I've stayed at some good ones and some bad ones. Some are relatively clean, quiet & comfortable and some (like the Maagnolia Motel in Laurel, MS) look like they should have been bulldozed years ago. Yet, I've also stayed at a few chains (or, more properly Franchised motels) that have not been all that great. I stayed at a Motel 6 recently that it took 3 tries to get a decent room, The first room wouldn't open. The second had no knobs on the shower. The third was "OK", but had a noisy a/c and was short sheeted (king size bed, but queen size sheets that barely tuck in under the bed).

Probably the best independent I've stayed at was the M* Motel in Searcy, AR. Extremely clean and comfortable. The bed had an extra thick mattress pad and 4 (count em FOUR) big fluffy pillows (not the flat ones you often find). It had the amenities of a big city motel in a small town room. It also had a big city price: $59 plus tax... about the price of a small town Super 8.

The worst I already mentioned: Magnolia Motel in Laurel, MS. The room was dirty, the a/c sounded like a small plane taking off, the furniture was filthy and the door didn't properly lock (so I put a chair against the door). They advertised a restaurant on the premesis that looked to have closed several years ago. In truth, I shouldn't have stayed, but I didn't realize at the time that all the other motels were on the other side of town. This was, quite literally, the only remaining motel in Laurel on US 11. Since then, I've learned to do more in depth research into what's available.

Yes, finding a decent independent is a crap shoot and I'm not always successful. But it does often give you a glimpse of a simpler time, before the advent of high speed expressways and cookie cutter motels.

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