like a 1,000-plus mile road trip to give you some time for reflection.|
Heading home to Austin from Amarillo
recently, by way of Borger, I began my
southward journey from that one-time oil boom town on State Highway 207 to connect
with U.S. 287. After hitting the more-traveled U.S. highway at Claude,
the next county seat town I passed through was Clarendon.
That’s where I saw a local overnight place called the It’ll Do Motel.
It’ll Do is a small version of the classic 1950s Mom and Pop (which is to say
pre-chain ownership) motel, an arrangement of rooms with outside-only entry. The
sign also notes that “Color Cable TV” is available.
Travelers Motel Old Neon|
TE photo, 2009
|Needing to be well
down the road before bed time, I didn’t have a chance to see if the It’ll Do lived
up to its name when it came to being a suitable place to spend the night, but
the old motel did get me to thinking about how staying on the road has changed
over the years. |
|When I traveled as
a young child, my family tended to overnight in downtown hotels (which even small
towns usually had at least one of). That’s mainly because my granddad was used
to staying in traditional lodging, not tourist courts. In his salad days tourist
courts – or tourist camps -- still had a somewhat unsavory reputation with his
generation. (The outlaw couple Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow, for example, favored tourist courts when they didn’t
opt to sleep in their car.)|
Campbell - Downtown Nowata, Oklahoma |
TE photo, 2009
|But as more and more
Texans hit the state’s ever-improving highway system in the 1950s, motels proliferated
and lost most of their shadier image. In fact, they became so common, and so affordable,
that many of the traditional high-rise hotels started going out of business. |
first generation of motels were home-owned operations with varying designs as
well as distinctive names displayed on often-memorial signage. Then the chains
came along, most notably Holiday Inn, which was the pioneer in the field.
times are changing once again. While Texas still
has plenty of traditional motels to accommodate travelers, the landscape along
the interstates and major highways is beginning to look different.
wanting to stay in the Clarendons of Texas will have to settle for the locally
owned places like the It’ll Do (which actually looked like a pleasant enough place).
But cities in the 20,000 and up population range are beginning to sport at least
one and sometimes three or four lodgings that are a semi-throwback to old times:
Motels that look like hotels.
Hotel Old Neon|
TE photo, 2009
has changed along with architecture. The word “motel” (motor plus hotel) is beginning
to disappear like the glow from a leaky neon light. Now overnight spots are being
called “inns” or “suites” or simply by their brand name, as in Holiday Inn Express
or Hawthorn Suites.|
On my recent trip to the High
Plains, I spent three nights in two of these new-fangled “inn-tels,” which
slowly began entering the market in the 1990s. In recent year, the pace has accelerated
greatly. Both places I stayed offered free wireless internet (not to mention “cable
color TV”) and “free” breakfast, though the cost of the morning meal is surely
calculated into the room rate. But most of these places don’t cost much more than
an “old-fashioned” motel dating from only a decade or two back.
newer places, you don’t have to worry as much about some bad guy lurking outside
your room, since there’s only one way in and out – past the front desk. And you’re
better protected from the weather. Of course, just like in the old days, now you
have to cart your luggage into the lobby and up an elevator.
From a cultural
history perspective, the downside is that all of these places pretty much look
alike. Unless the wind is blowing in from the feedlots, it’s possible to wake
up in an Amarillo suite and
think for a second you’re in Houston.
Well, then you’d smell the refineries. Better to say Waco.
a brief note of remembrance, I had gone to Amarillo
for the funeral of my 95-year-old step mom, Nina Ingram Laney. Though born in
Illinois, she came to the Panhandle
with her family during the 1926 oil boom and never left. |
Starting in the
1950s, after getting three kids mostly raised, she taught herself to type and
got hired as the Phillips correspondent for the Borger News-Herald. The newspaper
paid her a dime per published inch of type to record the comings and goings in
that now-vanished oil company town in Hutchinson County. At that pay scale, more
names and news equaling more dimes, she did not miss much that went on in that
By the time she retired in the mid-1970s, she had risen to
city editor of the Borger paper. She and my late dad, Bill G. Cox, himself a newspaper
man, married in 1977.
© Mike Cox
22, 2010 column
With A Past | Texas Towns | Book
Books by Mike Cox - Order Now|| |