In Search of Kitschy on the Open Road

For me, turning on the ignition, tossing the map out the window and heading to unknown destinations is a delightful adventure. Traveling beyond city limits reaopen-roaddily provides a glimpse into our gentler past for there still remain worn reminders aplenty. If you have ever followed a narrow spit of asphalt past county lines where decades of saw-tooth fractures have been patched with heavy tar leaving a zig zag pattern like errant lightning strikes, you know what I’m talking about. Along these leftover remnants of our original highway system sit strings of motor and auto courts…motor hotels, better known as motels dotting the landscape.

In their heyday, over 60,000 dotted the countryside, forged from America’s burgeoning love affair with the automobile. No longer relegated to a limited radius of travel, families set out to explore beyond their backyards, the promise of excitement whistling in the wind. My own memory is a flashback to the late 60’s for our yearly spring trek from central Illinois to St. Petersburg, Florida to visit cousins. Stuffing our old station wagon with suitcases, pillows and bodies, off we’d go. At the end of the day, my father would begin looking for his favorite lodging establishment, easily identified by their bright orange roofs, capped off with a cupola and weather vane. Howard Johnson’s, a popular no frills chain, became famous for their “fried clams” and 28 flavors of butterfat rich ice cream. At the tender age of ten, the only idea worse than eating worms would be try fried clams. On the other hand, 28 opportunities to savor creamy deliciousness other than vanilla…my definition of heaven. Back then, travel was about the journey, not the destination.

During their infancy, the basic motel model of construction was simple and almost Bohemian. Designed economically, they were usually L or U shaped, framed a public lawn and fondly referred to as cottage or motor courts. Family and automobile friendly, they allowed guests to park conveniently next to their rooms. Unlike their snooty city counterparts, these roadside retreats stressed function not fancy. Travel time between large cities could take up to two or three days and these “Mom & Pop” sites became oases for as each motel popped up, so did diners, filling stations and general stores. The promise of a warm shower and cozy bed beckoned weary travelers when the warm glow of red, blue and green electric neon signs, piercing the night sky like a lighthouse beacon, loomed on the horizon.

1st-motel-in-us    Regarded as the original first motel, Milestone Mo-tel built in San Louis Obispo offered a two room bungalow with a drive-in garage for $1.25 per night. Located within a day’s driving from Los Angeles, the builder, Arthur Hienemen had a vision of building several motels all the way to Seattle like stepping stones along the coast. Instead of Holiday Inns, we might have seen Hieneman Inns if it hadn’t been for The Depression.

Another noteworthy motel was The Sanders Court in Corbin, KY. Unlike others, their accommodations included not only tile baths but an abundance of hot water! Instead of a simple mattress, guests would enjoy a Perfect Sleeper bed along with air conditioning and a radio in every room. Today, a Kentucky Fried Chicken stands on the site where Harland Sanders began his empire but one can still find postcards of the original Sanders Court in local antique stores. Stories such as these can be found in every black dot on every map of every state.

The 1950’s saw a booming expansion of motels as America took to the road in earnest. Not satisfied with mere day trips, people set out to find what lay across the country. This period also ushered in the terms “Novelty”, “Googie”, and “Doo Wop” architecture. Wigwams, teepees and even decommissioned railroad cars were used as accommodations. These quirky motels thrived, popularizing the term kitschy, describing something so tacky that it holds a special appeal. And the quirkiness didn’t stop on the outside. Ask any person under the age of forty to tell you about their experience with “Magic Fingers” you’ll likely be shunned as a slightly odd individual. Truth is these mechanical devices were attached to almost every bed in every motel at one time. For a quarter, cone-motela person received fifteen minutes of vibrating mattress bliss designed for relief from everyday stress. Ah, they knew how to cater to those traveling salesmen back then. When coupled with the advent of swimming pools, steam heat in the winter and air conditioning, free TV and phones, an overnight motel stay was a bargain at $8.00 – $10.00 per night.

A short time later, a certain gentleman returned home from a family trip, terribly disappointed with the motels he had visited on his trip to Washington, DC. Some facilities were filthy, others spotless. Some offered dining, others didn’t and not all offered swimming pools. A successful real estate developer, Mr. Kemmons Wilson decided to build his first motel along the main highway in Memphis. Every one he built thereafter would be the same, offering televisions, air conditioning, a swimming pool and a restaurant. He believed the amenities offered in Daytona Beach should be the same amenities offered in Memphis. His motel was named after a delightful musical starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby called Holiday Inn. (See…Mr. Heineman really was onto something.)

With his simple idea, Mr. Kemmons created the franchise chain concept. Only three years later, another began in Arizona opening with the moniker of Ramada, Spanish for “a shaded resting place”.  Others obviously followed, but the creation of the first national room reservation system belongs to Holiday Inn. For the independent owners, membership in this system appeared to be a double edged sword. By joining, individual establishments would be included in a roster promising high standards to their customers. In the long run, however, being represented by a franchise chain came at a cost…a cost, in the long run, most couldn’t afford. Furthermore, for the vast majority, the introduction of the US Interstate System signaled the beginning of their descent into obscurity.

Perhaps you may have heard of Amboy, California, home to Roy’s Motel and Café. No? Don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. However, almost everyone is familiar with the “Main Street of America” – Route 66. This particular highway, the crown jewel of the transportation system, originally ran all the way frroy-s-in-amboyom Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA slicing through the heart of middle America. From one end to the other, little blips of homespun hospitality sprang up around the motels built on that famous stretch. People really did get their kicks on Route 66. Amboy’s existence, single handedly built by Roy Crowl in the 1940’s, became a bustling desert pit stop. Besides Roy’s Motel and Café, Mr. Crowl along with his son eventually opened a gas/service station which kept them both busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time, the population of Amboy numbered around 700. However, on a sunny afternoon in 1972, all that changed. Interstate 40 opened, bypassing nearly all the towns and motels whose existence depended on a steady stream of traffic. With a stroke of a pen, these delightful little boroughs swiftly turned into ghost towns, dust bowls frequented by tumbleweeds.

With travel based on expediency and the life blood of motels dwindling away, most of these iconic structures were soon abandoned, demolished or worse, maintained as “cockroach motels” renting rooms by the hour.

While most have gone the way of the dodo, a few gems remain. Across the country, popular tourist attractions and beach communities proudly promote these old motels, lovingly restored and owned by people ready to cater to their clients whom they regard as family. The décor may have remained the same, the size of the complimentary soap useful for only one shower and towels the size of dish cloths still as rough as a loofah but if you find yourself off the beaten path, they are definitely worth the price. Who knows? You may even be lucky enough to stumble on the rare motel offering those “Magic Fingers”. If not, I know a vendor who sells them on Ebay for a song.

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Riding with a Rat

They come with the territory. Anytime there’s feed for horses or cattle or even dogs, they’re going to arrive to see what they can salvage from the smorgasbord. You may have the cleanest barn in the neighborhood, which we do, thanks to my OCD husband who blows out the barn aisle at every opportunity.

For the first time last evening, we saw a little unwanted guest. I, of course, am using that particular adjective loosely. Anything larger than a chipmunk should be charged rent. I heard my husband yelling, “Did you see him? Did you see him? You almost stepped on him!” That was a tidbit that I didn’t need to hear.

It turns out the interloper ran from the front of the barn all the way to the other end and disappeared. The little bugger. I never got an eyeball on him.

“Was it a mouse or a rat?” I’m not sure why that really makes any difference but it does. We horse people are a weird lot. Mice….hmm. They’re cute. Rats! It’s like the elephant in the closet.

“It was about this big.” He held his hands apart about 6″…. yep that’s a rat.

“Well he’s gone now and honestly, all the food is in a metal container. I wouldn’t worry.”

We headed up to the house without a second thought.

The next morning, my husband decided to mow the front lawn before noon. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of a mower. It brings back childhood memories; the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distance hum of the mower and the memory of my father whipping around on his riding mower with his favorite farmer’s cap perched on his head. My husband is the same. He loves his zero turn, taking great pride in making sure the lines are even and level. Wanting to complete the lawn before the sun got too hot, he was in a particular jaunty mood, turning corners on a dime, zipping right along. Not only was my husband enjoying the ride, so was the rat.

Of course, the stowaway wasn’t discovered until my husband stopped to blow off the debris that collects in the filter. While he’s at it, he blows everything off. That’s when he discovered “Harold” literally flying off the mower when he got caught in the crosshairs. Then the real fun began.

In an effort to hide from both from my husband’s blower and further airborne torment, “Harold” darted into, of all things, our garage which was only open for the guy working on our base boards. In hot pursuit, my husband followed, cornered him and revved up his blower again. Once more, “Harold” was sent airborne, flying in a perfect five foot arch before landing outside the garage. His little legs working overtime, he scrambled toward the screened portch in the back of the house, my husband unsuccessfully trying to send him airborne into our neighbor’s pasture.

I heard a frantic thumping on the door.

“Get Charlie! CHARLIE! Come here Charlie! Rat! Get ’em boy!”

Charlie is our jackshitz…part Jack Russell, part Shitzu. Now you would think any dog with Jack Russell blood would take off like a lawn dart after such a prize catch but after leaping out the door in excitement, all Charlie could do was look up at my husband as if to say, “Yea, so? What am I supposed to do about him?”

“Harold”- unable to climb up the screen eventually took off toward the back yard and tried to disappear into the brush, with my husband, blower revved up to the highest rpm level, right on his tail, no pun intended. I would like to be able to say there is photographic documentation of this. An airborne rat is not something you see everyday. Unfortunately, as with most delightful escapades, it’s a visual one can only imagine.

Ah, life on a farm. It’s never boring.

Repurposed, Reloved, Recycle

I admit it. I’m a sucker for an old, worn wonderful piece of furniture. If it looks sturdy enough and it strikes my fancy, chances are better than average it will wind up in the back of my Jetta Sportwagen for the quick trip back to our garage for a revamp. (On a side note, it’s amazing how much one can fit in the back of that VW. They’ve come a long way from the Beetle)  Long ago I gave up trying to sneak any new found treasure into the garage without being discovered. My DH instinctively knew. I don’t know how. He would be standing near the door, arms crossed with a hint of the “stinkeye”. You know the look. One eyebrow raised, lips pursed, wanting to ask why I was delving into another project but knowing it might not be safe to do so – conveying this thought through body language. However this time I felt there was a valid reason. I’ve dabbled in writing most of my  life. While I love it, I’m not prolific nor do I write on a regular basis. I admire those who can crank out amazing articles or poems with such ease but I’m more of a percolator. Plots, scenes and story lines play out and rework themselves usually while I’m doing other mundane things.

looking scratched and nauseatingly red

Worn, scratched but definitely worth it.

Then when it gently falls into place, I try my best to let it flow.

So here I was, walking through one of my favorite unique stores in Orlando, Adjectives Unhinged, when tucked almost from sight, I spied the perfect platform from which I could “let it flow”. Sounds slightly familiar. Well, it was almost perfect. If you could see beyond the red velvet cake mahogany stain, it had the bones and style of something beautiful with three wide drawers neatly placed on either side.  It screamed “Take me home! Make me over! ” How could I resist?

Trying to be environmentally correct, I began using

At work

A little elbow grease…

a low VOC water based remover but this stain wasn’t melting off like icing. I had to bring out the big guns. After some diligent scraping, the remover revealed the rich grain long hidden by the mahogany stain. Unfortunately, the desktop still retained too much red for my taste so I selected a gel stain from  General Finishes called Java. After applying it, I could understand why.

leg detail

Show a little leg!

I’m sure the most of the DIY’ers out there have heard of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Adjectives Unhinged carries all her colors and although I hadn’t tried the product before, I was drawn to Duck Egg Blue.

Duck Egg Blue isn’t really blue but a soft mixture of grey and blue. It really complemented the darker wood of the desk top. Chalk Paint is an interesting product which I don’t think I would use for every project but in this particular case, the results far exceeded what I could have ever hoped for. Her dark wax added depth to the lower portion and it was easy to manipulate. If I added a little too much dark wax, the clear wax buffed away the mistake. Pretty nifty.  For those of you who have used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, what are your favorite colors?

juis suis fine

J’ai fini!

This will occupy a spot in front of a large picture window overlooking a green pasture. Beyond the fence line is a field regularly occupied with cows and their calves. I can almost feel the juices percolating. Time to finish editing that mystery thriller since I no longer have any excuses to procrastinate.

Oh, I would be very remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my loyal crew who stuck with me throughout the process.  They may not give advice but they sure made the journey worthwhile. Besides,  Oscar (the overly relaxed soul on the left) now has a place to sleep  other than draping himself over my keyboard. Charlie can sleep safely underneath.

The Critics

The “Crew”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Birds and the Bees

When we moved from the hustle and bustle of traffic congested highways and cookie cutter homes, our relocation took us to the other side of the country, to an area we had driven through many times on our cross country trips. Instead of having neighbors who would thoughtfully hand you the soap you dropped through a window almost touching yours, the neighbors at our new location were a considerable distance away. Make no mistake, people were as friendly here as they were in our previous neighborhood but we didn’t have to supply an extra bowl of popcorn for them as they watched movies on our TV through adjacent kitchen windows.

We chose the drastic relocation for several reasons. One was to be closer to family. The other and most important reason was to hopefully give our son a chance to enjoy the freedom to run around and enjoy his childhood like his parents had. We didn’t have to worry about walking to a park; our farm was the park. He was able to get a pony. A dog who had been abandoned and was being fed by three different neighbors, chose to adopt us as his permanent family. The neighbor behind us had the cutest little herd of miniature ponies and, of course, what is a barn without a barn cat. It was a little heaven on earth. Continue reading

The Final Journey

Elderly_Woman_,_B&W_image_by_Chalmers_ButterfieldThe movie “Still Alice” affected me deeply as I’m sure it did many people. My fervent wish is a cure for this insidious disease which robs the very soul and dignity of those affected.

The Final Journey

     Loosely defined, a journey can take various forms. It can be a thousand miles or a thousand steps. A journey can be as simple as a trip to the neighborhood grocery store, as exotic as a trek through the Swiss Alps, as necessary as a pilgrimage from one country to another or as enjoyable as a trip down memory lane. My bittersweet sojourn began when I returned to my place of birth. It was my last opportunity to say both goodbye and pay homage to my mother, a woman who had traveled many paths in her lifetime and had taught me the importance of each little journey.

     As a young girl, this Lancaster Lass had left her country of birth, the United Kingdom. Traveling with her parents and two older brothers, she had crossed the vast of expanse of water to finally arrive in Canada and eventually enter the United States. Although she was a mere seven years old, the memory of standing on the deck, a biting Atlantic wind nipping at her cheeks and whipping through her auburn hair remained with her. When my sisters and I were young, she blushingly regaled us about the first time our father, the most popular boy in the school, walked her home to the rectory where they lived. She was fifteen and our father was seventeen. Picking the daisies and cornflowers blooming along the dusty path, he had presented the final bouquet to her at the bottom of the porch steps of her home. Her father, an imposing minister with an authoritarian air, was standing just behind the porch screen door, appraising this young man through wire rimmed spectacles as if examining an insect. Normally his haughty demeanor would send chills down the spines of the young men who displayed a fancy for his only daughter, but our father, she confided, simply tipped his hat with a disarming smile and continued on his way. It was the beginning of a lifetime romance. An old, crinkled, sepia colored photograph framed in pewter had held a special place on the family mantle for as long as I could remember. After their marriage, they had journeyed to Minnesota for four years where he completed his residency before returning to their roots and Illinois plains. Continue reading