How can it be bad to paraphrase a Grateful Dead lyric in the title? Especially when it is so à propos. Because that is exactly what the journey to rediscover America’s roadside motels turned out to be.
Since my last post I have travelled southwest and seen the sights along Route 66. From there I went up California where I felt in harmony with U2 in Twentynine Palms and continued all the way north to board the 3pm to Dunsmuir before coming back down and being surprised in Sacramento only to discover a new base camp in South Lake Tahoe. Then through a ghost town and the goldmine towns of Northern Nevada I moved north to see a motel makeover in Boise. From there I headed east to fall for some buffalo in Yellowstone; followed the road to Omaha; back north see what comes out of the cornfields in Iowa; then sidelined Chicago to stay over in South Bend Indiana and up for a retro ride back in time to Saugatuck Michigan before heading home.
America is a big country. For 50 days and across 10,150 miles, I slept in the roadside motels that for more than half a century, have beckoned travellers off the highways. And just as diverse as the motels were, so too are the moteliers and fellow travellers I met along the journey. Combined, that makes this story as rich as America herself.
Those people include moteliers like Sam, owner of El Trovatore in Kingman Arizona. Sam is an Israeli American and served as a demolitions officer in the Israeli army. He tells me the story of his final mission in Beirut where he was ordered to conduct a retaliatory attack and blow up a hospital. But Sam had a problem with that. He convinced his senior leadership to not destroy the entire hospital but that he could demolish just one wall instead and that the message would have the same effect. He argued that they would prevent civilian casualties and the hospital could still operate through reconstruction. His superiors conceded and Sam lead the mission. After the hospital wall came down, his team was sweeping the area to ensure the remaining structure was still sound when a child soldier no older than fourteen pulled out an AK47 and shot Sam in the back. As a ‘prize’ for surviving and thanking him for his service, the Israeli government granted Sam the opportunity to come to the United States to pursue his university studies. He loved the country and opportunities America presented so he stayed to start his new life. But, after building a modest real estate empire, in perhaps a sad irony, his real estate holdings imploded in the crash of 2007. True to the American dream, he took what he could salvage and bought this historic motel on Route 66. Today, holding no grudges or resentment, Sam will regale you with his motel’s history, the stories of movie stars that stayed there, and you can even sleep in the James Dean room like I did.
“At that moment I felt my wife reaching down to me and telling me I must travel the country to protect these girls. So now that’s what I do.”Papa Cherry
Then there is Papa Cherry. I met Papa Cherry at a rest stop carved out of the cornfields in Iowa. At over six feet tall and upwards of three hundred pounds, he was as large and intimidating a biker I ever saw. Riding his 1986 Suzuki Cavalcade loaded with camping gear, he was travelling home to Maine. After introducing myself I asked where he was travelling from. He told me he heads a private security detail for a travelling troop of The Flaunt Girls who were just performing in Sturgis. He continues that it was his calling to protect these women because he owes his life to them. Pointing to the lantern on top of his camping gear, his eyes well up and says that two years earlier his wife committed suicide after being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. He was in a dark place, drinking too much, had a gun and wanted to join his wife when one of The Flaunt Girls hugged him and begged him not too. Papa Cherry said “At that moment I felt my wife reaching down to me and telling me I must travel the country to protect these girls. So now that’s what I do.” After going home for a few days he will mount his bike again and travel to their next show. And as for the lantern? In the base of that lantern are his wife’s remains, so she is always with him.
It is our memories of the past that often inspire the future. That was the case for Elizabeth Tullis and her family when they bought a run down Travelodge motel. Elizabeth Tullis’ grandmother owned a boarding house during the great depression called the Modern Hotel. So in honour of her grandmother’s memory she gave the Travelodge a complete makeover and reopened it as The Modern Hotel and Bar. And today, proudly displayed in the motel lobby, is a large black-and-white picture of Elizabeth’s grandmother in front of the original Modern Hotel.
And these are just a sample of the rich stories I learned along this adventure. So now with the journey complete, what is next? Is that the end of The Motelorcyclist?
No, actually it is just the beginning. Your support on social media, and the messages of encouragement you sent are inspiring me to keep going. I will finish the book Sleeping Around in America where I share many many more stories of the journey. And in the months to come I will update the website to add new destination motels too. As always, I encourage you to send me your destination motel suggestions so perhaps I can visit to them on a future adventure. But for now I will keep writing and riding about the motels that serve as havens on road trips and fuel the American dream – or should I say I will keep writing and Truckin’?