Monday, September 7, 2015

Motel Archeology

Our minor league baseball road trips operate under a set of rules.  Some are absolute.  We sit on the first base side of the ball park.  And when driving any and all spontaneous inclinations to turn off and see something must be acted upon.

Other matters are more like guidelines.  We always strive to stay in a motel within walking distance of the stadium.  We like small towns enough to want to see them from a shoe leather perspective.  We are cheap and would never consider paying for parking. We don't usually have more than one or two beers, but in theory we could if we felt like it.

Now in general minor league ball parks are not out on the ritzy edges of town.  They are commonly in city parks, old industrial areas, that sort of thing. So the lodging accommodations near by tend to be a little scruffy.  Or more than a little.

Because we dallied on the drive down we got to Cedar Rapids late enough that we went straight to the game.  Afterwards when we pulled up the the motel we stayed at two years ago we were dismayed to find it to be, shall we say, insalubrious.

We were seeing it in twilight gloom, and while you could certainly ignore one or two folks idling about outside of it, when you have a dozen or so suspicious characters outside of a run down establishment you begin to wonder if your car would be there in the morning.  So we kept going another mile.

The place we stayed at was a low end franchise of a national chain.  It was clean, safe, sterile.  I slept badly.  But our car was still there in the morning.

The next day we went on to Clinton.  This time we stayed in a place down town, in fact the only lodging down town.  We had been there before.  It is a modest place, run by a nice older couple. They were happy to see us and talked about how the economy generally was a bit depressed.  There is a big factory on the edge of town but so much is automated now.  A Walmart was putting the squeeze on smaller businesses of all sorts.  Even the Target store had gone under.

It reminded me a little of the Decline, the pulling back and making do, of the late Roman Empire. Things were patched up instead of being replaced. And our down town hotel, in which I had an excellent night's sleep by the way, is in fact a sort of archaeological site.

From the outside.  There were a smattering of other vehicles parked there in the evening, but I think it was mostly the ground level that was occupied.

At Vindolanda this year there was a large water tank excavated.  It probably started off as a sacred pool of some sort.  Later it was for watering the horses.  At the end it just filled up with silt and was abandoned.  Here we have a motel pool, circa 1960s I figure.  A place like this no longer has the demand, or the insurance coverage to maintain it.  The silting in has begun.

Decorative detail from the third floor railing.  This is the logo of TraveLodge, a chain that once owned this motel.  It goes by a different name now and I think is privately owned.  TL likely sold off low performing branches a while back.

Here the logo has rusted away or been kicked out.  Wire provides a modicum of safety.

At Roman sites you can always count on finding some interesting decorative touches in the bath house.  Here is a tile in the shower with the slumbering bear mascot of TraveLodge slowly vanishing.

So, are little mom and pop motels doomed to fade away?  I hope not, and would like to imagine that hard work will always be rewarded.  But realistically....perhaps.  Anything done on a scale above Bed and Breakfast has to compete with numerous heavily marketed national chains.  And those chains themselves are under pressure from newer options.  Motor homes for the foot loose elders. Air BnB for the adventuresome young.

But as to individual establishments, individual communities, you just have to acknowledge that things always change.  Here is Clinton Iowa as a fading river town, a place where the paint is peeling:

And here in the down town neighborhood that our host told us was suffering, is a nice new bike lane that has just been laid out.

True, it only appears to run for one block and goes past the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, but just as decline always starts someplace, so does renewal.

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