Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Visit to the No-Tell Motel

After a particularly nice stay at a Marriott Comfort Inn and Suites (with soft-core porn on demand!  That, AND a make-your-own-waffle machine), I got to wondering about who and where the world's first ever hotel was, and whether or not they had as great a breakfast buffet as my Marriott (granola!  bacon AND sausage!  scrambled eggs that weren't slimy at all!)
Note the complete absence of unsupervised children running amok
The first hotel was probably in one of the first cities, Jericho and Chatal Huyuk in contention for that honor, and was probably nothing more than a spare room in a house where the kids had grown up and married, grandma and grandpa had died, and the dog had been roasted in honor of a local deity's feast day.  There are no records of this first hotel: no advertising, receipts, star-rating or snarky comments on the ancient equivalent of Yelp!.com.  Ancient peoples were more concerned with getting out of the rain and wondering if their hosts would rob them during the night to bother with filling out the obligatory guest survey.
That's your room on the roof under the stretched goat skin.  Check-out at 10 am.
Those wacky and wonderful Sumerians upped the hospitality-game by featuring inns run by widdows that served beer and that exotic import, wine.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of these fine establishments shows up, in all places, and I am completely NOT making this up, at the END  OF  THE  WORLD (not to be confused with Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe).  Here is what happened when the title character, Gilgamesh, showed up at this tavern at the end of the world:

You like my kitty?
He's an actual lion
The tavern-keeper Siduri who lives by the seashore,she lives...the pot-stand was made for her, the golden fermenting vat was made for her.She is covered with a veil ...Gilgamesh was roving about...wearing a skin,...having the flesh of the gods in his body,but sadness deep within him,looking like one who has been traveling a long distance.The tavern-keeper was gazing off into the distance,puzzling to herself, she said,wondering to herself: "That fellow is surely a murderer(!)! Where is he heading! ..."As soon as the tavern-keeper saw him, she bolted her door,bolted her gate, bolted the lock.

Apparently, ancient bar-keeps had the same problems as modern ones, what with murderers and creepy-looking semi-mythical heroes strolling by and wanting a drink.

You probably remember from your kid's Christmas pageant the Inn at Bethlehem that didn't have any room for Joseph, Mary and the future Baby Jesus, thus missing out on the best free publicity any hotel could ever hope for, especially once the Magi finally showed up.  What you probably never heard about was the fact that the Romans --who basically invented the interstate highway --recognized this problem and actually did something about it.  Emperors from Augustus to Constantine made it a policy to encourage inns, hostels, horse-stables, rest areas and scenic views all along their superb network of roads in order to make the traveller's journey a little more pleasurable.
I had to give birth in a STABLE
 because YOU wouldn't call ahead for a RESERVATION!
Travel accommodations got the royal treatment during the Middle Ages when a king-on-the-road could expect lodgings at any one of several castles owned and operated by his vassals.  Amenities typically included hunting, feasting, fooling-around with the kitchen wenches, hawking, feasting, recreational horseback riding, feasting and feasting.  Even a nobody-knight could expect hospitality from brother knights and terrified peasants along the way.  Before you wax nostalgic about the days of yore, remember that staying at a castle was no picnic: they were cold, drafty, unhygienic, crowded --they basically had the same ambiance of a National Guard Armory.
Your room does include a bath, but unfortunately it's located in the dining hall.
And while we're on the subject of the Middle Ages, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the great accommodations offered by religious denominations along the pilgrimage routes.  These could be had at the hostelry or hospital of any monastery --word has it that the Benedictines were the best.  In fact, a whole order of chivalry was dedicated to the hospitality industry: the Knights Hospital, or the Hospitalers.  They are particularly noted for providing security for Jerusalem-bound pilgrims and for surviving the destruction of the Knights Templar order.
Would you prefer a smoking or a non-smoking room?  With or without armor?
As cities and commerce recovered during the High Middle Ages, inns and public-houses proliferated at about the same rate that stay-and-bugger-off-without-paying travelling salesmen, so much so that laws were adopted to punish these early spongers.  The English Common Law was especially helpful in this area, setting up the rights of guests and the duties of innkeepers towards their guests.  This was a problem, as there was one particularly notorious inn on the way into London whose guest room included a trap door which, when opened, deposited the guest under the inn where he would be robbed and his body tossed into the Thames.  If our guest escaped this trap, he could look forward to a shave-and-a-haircut from Sweeny Todd.
That was a CLOSE shave you wanted?

With a legal framework in place, the only thing that the hospitality industry needed next to make it even better was the automobile and --Presto! --the Motel was born.  A motel or motor-inn can be found in most American towns today.  My fondest motel memory was the motel in New Hampshire ski-country in the late 1960's.  My brother and I had our own room with a door in between my parent's room; there was a tiny refrigerator stocked with sodas and snacks; but best of all, there was a coin slot on the nightstand that, if you put a quarter in it, magic fingers would massage the stressful day of skiing right out of your body!  How cool was that!

The golden age of motels in the United States was, of course, the 1950's, and the road these great motels were on were the Mother Road, Route 66.  The space-age designs, modern exteriors and predictably good accomodations were famous the world over, almost as famous as America's wacky roadside attractions.  Dinosaur parks?  the birthplace of the guy who invented Saran Wrap?  the world's biggest ball of string?  See it all from your Chevrolet in the USA, and then pull in to the local motel for a rest, a dip in their pool, and some homemade pie from the diner across the street.
Or you could stay here and, um, see Norman's Mom?

Today's hotel experience can be anything from a student hostel with Dieter and Sven, the Techno-Twins, all the way up to the most exclusive hotel room in the entire world: inside Cinderella's Castle. At Walt Disney World, there is a room that one can't rent --one must be invited --and you would not believe all the luxury inside: a priceless glass slipper (hey, it is Cinderella's room after all!), a pool-sized tub that one can adjust the lighting-color-scheme to match your mood; priceless wood carving on the bed headboards; an amazing mosaic of Cinderella's pumpkin-coach on the floor --it just goes on and on!  Here is the link to this most exclusive of all hotel rooms:
If you are lucky enough to ever stay in this room, a few words to the wise: don't set out any mousetraps; don't swat any small, flying creatures that might be buzzing around your head (it might be Tink!); and don't, DO  NOT  bug the concierge about seeing Cinderella and Prince Charming in person BECAUSE  THEY  ARE  FAIRY-TALES  AND  NOT  REAL.

So, have a nice stay and remember: checkout time is 10 am.


  1. "Scrambled eggs that weren't slimy at all!" is a great start for a nice hotel. I would want that, but the glass slipper, for that I have never felt the need. Who knows, maybe that's what my vacations have been missing. I never thought about how the Inn at Bethlehem missed out on the best free publicity any hotel could ever hope for. Ha!

  2. There's no such thing as bad publicity ;-)