Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The C_ Motor Inn

One of our options for inexpensive lodging on this trip is the classic American roadside motel. Generally found not off the Interstate but along the old, pre-Eisenhower U.S. highways, these motels have names like the Covered Wagon Motel (where we stayed in Washington, N.C.), the Crawford Motor Inn (Ledonia, Alabama), and the Shelby Motor Lodge (Alabaster, Alabama). Unlike the ubiquitous chain options along the Interstate, these historical leftovers are independently and locally owned, and offer the opportunity to interact with some natives of whatever region we happen to be passing through that day.

The St. Stephen Motel in St. Stephen, South Carolina.
The C_ Motor Inn, where we stopped between Atlanta and Montgomery, offers a particularly good example. I wanted to stay there because the name sounded like something out of the Clark Gable movie, “It Happened One Night,” in which the hero and heroine, taking the bus from Florida to New York, shack up in quaint little “motor camps” with gardens and wicker chairs and friendly morning birds. The man on the phone—very Southern-sounding, Brahna reported—said a room was $30.
We entered Alabama just before dusk. A storm was stirring up and trying to wrestle Morty out of my control as a woman on the radio warned northern Georgia about the possibility of tornados. We found the Crawford Motor Inn on U.S. Route 80 outside Ledonia—a town too small to merit placement on any of the three Alabama maps we had in the car. The motel, again, was outside that town.

My first reaction was that this was the first motel I’d ever seen that was actually inside a strip mall. In the office, we met B_, the owner, and T_, the motel manager, who took our cash and had us fill in the guest log. One poster on the wall had a picture of the Stars and Stripes and said in bold font: “This Is Our Flag—Be Proud Of It!” B_ told us that he liked to run a quiet place, away from the “riffraff,” with no room for those who dabble with drugs or cussing in front of ladies. He gave us a tour around our room, noted several times that they keep a “clean” place, and explained a foot size hole in the bathroom wall by telling us about a guy they had to “pull” out of the room a few nights earlier. He said he planned to patch it up soon. As he left, B_ mentioned that coffee would be available in the office at 6 a.m., and I told him to count me in.

When B_ left us alone, Brahna and I turned our attention to making the room as welcoming as possible. Its four windowless orange walls and stale smoky smell made me feel like I was stuck inside a rotting peach. Brahna wrote her last blog post while sitting on the bed, as I labored over the AAA maps and guides planning the next day in Montomery and Selma. We played Bessie Smith quietly on my iPod speakers, impotently defying the overwhelming whiteness of where we were. Per T_’s suggestion, we ordered Dominos and ate it in the room.

Dinner at the Crawford Motor Inn.
I was excited to meet B_ in the office for coffee the next morning, looking forward to talking with someone who seemed like an interesting man—in any case, a 70-something Alabaman who had doubtlessly lived through what can perhaps most politely be described as “the shit.”

I found B_ sitting in a lawn chair outside the motel office, enjoying, as he had been when I last saw him the night before, the sight of his own red pick-up truck in an otherwise almost empty parking lot, and the gas station, and the cars on U.S. 80 zipping by. He sat with a tall pony-tailed and fu-manchued truck driver. I muttered something about coffee and B_ sprung up and into the office.

He emerged with two flaccid sausages settled uneasily on white bread. He said he woke up at 5:30 to make them, and that they were the best you can buy. “This one,” he said, “is for the wife.” I thanked B_ profusely, but told him that “the wife” doesn’t like sausage. “She does like grits though, especially when they’re creamy,” I said. B_ ordered T_ to cook up some instant grits—“sha liiikes ‘em creameh!”—and I stole quickly back to the room, to warn Brahna that she had a bowl of grits coming her way, and that we were married.

B_ and T_ sat us down on two stools on opposite sides of the office counter, and doted on us non-stop. B_ slid a massive spoonful of butter into Brahna’s grits—“sha liiikes ‘em creameh,” he said to T_ again—and joked with me about what else, besides coffee, he prefers black. B_ again expressed his intention to run a clean establishment, with no quarter for drugs or excessive noise or cussing in front of the ladies. 

He started talking about some “boy,” but we didn’t know what he meant. Then he looked up, and we turned around to see a young black guy, around our age, who was handing in his key and checking out. B_ was in equal measures hostile—“You gittin’ out yit? Good!”—and amicable—telling us he had known him since he was “yay high” and asking him if he would soon return. When T_ came into the office from doing laundry, B_ told her that the “black boy” in Room 2 had just checked out. Brahna and I tried not to look at each other.
We were guests of honor. Brahna did an admirable job eating the impossibly buttery grits, nearly finishing the whole bowl before giving up. B_ seemed convinced she did so not in resignation and disgust, but with overflowing satisfaction. Then he pulled out a pile of photographs he was sure we'd want to see: B_ with the mayor of nearby Columbus, Georgia; B_  with his fellow local Rotarians; B_ with the last surviving member of Merrill’s Marauders (a WWII special ops unit he seemed sure we had heard of).

B_ told us about his farm down near Dothan (“Ya’ll ne’er heard a the Dothan Regional Airport?”), with its 50’ porch and plentiful deer population. He told us about his time in the army, and with the “Rangers.” He told us about his feud with the gas station next door. He said we were “real unusual.”

Before we left, T_ took us aside. She was crying. She said her husband died last year. She said that when she saw us newlyweds, she just had to tell us to cherish one another and every day we have together. She trailed off and broke into sobs. The three of us snuggled into a long-ish group hug. I felt like a bastard for lying.

I set up a self-timer shot of the four of us using B_’s old wooden footrest as a prop. After the orange light clicked and went out, Brahna said I should check how it came out. “How in the world you gonna do that?” B_ asked.

B_, T_, Brahna, and I


  1. loved this - laughed out loud

    and of course nervous about the part of Mortimer almost out of control


  2. hehehe

    -Mary ann