You see, there were certain deprivations in my childhood, one of which was never being allowed to stay at an Alamo Plaza Motel, that icon of the American road that stirred the imaginations of young boys in the 1950s and 60s.
It was the Davy Crockett era, and Fess Parker was our hero, and we saw the Disney movie multiple times, even when you had to go downtown to a real movie theatre each time. We ran around the neighborhood in coonskin caps, complete with snap-off coon tails (so that they wouldn’t be pulled off permanently), and defended anything looking remotely like a fort from the invading Mexicans who were expected at any moment (although, originally, it may have been the Texans doing the invading—depends on your point of view).
And in such an atmosphere, what could possibly be more interesting, more fascinating, to us kids than those wonderful replicas of the famed mission-turned-fortress in San Antonio that you could actually stay in (how cool was that)? The answer to both questions is absolutely nothing on the planet, unless you happened to be the parents of such kids, who were more interested in the Howard Johnson’s or Holiday Inn, neither of which needed defending from the invaders (took all the fun out of it). So, needless to say, no matter how many times my sister and I pleaded, the station wagon never darkened the romantic arches of a single Alamo Plaza during my entire childhood.
But, life goes on, you grow up, and put away such childish things. However, even as an adult, I admit that I would occasionally cast a wistful glance at an ancient Alamo Plaza ageing by some old highway, wondering what might have been.
The only Alamo Plaza in South Mississippi that I would see with some regularity was located on old Highway 90 on the beach in Gulfport. It was slightly elevated and had a fine view of the Sound, and hadn’t seen a coat of paint in a decade or two, and probably not many customers either. Having now become a man with a family of my own, I had never considered subjecting them to the luxury of an Alamo Plaza, so my fantasy remained just that. . . until I learned that the old place might be in danger of being replaced by one of those new high rise apartment blocks with all the charm of, say, a mausoleum.
And that got the old juices flowing again. If I was ever going to stay in one of those intriguing fragments of my lost childhood, so long denied me, it would have to be soon.
And, as luck would have it, I had business on the Coast soon, so the opportunity was there. My understanding wife even offered to make the reservation for me (I suspected she was sort of getting into the idea, although she didn’t volunteer to come down and spend the night with me there). According to my wife, she spoke to a very nice elderly lady, who was delighted to help and asked, “What type of room would he like?”
“Well, what types do you have?”, my wife asked.
“Oh, we have a single with one twin bed and a shower for $24.50 plus tax. Or, we have a double that has a bathtub for $34.50 plus tax. Or, we have a suite that includes paneling and a kitchenette for $44.50 plus tax.”
“Great, we’ll take the suite. Do you need a credit card to hold it?”
“Oh, no, just a phone number, and will you be with him?”
“I’m afraid not . . .”
The next night, the same elderly desk clerk seemed mildly impressed by my arrival, as if she hadn’t really expected it. I got the impression that reservations were not necessarily the norm, and began to feel a little like a visiting dignitary. But, before I could get carried away, she asked if I would be paying in cash, and it didn’t really sound like a question.
The lobby was period 50s and great, with a nice view over the slopping front lawn to the swimming pool and the Gulf beyond. With the slope, it was sort of a 50s infinity pool and looked very inviting. And my suite was the same, really carrying out the feeling of a time capsule. Paneled in real Ponderosa Pine, with those big dark knots, it had really been sumptuous in its day. It had a really nice 50s tiled bath, with the small tiles, and many built in extras and amenities not found in motel rooms today.
Of course the place had been remodeled, redone, repainted, refurnished, and touched up too many times to count, but that only resulted in that wonderful patina of age and that interesting eclectic mix of furniture, hardware, décor, and the like, little of which matched, that conjured a certain rather jaded “atmosphere” not necessarily appreciated by all, to be sure (like the rest of my family and most of the traveling public).
“Now, see,” I thought , ” we could have been enjoying these groovy places all these years.” And, when young, we could have defended them from the invaders, coonskin caps and all. But, somehow I don’t think the rest of the family would have seen quite the same romance in it all that I did. And then there was someone’s laundry hanging outside to dry, but, again, that only added charm to my way of thinking (and at no extra charge).
Well, by the next morning a longtime dream had been fulfilled. I had actually stayed in an Alamo Plaza Motel, albeit a few years after the Davy Crockett craze.
But I had no way of knowing that the experience was not quite over, and that I had one more unique pleasure in store. That occurred the next day during the legal depositions that I had come to the Coast to conduct. They were of course held in one of the fancy casino resort hotels, and were attended by a number of well heeled and sophisticated attorneys from all over the place.
During one of our breaks, we were standing around making very small talk when someone inquired as to where everyone was staying there on the Coast (you can see it coming, can’t you?). Some were staying at “the Beau” (Beau Rivage), some at “the IP”( Imperial Palace), some at the Grand , and so on. And then they got to me. “Where are you staying, Web?” “Oh, me? I’m at the Alamo Plaza.”
There was an awkward moment of complete silence, followed by the sound of their collective jaws hitting the floor and the stricken looks on their faces, which were, as the MasterCard add goes, . . . “Priceless!”