Over the centuries, hotels have gone by many names. In ancient times, when people parked their horses at nearby stables, they were known as inns. Inns probably weren’t the most attractive places, although travelers, no doubt, glad to have places to eat.
Then, in the 1800’s, came the large city hotels. The personnel at such hotels tried to make guests as comfortable as possible. Often the hotels featured fancy restaurants. And to attract visitors, hotels also provided such accommodations as room service and bellboys.
But many people traveled far from the cities. In the early 1900’s, farmers began to profit from designating certain acres as parking spaces. These spaces became known as Auto Camps. Travelers at the Auto Camps would either sleep in their cars or in tents attached to their cars.
By the 1920’s, a number of auto camps featured individual cabins, running water and showers. People who still liked to rough it turned later to the trailers that became available in the 1930’s.
By the late 1930’s, cabins in the auto camps were lined in rows, and called motor courts. After World War II, when the trend went to motorists parking outside a single long building featuring individual rooms, the motor court became the modern motel.
It was the motel that I grew up with. The first one I stayed in was the Ardsley Acres Motel, located in Ardsley on the Hudson. It was the first of many trips I took with my family to visit my maternal grandparents in Westchester County. The motel was small, but so were most motels of that era.
Most motels were used by travelers who lacked either the space or inclination to stay with their relatives. I also grew used to motels through business and, not often enough, vacations.
Early in the 90’s, I took the NY bar exam. I stayed at a motel in Amherst, outside of Buffalo. Taking the bar is not a particularly pleasant experience, and my motel stay wasn’t a happy time. The one advantage I had during my few days there was that an Elvis film festival was being held on a local TV station. So when I wasn’t at the university taking my exam, I was in my motel room watching Elvis movies.
Motels bragged of two features: they provided a space where motorists could park their cars right outside their rooms, and they were cheap. Being cheap, they had few frills. The motels at that time lacked porters, expensive restaurants or interesting lobbies. What they did feature were color TVs and swimming pools. When I wasn’t visiting with family, I spent a lot of time in swimming pools.
Those of us who grew up with motels became used to no-frills ways of travelling. Once, in the 90’s, when I took a trip to New York with a friend, my friend had a fit when a porter took his bag, and started taking it up to his room.
Around that time, I began making regular trips to the city. I stayed usually in the Edison, Pennsylvania or Herald Square. It was around that time that I developed the habit of sitting on the bed, and turning on the TV as soon as I got into the room.
Over the past two decades, motels have grown considerably in size. They are also multi-storied and centralized around their lobbies. The lobby areas now feature such attractions as bar lounges, restaurants, gyms, indoor pools and internet cafes. In essence, they have morphed back into hotels, albeit modern hotels with quite different features than the ones provided in my grandparents’ day.
In that time, I’ve stopped staying in Manhattan hotels. Prices had become too prohibitive. So my wife and I stay outside the city, and take the train in, an arrangement that makes for longer days.
I even stayed recently at the Ardsley Acres Motel, as I had business in Manhattan. Ardsey Acres was little changed from the motel of my childhood. At nine o’clock at night, I arrived at the motel office to check in, and the young woman behind the desk listened as I recounted how I had stayed there at the age of four.
When I go to a hotel or motel, I still turn on the flatscreen TV as soon as I enter my room. It’s interesting to watch not only the worldwide networks but also the local stations. I also still, when I have, time, take advantage of the pools.
Then there is the continental breakfast, a feature used by hotels to entice potential guests. The continental breakfast is most often a bonus, as it saves money and offers a variety of breakfast foods.
It can, of course, be busy. Often the hotels will host scholastic sports teams that are travelling on competition. And I, in an attempt to make waffles, can find myself in line behind twenty soccer players.
But most hotel experiences are good ones. Whether we’re away for pleasure or business, the hotel allows us the opportunity to finally relax.