Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Sanitized for your protection blog.

One thing I want from any excursion, any trip, or any vacation is variety. Variety in the scenery, the meals, the accommodations. I met my goal this time.

Our first overnights were at the Microtel Inn on Military Road in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where we stayed for two nights. Actually, that motel isn't on Military Road, but on a nameless spur of a street connecting to a road that connects to Military Road, a fact that isn't quite obvious as you approach from US 51, but never mind (signage, Microtel, get some signage!). Microtel is a relatively new chain, 300 or so franchisees, and part of the segment known in the biz as a "limited-service" property, which is exactly what it sounds like. What you get is a room, period.

Well, not quite period, since this property had a "continental breakfast" and a "spa and exercise room." The spa was a hot tub, and the exercise room contained a stationary bicycle, a treadmill, and a hazardous looking stair-step machine. The breakfast was coffee, juice, and assorted middling breads. But I'm not writing to mock Microtel for these things -- I've seen worse at overpriced hotels, and Microtel isn't overpriced, since the tab for each day came in under $50. Besides, we made use of all the facilities, and Lilly in particular enjoyed the exercise room, learning how to amble on the treadmill in a distinctly childlike way (I wouldn't let her climb on the stairstepper, though; childlike there is just asking for an emergency room visit).

Our introduction to the chain was in Green Bay some years ago, and the property there has a remarkable swimming pool, at least for this end of the hospitality market. Among other features, it has slides, a basketball hoop over the water, gushing fountains in the kiddie shallows, and a faux volcano.

As part of a chain, the Microtel doesn't have much character, of course. But we got that at the Bridge Inn in Tomahawk, a small town in central Wisconsin only known to me because I had visited it almost 25 years ago. I didn't notice the Bridge Inn in August 1978, but I'm fairly certain it was there at the time, because it looks like it hasn't changed since at least that year, and very likely since 1968.

This includes Don & Ruth, who own the place, and have that air of being fixtures themselves. When we arrived on the afternoon of the last day of June, the elderly couple were to be found in the lobby, a dim chamber sharing the main motif of the place -- deep brown wood -- with Ruth womaning the desk. She politely looked my reservation up in a handwritten ledger, yep, Stribling, one night. Fill out this card, please. Meanwhile, Don was parked on a nearby lounge chair, watching but not really watching TV. Magazines littered a nearby couch. I think he enjoyed his crossword puzzles. A couple of local-interest posters were tacked to the walls, and off in the corner, the effect was complete: a cigarette machine. It had a permanent-looking OUT OF ORDER sign taped to it, but that didn't spoil things. Call the Smithsonian. That institution needs to collect these machines. Don't let Don & Ruth's heirs take it to the local dump.

This was a wonderful place for me, frankly because it tapped into personal nostalgia. It had a few other nice features, such as the fact that you could sit outside your room on a porch looking straight at the Wisconsin River a hundred feet away. But more than that, the place was a conflation of every motel I stayed at as a kid in the late '60s. The details were right:

• The aforementioned cigarette machine.

• The brown walls and the burnt-orange shag carpet.

• Lamps hanging from the ceiling by gold-colored chains that attempt to hide the electrical cords.

• Those same lamps, which were in the shape of -- there are no words in the language of geometry for those shapes, really, but it looked like some lamp designer took Escher as an inspiration for his multi-angled creations, and failed.

• The bottle opener affixed under the sink.

• The plastic Do Not Disturb sign, meant to hang on the doorknob, with the ’20s-style bellhop on the obverse, and the '20s maid on the Clean Room reverse.

• Best of all, a SANITIZED FOR YOU PROTECTION strip on the toilet upon arrival.


Post a Comment

<< Home