This 304-page colourful publication personifies ‘coffee-table’ reading. You can absorb the linear narrative and follow the story of a man who takes 50 days to visit 50 classically-styled motels, riding his BMW F800GT 10,150 miles in the process, or you can dip in to enjoy the stories of life, love and loss that every one of those motels produces. He interweaves both seamlessly.
Family-owned, neon-lit motels may be a staple of twentieth century North American popular culture; road-trip romance instilled by Hollywood, but the reality is that very few remain. Built cheaply and quickly to cater for a newly mobile America, they were often torn down or just collapsed as the network of highways developed, simultaneously changing the value of land and the fortunes of those who found themselves bypassed. Having been aspirational places for many travellers, where they might experience colour TVs or trouser presses for the first time, they were all too soon to be the domicile of down-and-outs, or bought out and homogenised into the Holiday Inns and Super 8s that line the freeways today.
There is definitely a travelogue here of value, and the early chapters which set the scene of this bygone hospitality industry and its striking architecture are just wonderfully written and educational. However, what makes this for me is that the stories from each motel aren’t observation from afar, or projection by Beattie given his experience of staying in them. This is solid journalism that has taken the time to arrange to meet the proprietors and hear their stories, as well as research the previous life these establishments led in other hands. For some of these places with their restored neon signage, their heyday may not have passed in 1963, but in fact be coming yet as people crave individuality, or times past, and eschew the bland mediocrity of identikit hotels.
Following that opening section each chapter focuses on one or two premises, which enables that pick and mix way of reading, should you wish to dip in and out of this book. Thankfully there are more than 50 surviving ‘Roadside Motels’ in North America. The author’s website motelorcycle.com continues to expand documenting them, their architecture, history and current owners.
Capturing and revitalising the romance of the era, this beautifully presented publication is one of those books, should it be left lying around, that may lead to your loved one suggesting a trans-American ride. Just sayin’…
Review by Paddy Tyson
304 pages colour images throughout.
PB £24.99 HB £34.99
Published by Friesen Press (2020)