Before we found the perfect spot, my dad would cruise in and out of the driveways, dashing into the registration offices to negotiate things like free cots, lower rates and later check-out times. Sometimes he'd return empty handed. And sometimes he'd return holding one of those giant turquoise key chains with a room number stamped on it. It was the Internet search of the early 1980s, all that endless driving, the hot vinyl seats and the smell of exhaust and heat and whining.
I took my 4-year-old daughter to Monterey the other day so we could visit the enormous aquarium and Cannery Row. On the way, we happened upon the same motel row I remembered as a child, and I pointed out all the places my family once stayed.
It struck me how sterile her vacations have become.
Everything is done beforehand -- there's no element of chance. Weeks before we leave the house, the plane tickets have been purchased, the hotels selected. From the comfort of our couch, we can see pictures of hotel rooms, bathrooms, poolside amenities -- even views from the balcony. There are often reviews from other guests, informing about things like noise or service.
It felt reassuring to see some of the same motels I grew up with, even stayed in. A few seemed to have been bought and altered by major hotel chains, but many seemed quaint and charming as if they had suffered only from the quiet aging of endless house guests, totems to a time gone by and yet, happily, still within reach.