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January 04, 2006

Hotels (1): Cheap Digs

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Ever stay in a really ratty hotel or motel?

I suspect many Blowhards readers have stayed in cheap ones at one time or another, and some were probably ratty. I know I have.

Tightwad that I sometimes am, I hate paying more for meals and lodging than necessary. And "necessary" is a function of available money.

For example, when I was an Army private stationed at Fort Slocum (closed since about 1965) I used to come into New York City every weekend. Sometimes I sponged lodging at my college fraternity's chapter across the Hudson at Stevens Tech in Hoboken. Other times I had to find a room in the city. In those days adequate (clean but not at all fancy) rooms sometimes could be found at hotels having special rates for armed forces members. The one that I liked best was called (I think) The Pickwick or maybe Pickwick Arms located (as best I recall) in the lower east 50s. I also stayed at the Sloan House YMCA as well as some fairly seedy hotels. If I'd had more money, I would have selected something better.

When I moved to Albany in 1970 I had to wait a few weeks for a paycheck as well as for a brand-new apartment to become available. So I stayed in a shabby joint part-way up the hill from where I worked on Broadway, a block or so south of State Street. This hotel had the feature I like least -- the down-the-hall-bathroom.

I could mention more such hotels, but you are probably getting the idea by now.

My mental attitude when staying in such places was a combination of (1) disgust at myself for having to do so and (2) a stoic "ya gotta do what ya gotta do" attempt to blank-out what I was experiencing. The former no doubt reflects my middle-class background, for which I make no apologies. Perhaps people from other backgrounds or who were born in different generations might have another reaction, but I have no way of telling without conducting a research project.

During 1980-95 when I had my own business I again had to be careful of lodging costs when I was on the road making sales calls. I never sought the absolute cheapest motel, but I looked for inexpensive ones that seemed reasonably safe and clean.

For example, I used to drive down to California four or five times a year. Along Interstate 5 or related freeways, when more than about 30 miles from cities such as Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose or the Los Angeles complex, I tended to stay at Motel 6. Closer-in, I steered clear of Motel 6s because they seemed seedier and I usually didn't like their locations.

A better close-in bet was the more expensive Super 8 chain (get it?, nudge, nudge ... super-RATE!). And there were other chains that were a notch up from Motel 6, but below expense-account-level motels.

And when I got my lodging paid by clients (I did a fair amount of work for General Motors, which meant a couple trips per year to Detroit), I continued to stay at moderate-price motels such as Red Roof Inns when I might have done better. Partly this was because I was simply used to staying in such motels and partly I was trying to impress the folks I was working for that I wasn't trying to gouge them. (On the other hand, some consultants go first-class on the assumption that clients think they need to pay a lot to get the best. So maybe I was wrong.)

Rural Motel 6s (especially) and suburban Red Roofs are okay if all you need is a night's sleep. If you need to spend more time in the room to do some work, one of those "suites" motels would be better if costs weren't too high. Actually, Red Roofs were acceptable when I had work to do because they had a small table with a light directly overhead plus a couple captain's chairs so as to provide a work area. For instance, I found this handy when doing data Xeroxing at Princeton's demographic studies library; there was a Red Roof over on U.S. 1 and I could work evenings, logging what I'd copied.

Family travel required a slight upward adjustment. Besides cost and location, presence of a swimming pool was important for the kids.

But I don't always use cheap lodging, as I'll explain in my next post.



posted by Donald at January 4, 2006


In 1961 in Browning when I was teaching school for $3450 a year, it was teachers' conference in Missoula and I went to a hotel that was owned by one of the teacher's husband. She tried to discourage me. (She was rather a seedy character herself.)

I found the place. The clerk asked if I wanted a lock on the door or not. Basic price: $4. It was 50 cents more for a lock. I plunged for it. He said he'd come up with me and check the room for intruders. There were none, not in the closets and not under the bed.

At 1AM there was a terrible commotion in the hall. If I pulled a chair over to the door, I could see over the transom. A lady was beating up her boyfriend and then she threw him down the stairs! THAT was exciting. I didn't sleep much after that. On the second night nothing happened.

About 1981 I went to the UU General Assembly in Philadelphia with the Religious Education director of the church where I was interning in Hartford, Conn. She made the arrangements and chose the YMCA. (NOT YW.) She thought it would be like the one in Hartford, new and rather nice. But the Philadelphia one was quite different. Only one floor was for women. A huge bouncer ran the elevator which was the only way to get there. We had our own bathroom but there was an old lady resident who washed out her only dress every night in the janitor's closet.

The RE director was a quite starchy and gracious lady who was mortified to have gotten us into this. I was having a good time until we realized something neither of us had an experience with: bedbugs. We moved the next day.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 4, 2006 9:15 PM

I've stayed at too many ratty chain motels along I-95 while making frequent road trips between Connecticut/New York and Florida. None of them were terrible, I'll grant them that, but all had a certain depressing seediness that's hard to describe but unmistakeable when experienced.

Posted by: Peter on January 5, 2006 10:23 AM

I drove across the country in 1997 (just a kind of aimless, see the sights kind of trip.) I stayed at youth hostels when I could (there are some pretty cool ones, especially around major attractions like national parks), but inevitable had to stay at some rattraps. I agree that Rural Motel 6s are generally nice, but get dodgy closer in to cities. I did discover one of the more depressing facts about american cities: when you are approaching a strange city and looking for a non-seedy place to stay, simple look on the map for "Martin Luther King Ave." - and get as far away from it as you can.

Posted by: jimbo on January 5, 2006 10:33 AM

My pet peeve about motels is the way so many of them have the sink in the room itself rather than in the bathroom. It's a minor point, I'll admit as much, but for some reason it really bothers me. Maybe that's because there's no good reason why motels do so.

Posted by: Peter on January 5, 2006 11:37 AM

Fifteen years ago or so, I visited my wife's cousin who was staying in the fairly swankey Le Meridien hotel on 57th street in connection with taking the NY bar exam. She was studying in a rather pricey, nicely decorated but modestly sized room. A week later I stayed in a Red Roof Inn near the hospital where my mother was a patient on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan. While the Red Roof Inn room was not decorated in quite the same taste, the furnishings were clean and spanking new, unlike those of the Le Meridien. The two rooms were of virtually identical dimensions. The Red Roof Inn room, of course, ran perhaps one-quarter or less the cost of the Le Meridien room. This instant comparison has always stayed in my mind, and I've stayed at Red Roof Inns on several occasions since choice.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 5, 2006 2:24 PM

Diciest place I ever stayed in was a small Moroccan hotel -- places in the medina for the poor natives, not for tourists. Holes in the floor (with footbads flanking) instead of toilets, no running water, limited electricity, fans overhead -- like something out of a foreign-corresopndent movie. Very authentic. I don't think the doors could be locked. Four or five in a room. You slept with your wallet and watch under your head, believe me. We all (college buds and me) got eaten alive by very authentic bedbugs too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 5, 2006 2:25 PM

When I began to think of myself as a minister (few others did), I had the illusion that I could safely go to dangerous places. When I traveled from Chicago to Hartford one January with my goldfish in a bucket (my heater failed in the extreme cold and the water froze which was hard on the fish), I kept an eye out for cheap motels. The kind that are run by the Patel family.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania I saw a sign for a $20 room and pulled in. The clerk was startled to see me, but gave me the room and the rate.

The room had evidence of violence (holes smashed in the louvers of the closet doors and in the drywall) and a terrible smell (bug spray) but I was too tired to argue so I parked my fish bucket and went to sleep.

Soon I was awake again and conscious that the room rate was probably a hourly rate and I was the only one not making money. There was a fabulous-looking black woman in a pale fluffy spotted fur jacket (Couldn't have been snow leopard, could it?) and long legs that ended in impossible shoes. Unless she had a ferocious drug habit, she was getting rich.

I had no pastoral impulse -- just curiosity.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 5, 2006 3:28 PM

I've stayed in many NYC hotels as a tour manager (in the late 1970s) -- but all of them were expensive "convention" type, or even luxury, hotels.

Since I haven't traveled much, the only two cheap hotels/motels I've ever stayed in were in Baltimore when I went down there twice in the early- mid-1980s to research the city for an urban planning class I was taking. Both experiences were eye opening in a way -- and one experience was astoundingly pleasant.

Before I went down to Baltimore for the first time, for some reason (I suppose a travel savvy friend had made the suggestion) I called the student housing office at Johns Hopkins to ask if they recommended any hotels/motels to visting students/parents, and they gave me a list of places to choose from. (By the way, the housing director was so friendly that, if memory serves, she even offered some kind of free student housing if I and my four fellow students couldn't find commercial space!)

On my first trip to Baltimore, I went with the four other students from my class (we all shared a rented car) and we choose from the list, I believe, a motel that turned out to be in a very nice suburb of Baltimore. (The suburb seemed kind of Westchester-ish and upscale.)

As it turns out, however, the motel itself (which I remember being cheap by NYC standards -- but all the hotels/motels were cheap by NYC standards) was architecturally OK (modern, etc.) but surprisingly dirty. It seemed to me that the end tables, etc. had a very light coating of dust or grease on them! Also, I believe they were kind of chinzy with the heat. (I think we went there in the fall, when it was pleasantly cool but not cold.)

The next time I traveled to Baltimore, I went byself. Since I don't drive, I had to "settle" for the "Broadview Arms" which was in the city proper (across the street from Johns Hopkins). It had definitely been on my lodging list but, if I remember correctly, the rate for a room there was so unusually low, I had images in my mind of it being a run-down rooming house -- with naked light-bulbs and ratty used furniture -- and steered clear of it on the first trip to Baltimore, choosing the suburban motel instead, figuring that it was a safer choice.

Well, when the cab from the Amtrak station left me off at the Broadview arms, you could have knocked me over with a feather. The "Broadview Arms" turned out to be a gigantic luxury co-op?/condo? apartment house in Baltimore's ritziest neighborhood (Roland Park?). (Across the street from the Broadview Arms was a very expensive-looking "Miami Beach" type apartment house -- with balconies, etc. But these were about the only two apartment buildings in the immediate area. Basically the area was, if I remember correctly, one of very large, brick neo-colonial type homes, etc.)

The Broadview Arms itself was an eye-poppingly spacious 1940s? apartment house -- with extraodinarly wide hallways (that actually had windows, so in the mornings the hallways were flooded with natural light). My "room" was a studio apartment with a TV and a full-scale eat-in kitchen (and maybe even a dining alcove by the doorway?). It was probably bigger than my own railroad-flat tenement apartment in NYC, and certainly better laid out. I don't remember the cost but, again, I do remember it as being astounding cheap -- perhaps the cheapest lodging on my list of places to stay in Baltimore.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 5, 2006 4:23 PM


Your Broadview post was great! It's still open -- my husband stays there when he travels to Baltimore for work and I lived there for a month when I first moved to Baltimore in 1999. Let's just say that the furnishings are probably the same ones you encountered in the 70's. It's a great location for us and a good rate but it's decidedly "down-at-heel" now.

Posted by: CyndiF on January 5, 2006 6:21 PM

My first business trip ever was my worst. It was a trip to Chicago for training, and I picked something in walking distance to the downtown training center out of my mother's AAA book, because they took reservations without a credit card (I didn't even have one at that point in life, if you can believe that -- 21 and no credit card.) Yep -- it was a hot-sheet motel, with a lot of traffic -- banging (of all kinds) all night long, so I had to get schnockered just to fall asleep. With a 6" Buck knife in my hand. But the nightly rate was still pretty good. The accounting ladies said that was the cheapest Chicago trip they'd ever seen.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on January 6, 2006 10:53 AM


Thanks for the info! Your post inspired me to look more diligently for an internet listing for the Broadview Arms, and I found one under Broadview Apartments.

So if any 2 Blowhards readers are interested in seeing for themselves the wonders of these cheap Baltimore digs (and I assume from your post that the daily and monthly rates are still cheap), here's what I think is called the URL for the website:,21,67&wsv_psPropertyID=10697

If a cut and past of the URL doesn't work, the website can be found by doing a Yahoo search under Broadview Apartments, and this website should be the first listing.

I hope people who are interested will check out the "Details," "Floorplans" and "Photos" sections of the website.

I assume the photos in the photos section are those of unfurnished rental apartments that have been fixed up by long-time tenants and not the furnished apartments that rent daily or monthly, as I too remember the studio apartment I had as being sparsely furnished -- although in 1982, or so, it didn't seem run down yet.

I also think New Yorkers, Manhattanites in particular, will get a kick out of the monthly rents listed in the Overview section: a 456 sq. ft. studio with full bath and kitchen for $600 to $655 a month.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 6, 2006 4:53 PM

Is anyone still reading this? Other than youth hostels in historic buildings, I don't think I will ever pay only $12 (in 1985 dollars) to stay in a place like this again:

Shortly thereafter it was closed for renovation into a luxury hotel, and with the Chinese takeover became the Portuguese consul's residence.

My room was a small single near the kitchen, which might explain both the bargain rate, and the cockroach larger than a mouse sitting on the bed to greet me. But it was quite the experience to eat breakfast the next morning on the veranda, overlooking the harbor, with salamanders scaling the walls behind us.

Posted by: Reg Csar on January 9, 2006 3:26 AM

skpialml1 ; Thanks!

Posted by: skpialml1 on January 30, 2006 10:49 AM

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