My earliest memory of vacation was staying at places with names such as the Sand and Surf or the Seashell Motor Inn. They were V-shaped motor lodges with parking right in front of your room.
Most of the time, they came on the recommendation of a friend. Very seldom did they turn out to be on the ocean. In fact, the promised “ocean view” was between the two motels across the highway.
One day, when I was hanging out at Mr. Jim Paul Shepherd’s Gulf Station, I found a prepaid postcard offering free information about Holiday Inns. I put one in the mail.
Oh, this was how rich people and movie stars must vacation. The dining room was lovely and the people lounging by the pool looked like models. Somehow, I convinced my parents this was the place for us.
The man at the front desk wore a tie and coat. They had a little gizmo telling you how far it was from most cities in America to Rock City. I had never been to Rock City, but I left the Holiday Inn knowing the exact mileage.
In the room, they had a color TV, something we didn’t have at home. I thought this was just too cool. This Holiday Inn had a pool shaped like a kidney, or at least what we thought a kidney looked like.
Also, in the lobby was a colorful poster advertising live entertainment in the lounge. It was a handsome couple with names that rhymed, like Sal and Al or Randy and Sandy. They had 8-by-10 glossy black and white pictures that looked like the kind that came in picture frames at the dime store. These were real entertainers. This was a real motel.
Over the years, I stayed at quite a few Holiday Inns with the great sign, a big green triangular thing with an arrow pointing to the hotel. It wasn’t just Holiday Inn, it was Holiday Inns of America, your host from coast to coast.
Having a Holiday Inn was a sign your town had arrived. It was a fine place to visit.
We had one about 20 miles away from us in Madison. We would go there and dine from time to time, usually after church or on special occasions. I drove by the other day and it was a discount place. It was like an old friend who was down on his luck.
Holiday Inn has a different style and a different business model today and that’s fine. But I still yearn for the old classic. When I came to Gainesville, the Holiday Inn at the time was the place to bring out-of-town guests. It was also a popular place to dine out.
There is a new Holiday Inn down the street. It is nice and modern, but the great old style of yesteryear is long gone. The old Holiday Inn is a discount place advertising rooms by the night or by the week.
I know the days of motels of a bygone era are gone. But there was a time the familiar green sign stood for a level of quality that was almost a status symbol, particularly in a small community. When I think back, it is like thinking of good times spent with an old friend.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.