Dive Diners and Seedy Motels

My favorite motel on the Mother Road

Growing up, we did Route 66 from beginning to end a couple dozen times.  At least.  My dad, being the man he was, insisted that each run down the Mother Road be done faster than the time before.  We did not sight-see.  We did not stop and shop.  We did not eat in restaurants or stay in hotels.  We made time.

A lot of our meals were taken from vending machines in gas stations.  Truck stops were a favorite.  (To this day, I will choose a truck stop over a chain restaurant if I’m looking for home-style food.)  My dad likes to joke that my brother and I learned early not to ask “are we there yet?” – but to ask “when will we need gas?” 

The need for automobile fuel was the only earthly reason for stopping until Dad was so bleary eyed he couldn’t see the road.  It was then that we pulled into a motel.  There was some discernment in our choosing, but not much.  I don’t remember seeing a lot of loose women or ex-cons in the places we stayed, but we did not stay in anything even approaching the sanitized motels of today. 

[Come to think it of it I do have memories of Magic Fingers massage beds.  Maybe at 6, I couldn’t recognize a woman of loose morals.]

It was a real treat to stay in the Wigwam Motel.  I’m not sure, but I think we stayed in the Arizona Wigwam when the opportunity presented itself.  But trust me, the Wigwam was pure luxury compared to our normal road digs.  I’m pretty sure we only stayed there because otherwise I would whine for 500 or 600 miles – the Wigwam was my idea of the epitome of luxury accommodations.

Driving cross-country as often as we did, I became a connoisseur of diner cuisine.  We usually ate at the closest eating establishment to the motel.

Somewhere along the way I became a fan of patty melts. 

Not perfect, but still good

Not perfect, but still good

There’s an art to making the perfect patty melt.  I’ve never managed to make a perfect one, though God knows, I’ve tried.  The absolute best patty melts are to be found in the places the Health Department shuts down for gross violations a couple times a year.  The next best place to find a good patty melt is at the IHOP, but they’re inconsistent.  Sometimes they’re greasy chin dripping, onion breath fabulous.  Other times they’re better than what I do at home, but not much.

For the uninitiated, a proper patty melt consists of a good quality ground beef patty, grilled onions, American cheese, and rye bread all cooked in the same fashion as the traditional grilled cheese i.e. fried in butter.  When done properly, it’s the perfect gestalt of heart-attack-on-a-plate and good eatin’. 

Usually they’ll offer you fries or onion rings (sometimes both) to go with your patty melt.  I prefer hash browns.  Real ones.  Grated and grilled until crispy with tomato and onion mixed in.  If you haven’t already discovered it, let me tell you that the Waffle House, hands down, has the best hash browns.  IHOP is a distant second.  The Waffle House also has patty melts but they’re inferior to IHOP’s.  If I could get it all home hot, I’d order the IHOP patty melt and the Waffle House hash browns and just eat at home where I could moan, groan, drool, and roll my eyes all I wanted to.

I stopped at the IHOP tonight for a patty melt.  I sat next to some folks who were evidently on a road trip.  Dad poured over the map, Mom looked ready for a Valium, and the kids were fighting about how much room the other was taking up on the booth seat. 

Nostalgia set in.

The patty melt was a disappointment tonight, but it was still damned good eatin’.  You have to work pretty hard to screw up grilled onions, rye bread, cheese and hamburger.  I had an urge to find a seedy motel and check in, but it’s no fun alone.  Sometime I should tell the story of the really seedy motel in Zanesville, Ohio, and what a fine time HMOKeefe and I had.  There was a picture of Jesus on the wall, mold  in the bathroom, iced vodka,  and a plastic chair outside the door.  Wish we had pictures.

Don’t ask about the time Boston Boy ordered shrimp in Richwood.  Flatlanders.  . .gotta love ’em.

[Hot Damn!!!  There’s a Wigwam in Kentucky!  Woo Hoo!  I am so going to go there.  Soon.]

10 thoughts on “Dive Diners and Seedy Motels

  1. Recently, (okay, a coupla months ago) I purchased a big (we’re talkin’ large sized) griddle. You can make pancakes for three and still line the sausages up around the edges. My kitchen stove is available on Ebay for over 5 grand–it’s an original 1954 GE deluxe model with a self cleaning oven and a Sensa-temp burner. There’s a space on the right side of the top that’s just large enough to keep said griddle. The other night, I got out the Thousand Island dressing and grilled turkey burgers on top of onions, slathered butter all over the bread and topped if off with big slices of swiss cheese to make a Black Russian. At least, I think that’s what that particular concoction is called. And you’re right, it is an art and you just can’t do it without grilling those onions. It’s worth cleaning around the griddle for that reason alone… Now I think I need to make french toast for breakfast.

  2. My favorite place was the Three Arrows somewhere around Meteor Crater, AZ. Stopped there a couple times in the early-mid 70s. Good road food.
    Sadly, I was by there a yr. ago April and the arrows were falling apart and everything was boarded up. It was for sale though and for a moment. . . just a fleeting moment I thought, “yea, why not.”

  3. We travel with our children every year. It’s been an ongoing odyssey for the past 16 years (since moving from Maine to West Virginia).
    The two day trip with three kids has been, to say the least, memorable.
    Someday I will use a lot of it to give the grandkids ammunition against their parents.
    Sadly, they can’t brag about the bladder busting, seedy motel living, truck stop grease-fests that you can, but somehow I’m sure that by the time they have children of their own, it will be wildly exciting and exotic.

  4. Pingback: Emma’s Pie « W. Va. Fur and Root

  5. Pingback: How do you pack for epic? | W. Va. Fur and Root

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