A Horror Story: Columbia House Motel, Nashville, 1978, Doorway to Hades
This was a palace compared to the Columbia House that I told you about in this narrative.
Sane, civilized people, those with money on plastic, always stay with notable motels all clustered in a chain. These motel chains make enough dough in a day’s hurried Vacation Rush, to buy Iuka, Miss. No lie, Jack. I know. Did you hear me say that I know? I’ve been to Iuka once. That was before this minor township had the promise of a lucrative NASA contract for its people to build the engines to be tacked on the first Space Shuttles. There was dancing in the street. The population less than 3,000 on a good night when Sasha, the Fortune Teller is town. I know. But she went by Mama Nell and chain-smoked. I know. I sat relaxed in her living room, not a Reception Area, for a good 12 minutes that I timed by my trusty wrist-watch and she watched me like a hawk being patient and wise while it plotted the fastest way to catch an innocent bunny munching on some desert berries. What a way to die. I have the goods on desert berries thanks to a friend of mine who shall remain nameless—but he had a mind like a steel bridge. He made a good living (living) in our local Mental Health Assn. As a drug addict, which was no lie, but he acted like a rehab patient. I know. He spilled the beans one night while I was working the night shift from 2 to 9 pm., and this good friend was restless and brought me a fried catfish. No hush-puppies. No soda. I know. I was his witness.
You can sit (or lay) there and believe me or not . . .but I know that my friend had to be some sort of drug expert for he could recite from mind the exact dosage of Mescalin mixed with LSD and how long it would take a Peyote Button to complete the process. My friend, oh how I wish that I could publish his name, was a better actor than Al Pacino in any of his major roles—not counting Lucifer in Devil’s Advocate. What a bad movie. Just another Hollywood Excuse to get Keanu Reeves more publicity and keep Pacino from being forgotten. Truth. I know.
What I was trying to delicately to say when I started was the many Americans who are wealthy enough to keep their dough on plastic and only stay with motels with mostly-clean carpeting and cool sheets. In my years of work and pleasure, I’ve moteled with Red Roof Inn; Comfort Inn; Super 8; Motel 6 and Holiday Inn, named for the 1942 flick starring Walter Abel, Irving Bacon, Fred Astaire and Bingo Crosby. The music was fine—smooth and didn’t put me to sleep and Astaire had the best lines. That was, if you didn’t realize it, a review of that great film. You have to be fast when you read my narratives for the next piece that you read from me might be a snake and bite you. God forbid. I want every American to live free and eat well.
There was this weekend in March 1979, not a Lost Weekend, but before it was over, I was praying for a six-pack and any brand would do. My wife had a great idea. She has great ideas, but how to pay for them is rough. Like the one where I did participate. She wanted me, her, our daughter, her brother, Tim, and his best bro, Richard, to head out to Opryland. Remember when Opryland was nothing more than a great tax dodge for Gaylord Enterprises who owned Hee Haw, most of the Grand Ole Opry, and Porter Wagoner. I know. I read stories from that time. Scary stuff when you get down to sifting through asinine tax stats.
I agreed and said that I would go just so I might enjoy a weekend out of state, relax in a great motel, ride a few rides in Opryland, and drink some cold brew. Some of the things on this list came true. The one that came true turned us all into crazed Amazon natives who had never spoken English or seen Americans. Before I tell you what I am jabbering about is the rides at Opryland were fine. There was no beer to buy anywhere—I almost bit into fake wooden post that was used to decorate the Information Booth when I heard the Hee Haw Jackass say, “no alcohol sold here. We are a family park! Heee—hhhhawwww.” I was mesmerized at the talent that this kid, making less than Minimum Wage, suffering a heat stroke inside this authentic-looking Hee Haw Jackass and talking like Marty Moose that was seen in Wally World on National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase. I almost swore outloud that this jackass was a machine—until I just told him to cut the act for we were not going to get him in trouble for asking for a tall, cold one-- and he started talking in some language that sounded a lot like Italian.
See if I was right on this one: you’d think with ticket prices at Opryland being $12.50 each adults and kids under two, free, that as many starving adults with frayed nerves dragging those two-year-old’s begging them to ride anything that moved that there would be ONE beer cache hidden somewhere—maybe one of the park workers, Chico, one I remember, but my wife looked harshly at me when I mentioned maybe Chico had a few cold ones in his convertible parked way outside in the parking lot that was bigger than Columbus, Miss. No beer whatsoever. Just soda’s in a flashy container only running us $4.50 each. There was NOTHING amusing about what the brochure said: Visit Tennessee’s Best Amusement Park: Opryland! I used to have a habit of when my family and I would vacation on the road and have to use rest stops, I would grab all of the travel brochures that I could manage. Call me a freak. I’ve been called worse.
And now that Opryland has been laid to rest, I can talk ugly about them. Those “exciting” rides as were advertised on that Opryland brochure I found out the hard way were nothing more than lies with wheels that ran fast. The “Opryland Special,” an invention that looked a lot like an old-fashioned locomotive with passenger cars in tow and the only redeeming value of this Money Hole was how fast it could turn on those metal rails that shook each time we would go downward and with a jerk, go upward—and before Tim, Pam’s brother, “Ramblin’ Richard, and myself were allowed to get off of this Death Trap, the non-thinking “engineer,” a rather large man with layers of fat being contained underneath his overalls that matched the colors of Opryland: green which is the color of money, shot downward and I thought Jesus was coming to get us, “Roy,” I nick-named him for he looked like Country Music singer, Roy Clark, who also belonged to Gaylord Enterprises, we hit a deep puddle of water that we thought was pure rain, but we were too embarrassed to get a closer look.
Jerk! We three guys, wet as a coon dog in South Alabama hunting raccoon's all night in the rain, walked away from the Opryland Park to meet my wife daughter to head to somewhere decent to find some food and hopefully the restaurant (she had in mind) would not stand and laugh at us three guys dripping water like a worn-out mop. In those days, I had a bad temper and the least little discrepancy would set me off and I would tell whomever made me upset OFF. No questions asked. That was just how I was in those days when I drank all of the alcohol that was available on earth—and my brother-in-law, Tim and “Ramblin’ Richard were not saints either for they knew how to handle a cold beer with the best of them.
You’d think as I did, that God was punishing us for something because while in Opryland, “Roy,” the Opryland Special almost drown us. The temperature was 101 and with a record crowd with NO beer to buy . . .this was not a Family Fun Park, but Purgatory with Bluegrass music blaring over every speaker hung in the trees that the designers of this place thought it wise to give Opryland a folksy look. Down home, that’s the ticket. I know. I fell for this place twice, but the second visit was with a Youth Group and these teenagers did it all and I just laid back in the shade and dreamed of a cold one when I got back to Alabama.
My wife, a patient, caring soul, felt that she, Tim, “Ramblin’, and myself were ready to head to Alabama. For once, I did not argue. Although there was no beer available in Opryland, I noticed how the human mind can come into play when relaxation is needed. But there was another encounter that made Opryland look like Buckingham Palace with Kate Middleton wearing a two-piece bikini begging me to take a swim with her. Any other time maybe, but not that time. Not having escaped a beer-less fun park and I don’t feel like naming the place again. Forgive me. I am old, broken down and weary.
We hadn’t rode but a few miles on the Interstate past Nashville until I saw a beautiful billboard glaring to the world and everyone . . .”Stay With Us!” Can advertising copywriters get any brighter? Tears came to my eyes at the utter simplicity of this simple statement. But as soon as my wife pulled into the parking lot of the Columbia House Motel, my heart sank like a piece of lead on a fishing line—this place was not for us, but we were all tired, hungry, and in need of a good night’s sleep, so I thought, what’s one night in this dump? We had already spent the day in “Country Purgatory,” and we had been toughened by this trying experience—nothing could put a damper on our exhaustion. Nothing.
We should have known by the Front Desk Clerk, in a latter reality, the Only clerk, when we walked into the Columbia House lobby and this elderly, angry sexagenarian, said, “do somethin’ for ye?”
“Uhh, yes, sir,” I said knowing that we were out of town and strangers should always show locals the proper respect they deserve. “We need a room for the night.”
“Room?” the old man said and I knew that he could hear me for I did not see any sign of a hearing aid.
“Yes, sir. A room, please,” I asked nicely—as I watched the old guy’s eyes roll around and around like a bubble gum machine in some vestibule in Walmart.
“This all of ye?” the old man asked fumbling through some paperwork on his desk. But then a stroke of sympathy hit me when I seen the thickness of his glasses. Poor old man, I thought. He must have served time in Okinawa.
“That’ll be Fifty-Six bucks, tax included,” the old man said smiling away from us. Another stroke of sympathy hit me. I thought, this old guy must have a vision defect from serving the US Armed Forces in Okinawa.
Reality sometimes has to teach us a lesson.
“Fifty-six bucks? There is just two adults—my wife and me and these two “boys” and our little girl are below adult age, so are you sure that our room will be Fifty-six bucks?” I asked and I have to be hones, very sharply veteran or no veteran.
It looked like my response hurt the old guy’s feelings for he did not return a word, but looked over our Registration Card again and replied . . .”Sorry, folks. That will be Sixty bucks tax included.”
“Six more dollars? Why?” I insisted thinking the old man was out to gyp us.
“I had to charge you more because you are from Alabama,” he said trying (and failing miserably) to make a joke. One thing I’ve learned by traveling on the road: you do not mess with people who have walked out on two legs from an organization billed as a “Family Fun Park,” but in reality nothing more than a Death Trap. No, sir. I know. I was now already whispering options to my wife as to where we should look elsewhere for rest.
“You are joking—from Alabama? You are serious?” I asked hoping that the old man would be up for a good, strong argument from me and now I didn’t care if he was a veteran having fought in Okinawa or not.
“Naaaw, just kiddin’, I seen ye’ name and address that the wife filled out and since Alabama lost today to Vanderbilt, I thought that I’d dig ye’ about that,” the old man said exposing a mouth with few teeth—just three on the top and none at the bottom. And this time no stroke of sympathy struck me to show me some compassion. I was tired, hungry, and ready to sleep.
Signs That a Motel (You’ve Just paid almost $100 a night) is Not for You:
- When you are driving to your room, you are the only car on the premises.
- You look all around and you see no prostitutes in sight.
- There are no Housekeeping employees with carts hauling clean towels, sheets, and Sometimes, some PineSol for those humanly accidents in the bathroom in the wee hours due to you indulging on*crab meat mixed with Jack Daniels No. 7.
*crab meat is tricky. Make sure that the crab meat that your waiter has just served you has not turned. The shelf life of crab meat is less than three hours.
With these three tips, you should be a Master Traveler if you follow these wise tips that I wrote right there on-the-spot. Try it out this weekend. Find a near-deserted motel and follow these three tips. You will be thanking me like you thanked Kevin Trodeau, the star of his own infomercial: “Free Money The Fed’s Don’t Want You to Know About,” (you sent $22.00 tax and shipping included for his book) and Troudeau went on to serve time in prison for fraud.
Five mouths, four adult and one child, opened wide when I managed to pry open our motel door. That should have been an easy warning for us to get back and kick that old guy’s butt and get out cash back for “taking us for a ride.”
But my wife, the patient, caring soul, talked me out of doing something (more) asinine than us giving an old geezer almost a hundred bucks to get to sleep in a dump. And I do mean dump. The condition of this room was far worse than the worst prison cell on Alcatraz. Rats refused to breed in this larvae-infested box-shaped room. The antique window crank would barely turn due to the rust. Outside the room was a big tree covered in women’s panties of various colors and sizes matched only by men’s briefs that only came in white. There were no many empty whiskey and wine bottles on the ground underneath the “Panty Tree,” that my little girl, who was sharp in Math, gave up when she reached 502 empty bottles.
“Can we just go?” I demanded to my wife. Tim, “Ramblin’, and out little girl all held their breath waiting to hear, “YESSSS!,” but my wife, a patient, caring woman, told us that if you pay for something, you should use it. But this place sucks to High Heaven, I said loudly—hoping that other forms of life might surface so we could let them escape this section of Hades. Maybe a couple of well-known prostitutes would also be released for I had to think that there were a lot of eligible men in Nashville and they must be in need of some attention.
Tim, a sharp-thinking guy, and just for fun, turned up the mattress on his bed only to see written in stencil: “Property of The State of Tennessee Penitentiary.” And with our room air conditioner, a 1954 model being kept intact with duct tape, I knew that we needed to go. No decent criminal or whore worth their lifestyle deserves such a place that I knew was just crawling with all sorts of disease—and our little girl was in danger, so once again, I began to beg my wife to please let us ease out of here!
Nope. My wife, although born with a heart of gold, does not give an inch. I know. She did not move no matter how I cried and begged to let us head for Alabama.
“There’s food there and yes, package stores there where I can buy some beer,” I said hoping that the food thing might swing her thinking over to us who had seen and smelled enough Death for one night.
Nope. We stayed. And seemingly when we turned out the light, time stood still. There was no TV or radio and I never deemed that a plus or minus, but we did hear two drunk men in an adjoining room with paper-thin walls and the two must be drinking for we listened as one would swig some liquor and say to the other guy, “I love you so much, brother!” Then the other guy would swig and say the same thing to the other guy. Their timing was excellent—never missing a swig or affirmation of each other’s love.
And I had to admit that with all of their liquor-influenced talk, I thought about banging on their door and asking if they had any beer chasers. But I was not in a good position to do something as stupid as that.
Naah. Me forking out almost a hundred-bucks for a rat hole-of-a-room in the Middle of Hades wasn’t stupid enough.
Since that Night in Hades at Columbia House, Nashville, 1978, we have tried to NEVER put our family or friends into a night like that ever again.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery