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MOTEL TV Tonite!

In the early days of the American motel and motoring, things were new and not yet fully commercialised. This gave space for the imagination of smaller companies and family businesses, with their own personal visions and dreams of what would be attractive to families of passing motorists. No matter how outlandish, many dreams became reality, and neon carrots were dangled over highways to entice the drive-by trade into each particular fantasy land.

The result was a fantastic array of neon signs, quirky interior design, space-age references and googie architecture that combined to produce the strange, the fantastic, and the kitsch. The services and facilities tended to range from seedy and awful, to special and highly personal experiences - especially for children.

Unfortunately, those exotic times are long gone, and in the case of Route 66, many of the original motels are also long gone after traffic was diverted to newer roads during the fifties and sixties. The bright neon taillights of many colourful ventures eventually disappeared into the sunset to become a part of American history.


Aside from swimming pools, the TV was often the only form of entertainment. The viewing experience usually consisted of either staring blankly at whatever was on, or constant channel flicking as the mind wandered elsewhere. Here you can select from various channels and recreate the experience of relaxing in a retro motel room as the ambience of the desert and the passing traffic filters in.

Some of the original motels are still open for business, and you can visit fascinating historic motels and Route 66 for yourself - see the Visit Tucumcari website or Search for more links about motels and motel history.



The history of this motel and the story of the space you now occupy...

This place is remote. Aside from the single storey motel, the only sign of human influence is the dusty road outside, and the skeletal remains of a gas station just along the road. The rest is desert.

The motel is still there because no one wants the space it occupies. It survives financially thanks to a trust fund from a past patron with deep pockets, a travelling salesman turned entrepreneur, who had a desire to preserve the strange stories and memories of how things were before the traffic disappeared.

The motel is quiet today, but was infamous in the mid-fifties after reports of spooky goings-on...

In the past, an open-plan dining room was located next to the motel entrance, and offered a serve-yourself style breakfast buffet. The dining room was referred to by staff as 'Diner 54' as it was initially a conversion of guest room five, and later extended to also include room four. To make the most of the stunning desert views, the latest in architectural advances were used, and the outer walls front and back were replaced with large areas of floor-to-ceiling glass, that appeared to sink straight into the dust.

Aside from the diner's amazing vistas, the motel wasn't as flashy as some of the more family orientated alternatives. Functional, inconspicuous and a little cheaper, the motel blended into the roadside as it quietly served tired salesmen and travelers, who didn't want the pools or the busy clatter and chatter of happy families. However, all that changed during the hotter than average spring of 1953.

One morning, a man was found dead in the diner, frozen upright on his chair. There was no sign of a struggle or trauma, and there was no blood. Strangely, there was no smell of decay, even though it was revealed that he had been overlooked, and those attending the scene were shocked to learn that he had been locked in for three days during a quiet period before being discovered.

Motorists who had driven by prior to the discovery, reported that they had seen a solitary man drinking coffee during the night and early hours, bright in the desert night with all the lights on. A stark scene that was said to be reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting. There was no photographic evidence, but eye-witness reports of this apparent night-time activity were consistent.

The media picked up the story, and added to the mystery by reporting that a cup of coffee on the table in front of the dead man was still steaming hot when he was found. In his hand was a note with the words 'I will return' - curious facts backed-up by news footage taken at the time. Numerous theories and rumours sprang up about how and when the man actually died, and what the note referred to. Some of the more adventurous tabloids speculated that he was some kind of semi-mummified desert zombie, and possibly came alive at night, which led to the headline 'The Nighthawk Zombie'. The public went with the story, and the motel was put on the map for all the wrong reasons.

From then on there were reports of strange noises and activity, especially at night, which only added fuel to the zombie rumours. The lights in unoccupied rooms turned themselves on and off and the internal phones rang at odd hours with no caller on the line. The phones lines were often affected by static and interference from crossed lines, and rumours persisted about ghostly goings-on as the news story and the vast, empty remoteness of the location played with the imagination of the guests.

As in most cases, fantasy had overtaken the facts. In reality, the dead man was a delivery driver who had quietly passed away from natural causes. The hot coffee belonged to a police officer attending the scene, who had already deduced that the lights had intermittent connection problems, caused by the old and degraded wiring system. Lights left on appeared to be off or buzzed and flickered precariously as they alternated between on and off.

The wiring was renewed throughout the site and the random lighting issues no longer occurred. The imported vintage rotary-dial phones, installed for purely decorative purposes, were also replaced with a new and more reliable internal phone system. With facts replacing fiction, and the passing of time, this spooky period came to an end - for now.

Room 54

Room 54
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To divert unwanted memories, the breakfast room was subsequently converted back into a large super-deluxe guest room, which retained the huge windows and the number 54.

However, as it turned out, the weirdness actually went up a notch. The room sparked further media attention after an hysterical woman called police and reported an alarming incident. The visibly shaken woman claimed that a stunted, wet and naked 'thing' suddenly flew out of the darkness and hit the glass at high speed and somehow stuck mid-window. With face squished and anemic body in fetal position, the entity slowly slid down the window on a layer of gloop, twisting and turning under its own inertia while mouthing unheard words, one distorted eye fixed and staring directly at her, as she fled the room.

She was subsequently taken to hospital by the police and treated for severe shock. She later commented that she felt this was some kind of supernatural attack, and the vision of the white and crumpled body with the fixed stare would not leave her mind.

Police investigators found grease-like marks on the window, but there were no footprints or evidence of the creature. Because of concerns for public safety, the grease was analyzed and turned out to be a popular brand of lard. No further action was taken.

The bizarreness of this second event rekindled interest from the press and the previous 'zombie' mystery was also revisited leading to further rumours that skin-walkers and other strange entities were wandering around the motel site at night. This sensationalized press coverage attracted a lot of attention and business boomed for a while - although staff commented that some of the resulting clientele were weirder than the news stories. Management had to hire security after a few 'zombie hunters' got lost in the desert night, or spooked each other and other guests as they prowled around at night looking for paranormal beasts.

Later, a crude kind of trebuchet device was found along with animal parts and pagen totems, but police suggested that this was almost certainly brought into the area after the incident, either to hype the story further, or as an attempt to replicate the event. Some even pointed fingers at the motel owners, claiming they were trying to make the most of the publicity.

Room 54 - strike three...

Despite (or maybe because of) all the press attention, room 54 remained a popular booking. The large windows offered an uninterrupted view of the surrounding desert, and without light pollution, the stars were highly visible at night. Guests often commented that it was like sleeping outside, but with the comfort of air-conditioning. However, some complained that the openness of room 54 made them uneasy and changed rooms - others reported a feeling of dread and that something bad was about to happen.

This fear became a reality one night after a late arrival mistook the glass front for an open parking space, and drove straight through the front windows. The car ended up alongside the bed. Driver and room occupant were found staring across at each other in disbelief as one sat up in bed and the other remained sitting in the car. One police officer attending the scene had also been present at the other incidents concerning room 54 and commented that perhaps there was something 'spooky' or at least unlucky about this room after all.

The front was eventually rebuilt with standard sized windows and an additional low wall in front for safety. The back escaped damage and retained the original floor-to-ceiling windows.

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So, why do people stay?

These days, most of the passing traffic consists of the odd delivery truck and tourists following the old Route 66 trail.

Many do seek out the motel and the now infamous room 54 because of its bizarre history, and it is said that the atmosphere is still a little eerie at night as the motel is so far off the beaten track, but these days, escape and getting away from it all are the main reasons people visit.

The motel is as isolated as you can get while remaining safe in the desert, and it's possible to be undisturbed as one of few guests, or as the only guest if things are not so busy.

And now, it's your turn for a while. Enjoy your stay...

George Mendecks ★webstar MMXX
gmendecks at webstar dot tv

MOTEL TV and this story are not based on any particular motel. Graphics and historical references are drawn from various images of motels located in a real motel strip in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

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Hot Desert Nights at the Moasis Motel

Joe awoke with a start and sat up. For a split second he was confused, anxious that something was amiss. Then it all flooded back. The day was over. Nothing more to do.

He relaxed and sank back into his twisted bedding. He reached for the whisky glass, drained it, and picked up the TV remote. Earlier, he had watched the sunset, and the exchange of light as the sun faded and the neon sign began to glow against the darkening skies. He was now in a place that offered a refuge from the chaos and tiresomeness of the real world. He may be immersed in someone else's garish vision of home, but for tonight, it was all his.

The motel room was as far as he wanted his universe to go for now, and thoughts were tuned out as each thumb-driven thrust of the TV remote connected static and disjointed snatches of chatter. Sounds of the road occasionally droned in, crickets chirped, stark shadows danced and flashed around the room as the TV screen rendered stories of other worlds, and proffered fake familiarity with people he would never meet.

To Joe, this simple world was bliss. No responsibility. No decisions to make. Everything to hand, and comfort in his own company. Existence was fixed yet transient. Anonymous comings, goings, and the road outside offered a reminder that there was a way out. There were no dead-ends. No traps or shackles. This was the closest he could ever get to freedom and peace of mind.

"If I ever make big bucks, I'll buy this place and retire here. The desert wind can blow away the time I've got left along with the sand. Mine's a solitary, slow decline marked by the real granular rattle of erosion. When a particular world merges with a particular soul like this, there's nothing more to need. Life is perfect."

By the end of the nineteen-fifties, Joe had made big bucks...

The Travelling Salesman Problem Applied To LifeExcerpt from "The Travelling Salesman Problem Applied To Life". The distant, philosophical, and sometimes chaotic thoughts of salesman Joe Barraco, as he navigates and connects the forks and junctions of life's path.


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