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Tag: tucson

Maniacs, monkeys and the Motel 6

 

In a way, this might not be the best time to sing the praises of Motel 6 – it being in the news now for leaving the light on for one Jared Lee Loughner.

Authorities say the Tucson man rented a room from America’s most affordable motel chain to plot the final steps of the horrific shooting spree that left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.

In another way, though, there’s probably no better time to stand up for a dependable, if imperfect, friend than when that friend is being tarnished with the broad brush of guilt by association.

A recent Washington Post story started out this way: “Room 411, a king-bed single in a dark and grimy Motel 6 near the railroad tracks on the western edge of Tucson, served as the staging ground for Jared Loughner’s series of pre-dawn errands before last Saturday’s shooting spree outside a suburban supermarket here.”

Pretty good writing, and — assuming it was really “dark and grimy” — nothing wrong with it, unless you’re Motel 6, in which case you find yourself, through no fault of your own, in the thick of a dark and grimy story you’d rather have no part of.

So I’m here — even though it has always been Tom Bodett’s job — to speak up for Motel 6, a topic on which I consider myself an authority. What makes me such an expert?

In the last eight months, my dog and I have stayed in Motel 6′s in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana;  Flagstaff, Holbrook, Yuma and Tucson, Arizona; Tucumcari and Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Oklahoma City and Midwest City, Oklahoma; Lewisville, Dallas, Hunstville and Houston, Texas; Greensboro, Statesville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.; New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Niantic, Connecticut; Portland and Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Fargo, North Dakota; Billings and Butte, Montana; Spokane and Kirkland, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; Ukiah, Monterey, San Bernadino and Bakersfield, California; and Russellville, Arkansas.

Seventy nights in all.

Crime struck only twice, and only in the most minor of ways, both times in Texas when ohmidog! door magnets were removed from my Jeep — one in Lewisville, one in Huntsville. Then again, with a 130-pound dog at your side, folks tend to not mess with you.

During our 22,000 miles of travels, I poked a lot of fun at the chain, with its bare bones ambience, and near total lack of amentities. They’re not always in the greatest of neighborhoods. Their pools aren’t always pristine, or even open, or even there anymore. There are no ”continental” breakfasts, or in-room coffee makers at the Motel 6. You can walk to the lobby and serve yourself some, but it’s in tiny Sytrofoam cups that are empty by the time you get back to your room.

The quality varies widely from motel to motel, and the only consistency, chain-wide, is in the spartan furnishings and the tacky polyester bedspread. You get a small bar of Motel 6 soap, a couple of plastic disposable cups and, if you’re lucky, an ice bucket. I’ve gotten rooms without chairs, without hot water and, several times, with remote controls from which the batteries had been removed.

If there is a step that can be taken to conserve costs, Motel 6 has taken it.

And yet, as basic and humdrum as staying at the Motel 6 became for me (and maybe Ace, too), while there were nights I thought checking into another of its lookalike rooms would send me over the brink, I love Motel 6 — for two reasons.

It is consistently dog friendly, with no fees for pets and no restrictions on size or breeds. Most of the motel staff we encountered — with the exception of one employee who shrieked and ran away when encountering Ace — seem to like dogs. There were so many times that desk clerks passed him treats over the counter that Ace now jumps up and puts his front paws on any counter he encounters.

And it is consistently cheap — almost always under $50, often under $40, sometimes under $30.

On our trip, Motel 6 served as a huge comfort to me. Not the rooms, necessarily, but knowing it was there, in most towns, to take me in when others would turn me away because of my dog, or charge pet fees that nearly doubled the cost of a room, or just plain charge too much for our budget.

More important, it’s there for the growing masses who — foreclosed upon, laid off, or otherwise caught up in some bad luck — can get out of the cold for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

In a way, by not catering to the more upscale crowd, Motel 6 provides a public service — especially during the down economy. We met more than a few people who, with nowhere else to go, were calling their motel room home for now.

That Motel 6′s are more likely to be the scene of crime or other malfeasance is to be expected — in the same way poor neighborhoods have more problems than rich ones. People with criminal records and drug histories, people who are economically desperate or just plain desperate, end up there more often than, say, the Hilton.

Motel 6 deserves no blame or ridicule in connection with the shooting spree in Tucson. (Let’s save that for Sportsman’s Warehouse, where Loughner bought his Glock, and the Arizona lawmakers who have worked to make gunslinging so easy achievable in that state.)

I did a Google news search on Motel 6 earlier this week, and found most of the stories that popped up were, as I expected, about crimes: a man found bound and gagged inside a Motel 6 in Utah, an attempted robbery at a Motel 6 in Kansas, a man and woman arrested for using their Motel 6 room to print counterfeit money with an inkjet printer, a couple arrested with  2,000 illegally obtained pain and anti-anxiety pills at a Motel 6 in Alabama, a woman arrested on a prostitution charge after allegedly propositioning a plainclothes officer to join her in her Motel 6 room in Iowa.

One of the few non-crime stories that mentioned Motel 6 was about a colony of wild vervet monkeys, some of whom have chosen to live behind a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, Florida.

Nobody’s sure how the monkeys ended up in South Florida. Some say they are descendants of those used in a Tarzan episode once filmed there; some believe they are descendants of monkeys bred for research that helped lead to a cure for polio.

In any case, at least two of the monkeys live behind the Dania Beach Motel 6, where motel visitors look forward to watching them come out each afternoon. I’m guessing the monkeys find the Motel 6 guests equally entertaining.

What’s great about Motel 6 is its total lack of snobbiness. Desk clerks don’t look down their noses at you, or crinkle it up when you have a dog along. If you have credit card or cash, you’re in, which is as it should be.

It’s not a motel’s job — at least one at the bargain basement level — to monitor or screen its customers.

For business that are selling guns, as opposed to a night on a mattress, there is more of an obligation to screen customers, or at least there should be, in my view.

Motels 6′s don’t kill people. Guns do. Any monkey knows that.

(Vervet photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald)

Target remembered at candlelight vigil

Target, the dog brought to the U.S. from Aghanistan by one of the soldiers whose lives she was credited with saving — only to be accidentally euthanized by an animal shelter – was remembered in a memorial service last night.

The candlelight vigil was held at the Pima County Animal Shelter in Tucson.

In Afghanistan, Target, a stray befriended by a group of American soldiers, kept a suicide bomber who was trying to enter a building on a military base from gaining access. Instead, the bomber instead set off his bomb in a doorway. Five soldiers were injured, several of whom credited Target with helping save their lives.

Phoenix soldier Terry Young brought Target back home to Arizona.  Last month, the dog escaped from Young’s yard and ended up in at the Pinal County animal shelter in Casa Grande, where she was accidentally euthanized the next day. The employee responsible for the mistake has been suspended.

Young said his son, Tavius, and the rest of the family is still working to get over the dog’s death, according to KGUN9.

“It’s been a few weeks already and Tavius still says, ‘Where’s Target?’ It’s heartbreaking.”

Roadside Encounter: Sugar

Name: Sugar

Breed: Corgi-golden retriever mix

Encountered: Two rooms down from mine at a Motel 6 in Tucson.

Backstory: Sugar and her human had one more day at a Motel 6 before catching flights home to Edmonton, Alberta. They’d come south to spend Thanksgiving with friends in Patagonia, Arizona. Sugar was flying home on Continental, but her owner on another airline, because Continental’s human fare was a bit steep.

Sugar welcomed us when we arrived, came into our room,  and even tried out  the bed.

 If you’re wondering why the shadow in the photo seems to be larger than the dog pictured, it’s because it belongs to Ace, who, as you might guess, was pretty sweet on Sugar.

Johnny finds his harmonica

Sometimes, what sounds like noise is really music. Sometimes, what looks like trouble can be a joy.

I’d pulled into a trailer court to turn around after my visit to the Howdy Manor  when a voice called out: “Hey, bro!”

It being a neighborhood that’s even sketchier than it was 35  years ago, when I briefly lived in it, I was going to pull out when I heard it again. “Hey, bro!”

So I rolled to a stop there in the driveway next to the Bucking Bronc motel and trailer court, a couple of motels down from the Howdy Manor.

Four people — three men and a woman — were sitting in front of a trailer enjoying beverages that included beer and vodka. One of them approached my car, with something in his hand.

“I want you to have this,” he said.

Thinking he might have mistaken me for a drug buyer, I was ready to beg off when he passed it through my open window.

It was a children’s book — “Touch and Feel Wild Animals.”

I hesitated to open it, fearing some illicit narcotics might be hidden between its pages — that maybe children’s books were the drug dealer’s delivery method of choice in this particular neighborhood.

Seeing my skepticism, he grabbed it back and opened it himself, showing how, through the holes in the cardboard, you could touch the fake fur and fake skin and get an idea what each animal — tiger, lion, alligator, polar bear, chimpanzee — feels like.

“Tiger, tiger, running through the grass, your black-and-orange stripes go quickly past,” read the first page. “Tiger, tiger, I can hear you growl, as you get ready to go on the prowl.”

I wasn’t sure why I deserved the book, and told him he really should give to a child. He explained that he saw the ohmidog! magnet on my car door, and figured I liked animals. I should have it, he said.

I was waiting for him to quote a price, but he never did. Instead he asked about my dog. I got out and popped open the back door to let Ace out. He greeted the man with the book, then went over to see the rest of the gang.

He snuggled with Sherry, and knocked over her bottle of beer. She didn’t mind at all.

Then he met Johnny, who said he was a former Marine and Vietnam vet who now sells newspapers to get by.

There used to be two daily newspapers in town. He sells copies of the remaining one, the Arizona Daily Star, where 35 years ago, I used to work as a reporter. The newspaper costs 75 cents now, but Johnny sells them for less. My suspicion — and perhaps it’s just my cynicism again — is he pays for one paper, then pulls them all out of the vending machine and sells them on the street. Call him an entrepreneur.

He said he also plays the harmonica, and he asked if I’d like to hear a song. At that point, he grabbed his knapsack and began rooting through it. Ace helped.

Ten minutes later, he was still looking. When you carry your life in a knapsack, things can be hard to find.

I asked them if they lived in the trailer court, and they said they didn’t — that they just lived “around.”

After another five minutes, Johnny’s search paid off, and he pulled a slightly rusty  harmonica out of his bag.

Johnny sat on a plastic chair, Sherry on a cinderblock. I took a seat on the guest rock — actually a rock atop a cinderblock, which functioned kind of like a rocking chair. Everyone’s jackets hung on a nearby tree.

Johnny brought the harmonica to his mouth and started playing a happy but unidentifiable song. Everyone tapped their feet and hummed along, and one member of the group started howling like a dog, leading Ace to look at him with tilted head.

I love the tilted head — a dog’s transparent, non-judgmental way of expressing puzzlement when he hears or sees something different. It seems to say – and here I am wrongly interpreting dog behavior by human standards – ”I don’t get this … I will turn my head slightly to the side and focus even harder to understand.”

If only humans could do that. Instead, when we see something different, we far too often judge, frown and walk away. As adults, our childish curiosity gets crusted over with cynicism — to the point we can get fearful of something as innocuous as a “touch and feel” children’s book.

Johnny played for about five minutes, and the song never really came to a distinct ending; it just kind of tailed off, once Johnny switched from harmonica to the vodka bottle.

I thanked them for allowing us to hang out, wished them all the best and headed for my car – feeling I’d made some new fleeting friends, but still, being human, expecting to be asked for money. They had, after all provided me with a book and musical entertainment.

As I started the car, the man who’d given me the “touch and feel” book appeared at my window. But all he did was shake my hand one last time.

“Vaya con Dios,” he said.

The road to financial insecurity

I found 1975 again — right where I left it.

For this story, you need to go back to the year you entered the real world, the working world, the man-up (or woman-up), you’re-on-your-own-now world.

For me, it was at age 21 — like many I was able to forestall my entry into it with college — but, during my senior year, I started looking for a job in journalism. After more rejection than I care to remember, I finally got an offer — to be a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

There was a three-month probationary period and, self confidence never having been my strong suit, I decided – here in what appeared to me, as an easterner, a lonely and alien land of dust and cacti — to live somewhere I wouldn’t have to sign a year-long lease.

That’s how I ended up at the Howdy Manor.

It was old even then, as were all the other little motels that lined Benson Highway — a once major thoroughfare that, when the Interstate came, saw its clientele turn from tourists to transients.

The 1940s and 1950s vintage motels, with rare exception, had lost their charm – places like the Eagle’s Nest, on whose sign pigeons now  squat.

The Howdy Manor wasn’t nearly as hospitable as its name sounded, but it had a kitchenette, and it was close to the newspaper, and the price was right, given my $160 a week starting salary — $5 a night, if you signed up for a full week.

At first, it was a depressing little place, full of people I didn’t think I wanted to meet. And given my shift, I didn’t. I worked 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., spending most of that time at the Tucson Police Department, waiting for crimes to occur. (Now there’s no waiting). The captain was Linda Ronstadt’s brother, and the desk sergeant was a big man with a mustache man who always greeted me the same way when I came in: “How’s your hammer hangin’?”

I was always a little intimidated by the question, and try as I might to come up with an appropriate answer — “Oh, it’s hangin’,” or “quite well, thank you” — I never did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I’d get back to Howdy Manor, lock my door, turn on the TV — I’m pretty sure it was black and white — and heat up something on the stove to eat while I watched Perry Mason reruns, until falling asleep. Around noon, I would wake up, eat, shower and it would be time for work again.

My stay at the Howdy Manor — I can’t remember now if it was for only one month or all three, before I moved into a modern, boring apartment – came during one of only two two-year periods in my life that I didn’t have a dog. I probably could have used one. I was, except for work, leading the insular life I’m prone to slip into.

That, though maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, was why I got into journalism — to force myself into the world, to force myself to meet people, to force myself to learn new things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the fact that the industry’s hammer hasn’t been hanging to well for more than a decade now.

The point is, the time came, there at the Howdy Manor, that I got tired of being in my room, that I ventured out and met its other denizens — or at least those who weren’t bigger recluses than me. And I found them — just as I found the people I’d encounter on the job, which took me, in siren-chasing pursuit, to neighborhoods of every ilk – fascinating.

That is probably when, rather than ignoring and evading oddballs, I started seeking them. That’s when I began to realize that the common man isn’t really common at all, and I’d much rather rub elbows with him than schmoozers in suits.

So, as another leg of my six-month journey with my dog across America came to a close, I decided I needed to visit the Howdy Manor, or at least where it once stood, before my planned month-long layover in Phoenix. 

To my surprise, when I looked it up on the Internet, it seemed to still exist — mostly in newspaper crime reports, some of which provided the address.

But when I hit Benson Highway earlier this week, I couldn’t find the Howdy Manor, or the address. Eventually, I realized the relevant portion of the highway, rather than having disappeared, is still there; it’s just a matter of making a couple of turns after it seemingly comes to a stop. I found the proper block and drove slowly down it — passing the Lariat, the Western, the Bucking Bronc and several other motels and trailer parks with cowboy names. But not, as far as I could see, the Howdy Manor.

The block looked a little more faded, a little more battered – but pretty much otherwise exactly as it did when I left it. It could still be 1975 there.

I was headed back up the block when I spotted my former home. One side of its sign is blown out, so it’s visible only to the westbound traveler.

Today’s Howdy Manor appears even more down at the heels than it was when I — fearful and uncertain, young and naive — became a resident. It’s a little more worn and torn, and the plywood cowboy who I recall stood waving his hat in welcome is gone now, replaced by a sandwich board sign, supported by cinderblocks.

I pulled over, and was immediately approached by a young woman who asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I answered, I’m just looking. I used to live here. Thirty-five years ago. It was five dollars a night.”

It’s now $99 a week, she pointed out, and $20 a night. That’s what her brother pays. She pointed me in direction of manager, and I knocked on the door.

A girl with blue hair and multiple face piercings opened it, and called her mother. When she came to the door, I told her I used to live there, 35 years ago, and that it was only $5 a night. She was unmoved and unimpressed.

“Do you want a room?”

“No,” I answered, “but could you give me the name of the owner? I’d like to talk to him”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“To learn more about the history of the place,” I answered.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“So I can write about it.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I’m a writer.”

Our conversation seemed to be going in circles, so I thanked her, excused myself and got back in the car, leaving a trail of dust in my wake as I pulled out.

Back on Benson Highway, I thought back to the old days, and compared them to my current ones. Back then, I managed to make it through my probationary period, to learn the ropes, and to fall in love with the desert and Tucson. After three years there, I spent 30 more in a newspaper career that wasn’t entirely undistinguished.

When I left the business, I wrote a book, and continued to write my own website, making about enough in the latter pursuit to afford the modern-day Howdy Manor, if I paid by the week.

In some ways, I’m even more insecure than I was when I moved into my motel room with a kitchenette in Tucson 35 years ago. I have no real job, no health insurance, no boss, no salary — not even a salaryette.

But, two years after departing the newspaper industry, I continue — stupidly, maybe — doing the thing I love and know how to do: seek out stories and write them. I continue to occupy, like some kind of squatter, my former occupation.

Why?

Because I’m a writer, dammit.

And that, good sir, is how my hammer hangs.

Gabriel the therapy Weimaraner

Gabriel, a Weimaraner who helped thousands of people in his ten years as a therapy dog, passed away recently in Arizona.

Since his death, the Arizona Republic reports, his owners have received about 400 e-mails, stacks of cards, floral arrangements and 1,000 new followers on Twitter.

The responses came within a day of the news that a second bout of cancer had ended his life, at age 11.

Gabriel inspired the founding of Gabriel’s Angels, a non-profit organization that today has 150 dogs and their human partners providing help to kids in Phoenix and Tucson.

“If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be a Gabriel’s Angels,” says Pam Gaber, who adopted Gabriel on Jan. 1, 1999, from a Gilbert family.

Gaber was volunteering at Crisis Nursery in Phoenix, an agency dedicated to stopping child abuse and neglect. Children were so entertained by stories of her dog’s antics, she decided he should visit with her.

The pup made his first appearance there dressed as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

“If he had acted like a typical Weimaraner, which would have been, ‘I ain’t doing that,’ that would have been the end of it,” Gaber says. “But he walked in like, ‘Here I am!’ And because of that, Gabe started a revolution of therapy dogs helping kids.”

Gabriel’s Angels was founded in May 2000. Certified owner-pet teams (including one cat) began volunteering with Pam and Gabe. Now the agency each year helps about 13,000 kids through age 18 in more than 100 facilities, including shelters, schools, treatment centers and recreation programs.

The dog answered to English, Spanish and sign language. But it was his gentle ways the kids responded to most, learning from him and Gaber how to be gentle in return.

“Kids who were normally angry were loving and soft and kind with Gabe,” Gaber says. “He went to every single kid and said, ‘You rock. You’re a great kid.’ And the wall came down.”

In January, four months after the cancer returned, Gabriel retired as a therapy dog. Unwilling to let him suffer, Pam and Michael Gaber called a veterinarian, who came to their house on May 17 to euthanize him.

Giant George ousts Titan as world’s tallest dog

giantgeorge

 
The Great (Dane) Debate is over:  The “World’s Tallest Dog” is Giant George of Tucson, Guinness World’s Records has proclaimed.

The 250-pound blue Great Dane wrested the title away from Titan, a white, partly blind Great Dane from San Diego who held it little more than three months.

Guinness World Records says George is the tallest dog ever on record, standing 43 inches tall at the shoulder, three-quarters of an inch taller than Titan.

Titan was named World’s Tallest Dog last November after the death of the previous title-holder, Gibson, a harlequin Great Dane from Grass Valley, Calif., who died of bone cancer.

Giant George was in the running then, but disputed measurements and late paperwork left his owner, David Nasser, unable to qualify.

Guinness officials say there were conflicting reports about Giant George’s height, so they sent a judge to verify it.

Guinness made the announcement this morning, and George and Nasser appeared this afternoon on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Diana Taylor, Titan’s owner, told the San Diego Union-Tribune she didn’t intend to watch the show because she was busy Monday trying to find a swim vest that would fit Titan, her 190-pound deaf, epileptic and partly blind “special needs dog,” for his first water therapy session.

A blog post on Titan’s website site argues that Titan should still be tops. Taylor says she intends to lodge a dispute but won’t exert a lot of energy on a challenge if Titan’s reign is officially over.

Giant George, we should point out, has his own website as well, which, according to Taylor, was part of a massive public relations effort to steal the title away from her dog.

“Regardless of whether he’s the world’s tallest dog or not, he’s still this beautiful deaf and blind Great Dane, and no one can take that away from him,” Taylor said of Titan.

The blog post read, in part:

“Despite the fact that it detracted from our mission of helping rescue and special-needs dogs, I strived to take the high road. But now, after months of having our accomplishment overshadowed by this media blitz-kreig of poor sportsmanship (and on the eve of this dog actually being on Oprah) I’ve decided it’s time to let the public know the truth about ‘Giant’ George.

“…Confused at how to measure his dog, this owner took two official measurements… one at the shoulder and another halfway up the neck. Guinness requirements state an animal must be measured at the shoulder. See below — when measured correctly George is only 39 1/8″ compared to Titan’s certified height of 42.25″.

“George’s ‘record-breaking’ 43″ is based on a measurement halfway up the neck, a procedure that does not follow industry standards or meet Guinness requirements…”

Guinness spokeswoman Jamie Panas said last week that Nasser’s claim to the title was one of more than 100 the company received since late last year.“It’s a huge record for us,” she said. “The pet records resonate the most with our readers.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Guinness World Records)