After staying for three days at The Excalibur, which FYI is a gigantic and fantastically tacky castle-themed hotel and casino at one end of the South Las Vegas Boulevard, the plan was to venture in the vague direction of the Grand Canyon and continue from there, moving onwards across America in a joyous semi-pioneering fashion. What we didn’t plan for is suddenly having access to our money stopped (owing to simultaneous problems with our cards), giving us no option but to stay in Vegas indefinitely, and no longer in the giant fake castle, but instead at an equally cool-looking but potentially cockroach-infested motel. This, my friends, is the harsh reality of long-term travel: it doesn’t always go to plan and it definitely isn’t what it always seems on instagram. No way, José.
Although it was technically part of Hostelling International, and actually looked like the safest bet for a hostel stay in Vegas, the Tod Motor Motel had only recently been given HI status and had a bit of learning to do on the old ‘standards’ front. Nevertheless, I weirdly appreciated our surreal stay at one of the most old-school, kitsch looking places I had ever set foot in. The Deuce Bus took us up past The World’s Largest Souvenir Shop and a few diners and parking lots, and then we made the rest of the way on foot wearing our Ridiculously Enormous Backpacks, keeping our eyes peeled for a drive-in chapel and a lap dancing club as directed on the motel’s website. These two establishments were located almost opposite the neon sign announcing the Tod Motor Motel’s existence at the side of the road, and upon entering I was elated to see that the entire place was painted in various bright pastel colours. There was also a swimming pool in the car park, which is obviously the ideal location for a dip in a pool.
The man on the front desk was a true good’n…friendly, with a friendly sounding voice to go with it, probably around 50 years old…he had a good moustache and a doubley good fluffy white cat which he proudly informed us had been given to him a few years ago by an exotic dancer. DOUBLEY BRILLIANT. After gushing with true love about his cat for some time he told us all sorts about the hostel. CSI had used it several times as a filming location, apparently. Which is really awesome, but at the same time, slightly unnerving because it did genuinely feel like the kind of place a murder could potentially happen.
Our room was like a little studio apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom, though I’m pretty sure the kitchen didn’t really work. It was technically a mixed dorm, although we were the only people who were staying in it. In fact, for the four days we spent there we were pretty much the only guests aside from a family staying on the first floor in a room directly across the car park from us, and an old boy from Washington who always wore a trucker cap and watched a lot of TV. I only know this because every now and then a lady with a small baby on her hip would surface from her room and have a quick look around the car park, and because a couple of times we sat with the old boy from Washington in the TV room to watch a film.
Breakfast was awesome at the motel. As part of their hostel upgrade there was an amazing woman who made stacks of pancakes for everyone in the kitchen, with smiling eyes, a warm-sounding but quiet voice, and a highly humble chuckle. What a bloody gem! I thought she was awesome. The guy from the front desk, who turned out to be the manager, made her a sign for the kitchen which said ‘The World Famous Pancake Lady’ on it, and her pancakes truly were the stuff of legends. I think she was quite impressed with how many pancakes we were able to eat, actually. The Pancake Lady had to bring her grandchild to make breakfast with her one morning as she was babysitting for her daughter. What a woman! No way did she look old enough to be a grandma, and she was balancing the baby on her hip with one arm and flipping pancakes with the other in the most professional manner I’ve ever seen.
We spent the whole first morning there sitting at a bench in the middle of the car park (you know, home of the swimming pool) with me getting worked up on the phone to my card company and my bf sweating to death and bouncing his tennis ball, Wilson, for the entirety. Every now and again the lady with the baby would peek down out of her room at us and you could just about catch the screams of people from the rides at the top of The Stratosphere on the wind. It was all a bit eerie really, like being stuck in a retro black hole whilst being baked to a crisp, and especially with Wilson the tennis ball involved things were all getting a bit ‘Castaway 2: Las Vegas’ for my liking. WHAT A STRESSFUL SCENARIO.
We located a nearby post office so I could send some postcards back home. Very funny place, that was. A sign on the door informed us that it only had a few days till it closed down so although the shop was quite big, the metal shelves were almost empty and anything left for sale was reduced massively. The only things available were random objects like light bulbs, Christmas cards and paper plates so I’m not really sure how much trade they’d do with all that to be honest. The actual post office window was right at the back with signs written in biro on cardboard and stacks of paper and envelopes covering the entire counter. The lady couldn’t even find the stamps at first, poor thing. It was properly funny down that end of the strip, I’m telling you, which is partly why as dull as it might seem, I appreciated seeing this alternative side to the bright lights of Las Vegas…it was really quite run down, even with whole hotels that were sitting empty, like The Sahara. But despite the number of abandoned buildings, there were just as many drive-through chapels ready to welcome couples into married life in a glorious fashion. I mean, just imagine that!
The days ran into one another in the style of Groundhog Day. Get up, eat pancakes, spend a few hours on the phone in the hot sun, go for an explore of the fake pirate ships and the circus and the Eiffel Tower, maybe getting a pizza for dinner from Albo’s Pizza which was on the road just outside the motel. (The size of the pizza there was full on phenomenal- similar to the spaceship in ET- but the main reason I appreciated it was because the Italian lad who worked there was a consistent high-fiver of children, which is a high-priority quality in any person as far as I’m concerned) Every morning I would open the door to the bathroom in our room and discover one solitary cockroach lying helplessly on its back on the threshold, and every morning the size of each freshly-discovered cockroach would increase. I was fully overjoyed when it got to the fourth morning and there was no creature waiting for me there- basically taking it as a good omen that we finally really were on the way out of Vegas.
That’s right pals! Finally everything was fixed, peace and access to our bank accounts had been restored, and we were on the move at last- not to the Grand Canyon as we’d fully missed our chance and there was by that point too much snow to visit (alas)- but instead to Tucson, Arizona, a city we knew barely anything about! To pastures new and unexplored!
I’ll be honest here guys, in total we spent a week in Vegas which frankly is far too long. Any more than four days at the Tod Motor Motel and I potentially would have cracked, destroying Wilson the tennis ball in the process, but for what it’s worth I genuinely appreciate that I got to see the city from a less glitzy side. The main thing this taught me is that it’s totally ok if things don’t quite go to plan (or if you never really had an exact plan in the first place- things will be alright in the end)- the key is always to see the funny side and appreciate the characters you meet along the way. Good. Times.
(If you’re up for it, check out the rest of my time in Vegas…right…here)