The high price of the great American road trip in 2021

October 20, 2021

In the fable of Goldilocks, the young girl found a place in the home of the hapless three bears to lay her head that was “just right.”  That hasn’t happened to me in the real world in recent weeks.  I’ve slept in three inns of highly different styles and experiences, yet not one was perfect.  Each had its upsides and negatives.  But all were expensive for what they were.

Which first begs the question: What is my “ideal” in a hostelry?  For me these days, it’s a combination of factors:

  • Safe and secure
  • Reasonable value
  • Attractive and well-maintained condition and appointments inside and out
  • Competent, friendly staff
  • A quiet room in all respects, including HVAC
  • Comfortable, firm beds
  • Good quality sheets and towels
  • Heat and air system that maintains set temp within a small range
  • Good water pressure and plenty of hot water
  • High speed Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary hot breakfast
  • Flat-screen TV with cable
  • Complimentary parking
  • Room service
  • Interesting bar and restaurant

Looking at my list, it seems more basic than ideal, but I’ve cut back on my expectations over the years.  No longer do I look for a Wall Street Journal to be left outside my door, and forget about a concierge lounge.  And certainly not a complimentary shine when leaving my shoes outside my door.  Heck, I don’t even ask for a wake-up call these days, preferring the alarm on my smartphone.  So these are my impressions written from notes after staying in each inn over the past few weeks:

Sewanee Inn in Sewanee, TN

Last night stayed at the swish Sewanee Inn. This picture says it all about the place and its pretensions:

Not pleased that the room was the one closest to the highway.  Soundproofing was adequate, but the headlights were annoying.  And proximity to any road ruins the ambiance.

Chronic loud voices from tipsy neighbors lolling in the hallway disturbed my late night slumbers until my call to security had the desired effect. 

The restaurant was pretty good, and the bar was cozy and well-stocked.  I do love a good bar.  Sadly, classy hotel bars are disappearing faster than ice in the arctic.

I didn’t know Sofia Copola produced a branded California bubbly, but when I saw it on the menu at dinner, I ordered a glass. Curious why it was sold only by the glass and not the bottle. I found out when it was delivered in a can (photo).  Champagne in a can can’t be good, I thought.  Big surprise that it was tasty. Price: $8.05 for 375 ml.  Not cheap, but, hey, the Sewanee Inn is a stylish joint.

The complimentary continental breakfast choices were few, and the pastries looked far better than the flavor response on my tongue. After tasting one of everything, I threw it all in the garbage except the packaged yogurt and went to McDonald’s.

Cranky folks at the front desk, which is a real desk with chairs set up, making it awkward to sign in.  I noticed a real management attitude problem towards the housekeeping staff when I asked for soap.

Price, not including dinner: $192.

Verdict: The same concrete blocks as the Red Roof Inn (see next), but concealed by a heavy veneer of conceit.  Too expensive for the product, though I did love the bar.

Red Roof Inn in Monteagle, TN

Seedy and rundown in appearance and in fact.  No pretensions here: unapologetic tired old cinder blocks in need of painting.

Smokey rooms. Had to do room inspections of five or six before finding one that didn’t reek of cigarettes. And those were the ones management swore were “no smoking” rooms. I’d hate to have experienced a “smoking” unit.

I was told up front: no breakfast. I appreciated the candor.  Again, no highfaluting airs.

The only non-smoking room faced the highway.  If I was any closer to the Interstate, I’d have been on it, as evident in this photo:

Staff at odds with other staff: the heavyset owner/manager from Northern India versus the fleshy, tattooed chief housekeeper from South Georgia.  Observing, I’d call it a draw.  Both were nice to me.

A cacophony of drunken laughter and cackling in hoarse, tobacco-ruined voices on the open balcony late at night abated after a spell.  Good thing, as I had no option to phone security at this property.  The working class drunks at the Red Roof Inn were as irritating as the better-dressed midnight inebriates romping down the hallowed halls at the Sewanee Inn.

Sheets and towels at the Sewanee Inn were plusher, but those at the Red Roof Inn were clean and adequate. 

Water pressure was excellent, a nice surprise.

HVAC did the job quietly despite being a typical aging hotel unit.

Truckers and folks driving cars with one headlight out were the norm here at Red Roof versus the more prosperous clientele at Sewanee Inn at the helm of big-ass Mercedes and hulking Yukons.

Price: $92

Verdict:  No bargain at $92: Ouch!  A dump?  No, but a noise hellhole.  Not to mention diesel fumes.

Comfort Inn in West Biltmore/Asheville, NC

A shocking $148 for a Monday night offended me. When I winced, the nice young lady up front happily intoned in her sing-song Appalachian twang, “We’ve been sold out every night in October!”

“Yeah, but there is NO FALL FOLIAGE yet to justify the high price,” I said.

Because for some reason this year most all the leaves are still green and on the trees in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains, foiling the autumn leaf peepers. 

She agreed, but my complaint fell on deaf ears. No rate relief.

Once inside, however, I realized this was the most comfortable and fancy Comfort Inn in my experience: Well-appointed and quiet room of good dimensions. Nice Panasonic flat-screen with oodles of channels. Four sets of big thirsty, fluffy bath, face, and hand towels. Two queens with lots of pillows, firm mattresses, and high quality bedding. Better soap and toiletries than contemporary Hamptons and Courtyards. Free hot breakfast.  Free parking.  Free fast Wi-Fi. A lobby area to relax in and watch TV.

Comfort Inn has upped their game when I wasn’t looking. The front desk manager even called me while still on the road to confirm my late arrival.

Price: $148

Verdict:  $148?   Really?  This isn’t Fort Lauderdale in April.  Nice place, but overpriced.  Comfort Inn used to be synonymous with value. 

Bottom line was that all three inns differed, but one common element stuck out:  Regardless of property booked, I cannot avoid the high price of the great American road trip in 2021.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s