Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cheap Hotels are Fun

Hello Reader,
Got a hotel with character?

Recently we were tossing back some drinks, and, between other stories, people liked hearing me talk about “cheap hotels I have known, in cities right here in Alberta.” To me, here on the great plains, a town is a “city” if it has a liberal arts college or a public transit system.

Come to think of it, I did once stay in a cheap hotel right here in my home town. I wasn’t exactly a student myself, while I was volunteering with our university student newspaper, the Gauntlet, but I was an eager reporter. We were hosting a Canadian University Press conference for student journalists of western Canada. Turns out the Bowness Hotel was the cheapest conference hotel our business manager could find. When you came in out of the wind, into the hall next to the door into the bar, you faced a prominent sign: No helmets or colours. Surely to keep rival biker gangs from smashing each other with their lids. 

I was sure the sign meant biker colours, not street gangs wearing bandanas. As a volunteer active journalist, I would have known if we had those neighbourhood gangs like on TV. My editor and I were mystified, the next year, when a young survivor of a bear attack, who wore a bandana as a head scarf to cover up his scars, was denied admission to a bar. (For wearing “colours,” like in Los Angeles.)

As for my typical student hijinks, I remember, that weekend, two of us climbing onto the roof and changing the lettering on a sign. Meanwhile, other students were angry at a big sign in the hallway with a long detailed list of fines for an exotic dancer, fines for every little thing, such being late for waiting to go on stage. The manager tried to tell us they were “low lifes" who needed such fines, but we were not convinced. As things turned out, years later I was to live with a dancer: She was not a low life; she helped me until I got back on my feet. (A lady in my Toastmasters club was once a dancer, too) 

Visiting Lethbridge, I wanted to fork out the big bucks, I swear. Because the longest railway bridge in the British Commonwealth goes along the Oldman River coulee (canyon) right past two big side-by-side high-rise hotels. How could I resist a chance to see the train come in, during a rosy dawn, through my window? But when I got to the lobby of the closest high rise, I found the place was full of people in nice Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, all wearing big name tags. Hoping against hope, I tried next door. Nope. I didn’t bother to ask which religion, I just cursed all churches equally. By the way, my strongest curse, here in the prairie bible belt, between gritted teeth is, “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy.” 

Being a good Boy Scout, I just happened to “Be Prepared” with a list of hotels and motels from the tourist information centre from as I came up the scenic cliff drive into the city—(Note: The centre’s been removed) Luckily the hotel desk manager slid the telephone across the counter to me: Because I didn’t have enough payphone quarters to go down the list. So I phoned and phoned, and finally I found a place across town along the equivalent of Calgary’s Macleod Trail— the Mayor McGrath Trail. 

It’s queer: Unlike Calgary’s trail, in Lethbridge you can calibrate your speedometer by their multi-lane commercial road: Everybody obeys the speed limit. How refreshing. But to get there, as I was to driving through downtown, I noticed—“Hey! A hotel!” One too cheap to be included on my tourist map! But with ample parking, from past glory days, no doubt for patrons of the hotel bar: My cheap one in Edmonton had a huge bar too, but no parking lot. So I drove around the block and headed on in. 

The hotel manager gave me a tour. “As you can see, a sink in every room, toilets down the hall… and here Charlie’s taking a bath.” Charlie and the manager exchanged hello’s, and Charlie welcomed me. Such a friendly place. The bathtub room had just the one tub. Some showers were down the hall too. 

In times to come I would always stay there, and the manager got to know me, enough to remember to have my bill waiting for me in the cold dawn. Maybe I was memorable because I was the only one who would check out so early in the morning. How early? The bar hadn’t even opened yet. The place would always feel like a ghost town when I left, at a time when the only ladies on the street were earnest fresh scrubbed women without makeup. There was another hotel further up the block, but that one only rented by the month. 

It was so nice to experience the city, just like a real Lethbridge-er would. One evening downtown, around midnight, I noticed some youth standing around a street corner. Fleeting thought: “I don’t get it. Surely they’ve missed the last bus home.” Then I lifted my eyes: In just a few blocks the bungalows started. I remembered what writer David Gerrold retorted when I mentioned “downtown” in the university town of Missoula, Montana. “Missoula doesn’t have a downtown.” It all looks so different when you come from a giant-sized city. 

That Lethbridge hotel, the Alec Arms, has since become a government men’s hostel, so now I can’t stay there. Drat.

Sean Crawford
Keeping myself amused,
stuck in a fuselage,
Somewhere over the arctic,
Autumn of 2017

~Should I do a Part Two?
~Here's a link to David Gerrold's website
Defensive note:
~Yes, I know Red Deer has a college too, and should therefore be included. Well, I’ve also left out two more: Bordertown and the Capital. To reduce length. Those prairie cities can be left for a Part Two, someday.


  1. I spent New Year's Eve 1980 in the King Eddy Hotel. The bathroom was down the hall and you got to listen to some great jazz music while you tried to go to sleep.

  2. Cool. I remember when the King Eddy switched to that type of pebbled floor they could clean with a watering hose.

    I remember two young men. dressed as the Blues Brothers for a blues singer once, who had been in the movie. When a movie song came on they went to the front to dance as the crowd cheered them on.

    I remember there was a smaller back room with a stage and warped pool tables. One day I looked in, saw a ladie's naked back, backed out, and told the folks I was drinking with, "I have to stay out here. I think that's my roommate in there, as the exotic dancer."

    She and I had agreed that if I met her while she was "in character" I would just call her "Kid."

    After all these years, a lot of us still miss that place.

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