So, Was Motel 6 Ever $6?

Motel 6 Number 1 still in operation in Santa Barbara, California. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Photographed on April 1, 2006 by user Coolcaesar.

I stay at Motel 6.  I like Tom Bodett, and he leaves the light on for me, as I often pull into a motel well after the sun has given up for the day, mostly after 10 pm when I get too tired to drive anymore.  Motel 6 is the choice, not for price as they want you to think by their name, but because they are “pet friendly” and in fact have rooms now that have vinyl floors instead of carpet, which I think is a wonderful idea.

My last stay at a Motel 6 was in Williams, Arizona, on the trip down with the U-Haul and the cargo trailer and the truck and camper.  I wasn’t driving both of them, I had a friend along driving the U-Haul truck.  I didn’t want to rent a U-Haul truck which is why I bought the cargo trailer, but the refrigerator wouldn’t stand up in the cargo trailer, which was tall enough for the refrigerator, which is why I bought it, but, well, it’s a story in itself.  I still marvel that the refrigerator is in the new kitchen and making ice for the much needed drinks.  Anyway, I digress.

I paid $90 for the room for one night for two people!  I don’t see a six in there anywhere.  I don’t see a budget motel price in there for that matter.  Was Motel 6 EVER $6?  The desk clerk said that it was “rodeo weekend” and we did hear a few gunshots coming from main street which I was comforted to be told was a staged Old West gunfight, staged for the tourists.  Tourists who flock here because it is the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.”  Williams, Arizona, that is.

“Next week the rate goes to $49,” she said.  “You should have come next week.”

Yeah, I should have.  Still don’t see any six in that regular price either.  Every time I have stopped in Williams in the last two months, something has been going on.  There was a biker rally one weekend.  Some street fair the weekend before that.  The rate was $90 for me, my wife, and our two Boston’s. At least they don’t charge extra for the dogs, like most other “pet friendly” motels.

So, was Motel 6 ever $6?  Motel 6 was started in Santa Barbara, California, in 1962, and, indeed, as the name implies, the room cost six dollars a night for a single.  The developers, William Becker and Paul Green, figured the price would cover their building costs and maintenance.  Their first hotels had coin-operated black and white TVs.  To say they were a “no-frills” motel chain would probably be an understatement.  That was done so that the rooms could be cleaned quickly. The concept, cheap motel rooms, obviously caught on and they were imitated even by existing chains.  The developers sold the chain in 1968 and by the 70s, the coin-op TVs were replaced by free color TVs and prices had to go up I guess.

While I was in college, I worked as a night desk clerk at a “Western 6” in Albuquerque.  In all honesty, they weren’t six dollars either.  I think the rooms were $14.95 for a single, no six in there either.  It was a good job for a returning college student, because the motel would fill up pretty quickly and I had the rest of the night to study and watch late night TV.  Not a real taxing job.  My only responsibility was to monitor the phone and the TV alarm panel.  

If someone disconnected the cable from the back of the TV for any reason, like you used to have to do to attach a video recorder, the alarm would sound and a light corresponding to the room would light up on the panel.  You would call the room and ask if they had disconnected the cable for any reason, and if so, to replace it immediately.  The light would go off and I would go back to my TV program.  The problem was the panel malfunctioned all the time.  Often, if someone turned the TV slightly for better viewing, the alarm would be tripped.  We were supposed to notify the on-site manager if the light did not go out after the perfunctory call to the room, but after several false alarms it was understood not to wake the manager anymore if the light didn’t go off.

During my shift one night, an alarm sounded during a late movie on Channel 13, and the light came on for room 147.  It was a room in the back of the motel.  I called the room.  A sleepy sounding guy asked me what the f… I wanted.  It was a common greeting and one of the reasons I hated making the calls in the first place.  I announced that it was the front desk and asked him if he had disconnected the cable to the TV.  He insisted he hadn’t and that I should let him go the hell back to sleep.  The alarm stayed on the remainder of the night and I told the manager when he relieved me at 7:00 am.

The next night the manager asked me if I remembered the TV alarm on 147.  I said I did.

“They cleaned out the entire room,” he said.  “The mattress, the bed platform, the built-in dressers and end-tables, the drapes, even the carpet.  They took the TV, of course, and I’m surprised they didn’t take the faucets and the sink.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I also couldn’t believe he didn’t hold me responsible.  He told me he knew that I had been told not to wake him, and he guessed that hadn’t been a good idea.  They hired a night watchman after that.  A 70-year-old man that could barely walk ,with a pearl-handled .357 Magnum in a side holster.  My only hope was the gun wasn’t loaded.

Is it a bad omen to have a raven roost on your U-Haul?

Western 6 had won a trademark infringement suit brought by Motel 6 because the court said that “6” couldn’t be trademarked, I guess.  The Western 6 motel chain was bought by Motel 6 when Accor Management took over the Motel 6 chain in 1994.   And Tom Bodett is the one and only spokesperson the chain has ever had.  They hired him “to leave the light on for you” in 1986.  His voice will be on your wake-up call. 




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8 responses to “So, Was Motel 6 Ever $6?

  1. So glad you’re back! Great story and you haven’t lost a beat when it come to weaving a great, entertaining tale. I knew nothing of the history of Motel 6, but hadn’t really given it much thought until now, either.

    As always, you give me something to giggle and think about. Looking forward to more tales from the dusty road. And I think that unless the raven is whispering, “Nevermore, nevermore,” you’re good to go! 😉

    • I listened for the Raven really closely, but he wasn’t saying anything. Spooked my friend pretty good though. He wouldn’t get near the truck. I shooed it away and we continued on.

  2. I was just wondering this after thinking of an old Simpsons episode. You answered my question!

  3. Yes , I have stayed at Motel 6 for six dollars. You haven’t though, unless you as old as dirt like me

    • You must be at least 70. I think dirt is older than that. LOL Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Gayle Herron

      Like Joe, I’ve stayed at Motel 6 when it was $6, and actually it stayed that way for some time. Probably when they were bought out or started franchising that it started to escalate in price. It was a great value even into the 70s & 80s when it was still under $20 at their best locations.

      • I worked at a Western 6 in Albuquerque in the early 80s. We opened the new motel at $19.95 for a single. They were sued by Motel 6 for the “6” but lost. They were later acquired by Motel 6 and the motel I used to work at is still there with $39 for a single on the Motel 6 sign. Remember when they were six you paid for the TV not color. Thanks for stopping by.

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