PERHAPS MY GREATEST CHILDHOOD regret is that I never talked one of my parents into ponying up a quarter for the Magic Fingers bed massage machine at the Spotted Horse Motel in Hamilton. Still, just staying in a motel was pretty exotic, compared with sleeping on a pallet on an aunt’s living-room floor, so I took the disappointment in stride. After all, there were numerous other pleasures to be had for free: an endless supply of ice in cool little cubelets, postcards and stationery, and unrestricted splashing in a lifeguardless pool. Once, during a summer vacation with my grandparents in 1962, we stayed at a pink motel in San Antonio, a Spanish-villa knockoff with lush landscaping, where the soft-drink machine gave me my bottle of Coke and my dime back. The next morning at checkout time, my sisters and I argued over who got to keep the little unused bar of Lux as a souvenir.
In the early sixties the pink motel in San Antonio and the Spotted Horse in Hamilton (it was mint green) were just two of hundreds of family-run motels in Texas. Millions of people stayed at those motels, but only a few thousand knew the business from the inside—the husbands and wives who checked guests in and out, acted as maids and pool boys, and performed dozens of other duties every day. They were the target audience of Tourist Court Journal, the official publication of the International Motor Court Association. In 1937 the newly formed group tapped a Temple printer named Bob Gresham to be the publisher of the fledgling magazine , which would go on to chronicle the ups and downs of the motel industry for 32 years.
“Tourist court” was then the standard phrase for rentable cabins or cottages grouped around a patio or lawn; “motel,” a telescoping of “motor hotel,” was a slangier term that was already in use and usually meant a single-story building with adjoining rooms. Both terms implied accommodations that catered to families or businessmen traveling by car. Although Gresham knew little about either tourist courts or trade chronicles, he jumped in with gusto and fashioned a bible for mom-and-pop motel owners, addressing everything