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Almost Fiction: The Auto Court

By Sam Jones

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In 1948 the 10-year-old boy lived in an Auto Court owned by his father and mother. After the war, when he left the Army, his parents bought it with his father’s mustering-out bonus. Listening to his folks’ talk he heard mustering as mustard and the family joke became they bought the Auto Court with mustard money.

The Auto Court had 16 cabins, each with a tiny garage. They were arranged in two parallel lines along a center driveway, eight on one side and eight on the other with the office facing the highway. In addition to a check-in desk, the office building contained a living room, two small bedrooms, an undersized kitchen and a miniature bathroom.

An Auto Court cabin was one big basic room, which would suffice as living room, bedroom, kitchen and closet. It contained beds, a table, several chairs, a hot plate, a sink, a mixture of several pots and pans and a coffee pot. No cabin had a private bathroom. At the end of the line of cabins were the communal showers and bathrooms where it was men on the right and women on the left.

Carl, an Army friend of his father who helped with maintenance, lived in the first cabin. He could fix nearly anything but had a severe limp, which he described as “the result of a misunderstanding with the Germans over real estate in North Africa.”

The rooms were cleaned by two “colored women” who walked to the Auto Court every day bringing clean sheets and towels and took the dirty ones with them when they went home. This wasn’t a hotel; travelling people who stopped at an Auto Court were expected to bring with them their own bedding and linens, however, if they didn’t, for 25 cents extra you could use theirs.

At the doorway of each cabin was a tree, a wooden picnic chair and a coffee can. The can was half filled with sand and painted red to match the chairs. On the can was painted “BUTTS” in white letters. Carl had done the painting. The boy earned 10 cents a week to keep the leaves raked, the cigarette butts picked up and the cans scooped out. Once a week he added more sand. Considering the type of trees and the propensity for cigarette smoking, this was a full-time job for a 10-year-old boy.

Occasionally a family with boys his age would stop at the Auto Court and he would have someone to play baseball with but they rarely stayed more than a day or two. The only people who came regularly were two very pretty women who had beautiful hair and fancy clothes. They always took #8, the largest cabin at the end of the row. They were popular and friendly and usually men came to visit. The boy liked the women and would sit on a picnic table across from their cabin and listen to the music from the radio they brought with them.

The boy’s mother didn’t like them and although there was a rule not to bother the guests, she invoked a hard and fast special rule not to talk to the two pretty women. She said they were “no kind of church women” and called them “floozies.” The boy had no idea of what a “floozy” was and thought it just meant “a pretty woman.”

Travelers came and went, mostly driving old jalopies, however, once the boy got a glimpse of a Packard sporting the silver “Goddess of Speed” flying on the radiator cap. It was his favorite.

It was his favorite until two men rode in on motorcycles. The men were tall and strong, wore black leather coats over fancy white shirts and sported captain’s caps. One cap was embroidered with wings and the man’s name, Harley Davidson. The other man’s just said Indian.

The machines were brightly painted and had chrome accessories and extra lights and the Indian had the most beautiful front fender in all the world. It even boasted a white plastic Indian head at its tip that lit up with the headlight. As they moved the motorcycles had the grace of a gazelle but rumbled like an elephant. The boy had never seen or heard anything like the motorcycles.

The men checked into #16, the last cabin on the right side of the driveway. Taking their time unloading the saddle bags and untying their “bindles,” they were the kind of men that saw everything, left no detail unchecked and commanded respect. They were in no hurry. Once inside the man with his name on the cap came back out to the porch, sat in the chair, lit a cigarette and slowly drank from a silver flask. After a while the man with the Indian cap joined him.

The boy knew the rule about not bothering the guests but he was sure that the rule didn’t count if the guests rode in on motorcycles. He walked over and stood next to the bikes, didn’t touch anything but read into his mind every nut and bolt. The boy had never seen anything so beautiful.

After a while, without getting up, Harley Davidson asked, “Do you like motorcycles?” The boy couldn’t talk but made an affirmative nod with his head. The man then got up, walked over and pointed out how the machine worked. “This is what makes it go, this makes it stop and this is the clutch.” The boy wondered what a clutch was. “Would you like to go for a ride a little later?”

Oh my God, would he! “Yes, I would.”

“OK, in a little while we’re going to ride back to the café for dinner. You can go if you want.”

The boy said he would be ready when his family finished their early dinner. Knowing that his mother would go to church afterwards and dad would lie down on the couch for a nap, with dinner over he quickly helped his mother with the dishes and brought his father a beer. He took no chances on permission being refused so he didn’t ask.

The men gave him riding instructions, the bikes were fired and the three of them rode back into town so the men could eat dinner and the boy was given a piece of chocolate cream pie. It was the first time he had ever eaten chocolate cream pie and the first time he had ridden a motorcycle and even though many years later he owned a Harley-Davidson himself and he could eat chocolate cream pie any time he wanted, it was the best day of his life.

2 comments

  1. Great Story–as usual–but I get more emotion from it than others.

    Hank

    [Reply]

  2. Thanks Hank,
    My folks did own a Auto Court/Motel and my job was raking the leaves and cleaning up the cigarette butts. However I never did get a ride on a motorcycle. I would just sit at the edge of the highway and lust after them.
    Slippery Sam

    [Reply]

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