Thursday, February 09, 2012

Late '60s Postcard Relics

Ahead of our family's move to San Antonio in the summer of 1968, my grandmother took me to her home in Alamo Heights, mostly (I realize now) so I wouldn't be in the way of moving preparations. During that visit, I went with Grandma to the world's fair -- HemisFair '68, it was called. She got this card for me, and we sent it to my mother and brothers back in North Texas. "We had a good time at the Fair," my grandmother wrote. I signed it with my name.

I don't specifically remember going to the fair with Grandma, but I suspect that any memories of that visit have bundled with a later visit with my mother and brothers, after they'd moved to town. I don't remember the September 15 monorail accident at all, but I must have heard about it.

The card isn't dated, but it is postmarked July 12, 1968. The cancellation mark on the stamp mentions HemisFair. The front depicts the Institute of Texan Cultures, a worthwhile museum that's still in operation.

In summer of 1969, so famed for Apollo 11 and Woodstock's crowd control issues and the murderous doings of the Manson family, we headed out on the comparatively new Interstate system for a drive around the South: Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee to (briefly) Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana and back to Texas. Chattanooga was as far east as we got, and we stayed here.

On that trip, we'd previously stayed only in one- or two-story properties, so a five-story motor lodge was positively enormous. When you're eight. Again, my memories of the place are sparse, though there was the thrill of staying on the fourth floor, and I'm pretty sure a vending machine at the Chattanooga Howard Johnson's cheated me.

Cursory investigation reveals that there's only one Howard Johnson's in metro Chattanooga these days, in Cleveland, Tenn., which isn't the property on the card. If the structure is still there, it's flagged by another brand, and probably renovated beyond recognition. HoJo is a Wyndham Hotel Group brand now, incidentally, and I can't remember the last time I saw one. I never did associate Howard Johnson's with ice cream or food; for whatever reason, we didn't eat at them much when on the road. Mainly, they were the motels with orange roofs where we occasionally stayed.

According to Wiki at least, the brand is a b-school example of how not to deal with an adverse economy, especially if you're in the customer service business. The spikes in the price of gasoline beginning in 1973 cut into U.S. car travel, and so the company "attempted to streamline company operations and cut costs, such as serving cheaper food and having fewer employees. It proved disastrous as guests were finding this new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges unsatisfactory, compared to the services they had come to know for years." Oops.

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