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Motel hell 

Lamenting the loss of a 1950s era icon.

click to enlarge The Esquire Motel's sign after Juan came for a visit. - CHRIS SMITH
  • The Esquire Motel's sign after Juan came for a visit.
  • Chris Smith

When the world wasn’t lit so well by giant tungsten candles and strobing halogen fireflies the neon sign of a motel would really stand out. You could be coming into town, late on the road, tired, grimey, hungry. There it would be, warming the night sky with the colours of fireworks, there would be the sign promising temporary home—warm bath, stomach-sticking food and weak coffee: hot and plenty of it. The bad white noise reception of the bolted-down TV set. Wrapped glasses. Sleep or sex or both under thin sheets bathed in motel mood lighting.

The Esquire Motel is at 771 Bedford Highway, in the segue strip between the city and points west. The long low building has been there since 1955, fanning out on both sides of the peaked house-like office. The doors are yellow. The trim is after-dinner-mint green, the walls brick red. There are small benches and plastic lawn chairs outside the 28 units. Make yourself at home and take a load off. Across the road sits the Esquire Restaurant and Coffee Shoppe, humble palace of white soft rolls and chowder, hot pork sandwiches and rice pudding.

click to enlarge And the before photo.
  • And the before photo.

The motel’s lawn is a giant’s front yard. By the road is the sign, like a great neon totem. Up top is the moon, yellow and full, “Welcome” written over the face. Large arrow, lit in rows of red neon. Below the moon are solid thick letters, rocks of ages, saying MOTEL and ESQUIRE. Below that, the message about the breakfast or the season’s rates. Then, at the bottom, the open-sesame word in more neon: Vacancy.

Hurricane Juan drove the sign onto the ground. It buckled and fell, twisting into the grass and a small bed of purpley-pink flowers. The neon sucked out and shards of ruby glass arteries splintered all over the place. The sign says J UST A NIC EPLC TO TY. All the king’s horses…

The Esquire Motel and its next door neighbour, Travelers Motel, remain from earlier, easier times. They will not last forever. Both are now owned by Greater Homes Inc. The old motels aren’t yet in a five-year plan, but they will be some day. They will be torn down and condominiums with basin views will go up. This is the world we live in.

We will not see the likes of the Esquire sign again but maybe it’s better this way. The great beacon lost with the bang of an act of god and not the whimper and whine of more earth bound-machinery and change.


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