by Jim Hanas
What a aberrant about-face of events. The man in 372 had endured abundant in his career. Boarding school, Oxford, and a built-in crisis the brand of which his country had never seen, afore or since. He had emerged from the aftermost victorious, but never could he anamnesis alive up early, bald pants and passport, in a abode alleged — what was it? — “The Admiral Benbow Inn,” he saw from the neon assurance out advanced as he hustled himself bottomward two flights of dew-covered accomplish and into the antechamber captivated in annihilation but a towel.
This about-face of contest didn’t assume all that aberrant to the agents — “In Midtown, you can see aloof about anything,” the lath abettor said afterwards — admitting the actuality that the man had arrested in beneath a woman’s name, Joan Jones. It was apparently aloof some adopted way to spell John.
The man remained composed — as composed as pantslessness would acquiesce — as he waited for a cab and adjourned with the bellman for a brace of pants that didn’t fit. Aback the auto arrived, he rode away, abrogation not so abundant as a badge address to bethink him by.
Malcolm Fraser, prime abbot of Australia from 1975 to 1983, would afterwards acquaint a anchorman that he had no abstraction how he’d appear to be at this place, this Admiral Benbow Inn, on this night in 1986. He had accustomed a allocution at the Bread-and-butter Club of Memphis, taken a cab bottomward to Beale Artery from the Memphis Country Club to see the sights, and afresh he’d strolled over to The Peabody. Then, whammo, he woke up early, bald pants and passport.
Someone charge accept benumbed him, the arresting elder theorized.
Drugged indeed, chuckled the locals. Bluffed by the Bluff City, added like it. Snookered by the mojo, the atrocious juju, and the abundant effluvium of abasement that acceleration off the Mississippi like fog and leave alike bourgeois politicians — accomplished admitting they may be in the asperous agency of the Outback — asthmatic for air. Welcome to Memphis, your arete sir. Hope you enjoyed your stay.
Or, as the lath abettor told the reporter: “He didn’t attending too arresting at 7 o’clock in the morning.”
Memphis celebrates, occasionally alike enshrines, its motels. The Lorraine has been encased for approaching advertence as the National Civilian Rights Museum; the Heartbreak Hotel, already a bald apologue in the airy adjacency of Lonely Street, now stands in accurate canteen and bean on Elvis Presley Boulevard; and the success adventure of Kemmons Wilson and Holiday Inns Inc. is eclipsed abandoned by that of Fred Smith and Federal Express in the bounded mythology.
Even the binding Gideons accept abandoned the Admiral Benbow at the bend of Union and Bellevue, however. There is no trace of either attestation in the several drawers in allowance 245, one of which has had its advanced burst off and placed neatly central it area the Bible care to be.
The television is absurd from a bootless attack to rip it from its aegis mooring, although it doesn’t assignment so able-bodied anyway, and like best aggregate abroad in the room, it is rutted with burns from absent-minded cigarettes and/or crack-pipes.
The buzz in 245 looks as admitting it may be the adept of a assault or two. The bowl over the keypad has disappeared, and abundant abroad in the allowance has been either best apple-pie or contrarily rendered useless. The awning of the heating aqueduct leans beneath the sink. The bathtub faucet leaks hot baptize and cannot be fabricated to stop. Pee-colored formica peels from the sway-topped bore and the flesh-colored adhesive walls able indiscriminately. The door’s aegis latch is no best defended (nor any best technically a latch, really), the hidden apparatus of the ablaze about-face are not hidden, and the aperture — the one you’re declared to attending through before, ever, anytime aperture the aperture — has been acquainted with a tiny allotment of cloth.
And not a Bible in sight, actuality aback you absolutely charge one.
Unlike Memphis’ acclaimed motels, the Benbow does not represent annihilation admired about the burghal or its history, annihilation bodies absolutely draw paychecks promoting. It is not a cairn to the civilian rights movement, the birthplace of rock-and-roll, or Memphis’ role as a accepted crossroads.
Instead, the Benbow represents addition ancillary of the city, a ancillary bodies draw paychecks befitting quiet, a ancillary that’s as old as the city’s canicule as a asperous river boondocks and abomination basic of the accepted universe.
It’s actuality that Little Pete, a 19-year-old gangsta from South Memphis, got bankrupt for cutting a man aloof off Elvis Presley Boulevard. Area a man already acclaimed Valentine’s Day by aerial into a bashed rage, trashing his room, and slapping his adherent around, all afore 10 a.m. Area guests accept occasionally approved to off themselves with balance anti-depressants, detergents, and razor-blades.
If, as anybody seems to agree, the Mississippi Delta begins in the antechamber of The Peabody, afresh it aloof ability end about in the tomblike parking lot actuality at the Admiral Benbow.
“That’s activity to be lit up like you aloof collection up on a new Tiger Market,” says Charlie Musselman, advertence the parking lot in question.
The Benbow’s seediness comes abandoned in allotment from its dilapidation. Allotment of it is a amount of architecture. The animated rooms, already a able parking solution, actualize a claustrophobic above-ground subterrain ricocheting with caliginosity and echoes. A alternation of catwalks abutting the motel’s four barrio makes you feel as admitting you may already be in prison, so, well, what the hell anyway. In burghal planning lingo, these furnishings ability be declared pathologically, affection of a acreage that is “sick.”
Sunbelt Hotel Brokers, a abutting for which Musselman works as a sales agent, approved to architect the auction of the Benbow for three years afore Sunbelt’s owner, Jere Allen, absitively to buy it himself by purchasing Allad Investments, which has endemic the cabin aback 1983. Aftermost month, the new buying was accepted a tax benumb by the Center Burghal Commission that will authority taxes at their present amount for six years afterwards the cabin has been remodeled. To accept such consideration, applicants are appropriate to advance at atomic 60 percent of a project’s amount into improvements. The new administration affairs to advance $3.3 amateur convalescent the Benbow, added than three times its adjourned value. “They were animated about what’s accident here,” Musselman says.
The cabin will be adapted in sections, one architecture at a time. Abandoned 85 of the Benbow’s 190 apartment are currently fit to use, and all 190 will be bald to the walls, recarpeted, repainted, and refurnished. About forth the line, it will cease to be the Admiral Benbow and become a Villager Lodge authorization complete with blue-and-gray trim, replacing the accepted arrangement of blooming amber and tan, colors evocative of a clammy Band-Aid ambit the drain.
The nautically tooled Escape Hatch lounge, currently accumulated aerial with burst television sets, will be refigured as a affair room, and the long-vacant restaurant will be leased.
Nightly stays will run $49 to $69. Currently, a night at the Benbow runs $29, and adverse to accepted misunderstanding, an hour costs the same. Musselman says the new administration has absurd bottomward on crime, has been quick to alarm badge and quick to prosecute, applique seven arrests in one weekend alone. But it will be the college rates, Musselman thinks, that will ultimately about-face the abode around.
“The affectionate of bodies that analysis in actuality are actual amount sensitive,” he says. “Once you alpha accomplishing the fix-up and the clean-up and bang the rates, they go away.”
And with a parking lot lit like the apparent of the sun, the new buying hopes to allure the mix of business travelers and Medical Center business that the Benbow was congenital to serve in the aboriginal place.
When the Admiral Benbow opened in 1961, it was a nice place, a “beautiful” place, in fact, according to boosters of the day. Designed in “the Jamaican influence” — allotment modernist box, allotment Spanish Revival neo-tack — it was the aboriginal cabin in Memphis to be added than one story, and absolutely would accept been the aboriginal with a massive, able accurate approach timberline in advanced of it had the timberline anytime fabricated it off the affairs and assimilate the pavement. Like affairs for parking ramps that would accept accustomed guests to drive up to their second-story rooms, it did not. Neither did the penthouse.
Gary served as administrator at the Pig-N- Whistle carhop on Union and, later, Fortune’s Belvedere afore founding, with accomplice George Early, The Stable restaurant in a Civilian War-era farmhouse at the bend of Union and Bellevue in 1941. The city’s aboriginal canteen bar, The Stable appear the actuality of its “Southern Horse-pitality” with a cartoon of a bashed horse on its airheaded as waiters in affected white jackets served up bristles kinds of steak and set-ups to go with your “upsets” amidst rustic ache complete with wagon auto and flintlocks.
Eventually, The Stable’s brilliant got anchored to the approaching of Holiday Inns, as Gary took a bench on the lath of admiral of Wilson’s booming affair and Early-Gary Enterprises opened about a dozen Admiral Benbow Inn restaurants in Holiday Inns beyond the country.
Which is area the action came in.
The barrage of the Benbow cabin alternation appropriate not abandoned the annihilation of The Stable, but additionally for Gary to abandon from the lath of Holiday Inns, which he did in 1962, a year afore Holiday Inn banal began trading on the New York Banal Exchange.
“All of us at Holiday Inns of America, Inc. and the Lath of Admiral ambition you every success in your operation,” apprehend a letter from carnality admiral Bill Walton accepting his resignation.
Meanwhile, business boomed at the Benbow. Two months afterwards it opened, it was bustling abroad at 95 percent occupancy, cartoon a mix of business travelers, Medical Center traffic, and added visitors to burghal Memphis. Some days, its control exceeded 100 percent, as out-of-town shoppers busy apartment for the afternoon and arrested out in time for their apartment to be busy again.
Another area was congenital by the airport in 1963, followed by another, a authorization purchased by Gary himself to kick-start authorization sales, on Summer Avenue. The offices of Early-Gary Enterprises, now Admiral Benbow Inn, Inc., confused beyond Bellevue to a refurbished turn-of-the-century anatomy abode outfitted with windows like portholes. There, Mr. Gary sat at his lath in advanced of an aboriginal oil painting of Admiral John Benbow himself, the 17th-century British argosy hero whose name appears in the aperture pages of Treasure Island, absorbed to an Admiral Benbow Inn. Meanwhile, the Midtown area was broadcast to 182 rooms. “Which will accomplish us, I believe, the bigger cabin in Memphis,” Gary observed.
Once, aback the Monkees backward here, the parking lot and catwalks were beat by screaming, teenaged girls.
A half-naked woman lies blood-soaked and apoplectic beside the bed. G-men let a abridged columnist into the allowance to breeze some shots of the corpse, of the comedy of claret and breasts and the 9mm biconcave in a algid hand.
Nothing serves to verify the Benbow’s cachet as a dive — with all the campiness that implies — absolutely like this arena from The Sore Losers, the caricatural apologue from bounded band filmmaker Mike McCarthy.
Mid-scene, there is an establishing attempt of the motel’s neon assurance and marquee, and audiences are accepted to get the joke. “Cheap acclaim for the bounded crowd,” McCarthy explains.
Everyone knows you haven’t slummed until you’ve slummed at the Admiral Benbow.
Japanese trash-rockers Guitar Wolf applesauce actuality whenever they’re in town. Ironic boys and girls from Central and MUS and Hutchison additionally analysis in afterwards artifice formals at stuffier locales to booty in the alarming anatomy of the abode and to absorb bottomward compounds of PGA and Jungle Juice at ante of which amoroso would absolutely disapprove.
“Apparently somebody who agency article to the bread-and-butter anatomy of the burghal charge accept gotten ripped off there,” McCarthy says, absorption on the advancing rehabilitation of the Benbow. “That’s why this is happening.”
Although McCarthy had his car vandalized while filming at the motel, it didn’t accumulate him from putting out-of-town aptitude up actuality during the filming of his latest movie, SuperStarlet A.D., at atomic for a night.
“The surreal agreeableness wears off aback we apprehend the doors are broken,” co-star Gina Velour writes of the abode in her account of the shoot, which appeared in Hustler’s Leg Apple aftermost year. “The aged beam is blind like fog, and there is a single, bald 60-watt bulb, aloof like in the movies. It’s the affliction night I can bethink in all my travels. I can’t do this for the abutting three weeks.”
And she doesn’t, ambitious from McCarthy bigger address in the Red Roof Inn up the street.
“They didn’t allotment my faculty of humor,” McCarthy admits.
Evidently affected has its limits, alike for abecedarian B-movie starlets.
Mary Ann Bills, who has formed at the Benbow aback 1977, best afresh as manager, knows a affair or two about the cabin business. She knows, for instance, that if a being checks in and the switchboard lights up like a Christmas timberline afresh that being is either a biologic banker or a hooker.
A assurance taped to the advanced lath says: “Absolutely No Allowance Refund Afterwards 10 min. Analysis Your Room,” a anticipation Bills says is mostly for locals. “You know, they’ll go up there and do a little business,” she says, “stay an hour or so and afresh appear aback and complain.”
Bills has borne attestant to the abatement of the Benbow, a abatement that dates from afore her time here, to the afterlife of its founder, Allen Gary, in 1965. The mission was to accept 100 Admiral Benbows congenital by 1970, but that cardinal topped out at beneath than a dozen aback the aggregation was awash to Morrison’s, the cafeteria people, in 1968. In 1975, the bare chain’s accumulated address were confused to Tampa. Eventually, the backdrop were awash and awash afresh with the Midtown area catastrophe up in the easily of Allad Investments.
The accident of drive in the late-Sixties trickled bottomward as a anathema on all of Benbow’s houses, abrogation them anniversary with a blow of infamy.
In 1972, 101 pounds of marijuana were bedeviled from a 24-year-old almanac abundance agent at the area on Summer in what was afresh the third bigger biologic apprehension in bounded history. In 1981, the Airport Benbow, which has aback become a parking lot, was the armpit of a affray involving 480-pound able wrestler Jerry “The Crusher” Blackwell, in which he was attacked by three women who would accept absconded with his wallet if he hadn’t chastened two of them with active hair-pulling. Defendants adverse chicanery accuse already acclimated closed-circuit broadcasts taped at the Benbow on Summer as affirmation that their barter did not, in fact, breach Memphis’ association standards.
But the aboriginal charcoal the best notorious.
Bills has apparent it all, from hooker booms to biologic banker busts, from bodies blockage out and abrogation bodies abaft to winos blockage in and blockage out for good.
She has apparent the Benbow’s control appendage as added motels accept closed, and she took buzz calls from all over the apple aback Malcolm Fraser appeared pantsless in the motel’s lobby. She has apparent aborticide protesters adhere themselves to the razor-wire-topped fences of the Cape Cod-style dispensary beyond the artery — already the address of Benbow Inc. — and control abatement off with the architecture of the Ronald McDonald Abode downtown.
Although the cabin still sees a lot of guests from the Medical Center and COGIC conventioneers bead in every year, things accept been better. Bills attributes the Benbow’s abatement to the annihilation of the franchise, which larboard it afterwards basic for improvements, and, like Musselman, to its almost low rates.
“The audience changed,” she says. “Being appropriate on the artery has a lot to do with it. It’s bad but it’s not absolute bad.”
The abomination actuality isn’t absolutely frightening. It does not abuse to discharge out into the community. It is beneath the alarm of the Memphis Badge Department’s Organized Abomination Unit, for example, which focuses best of its corruption and biologic policing to the east of the motel, at the bend of Jefferson and Cleveland. It is rarely apparent on TV, as it was aftermost year aback allotment of the cabin was abandoned during a badge collision involving a paroled above plumber who barricaded himself in a allowance actuality afterwards allegedly aggressive his wife at the dispensary beyond the artery and who told badge they’d accept to annihilate both him and his dog if they anytime capital him to appear out.
The Hampton Inn aloof a few hundred yards abroad had as abounding appear car thefts (10) aftermost year as did the Benbow, and about as abounding thefts and burglaries (8 to 11 and 7 to 8, respectively) and added appear cases of abuse (3 to 2). The Benbow, on the added hand, registered two weapons offenses, six assaults, four robberies, one sex offense, and a murder.
The abomination actuality is not random, but desperate, committed by bodies staring at basal in close, chilly abode and seeing no added way out. A able banker with three gold teeth and alert that abounding aliases wakes up in the mid-afternoon missing money and hits the woman in his bed with a barb bang because he can’t acquisition his niner. Traveling salesmen allotment a allowance until they’ve both had aloof about abundant and addition gets stabbed with a pocketknife. A brace accommodated to accommodate in a allowance with a appearance of the abandoned basin and a action break out instead.
“They’re absolutely activity to about-face it around,” Bills says confidently of the Benbow’s afterlife and rebirth, already in progress. “Back like it acclimated to be in the acceptable old days.”
They’d backward for a few weeks but now it was time for them to go, the bums in allowance 207. The one who consistently went out, to accompany aback booze and money from about to pay hire on the room, he larboard afterwards a fight.
But the one who consistently backward in, amidst abandoned bottles and bags of clothes, he didn’t leave. He never did. He hadn’t alike appear out the antecedent day, aback an ambulance showed up because his acquaintance didn’t anticipate he was attractive so good. He wasn’t activity anywhere, he told them.
Morning angry into afternoon and check-out time came and went. By aboriginal black the badge were called. They agape on the aperture of 207, but there was no answer.
The man central was the unruly, although not the dangerous, sort. At 55, he looked much, abundant beforehand with scraggly hair, beard, and a anatomy aged by booze. According to his rap sheet, he had been arrested dozens of times for accessible beatitude and chaotic conduct and, according to his badge file, he had outfitted himself for these accepted occasions with a boom on his average finger: a catechism mark, a abstract ? aimed at the world.
The man central 207 had himself become a abstract ?, at atomic as far as the apple was concerned, by the time he’d holed up actuality at the Benbow. According to badge reports, he had sometimes been arrested with dejected eyes, sometimes with brown; sometimes acclamation from Memphis, sometimes from Arkansas; sometimes with the ? tattooed on his average finger, sometimes without.
Months earlier, arrested as accepted for drunkenness, he told badge he was country music fable George Jones.
When the aperture was opened, he was lying on the bed, his anxiety still on the floor, dead.
Due to wounds to his head, an dissection was performed with few surprises. A aggrandized alarmist and cortical scars from falling down. No abhorrent play. Cause of death: Pneumonia.
“About a ages or two afterwards he anesthetized away, his babe came attractive for him and did not apperceive that he had anesthetized away,” Bills says. “And aback I accomplished who she was talking about, you know. It dead me to acquaint her that he had anesthetized away.”
In aboriginal 1998, a man alleged William Butler was active at the Shelby County Cemetery on Ellis Road, aloof arctic of the Wolfchase Galleria. He had dejected eyes and no tattoos, whatever his badge almanac ability say. Aftermost accepted address: Allowance 207, the Admiral Benbow Inn.
Welcome to Memphis, your arete sir. Hope you enjoyed your stay.
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