A Very American Hotel

Forty years is a long enough stretch, but it seems far less than half a lifetime ago when, as a surly British teenager, I found myself clutching an all-day pass to the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington.  I was there on my summer vacation from Cambridge, and it seemed to me an almost satirically unglamorous spot, particularly judging from the postcards I was getting from some of my peers in the course of their travels in the Arctic Circle, or Nagasaki, or even an alleged opium den in Chiang Mai.  There are those who go to Spokane for the climate (bone-dry from May to October), the Native American artifacts, or the agreeable inhabitants.  It also has an extraordinarily pleasant riverside park, home to regular classical concerts and other attractions, including a hand-carved fairground carousel created in 1909.  But I was there because my grandfather had taken the trouble to drive me the 300 or so miles from his home in Seattle where I was spending the long annual break.

The journey itself hadn’t been without incident.  My grandfather, who was then in his early 80’s and still active as a university professor, was at the wheel of one of those old, big-finned Cadillacs, which was roughly the size of an average family home in suburban London.  I remember it as being bright red, though others tell me it was actually a tasteful shade of salmon-pink, with gold trim.  It certainly...

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