My old friend and long-ago Observer-er Matt Zoller Seitz, who wrote the definitive making-of piece about Bottle Rocket back in September 1995, sent me a note this morning: The Hillsboro motel where Wes Anderson, Luke and Owen Wilson and Bob Musgrave shot part of the film -- known as the Windmill Inn back then, then a Ramada, now a Days Inn -- is in danger of being shuttered. Which is why two locals, Andy Carl Valentin and Chris Durbin, are planning a "Save the Bottle Rocket Motel!"
wingding at the motel off IH-35 on June 25.
I spoke this morning with Bina Patel, who, with husband Sonny, bought the motel six years ago, not long after the previous owner entered into a franchise deal with Days Inn. Bina says Days Inn takes 13 percent from each room rented, and that business has been terrible lately. To make matters worse, if one were to try to make a reservation through Days Inn's website, it says no rooms are available. Quite the opposite.
"This year, there have not been too many travelers because of gas prices and disasters," she tells Unfair Park. "So it hurt us very bad. And too many neat hotels, brand-new hotels, have opened around us. And they all went into bankruptcy, so they're giving away rooms. I'm working 80, 90 hours to save money, but it's going deeper and deeper [into debt]. We're trying, but God is not helping us out, I guess. But tell people the rooms are nice, clean, fresh. It's not stinky." She laughs.
Bina did not know about the event, which yesterday appeared on The Rushmore Academy website. And she is grateful: "I guess God is listening to me," she says, again with a laugh. But she's not sure June 25 is the best date: That, she says, is when the corn harvesters usually arrive -- the one time of the year she can count on business. Then again, even that sure thing is far from one now.
[Update at 1:42 p.m.: This just in from Chris Durban: "The date has been moved to July 9th, 2011."]
"They won't make up their mind till the second week of June," she says. "They're calling me and asking me how tall the corn is. But it's been so dry. This week and last it's been cloudy, but no rain. Dallas and Fort Worth get rain, but down here it's been so dry."
Though Bina and Sonny bought the hotel six years ago, they're well familiar with the Bottle Rocket story. They're reminded of it frequently, Bina says, by fans of the film who stop in to take pictures, see the rooms, walk around the pool. She says the motel more or less looks as it did 16 years ago -- save, that is, for fresh paint, new wallpaper and the higher wall around the pool, which the city insisted they build.
Why, only two days ago, she says, "a college girl" driving from Austin to Dallas spotted the hotel off the highway, circled back and stopped in. "I'm surprised people still remember," Bina says. And for that, she is grateful.
"When we bought the motel six years ago, we finished the renovations, so I put so much of my money into it," she says. "That's why I don't want to let it go either, because I worked so hard. And I have three kids. It's just ..." She pauses. "I am praying God will listen to me one day."