The last days of the Days Inn

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I have exactly one story about the recently departed Days Inn Hotel. It stars a dog, a rather unruly teen pup at the time, and includes many expletives that, for the sake of brevity and family sensibilities, I’ll leave on the cutting room floor. As usual, I blame my wife for the entire episode.

It goes like this:

In 2008, my then fiance insisted we travel from our residence in Roanoke Rapids to my hometown of New Bern for the annual Mumfest celebration. I left it to her to find accommodations that would be suitable to our tastes. Seeing that the Days Inn was within walking distance of New Bern’s downtown, she booked us and Ben, our lab/husky mix, for two nights.

Oh well, I thought, it’s old but at least it’s pet friendly.

The problem, as is often the case in my experience, was that although the hotel was friendly to the pet the pet was not altogether friendly to the hotel. No sooner had we checked in and gathered up our bags than Ben raised his leg and thoroughly drenched the pale marble tile in the grand old establishment’s lobby.

So in some small way I like to think we left our mark on the Days Inn, or at least a stain. If I remember correctly Ben did a command performance in our room later that night.

That was it, my one and only personal encounter with the Broad Street landmark, at least until a few weeks ago.

But it was always there, seemingly, in my memory at least.

It was certainly there when my family pulled up roots and relocated from Greenville to New Bern in 1975. According to Craven County records, the hotel was constructed five years earlier, which means we were both born in the year of the Metal Dog, according to the Chinese Zodiac. Supposedly we’re prudent, conservative and have good relations with people, which shows you just how useless astrology truly is.

By the fall of 2008 the Days Inn had been remodeled, supposedly. Still, it retained the ambience of an old Hollywood film noir set, it’s dark hallways and ancient smells of old cigarette smoke and perfume lending it a certain ruined grandeur.

The hotel closed shortly after I moved back to New Bern in 2010. Whatever renovations had been done hadn’t changed its appearance to any noticeable degree. Nor did it’s closure, for that matter. The old cornerstone of the Five Points commercial district was still there, seemingly as permanent and unchangeable as an ancient monolith.

But lately it had become obvious that the old gal wasn’t what she used to be. Though never exuding much Southern charm and hospitality, she was now undeniably bedraggled, and not in a glamorous, mid-70s Keith Richards way, I’m afraid. She  was an embarrassment whose era had long since passed. It was time she did the same.

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I’m sorry to say that, like many things in life, I never really saw the Days Inn until it was almost gone. And then, I couldn’t stop looking. So, a few weeks before it fell to the machines, I decided to see what remained inside.

Surprisingly little it turned out. But what was there was grimly fascinating. The walls of the former guest rooms had been transformed into works of Surrealist art, painted in bold smears of black and green mold, grey water stains, and yellowed sheetrock. Here and there the common brushstrokes of vandalism were visible: shattered glass and graffiti, discarded liquor bottles and fast food trash.

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And everywhere, remnants from the hotels recent past, exposed and without purpose: elevator doors pried open; wiring and piping scattered harum scarum, hanging in dead space; a note from a maintenance worker. And on each floor a Coke machine, its innards revealed to the stripped, shadow-laced hallways.

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It was beautiful in its disarray. And quiet.

You don’t have to believe in ghosts to feel that some part of the city’s past, some part of everyone who ever spent a night or two under that roof, was hauled off with the concrete, rebar and wiring after it was raised.

And now, driving past the deserted two acre lot, it’s hard to imagine a hotel was ever there. That’s how completely time can be erased, how quickly memory can smooth over the rough places where you once stood and leave an empty space.

Was the Days Inn an eyesore? Of course it was. But I’ve always been drawn to eyesores; at least they have character. It was never going to be beautiful or modern, no matter how much work was done. The hotel had that whiff of the old about it, in body and spirit, and that’s near impossible to overcome with new paint and more cable channels.

Maybe a new businesses will spring up in its place. Or better yet, a new city park. Who knows?

I’m just glad I got to spend a few nights in that weird old building, with the asbestos and creaking elevators and the low hum of electricity moving through its clogged and rusted arteries.

For better or worse it was part of this place, and now it’s not.

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