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DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
By Michael Matthews
May 24, 2012 -- My darling wife, Miss Millie the darling dog and I have just completed a 2,500-mile road trip all around Texas. The trip brought this self-confessed hotel snob back to reality--and reminded me that breaking down on a Sunday in the middle of nowhere is something you don't want.

If you've followed this column, you know that my wife, when she's paying, has a penchant for La Quinta Inns. The chain offers a pretty good value, particularly when the property is new. The first night of our journey we stayed in El Paso, in an old, clean, rehabbed La Quinta.

I asked the front-desk staff where I could get a drink and they recommended the Embassy Suites next door. So I availed myself of its complimentary cocktail hour. Skol gin is rubbish, but, hey, it was free. As I say, I'm a hotel snob, so I didn't even know that Embassy Suites offered a complimentary happy hour for guests. I only learned it when I tried to pay. I couldn't, of course, and I didn't let on that I'd snuck in from the lowly La Quinta next door.

In Austin, we stayed at Chez Matthews Fils, which is nicely located in my son and daughter-in-law's home. The bed was comfortable, the sheets clean, the bathroom fine and there was a preponderance of amenities. The company was marvelous and included a 16-year-old dog called Fluffy, who was immediately adopted by Miss Millie.

We also had an amazing sushi dinner at UCHI, owned by 41-year-old Tyson Cole, a recent recipient of a James Beard Foundation award and one of the most revered young chefs in America. A pair of especially noteworthy dishes: the Mediterranean sea bass with Texas grapefruit, avocado and fennel vinegar; and Maguro sashimi with goat cheese and fuji apple dressed with pumpkin-seed oil. It was one of the best meals of this old man's life.

From Austin, we headed to Rochester, population 325. Did you know the man who introduced the gin mill (cotton not booze) to Australia is buried here? It's on his gravestone. Then it was on to Abilene for another night in another La Quinta. This time, it was a great one and we got a suite, too.

Next morning, we started to head back to civilization with a planned stop to recharge and sleep in Van Horn because Van Horn has a La Quinta. But it wasn't meant to be.

On the loop around Midland, our two-year-old Saab gave out. As you know, there are no more Saab dealers and no more Saab warranties. If you own this car, which I once considered reliable, you're on your own now that Saab, the Swedish car maker, has gone the way of Packard and Sunbeam.

What do you do on Sunday when your defunct Swedish car dies deep in the heart of Texas? Cry by the wayside while you wait for a tow truck to pick you up and drop the car at the local Mercedes dealer's parking lot. Hey, I thought, Germany is near Sweden, so maybe they could fix it the next day. That, too, was not meant to be.

If you don't know it, the Midland/Odessa area is booming thanks to oil and there are thousands of nodding donkeys pumping away. Midland/Odessa is also home to the one of largest wind farms in North America.

The cost of getting stuck in an energy boom town on Sunday? Towing the car a couple of miles: $150. A room at the new Courtyard by Marriott: $325 a night. (No pets are allowed, but we sneaked Miss Millie in and out via the fire escape.) The Courtyard was quite nice, but the only food and beverage outlet in the hotel is only open on weekdays, when room rates jump to $400 plus a night.

The next day, we snuck Miss Millie out, paid the outrageous Courtyard bill, rented a Nissan Versa from Enterprise and drove the 10 hours home. The rate was astounding: $110 a day with a minimum 2-day rental and a $273 return fee. Its ubiquitous advertising notwithstanding, Enterprise did not pick us up.

Oh yes, the car repair cost $350. Shipping it back to Tucson: $730 more.

All of which leads me to make the following offer, dear readers:

FOR SALE: 2010 Saab 9-3 station wagon. Silver with black leather interior. 15,000 miles. Currently in Midland/Odessa, Texas, but soon back in Tucson. Comes with a quantity of points in the La Quinta Returns frequent guest program.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.