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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Smoke Signals

Ramada Inn

by Jeff BerkleySeptember 2023

The California Grapevine.

For years, I’ve left for tours, both large and small, the night before I had to. I like to get out of SoCal at night while the getting’s good. I’ve stayed 1000 times, I think, at the same Ramada Inn on those nights. It’s just over the Grapevine in Lebec and within striking distance of everywhere I’m headed to play gigs!

I was telling my friend Marc Intravaia (Marc Twang) about it one day, and he reminded me of the Neil Young song called “Ramada Inn.” It talks about a couple staying at the Ramada near the grapevine in SoCal. He paints a beautiful picture as usual.

This place is just outside of Los Angeles. Just at the bottom of the hill. First exit as you head north. You gotta heat up your breaks a bit and weave through the truck lane to make the exit! It’s on the edge of the great Central Valley of California. It. It no longer feels like a city at all. It’s right up against the foothills of the grapevine. Lots of tall grass and rocky terrain. It feels ancient out there.

The rooms at the Inn are still pretty old school. There are wooden post beds with quilts on them. They even still have smoking rooms! They don’t smell so good at first, but one can always smuggle in their own smudging materials.

As I sit in my room at the Ramada Inn, I think about one of my heroes, Neil Young, being here. Maybe he was writing about some couple he saw in the lobby at check in. Maybe right after they told him about check out time? Maybe after they handed him his little map with the room square circled and the YOU ARE HERE as bold as can be! Maybe he ignored the desk clerk when they told him about the continental breakfast and handed him his key with the light blue oval hanging from it that just says 123 in white. Distracted by the couple, he walked, in a haze of road-weary magic and the spell of the story stirring in his brain, to his room and sat on this bed as I am now to write. Who knows? Maybe he was just bored?

This hotel has been here and been a Ramada Inn since Neil’s song came out and well before that. Now it’s something else. A Days Inn, I think. Back then, there was nothing else out here but a huge truck stop. The only one for 100 miles and the only one near the grapevine.

This monument to weary travelers has been a refuge, a roadhouse, and a desert oasis for me and my friends. There’s not much doubt that this is the place Neil came and wrote his song about. I wonder how many other wayward musicians this place has housed over the years. How many young couples looking for love and adventures like in the Neil Young song.

Anyway, gotta get moving, got an early sound check!

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