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Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue


Paperback, 272 pages
ISBN: 1-58367-143-6
Released: March 2007

The road trip is a staple of modern American literature. But nowhere in American literature, until now, has an economist hit the road, observing and interpreting the extraordinary range and spectacle of U.S. life, bringing out its conflicts and contradictions with humor and insight.

Disillusioned with academic life after thirty-two years teaching economics, Michael Yates took early retirement in 2001, with a pension account that had doubled during the frenzy of the late 1990s. He and his wife Karen have traveled around the country since then, often spending months at a time on the road. Michael and Karen spent the summer of 2001 in Yellowstone National Park, where Michael worked as a hotel front-desk clerk. They moved to Manhattan for a year, where he worked for Monthly Review. From there they went to Portland, Oregon, to explore the Pacific Northwest. After five months of travel in Summer and Fall 2004, they settled in Miami Beach. Ahead of the 2005 hurricane season, they went back on the road, settling this time in Colorado.

Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate is both an account of their adventures and a penetrating examination of work and inequality, race and class, alienation and environmental degradation in the small towns and big cities of the contemporary United States.

Everyone knows about Estes Park, CO, Jackson, WY, Flagstaff, AZ, Moab, UT those treasures become fashionable destinations because travel pages sing of their lush beauty and comfort. Never a word about those who work there, those we seldom see. In Michael Yates’s book we get the invisible made visible: the stark and powerful truth of the haves and have-nots. Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate is what we are all about.

— Studs Terkel

Armed with a van and hot plate, Michael Yates and Karen Korenoski set off to do what many of us have dreamed… Their journey combines acute observations and politics from the pleasure of breathtaking sights to a program for reversing the privatization of our national parks and forests. Yates’s travelogue/critique ranges from the political economy of California’s agricultural valleys, where migrant workers pick our food, to an account of the job market in Portland. This is a great book a road story for radicals. It makes you itch to hit the road.

— David Bacon, photographer and author of Communities Without Borders

Here’s the travel book the chamber of commerce doesn’t want you to have. It shows you the way to places of great beauty, but it also invites you into the parts of real America that other books avoid—gated communities in small towns, homeless kids in our cites, poor people of color toiling at arduous and poorly-paid labor, burgeoning economic inequality, and environmental destruction in our national parks. Read this book. It might change the way you see our country the next time you travel.

— Jim Hightower, national radio commentator

Author of Thieves In High Places

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Road Beckons

  • Route 22
  • Johnstown and Pittsburgh
  • Work Turns Sour
  • The Road Beckons
  • Themes of the Book
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Two: Yellowstone National Park

  • The Journey Begins
  • Training to Be a Guest Service Agent
  • Amfac’s Workforce
  • Serving the Guests
  • A New Respect for Workers
  • In and Around the Park
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Three: Manhattan

  • Nine-Eleven
  • Apartment Hunting in the Shadow of Disaster
  • A Dream Come True
  • Another Job
  • Walking the City’s Streets
  • Dinner Party
  • Leaving Manhattan
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Four: Portland and the Pacific Northwest

  • We Take on Company
  • It’s Raining
  • The Pacific Northwest
  • Work Vicariously
  • A Liberal City
  • Wanderlust
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Five: Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate I

  • Do They Still Make Hot Plates?
  • South Down Interstate 5
  • Joshua Tree, Williams, Flagstaff, and Sedona
  • New Mexico
  • The Rest of the West
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Six: Miami Beach

  • We Live among the Beautiful People
  • Calle Ocho
  • Nude Beach
  • The Everglades
  • Key West
  • Casino
  • Suggested Readings

Chapter Seven: From the Gulf Coast to Estes Park

  • The Gulf Coast
  • New Orleans
  • Into Texas and Back to the Southwest
  • My Hometown
  • The Journey Continues
  • Suggested Readings

Michael D. Yates is associate editor of Monthly Review. He was professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown for many years. His other books include Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy and Why Unions Matter. Also see the Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate website for continuing updates.

Publication Date: April 2007

Number of Pages: 208

Paperback ISBN: 9781583671436