Pink motels, Cadillacs, etc. etc.

Today’s Zippy takes us into the land of pink motels, pink fairies, and pink Cadillacs, which then takes us of course into the Forest of Pudendiana and sexual symbolism. There will be innocent drinks, plants, and animals, but mostly this is a world drenched in sex, gender, and sexuality.


We are in scenic Cherokee NC, home of a Pink Motel, with a fairy as its mascot — blue-winged in the cartoon, but pink-winged in older versions of the actual neon sign.

Symbolism I. Both fairies and the color pink have come to be symbols of femininity, and by extension, faggotry. But also, both of them, are symbols of kitsch: fairies and pink stuff are “cute”. Presumably the Pink Motel in Cherokee was designed not to bring in women or gay men, but to project a strong general senses of cuteness, like Tinkerbell and Hello Kitty run amok.

Background. The old sign in Cherokee (from the 1950s):


(flickr photo by Brent Moore 7/2/10: “Along US441 in the touristy area of Cherokee, NC, this motel appears to be one of the better maintained non-chain motels of the area.”)

A more recent shot, in blue mode:


Another Pink Motel. Surely much better known than the one in Cherokee NC, this one is in Sun Valley (a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley of SoCal) and comes attached to Cadillac Jack’s. Together they bring us to the Pink Cadillac theme.



From the L.A. Conservancy site:

Quick, what’s the pinkest building you know? The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo? Good guess, but scientists have determined the pinkest buildings are Sun Valley’s Pink Motel and its coffee shop, Cadillac Jack’s.

When Joseph Thomulka moved his family from Pennsylvania to California, he decided to build a pink motel, and in 1947, he did. In 1949, he added the Pink Café, now known as Cadillac Jack’s Café, and in 1959 he added a fish-shaped swimming pool.

Thomulka’s pink paradise had an auspicious location on San Fernando Road, which was an early connector between Los Angeles and points north that showed all signs of becoming a major thoroughfare. Many motels and restaurants sprang up along its length during the postwar boom, but the Pink Motel is one of very few to have survived; the route faded in importance when I-5 went in, and the area is now largely industrial.

The motel and café complex, designed with Mid-Century Modern touches like decorative concrete block and an angular, star-topped neon sign, is now primarily used as a film location.

The current owner, Thomulka’s son Monty, keeps Cadillac Jack’s in pristine 1950s condition for shoots and allows skateboarders frequent use of the empty pool, which has been an iconic skating destination since the 1970s.

The single-level motel is a classic postwar type, while the tall Moderne tower of the café still beckons the curious to come take a look.

Digression: the Pink Fairies. The combination of pink referring to a queer color and fairy ‘faggot’ makes  a name that can be wielded for its shock value. Which brough us Pink Fairies Motorcycle Club and All-Star Rock and Roll Band, later just the Pink Fairies. From Wikipedia:

The Pink Fairies are an English rock band initially active in the London (Ladbroke Grove) underground and psychedelic scene of the early 1970s. They promoted free music, drug taking and anarchy and often performed impromptu gigs and other agitprop stunts, such as playing for free outside the gates at the Bath and Isle of Wight pop festivals in 1970, as well as appearing at Phun City, the first Glastonbury and many other free festivals including Windsor and Trentishoe.

The group was formed after the three musicians from The Deviants (Paul Rudolph, guitar and vocals, Duncan Sanderson, bass and Russell Hunter, born Barry Russell Hunter, drums), sacked their singer and leader Mick Farren during a disastrous tour of the West Coast of the United States. Prior to the tour these musicians had collaborated on the Think Pink solo album by Twink, former drummer of The Pretty Things, using the name Pink Fairies Motorcycle Club and All-Star Rock and Roll Band, taken from a story written by Deviants’ manager Jamie Mandelkau. Twink (drums), Farren (vocals), Steve Peregrin Took (guitar) and Twink’s girlfriend Sally ‘Silver Darling’ Meltzer (keyboards) hooked up in October 1969 for one shambolic gig at Manchester University, billed as The Pink Fairies and went on to record Farren’s solo album, Mona – The Carnivorous Circus.

Symbolism II. Cadillacs are pretty obvious phallic symbols, and convertibles are symbols of freedom, license, and adventure (the lure of the open road). Do a Cadillac convertible in pink, and you have a powerful machine symbolic of the female pudenda, but (like cars in general) under masculine control. Heady stuff, which rock musicians seized on early:


This brings us to Bruce Springsteen and antecedents going back at least to Elvis Presley. From Wikipedia:

“Pink Cadillac” is a song by Bruce Springsteen released as the non-album B-side of “Dancing in the Dark” in 1984. … Like Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”, “Pink Cadillac” follows the tradition of the Wilson Pickett R&B classic “Mustang Sally” in using automobile travel as a metaphor for sexual activity, particularly as sung by Springsteen as the lyric: “I love you for your pink Cadillac” was originally a veiled pudendal reference. Springsteen, in fact, vetoed the first attempt by a female singer to release a version of “Pink Cadillac”, that being Bette Midler in 1983. However, “Pink Cadillac” had its highest profile incarnation via an R&B interpretation by Natalie Cole, which became a top-ten single in 1988.

… The first lyrics Springsteen wrote for “Pink Cadillac” were: “They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple but man I ain’t going for that/ I know it was her pink Cadillac”. The auto imagery was inspired by Elvis Presley’s 1954 rendition of “Baby Let’s Play House” in which Presley replaced the original lyric: “You may get religion” with: “You may have a pink Cadillac”, a reference to the custom painted Cadillac that was then Presley’s touring vehicle.

You can listen to the original Springsteen recording here. And then the title got used for a movie. From Wikipedia:

Pink Cadillac is a 1989 American action-comedy film about a bounty hunter and a group of white supremacists chasing after an innocent woman who tries to outrun everyone in her husband’s prized pink Cadillac. The film stars Clint Eastwood and Bernadette Peters and also has small cameo appearances by Jim Carrey and Bryan Adams.


Symbolism III. Pudendal pink. Pink is a gay color, and a feminine color, and also a “skin color” (one of the “flesh tones” of “white people” — our vocabulary in these matters is not especially adequate). People’s genitals generally have the same color as the rest of their skin, but there are at least two exceptions: some “white people” have genitals notably darker than the rest of their bodies, and a great many people have genitals that are notably pinker than the rest of their bodies, so that in addition to all its other significations, pink is a pudendal color. Representations of genitals not infrequently exaggerate this pink effect; vulvas and penises are often represented as being startlingly pink, as in this vagina pendant (once available from an etsy seller):


and this celebratory figure from the annual Penis Parade in Japan in 2013:


In any case, pink has come to be associated especially with female pudenda, especially in the collocation pink pussy, widely used on straight porn sites; and in various drinks suggestively called Pink Pussy (involving some pink coloring, like cranberry juice or strawberry liqueur); and in any number of clubs named the Pink Pussy — or, playing further on pussy, the Pink Pussy Cat or the Pink Pussycat.

Innocent bystanders. Finally, there are names of the form pink pussy X and pink fairy X that are to be parsed

as  [ pink ] [ pussy/fairy X  ]  not as  [ pink pussy/fairy ] X

(that is, as involving (metaphorical) pussy ‘cat’ or fairy ‘small’). Three examples: two plants and an animal:

pink pussy toes, Antennaria carpatica ‘Rubrum’ (in the Asteraceae)


pink pussy tails, Ptilolotis exaltus ‘Joey’ (primarily Australian, in the Amaranthaceae)


the pink fairy armadillo, Chlamyphorus truncatus, or pichiciego,

the smallest species of armadillo (mammals of the family Dasypodidae, recognized by a bony armor shell), first described by R. Harlan in 1825. This desert-adapted animal is endemic to central Argentina and can be found inhabiting sandy plains, dunes, and scrubby grasslands.


5 Responses to “Pink motels, Cadillacs, etc. etc.”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Is “pink” a primary color word, or is it just “light red”? Different in different idiolects, I think, and probably changing. In my own idiolect (elderly straight white male, parents from Oregon) it’s a secondary color word in my formal register (I’ll describe a surgical pathology specimen as “light red”), but primary in my informal speech, where I don’t avoid it.

    Pink is the color for breast cancer ribbons and events, but most of the world’s nipples are various shades of brown.

  2. Bob Richmond Says:

    I read Berlin and Kay’s book (1969) and have wondered what became of their schema. I just looked at a bewildering variety of derivatives on Wikipedia. I suspect that their findings haven’t been reproducible.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The leading ideas are still there. But there are complexities in taking saturation and brightness as well as hue into account, and scaling everything psychophysically rather than physically. And refinements in how to do fieldwork. Yes, there’s a big literature, and a lot of it is from Kay and his collaborators. But none of this is reason to despair.

      And there’s a nice assortment of studies on what happens at category boundaries. Fascinating stuff.

  3. Wilson Gray (@hwgray) Says:

    “There can be variation” is an understatement. In my idiolect (elderly, straight, black, male native of Texas) _pink_ is a primary color-word distinct from “light red,” surely not the improper term for the color needed to “describe a surgical pathology specimen.”

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