Arizona, Friday, March 28, 2008

Today I decided to stay at the hotel until noon, lounging in a manner that can only be described as decadent. My normal mode is to clear out of a place as early as possible and hit the road, but this is a place that merits hanging around. I'm writing this by the railroad tracks, waiting for a morning train to zoom by. I can hear the rumble and feel the vibrations of the approaching cars, though they're still miles away. Behind me, birds flit in the courtyard. It's such a nice way to spend the morning.

A bit earlier, I sought out the famed corner of Winslow immortalized by that Eagles song. The trick was to wait for the sun to peek past the opposite building, but eventually the place was perfectly lit. To be honest, I never thought much of "Take it Easy" when I was growing up; it was simply a staple of the radio, having no special attraction to me back then. Now I can't imagine driving a long distance without humming a few bars ("Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy"). A few years back, The Onion ran a humorous take on the irony that this mellow song came from a band that would implode in coked-out fury. But Winslow wisely remembers the good days, and a local group created a clever trompe l'oeil backdrop that is perfect for photo-taking. Two souvenir shops wait on opposite corners, and I choose the one playing that magical song. I ask the owner if she gets tired of hearing "Take it Easy" all the time and she looks at me like I barfed a cat. "I never get tired of The Eagles," she solemnly explains. OK then. Now I am compelled to buy something. Returning to La Posada, I walk along the train tracks and spot an Amtrak Station. Sitting under the canopy, a long-haired teen who looks like he was dragged to this, like, boring museum hotel by his lame parents is smoking a doobie. He tries to hide it when he sees me, but that smell cannot be denied. I smile at him and say, "Take it easy."

Eventually I returned my room key and got back on the road, searching for trading post relics such as Two Guns and Twin Arrows. I also considered paying the 15 bucks to view the Meteor Crater, but I just could not convince myself that the experience would be worth the cost. Climbing toward Flagstaff, I remembered how lovely I've always found this part of the country as the desert gives way to Ponderosa Pine, Limber Pine, Aspen, Douglas Fir, and White Fir Trees at the higher elevations. I should note that I have no idea whether that latter fact is accurate, but I'm fairly sure. Using my mobile phone, I voice-activated Jott to access Mosio and ask what kinds of trees surround Flagstaff. 15 minutes later I received those tree names via text message from a kind soul. Is that cool or what? My luck seemed pretty good in Flagstaff so, after photographing the Western Hills Motel, I decided to try some BBQ in a most unusual place.

Passing an Albertsons (still on Route 66) I saw a truck with smoke emanating from twin chrome exhausts -- and a Texas Flag. Looking more closely I realized this was something called "Big John's Texas BBQ." Feeling that karma was smiling on me, I pulled in, grabbed some cash from the store's ATM and wheeled around. While standing in line, John himself approached me after spotting my shirt, a memento from our family's Southern Routes BBQ Tour. John asked if I'd been to Taylor, Texas's Louie Mueller BBQ and grinned in near disbelief when I assured him that we'd not only visited Taylor but placed it on the back of our "Tour Shirts," along with 16 other Meaty Meccas. Before long, John was handing me cups of his chopped pork and beef. I won't share the awful secret he shared about the sauce, because it really is good stuff, no matter how he gets it. While we chatted, I enjoyed so many samples that I almost lost my appetite for the main course. But I ordered one of his pork sandwiches anyway and savored each spicy, smoky bite. As someone who knows good BBQ, I can assure you: A meal served by Big John is a treat.

Descending out of Flagstaff, passing snow capped hills melting into sparkling streams, I made quick visits to Williams and Ash Fork, all in anticipation of one of the truly great Route 66 alignments: the section from Seligman to Kingman. Before heading for the final leg of the day, I stopped at Seligman to grab some ice cream at the Snow Cap and maybe grab a shirt. It's a wonderful, kitschy, goofy place -- and it's the location of the famed Andreas Feininger photograph of the highway, a poster of which I keep in my office for whenever I need a mental vacation. After grabbing a cone and a coke, I stepped into Angel Delgadillo's Barbershop, located a few doors down from the Snow Cap and thought I might try to meet the man whose evangelism for the old road earned him the nickname, "Mayor of Route 66." When I asked if Angel was around, I was told that he was sleeping. Given that Angel is 80 years old, I couldn't blame him, but I was a little disappointed. I remarked somewhat sadly, "I suppose he won't be back for a while." "Oh no" I was told, "He's just on siesta. He should be up and around in about a half hour." Well, OK then! I sat down in one of the seats lined up on the road for car-watching and relaxed.

Before I knew it, the appointed time came and I returned to Angel's Barbershop. A few minutes later he appeared behind me, startling me with a playful shoulder tap and an almost impossibly broad smile. It was as if he knew me, the look of recognition in his eyes. I figured that we'd share a few brief pleasantries, I'd thank him for his work on behalf of Route 66, and then I'd shuffle off. But Angel had all the time in the world to chat. We talked about the impact of the interstate on little towns like Seligman and we talked about some of the lessons Angel has learned at his shop. And when some old friends of his dropped by, our conversation grew to include several local folks' recollections of the barbershop when it also served as a hangout for local teens who have now grown up and are bringing their kids to meet Angel. I had a blast finally meeting the man who perhaps more than anyone represents the values and spirit of the Mother Road. It saddens me to imagine that one day Angel will no longer be greeting guests and posing for pictures in his shop. But sadder still would have been the feeling I'd have if I missed the chance to meet him today.

The rest of the afternoon was spent grooving on the road as I ratcheted miles toward Kingman. The sun cast long shadows from the hills as I made a brief stop at the Hackberry General Store, once owned by itinerant Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire (another Route 66 icon we were lucky enough to meet on our '96 trip). Soon afterward, I also paused to photograph the glorious Giganticus Headicus at the Kozy Corner Trailer Park. Sure the place looked like a dead ringer for the creepy motel in The Devil's Rejects, but the view of the surrounding countryside is awesome. By sunset I was cruising Andy Devine Boulevard (Kingman's name for its stretch of 66) in search of the Hill Top Motel. Boasting the only animated sign I could find in town, the Hill Top is a classic, clean, and friendly stop. And yes, the view of Kingman from the hill is pretty cool. Once more, by the way, fortune smiled on me. After learning that we'd mentioned his place in Motel Americana, Dennis Schroeder insisted that I accept the gift of some special cards he had made up of his Hill Top Motel. I can't imagine a nicer day. [Continue...]

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All text and photos copyright Andrew Wood