Sunday, August 3, 2008

I awoke a little after six, following my workaday norm, and enjoyed the quiet and comfort as Jenny and Vienna slumbered. Sun shone through the closed blinds and I bolted from the room. The river behind the motel rolled slowly and I wondered if I was the only person awake around here. I enjoyed the end of sunrise, even then noting the prickly announcement of another hot day. Presently I returned to our air-conditioned room and pulled out a couple copies of Harper's Magazine. Tentatively I picked through the beginnings of a short story, the kind I never make time to read during my normal days, and I lost myself in a narrative of the quiet regrets of an extended Iowa family. Peering into lives other than my own, thinking slowly and with more care, I committed to slow down on this vacation, to enjoy even the small pleasures of the road. Soon thereafter, Jenny and Vienna headed off to church, and I returned to the Wagon Wheel for a tasty breakfast of waffles and a bottomless cup of coffee.

A couple of hours later they returned and picked me up, we three heading east toward Williams and the Grand Canyon north thereafter. Along the way, I thought it'd be fun to take the Route 66 alignment east of Seligman, a town we hadn't visited as a family since 2000. Naturally we stopped at the Snow Cap Drive-In, laughing as newbies endured the gauntlet of tacky jokes hurled by the folks behind the counter. One woman in particular nearly jumped out of her skin when, asking for some mustard, she received a burst of some yellow plastic from a squirt bottle, brushing her blouse but not leaving so much as a hint of stain. High-fives followed with good nature and knowing glances, since she was now in on the joke and waited for new arrivals. We poked about in Juan's Garden and Angel's Barbershop, both transformed these days into can't-miss-Route 66 souvenir stops. Then we found our way back to the Mother Road.

Recognizing that Vienna has driven plenty of highways without ever actually driving Route 66, I turned the wheel over to her. We cruised a quiet and nearly empty stretch of road, sailing alongside walls of tiny yellow flowers and reading Burma-Shave signs. Even the stretch of interstate west of Williams carried its own pleasures as a brief cloudburst inspired me to switch on the only song I play in such instances, "Riders in the Storm." Vienna stared the road down and darted among the big rigs, her proud pop riding shotgun. Jenny mentioned something about a happy family and drifted off to sleep. We gassed up in town and turned north, enjoying a high-speed stretch of two-lane all the way to Grand Canyon.

We'd visited before, back in 96, and I marveled that Vienna was only eight back then. This time we'd snagged a nice campsite (with a much improved location, near the store and restroom, as Jenny insisted). The heat had long ago dissipated and we looked back on our previous night in Needles in amazement. There's no way we could sleep outdoors in that heat. Birds swooped overhead as we snatched a brief glimpse of the canyon before setting up our tent (amid a few deer) and shopping for dinner: shish kabob over an open fire. We struggled mightily to build a fire before I gave up and returned to the store for fast-lighting fluid. Shortly, we were downing our dinner and getting ready to catch the sunset.

Cloud cover added a lavender and amethyst sky over the bluish formations, striated over millions of years. We sat serenely for about an hour, watching the night pour over us, until it was time to return to our tent site. Having quenched the fire before we left, we delighted to discover that our pit was still warm enough to make a dessert of s'mores before bedtime.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.