A lot of stuff has happened out on Route 66; weirdness stays in full bloom year around out there. Nat King Cole started singing about it in 1946 when he suggested, “Get your kicks, on Route 66.” And so, many people have done just that including yours truly. Here’s how that happened for me; one time anyway.
Big Red, Edie and I were kickin’ it late one August afternoon. We had been at the Petrified Forest National Park looking for imagery that needed capturing. None had seemed to have the need to be captured and it was as hot as a pistol barrel knockin’ 108 in the shade! I pushed Red up the road north and toward Holbrook, Arizona. We had retrieved some beverages from the cooler at a lonely four-way stop in the desert. I rolled a can of lime flavored Perrier Water across my forehead; my backup can was in my lap cooling off bare legs. Red chewed up the asphalt in his usual manner keeping the needle on about 85. The straight stretch of road coming into Holbrook was one continuous heat mirage; instead of black asphalt unwinding in front of us it appeared that we were riding on a river of molten hot water.
Road days with empty flash cards are just plain bad. It had been a blue bird day earlier but huge white clouds had begun to knit themselves into wonderful shapes as Red cleared the city limit sign for Holbrook, Arizona rolling hard on Highway 180. I drummed my fingers on his wheel at the towns first stoplight; I was just too painfully aware of those empty cards! And, Holbrook is as big as a postage stamp; what in the world was I going to find here to get some great photographs of!? Hmmpp!
Since you will be incarcerated forever by our government if you pick up a mere pebble in the Petrified Forest National Park, many vendors of petrified wood have sprung up in Holbrook through the years. There is one rock shop after another as you cut through town. I turned and headed north on W. Hopi Street; two blocks up I was grinding hard into Red’s brakes and Edie was frantically waving her arms; too excited to make words.
There it stood, the Wigwam Motel. Yes, it was straight out of the year 1950 when it was built and had strong overtones of the contents of a Steven King novel. My feet hit the gravel hard as I swung down from the cab of our ’46 Ford pickup just about knocking loose the pack of Camels I had rolled up in my t-shirt sleeve. I looked at my arms in the hot sun; the scabs from recent tattoos were coming off. When I got that pin-up tat of Edie a week or so ago, I had also had “Hey!” tattooed on one fore-arm and “Baby!” on the other. When I show them to you side by side, you can read my message. I adjusted that little cuff roll on my jeans as the proprietor greeted me from under the porch area. “You kids needing a room?”, he called out. “Yeah, if it’s cheap”, I replied. “How ’bout $4.35 a night?”, he said. I shelled out some ones from my rubber banded roll of the same and dug up the thirty-five cents from my blue plastic coin purse. “How you likin’ that ’46″, he queried as Edie doped on some rouge and red lipstick. Her hair seemed different than ever before; longer and curly and kind of pulled back. She had on some turquoise bermuda shorts that were hitting her knees and a little pink shirt; she looked so young!. I saw he was looking at our Louisiana plate. “Long ways from home aren’t you?”, he more said than asked. Now, right about then, I wasn’t too sure where I was or was from or when it was either. The sky had taken on a crazy look from ominous clouds that somehow weren’t quite right; the sky seemed too dark and the clouds too white. When I had pulled in, the rusty and discolored remnants of an open sign greeted me sans it’s original fluorescents. Now, it looked new and all the lights were flashing the open message on and off.
“I got a special little wigwam just for you and the missus; last one left this evening”, the proprietor said as he rubbed his hands together in a way that was quite disconcerting. “Got a lotta regulars like my place; lot’s have been stayin’ here awhile, a good while”, he reported. “Your lil’ ol’ wife sure is cute, boy”, he added. “Who knows, you may take a fancy to my place and find yourself staying here a spell too,” he predicted. My mind was filled with it own mirage, just like the hot desert highway outside. “We’re not staying the night after all”, I said, “We’re going to do a little photography and be on our way”. He moved in slow but got very close. “You can’t leave before you meet the other guests”, he said through clenched teeth.
The proprietor’s face seemed to be changing. He was taking on the look of an older Steven King. I heard Nat King Cole singing about Route 66 on a tube powered radio. I looked around at the Wigwams which were mis-named, they were actually tipi’s. They all seemed to be breathing ever so slightly in the desert heat; maybe it was just mirage. Someone came out of one of them and their face was just too pasty white. I swung up into the truck, keyed the ignition, and it fired on the first turn. I was in the gas and Red was throwing gravel as his front tires hit Hopi Street again. “What are you doing”, Edie queried. “Slow down, you’re scaring me!, she shouted. “They were scaring me back there”, I told her.
“What was going on with you back there”, she asked, “You only took one photograph and then jumped in the truck and took off like a mad man!” “Did I take a photograph”, I asked incredulously feeling sheepish about my speeding away antics. “You got the old guy to move a couple of his antique cars, made one capture and then just grabbed your equipment and hit the truck”, she told me. “Oh yeah, that’s right”, I lied. “He asked you why you were leaving and you told him that you had already seen too much at the Wigwam”, Edie said.
By then, the Wigwam was already out of the rear view mirror as I wheeled into DQ with my Baby for a soft serve cone.
Late that night after Edie had entered dreamland, I eased that lone flash card out of one of my cameras. I tried to download over and over but with no success. Rising from the hotel room desk in our room, I got a drink of milk from the cooler. When I sat back down, the image shown here was on the screen; in black and white; it was the one lone image. As I peered at it in the darkness of my room, I was sure of one thing. My once in a lifetime trip to the Wigwam had come and gone; never, never to be repeated again.