1x 2x 3x 4x 5x 6x SUPER COMBO!
Super bonus combo writing time! I got to Madison, Wisconsin just a little bit ahead of schedule and I’m now, naturally, sitting in a coffee shop. I’ve about an hour until I ought to go meet up with my buddy’s brother, so that means an hour to write. Another buddy of mine, the esteemed Robert “C-Tone” Bird, wanted “lots of pictures of Madison.” It’s a rad city, no doubt, and UW is here. Cyclists dominate the streets, coffee shops, bars and chic eateries are everywhere. It’s also the state capital. I’ve always held that Central PA was the center of the world, but perhaps it’s Madison? Either way, I’m certainly not cool enough to be here, am I?:
I wanted to get C-Tone’s pictures out of the way, and I also feel that no cross-country writing opus is complete without, sadly, a picture of my extraordinarily fat ass sitting here pounding away on the keyboard. Always the doofus, I prefaced my asking of this kindly young woman sitting not more than 10 feet to my left with a “it’s going to sound ridiculous, but…” Of course, it was not seconds later, and I’ve got my picture of me deep in writerly contemplation whilst on the trip. I think that Madison was the place to get that picture. If I don’t dock up soon, this stream of consciousness will turn into a raging river, and before you know it, my entire life will be an ocean. No, I can’t let the stream of consciousness take over – I have years for that later. I took notes, dammit, and I will march onward with the trip!
I had written about golf the last few entries, but am switching gears again to my travels. As I recall, my adventures in Vegas were the last writing, non-golf related, that I have done. Well I’m going to get as far into the California Republic as I can with this one then, but I wasn’t quite done with my friend, Arizona. You see, my buddy from Oh, You’re a Damn Fine Player (referencing this one all day, every day it seems) had recommended TWO stretches of old 66: the long swaths of original concrete west of OKC and the legendary Oatman Road, in Western Arizona. A brief review of the road’s credentials sealed it for me: I was heading back in to Arizona before going to San Diego. The road, when originally built, was considered so dangerous by those passing through that it was common place for wanderers to pay locals to drive them through the desert. A hilly, narrow, double-back filled and hairpin inundated 9 mile stretch through the black mountains was what awaited me. Yeah, I was going to be heading several hours out of the way to enjoy a 9 mile drive. That’s the type of driving fanatic I am. Turned out to be a tremendous decision.
First, I passed the Hoover Dam on the way down there. Literally not more than 5 minutes off the highway I was on, I couldn’t pass it up. It really was quite a sight to behold. Easily the most impressive thing I have seen on the trip – including the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon was an inevitable result of matter doing what it does. The Hoover Dam was the entirely lusted after result of a coordinated effort of human beings; and it is massive. I wasn’t expecting quite the amount of tourists that I ran into there, to be honest, but it was still far from packed. However, limited areas for parking meant that I had to park uphill from the dam itself, about 1/2 mile walk away from the dam. The walk down was fine, but that walk back up was miserable. 1/2 mile, ascending probably 200 feet along the way, in 107 degree heat. First time on the trip I actually felt fat rather than simply self-deprecatingly calling myself fat. Anyhow, I took numerous pictures, but am using this one because you can see how low Lake Mead has gotten, and you can also see that one of my balls was in one state, while the other ball was in another. My eye balls, sicko.
So I spent my hour at Hoover Dam, and hustled on down to Kingman, AZ, the eastern terminus of the legendary Oatman Road. It took a few hours to get down there, but it was so very, very worth it.
After a truck stop dinner consisting of some greasy chicken and a sweet biscuit, I began motoring in earnest. After only a minute or two on the Oatman Road, my senses were titillated. The speed limit was something, but I had no idea of what it was. I only knew that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to ruin this road for me. If you were going below 60 on the approach to the mountains, you were getting passed.
Look at this road:
The archetypal desert road – sections hadn’t been paved in decades, the shoulders were simply desert, and it was a simple two lanes from Kingman through Oatman. Those mountains off in the distance are the very ones through which this winding delight would eventually take me. As I rocketed on towards them, they didn’t approach me at the speed I thought they would. Turns out the whole bunch was higher than I had anticipated. This was going to be spectacular.
I would have stopped for more photos in the 11 (not 9, as originally thought) glorious miles of hairpins and double backs, but even at the standard rate of others’ travel of 15 mph, it was far too dangerous to stop on anywhere but the longest straight of the entire jaunt. It was from this very straight that this photo was taken:
Ignore the dirt path which is far more prominent – that belonged to a ranch hand. The Oatman Road is the narrow paved road you see winding this way and that through the desert. It was spectacular. Among the best 2 or 3 drives of the trip, and likely of my life. I’ve driven on the Autobahn, over Golden Gate and the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, and over most of the duration of California 1 – this was right up there with all of them.
But what made this trek through the desert even more remarkable was what I finally got to when I rolled into Oatman. After a final chicane (or 4 or 5 of them), I made my way to downtown Oatman, an old west ghost town which has retained a tremendous amount of authenticity. If Madrid, New Mexico was cool, Oatman, Arizona was hip, rad, dope, the shit, nasty, gross, wild and chill all rolled into one.
I wasn’t within the town limits more than 2 seconds, and this is what awaited me:
Wild Burros roaming the streets! Amazing!
These fellas and ladies weren’t shy at all. This one came up to say hi – it was a veritable desert safari:
I waited a few minutes for the pack to sufficiently lick, sniff and otherwise investigate my VW before slowly plodding on. I was about halfway through the mile that it Oatman, and saw a few folks sitting outside at “Judy’s Saloon.” It was since Amarillo that I had had a beer, and I couldn’t really imagine a better spot to sit down and quaff a cold one than here. The selection, of course, was lacking, but in a venue such as this one:
I’m fairly certain that this was the only legitimate choice:
So yeah, I sat there and had a Banquet Beer, while chatting with the locals. Far more interesting, though, was to listen to the locals converse amongst themselves. At my arrival, there was a group of 3 or 4 sitting out front, and the bartender, Paula, and two older guys and a younger (still probably about 45 years old) woman sitting at the bar to my right. Of course, they asked where I was from and what I was doing, and they had the, by this point, standard reaction (“Oh that’s great! Where did you play in Arizona? There’s such and such a course here or there! Where are you going next? San Diego? Go this way, go that way!”). That wasn’t remarkable. What was remarkable was to hear these folks, in a town of approximately 100 residents, get on with each other.
One of the older men left shortly after I had arrived, leaving just the bartender, the 45 year old and the older of the two old gentlemen left. The old guy who remained shall forever be known to me as “old man no-shit.” Anything that came up in conversation was followed immediately by a surprised “no shit?”
Paula the bartender, to me: “Where you from?”
Me: Buffalo, NY, born and raised in Central PA, kinda near Philly
Old man no shit: No shit.
Paula: What are you doing out here?
Me: Well, I’m playing a round of golf in each of the lower 48 and DC, and seeing the country along the way
Old man no shit: No shit?
Me: Yeah, definitely
Old man no shit: No shit. How many courses have you played so far?
OMNS: No shit!
45 Year Old Woman: I got tickets to go see Journey
OMNS: No shit?! Where are they playing?
45 Year Old Woman: Scottsdale, (some or other arena)
OMNS: No shit.
It was remarkable. I’m pretty sure old man no shit would get along with the mythical Mr. McKernan who bore the name of my heinous golf swing.
The woman was also entertaining. Firstly, she ordered a red wine, and was poured a pint of it, in a pint glass. Remarkable. I have never seen anything so… well… spectacular in my life. It went something like this:
Paula: What can I get for ya, anoth…
Woman: Yeah, another glass of wine
(Paula grabs the pint glass sitting in front of her, grabs the JUG (not bottle) of wine, and pours her a pint of wine)
Paula: Here you go
Woman: Thanks, darling
OMNS: That’s quite an amount of wine, it’s your second, right?
Woman: Oh yeah, I’ve given up my vices. I’m two years clean on Vodka, one year clean on Rum, and I only smoke rarely now
OMNS: No shit.
Minutes later, the entertainment continued on. Paula said something along the lines of “oh god, not this guy.” Of course, I turned to face the window to the street, and I saw an elderly man struggling to walk towards the saloon’s doors. He was proceeding at such a tortoisine pace, that I was entirely comfortable digging deeper here as to why Paula felt such consternation towards him. He seemed like a nice old guy to me?
Me: What’s wrong with this guy? He seems okay?
Paula: No, he’s nice enough, but it’s always the same story
Woman: He comes in here and only has 1 beer
Me: Ahhhh, okay, I got ya
Paula: Yeah, he can barely breathe. He has his one beer, and he’s fine. He has that second beer, and he can’t breathe. He’s over here panting and I just don’t want him to die
OMNS: No shit. No shit. Hey, remember when (Jimmy Joe) had that stro…
Paula, to me: Yeah, we had a guy come in here last year and go and have a stroke. He died in here
Me: Oh, geez. I get it, you don’t want him to die in here too…
Laughs all around, OMNS: No shit, no shit.
Paula: Yeah, (the owner) thinks it’s bad for business
Me: Well, why don’t you put up a sign, you know “please don’t come he…”
Paula and Woman: Yeah, “please don’t come in here to die.”
(Paula motioned where she would hang the sign)
I was beyond entertained, and had to get myself a second Banquet Beer. I soon found out that the first old guy to leave was another barhop, and that he hadn’t completed all of his tasks for the bar. At this point, the presiding question in my head was “what, precisely, is the distinction between employee and customer at this establishment?” For as soon as the woman seated next to me identified something the first old guy hadn’t done that he was supposed to, OMNS chimed in, of course proceeding everything with a “No Shit.”
Between the three of them, they decided to use the white board in the bar to post up a snitch list, and they were able to list four or five things (empty cans, empty bottles, wash men’s shitter) that the guy was supposed to do but did not.
Around this time, some non-American English speakers made their way in, and ordered a couple beers. Two couples, my immediate guess was Australian. They guys looked rugged, and were wearing Route 66 shirts, while their women looked… outbacky and… Australian? The one dude and the two lasses sat in a corner, but one of the dudes pulled up a stool a few over from me. He was about 50 years old, and could have easily killed me within seconds if he so desired.
Luckily, Noel was simply a kind soul. A traveler as interested in my travels as he was in sharing about his own. I was rather wrong in my assessment of his native land. Turns out he was Irish. He moved to the states in the late 1980s, looking for work, and settled in North Jersey. Sometime in the 90s, he moved back for a few years, before finally bringing his family over for good. In all, I think he mentioned that he first moved to the States 26 years ago.
We discussed North Jersey, the city, and his work (he was a contractor, I’m pretty sure), and his love of 66. Turns out he was the second 66 aficionado I would encounter on the trip, and his love for the mother road was equal to that of my Phils fan buddy from Joplin. He had never driven the entire road, but had been on most of it, and was actually just staying in Vegas this time. Despite the destination for the vacation being Vegas, he couldn’t stay away from the mother road, and he got all the way down to Oatman.
To my astonishment, he had never been on the stretch of the road just to the East of town (the extraordinarily astounding 11 miles I wrote of above), and had come into town this evening, again, from the west. I made him promise me he would leave to the East. I sure hope he did.
Turns out he had noticed my New York plate while entering the bar, and wanted to track down the New Yorker within. Wasn’t hard to do. He wanted to settle a score with his brother in law. His brother in law saw my plate too, and asked “do you think this guy drove all the way out here?” Noel said “yeah, sure, how else would he get out here?” His brother in law remained skeptical. Score settled. Noel – 1. Noel’s bro in law – 0.
As it turned out, “Old Man 2 Beers,” as I nicknamed the dude who failed to breathe after just 2 pints, was only here this evening to relax. Paula did mention that he either has 2 beers, 2 cokes, or just sits out front. It was a sitting kind of night.
I had a six hour drive to San Diego, and Noel and pals had to get back to Vegas.
I left Oatman for the night, completely enchanted with the place. They even stage a gunfight for whomever may be there, every week day at noon. Remarkable. I motored onward through the desert as the sun set on the Arizona evening. Arizona, ever the state of redemption, had proven it’s worth yet again.
Downtown Oatman, Arizona, looking West.
The Oatman Road, heading out of Oatman to the West.
The sunset over the Arizona desert.