Gallup, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona is a three hour drive along I-40 and remnants of Route 66. At some points they become tangled and figuring out which road your on is anyone's guess. Along this stretch of Route 66 is Winslow, Arizona, a booming town before the I-40 bypass began construction in 1977. But, as anyone who has listened to a radio in the last 45 years can tell you, Winslow is omnipresent. 'Well, I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona - Such a fine sight to see - It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford - Slowin' down to take a look at me.' (I know you were singing the song in your head.) Written by Jackson Brown and the Eagles Glenn Frey in 1972, the corner in Winslow, Arizona became etched into the American psyche - symbolic of youthful freedom. I had to swing by and see the corner of Second and Kinsley. Adorned with a bronze statue of a man and his guitar and the words 'Standin on a Corner' on a sign above his head, the corner looks amazingly like a billion other corners in the USA. Behind the statue is a storefront mural depicting a red flatbed Ford. 'Come on, baby, don't say maybe - I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.' (I wish.) After rubbing the guitar for good luck and eating four perfect shrimp tacos at Mi Pueblo, I was off to Flagstaff. 'Well I'm a running down the road - tryin to loosen my load.'
Hotel Monte Vista is said to be haunted. I just wanted to put that out there so that my stay is not colored by anything resembling fear. The Bearded Man believes in ghosts, but it has been a while since I've run into one. However, as I was checking in I had the distinct feeling that my luck was about to change. This place has a vibe. Kind of like the vibe from 'The Shining'. Old hotel, photos of even older buildings on the wall and an elevator that I was expecting blood to pour out of at any second. Then I got to my room, where four black and white photos of a man long since departed, hung above my bed. (Does anyone else find that odd?) Upon closer inspection, I think they were photos of Walter Brennan, who's name means nothing unless you are at least 50 years old. Maybe 60. My dad loved Walter Brennan, if that helps. In any case, I ended up taking a nap under the watchful gaze of Walter and the smell of what I'm betting is embalming fluid.
The Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge is just off the lobby of the hotel, a floor below the Rendezvous bar, which I think exists solely for out of towners who don't know any better. The Lounge is a comfy little joint with a polished wood bar, pool tables and a dance floor in front of a karaoke stage that was in full swing. A young, fragile looking gal in a cowboy hat singing 'Britney Spears, 'Oops, I Did It Again' as if she were auditioning to be a backup singer for Adele. 'Oh, baby, baby - Oops!... You think I'm in love - That I'm sent from above - I'm not that innocent.' Oh waitress, a cocktail please. Britney was followed by what can only be described as confusing. Dressed in cowboy boots that appeared to be several sizes too small, she introduced herself to the crowd as Terii 'with one r and two i's' and sang James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful', more as a plea than a statement. Where is my waitress? 'Are you enjoying ladies karaoke night?' 'Excuse me?' 'It's ladies karaoke night, sir. We get great talent in here.' 'Seriously? What time do they show up?' I bet Rhonda spits in my drinks all night.
'Did you know that Humphrey Bogart stayed at this hotel?' Carlotta asked as she pulled out a chair and plopped down next to me. Trust me, plopped is the right word. 'Where you from good lookin?' 'I'm from Mississippi originally, but I've lived all over the country.' She smiled. She had the kind of smile that made you think her town didn't have access to fluoride until recently. 'I knew you wasn't from around here. I could tell by your shoes.' 'My shoes?' 'They ain't boots. They're shoes. Look around. You're they only man without boots in here.' I looked around. Not only was I the only man without boots, I was virtually the only man in the room. 'Hi, I'm Carlotta. Call me Carly, everyone does.' 'Hi Carly. Do you sing as well?' 'Oh yeah. That's why I'm here. Have a few beers, sing a few songs and head back to my trailer and my four boys.' 'What are you going to sing?' 'The theme from Titanic. I think of Leonardo when I'm singing.' 'That's funny, so do I.' 'You're a hoot. What's your name?' 'Scott Baio.' 'Hi Scott. I'm Carla, but you can call me Carly. Everyone does.' Alrighty then. 'I'm up Scott. Wish me luck.' And with that she planted a sloppy kiss on my cheek, stumbled to the stage and sang as if she had swallowed a bag of gerbils. Please dear merciful God, make it go away. To an untrained eye it may have appeared as though I ran out of the bar, but in fact I was only walking at a brisk pace.
After a restless night of odd noises and cigarette smoke from the poltergeist/specter standing in my room, I was up at 5:00 AM and ready to skip town. Hell, I was ready to leave Arizona. Hotel Monte Vista had lived up to its haunted billing. I'm a big fan of Bogey, but I'm not okay with him visiting me in the night. Before he died it might have been cool, but let's just say I won't be watching Casablanca for a while. Actually never. Ever.
It was early and I didn't want to stop at Snow Cap Drive-In, but I couldn't help myself. After a mostly sleepless night and blowing out of Flagstaff like a guy with stolen tires, I needed a small dose of Route 66 kitsch. Jackpot. Built by Juan Delgadillo in 1953 with scrap lumber collected when he worked for the railroad, Snow Cap is a place you can't drive by without smiling. In my case, without eating. I wolfed down a great bacon cheeseburger, with stringy fries and a chocolate shake. But the best part of the stop was when I pulled off to the side of the parking lot and went to sleep for two hours. I woke up with ketchup on my shirt and a chocolate ring around my mouth. I'm ready for Vegas baby.
I can't get enough of Route 66, so I stay on all the way to Kingman and Hackberry General Store - my last stop before Vegas baby. (Can you say Vegas without saying baby?) How can I describe this place? Old gas pumps and rusted out cars dot the front of the store and trail off across the property. Large Coca-Cola signs hang above decal covered windows and Mobil's Pegasus takes flight from the roof-line. If you didn't know any better, you might think you had driven through a black hole and arrived in 1955. Walking inside only heightens the impression of time travel. Elvis and Marilyn are here. A jukebox to spin some 45's and a dime store Indian stands guard, obviously protecting the countless dollar bills that line the walls. Then there's the men's room. Ceiling and walls are pasted with pinup beauties in various stages of disrobing. Now there's something you don't see every day. (I'm pretty sure one of the photos was my aunt Madge.) I grabbed a couple of Route 66 root beers and a Chick O'Stick, almost tripped on the dummy on the front porch - It's an actual dummy - and made my way to the Sprinter. Pulled onto Route 93 with visions of black jack and tourists dancing in my head. I felt excitement and dread in one fell swoop.
Vegas, the town without eyes or ears and a misplaced conscience. The town where Mo Green was shot in the eye and Wayne Newton still plays 118 shows a day. The town where bachelors go to make memories they can never share with their wife. Where women go to use the name Sissy or Barbie for the night. Then of course it's a town the whole family can love. Provided you don't might your 12 year old being handed a hooker's business card every two blocks. It's a unique slice of America that should be required visiting. This is who we really are when no one is looking. If you survive Vegas with a clean conscience and a full wallet, you're a good person. Vegas - My home for the next two nights. I've sanded my fingertips, so I won't leave any clues.