Traveling west on interstate 40 from Flagstaff, we passed by Williams on the way to Seligman. We passed it because it doesn’t need our help – it has both pine trees and a train to the Grand Canyon to keep it alive, and though bypassed by the freeway, it still sits close to the road and is accessible to the casual tourist, or those in need of gas and candy.
Ash Fork comes next, 20 miles later. A crossroads for the turn south to Prescott, it’s not much, and is never a stop on any of my journeys. Someday I might find out I’d missed out on something nice there, but doubt it, and have no interest in it at best.
There is a new turn off a few miles down from Ash Fork – an exit with no other purpose than to get you back on Route 66 for a few miles. I’ve never seen it before, but it doesn’t look new. We take it, and as we parallel the interstate, I remember it as the place out car broke down years before – back when I was very young, and times were different.
This was where I rode the twenty miles into Seligman in the front of our station wagon as it got towed into town. I remember the thrill of facing down while sitting in the front seat as we were towed from the rear by a giant truck driven by big guys.
We were on our way to something new again – a new start in a new place, after giving short goodbyes to people and friends we cared about, and before we started again with the work of making new friends and adapting to new normal in another strange place. More lines to learn for another stage, all in an endless chain of play and pretend – that I was normal, and that this was too.
Seligman has not changed much -- maybe just the edges where the interstate connects it. Coming in from the east, I point out the motel where we stayed that week long ago – now under new management, with a Pizza house where the restaurant was and concrete filling the area where the pool was located long ago.
My brother and I hung by the pool that hot week and got burned and tanned. My mom worked on her writing in the room close by and left us to our own – and we took our freedom in this small place.
I don’t remember much about the week, just the freedom of the here and the now. No phone, no place to be, no address to find us, just my brother and I in a cold pool without end or purpose. Free from the pain of leaving behind, and free from the burden of joining again.
We pass the big blue motel sign and after a short mile, enter the town of Seligman itself. A short mile is still a mile – I remember walking it on late afternoons to visit from the motel – hot and sweaty, and anxious for cones of soft serve.
The Snowcap roadside café is still there – famous in Germany as a symbol of the strangeness of all things American and west. The old guy that ran it is dead now, his manic energy, probably pathological, is gone, and the place sits in the sun as an almost museum of the arcane. It’s eleven in the morning and is not open – no signs point to when it will open and the busloads of tourists wander around it taking pictures and using its outhouse to relieve themselves. Old Route 66 signs are hammered to trees and other signs are posted on anything that nails will nail to. The windows are lined with postcards from people who had visited here in the past and wanted to give their thanks. Doors open to nothing and all the lights are off. I remember the soft serve was great, but the old guy was strange and the walk back to the motel was long.
Another mile of Seligman, lined with stores set up to sell to tourists the crap and pomp of Route 66, and we reached the western edge of town – more functional with gas stations and eating places. We avoid the Road kill Café and eat at the place directly across the street – Lillo’s.
Lillo’s is a find – a really good place to eat that’s right off the freeway. Large, wood paneled and full of neat little touches, the food is great and the waitresses real. By our table is a faucet that runs continually into a pail of Corona’s and doesn’t appear to exit anywhere or fill up and over flow. A customer asks how this works, and a waitress guides him over to it and points out the mechanics. I turn my head away, I don’t want to know how the magic works, and I don’t want to see what’s behind the curtain, because I already know and don’t want to think about it – that’s not why I’m here and that’s not what I want to do.
We left town after eating, heading down the best part of Route 66 to Kingman. We passed the concrete remains of the abandoned repair shop that my mom had fought the auto guys over time and money. My dad was off fighting a war, and my mom was the family point guy for this thing in my life – this time without computers or overnight shipping. I think the parts to repair our car came by bus or maybe mule, but only knew that it always took longer after each talk she had with them, and that longer was always better.
I remember the night before we left Seligman, my brother left his back on the bed. Burned to a crisp, he took a fevered and unmoving nap, and when he got up, his skin remained on the sheets in a perfect outline of his body.