Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where the Hell is Seligman?

You've heard the expression: "It was 110 degrees in the shade!" Usually those last three words 'in the shade' are delivered with the breathless pronouncement of someone trying to tell a big fat lie with enough passion that they hope it will be believable.

But in Seligman, Arizona (population 456) I checked a thermometer. It was 110 degrees. Said thermometer was In the shade. Honest.

You'll find Seligman a very pleasurable two hour Route 66 drive away from Kingman -- which is about two hours out of Vegas. When you hit this tiny town the first thing you are going to notice is that it is really different. (Okay. The first thing I noticed as we got out of our air-conditioned car was that it was HOT. Sheree and I concluded it was like breathing inside a pizza oven. Small exaggeration. But it was, after all, 110 degrees in the...well y'know.)

Imagine a town created by aging hippie bikers. There's a pronounced "live and let live" feeling. Each of the shops reflects the personality of its owner and I think that's straight up wonderful.

Take the Rusty Bolt for example. This place caters to bikers. Just bikers. And tourists that wish they were bikers. There's leather. There are black Harley tshirts. There are helmets. There's an asthmatic guy in a black leather vest who smells of smoke, but still wears his white hair in a pony tail behind the counter. I started chatting with him.

I was wondering how a business can sustain itself selling biker stuff in a town that is literally in the middle of nowhere on a highway most of the world has forgotten...although I put my question as diplomatically as possible since he is also a really big asthmatic biker guy.

As he wraps up my new Harley tshirt (since I am one of of the "old guys who has always fancied himself a biker on the inside even though he has never learned how to drive one but still thinks 'live to ride' is a really cool slogan even though he's not entirely sure what it means") he turns flat blue eyes on me.

"It's a great ride, man," he growls. That voice that has seen a lot of smoke and a lot of booze.

At this point I suspect that he knows I am not a biker. The big camera around my neck, my New Orleans tshirt and my natty Tilley hat may have given me away. Still I am buying something from him and he's probably decided not to kill me just yet.

Out front of his store is a biker chick. Actually, she's one of those store dummies dressed like a biker chick. When I arrived, there were several bikers out front taking pictures of each other doing socially unacceptable things to her.

I thought she might make for an interesting picture, but the straight-on shots weren't working. I wanted to do something that would make the picture a little skewed. When I took it from above it made for a much more interesting graphic.

There's a restaurant about a block away from the biker place. Here the guys behind the counter have well rehearsed ways of interacting with customers. It's sort of like walking into a modern Marx Brothers movie.

A tourist asked for a straw. The guy behind the counter brings out a handful of real straw. Get it? If you ask for a napkin, they bring up a two options ("New or gently used?" he asks.)

After I placed my order for a cheeseburger and a peanut butter flavored malt (you just shush...) he asked me if I wanted mustard. I said I did and he pointed a mustard bottle at me and a jet of yellow squirted out of it and onto my favorite New Orleans tshirt.

For a second my brain does not comprehend this. Then I get mad. Then I realize that the yellow stuff is actually a yellow string. We both have a good laugh about that. (It is a good thing that I wasn't wearing my biker tshirt. If I had been, he would have been a dead man.)

I don't believe that travel pics always have to be the artsy variety. Don't get me wrong -- I can get as artsy as they next pretend biker in a Harley tshirt. But often something as a documentary shot of something as simple as a door can make a great subject.

Click on the yellow door and have a look at it. (This makes each picture it's original size. Isn't technology grand?) Do you see the two knobs? How about the hundreds of stickers? There's no place for a Rule of Fourths here. It's all just interesting stuff.

I find I can look at this one for a while. When I do, I will remember the heat. I'll remember that a peanut butter malt turns into a milkshake in about eighteen seconds. I will remember an enchanting couple of hours spent in Seligman, AZ -- a place that crackles with personality and that very special Route 66 magic.

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