Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Standing on a Corner and Wandering Around Winslow, Arizona

            In spite of loving Moab, we kept to our schedule and following our exciting day of Jeeping, a day now officially known in the Caravan as Dr. J.’s “Favorite Day of the Trip,” we headed south.  The goal was Arizona, ultimately, The Grand Canyon, South Rim.
            I pretended that I was being a wonderful, homeschooling dad and taking the boys, first, to Meteor Crater.  But let’s be honest, my real objective was a ten-minute Hippie-Codger indulgence:   Standing on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona.
Standing on "The" Corner
            As usual, Knightsmama found us a campground sort of in the middle of things.  Meteor Crater RV Park is located a few hundred yards south of Interstate 40, on the road to the Meteor Crater site, and only about twenty minutes from Winslow.  The RV Park, of course, is really just a spot in the desert, but somehow they have water.  The campground sports some trees and greenery.  The folks there are extremely cordial, and since the campground appears to border the remnants of the old Route 66, they maintain a 50’s and 60’s vibe, including a constant office soundtrack of The Beach Boys.  I like The Beach Boys.  In fact, I think Brian Wilson is one of the Great American Song Writers, almost up there with Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, and Cole Porter, and such.  But . . . . all day?  That is testing one’s affection.
            We stayed in the area two nights, which means only one day.  So it was Winslow in the morning and Meteor Crater in the afternoon.  That turned out to be just the right amount of time, spent in just the right way.   We began the day at the corner of North Kinsley and Route 66 (Interstate 40, business), which has now become an official stop for Codger Touring.   A building has been lost to fire on this corner, so there is some walking around room and space for a statue of a dude with guitar, hair over his ears, looking all California and cool.  The statue is by sculptor Ron Adamson.  On the brick building behind the statue is a fun mural by John Pugh, with “a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowing down” and taking a look.  Above the painting of the truck is stage two of the narrative, with some hanky panky goings on upstairs, seen through The Trompe L’oeil windows.  (We can dream, can’t we. If we can’t remember).   On two other corners are curio-souvenir shops for the tourists, and believe it or not, there are tourists here, all wanting to take their picture while they “Take It Easy.”   I thought of asking Dr. J. to make a video of me standing by the statue with Knightsmama driving by in The Big Ass Truck, but I figured that was asking just a bit too much from my semi-tolerant family.
Fred Harvey
            Knightsmama, of course, has limited patience with my nascent status in Codgerhood.  I mean, she was four years old when the Eagles released their famous song in 1972.  I was a freshman at the University of Texas, and I loved the Eagles’ first two records, and everything by Jackson Browne for five or six years.   After Desperado, the Eagles became just a little too perfect or something in their production values; maybe it just seemed like they became date music.  And, Lord knows, I didn’t do any dating in college or even in graduate school.  I had girlfriends in graduate school, two special women with whom I am still friends, but looking back it doesn’t seem like we “dated.”  I was so poor.  I guess I forgot how to date.  We just did stuff together.  I finally became interested in the Eagles and related projects again when Don Henley released “The End of the Innocence” in 1989.  I was married then, and the song somehow seemed meaningful.
            While I am writing about the Eagles (I probably shouldn’t write about this, but, damn it, it's a part of the story) I am remembering when I first heard “Hotel California.”  There was a fellow graduate student who for some reason took a liking to me.  As I remember it, there was a week or two when she would come by the office that I shared with Carl Yost and chat and such.  I wasn’t particularly attracted to the young lady, but I was a twenty-three or four year old guy, didn’t date, and she liked me and nobody else did.  I think we had a date, and at some point she asked me over to her apartment.  Another oddity.  I lived in an old ramshackle house with feral cats; and she lived in an apartment complex.  Who lives in apartment complexes when they can live in a breezy, funky house?  Don’t get me wrong.  She was a fine lady.  I wish her well.  I wish I had been more honest with her, being even more at ease would have been a step in the right direction.  So I went over to her apartment, and she was very excited about the new Eagles album and put it on the stereo.  She was really into “Hotel California.”  We began making out.  Were we drinking?  Because I don’t remember much about the night.  In any case, morning arrived, and I departed.  I don’t think we ever saw each other again, even though her office was just down and around the hall.  I know I was scared of her:  a “You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave” kind of thing.   If nothing else, of the “seven women on my mind,” I felt she was one who wanted to own me.  And now if she remembers me at all, she most likely wants to stone me. 
            Nowadays I can listen the Eagles and enjoy them.  They are on the play list on the ipod, and I sincerely appreciate the later incarnation with Joe Walsh (I was a James Gang fan) and Timothy B. Schmidt (I have had a boy crush on him since he first joined Poco).  And I rather like Long Road Out of Eden, their 2007 double album.
            Sorry, for the diversion.  guys, this is what happens to me when I stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.  Sometimes, the past is not prologue:  the past is not even past. 
Mary Colter
            After taking our photos and washing my personal history off of me, we wondered down to the Old Trails Museum, sponsored by the Winslow Historical Society.  The museum is just a somewhat small storefront.  But it is free and the staff is very friendly, helpful, and informative.   Once you scratch the surface, most towns have fascinating histories.  Winslow is no different.  From its Native American roots, to the railroad, to Route 66, to a Charles Lindberg designed airport and a brief connection to Howard Hughes, Winslow was an important stop until the way Americans traveled changed and grew and by-passed the town . You know, it is funny what you don’t know, sometimes.  In this museum, I was introduced to The Harvey Hotels, The Harvey Girls, and Mary Colter.  How did I not know of these people before?
            If our trips through the East just re-affirmed my interest, appreciation, and horror at the Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers, Edisons, and Fords, the West has now introduced me to Frederick Harvey.  He’ll be part of my research when I get home, but so far I am intrigued, not horrified.  Fred Harvey was born in London in 1835 and immigrated to the United States when he was 17.  He found employment in what we call today “the food service industry.”  A classic American entrepreneur story, he worked his way up, tried this, tried that, succeeded here, failed there, but eventually he ended up in Kansas and made a deal with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railways to provide car service and restaurants.  His restaurants were a huge success, providing decent, quality food for the upper and middle-class traveler.  Credited with bringing civilization to the West, he opened restaurants and hotels from Kansas to California. 
La Posada
            Harvey also did something extraordinary.  In the late nineteenth century until the nineteen fifties, he hired young women waitstaff.  While my post-modern liberal political mind can turn this into an exploitation story, until I discover any facts to suggest otherwise, I will trust that the official, happy story is true.  Harvey provided jobs and adventure for young women.  They were polite and well-behaved, had curfews and a dress policy.  If one chooses, one can view Harvey has helping promote a feminist agenda.  Even though Judy Garland stared in the 1945 movie, The Harvey Girls, from which emerged the song “The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe,” I had never heard of The Harvey Girls, Fred Harvey or the Harvey Hotels. 
            And I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Mary Colter, an amazingly talented designer and architect, much of whose career was associated with Fred Harvey.  Again, this is one of those cases—I hope you have them, too, because I don’t want to be the only person who has been blithely ignorant of these very interesting Americans—where I just stand stunned thinking, “How could have I missed this for 61 years?”  In any case, there it is.  In 1901, at the age of thirty-one, Colter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, decorating the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque.  Fred Harvey died in 1901, so she must have then worked for his son.  She ended up becoming an architect for several hotels and even designed distinctive dinner ware, which is now collected and commands high prices.  I am finding her at least as fascinating as Frank Lloyd Wright.  [Part of the time lag:  while writing this, we have already been to The Grand Canyon, where Mary Colter and Fred Harvey are also much celebrated--the photos of them above are from a museum in El Tovar at the canyon.]
Finishing Lunch at Las Marias
            It turns out that Winslow is home to one of the hotels that Colter designed, La Posada.  After leaving the museum, we wondered down a few blocks and walked around and in La Posada, which truly is a gorgeous and peaceful building.  As many of the hotels that the Harvey company built during the heyday of railroad travel, La Posada was closed in the mid-fifties.  The story goes that after many years of being refashioned into an office building, which meant moving and adding walls and such, La Posada was purchased by businessman Allan Affeldt, who is returning the building and gardens to their original splendor.  He is also involved in doing the same to another Harvey hotel, the Hotel Castaneda in Las Vegas, New Mexico (not at Colter building).  If I weren’t moving around with The Monster and if I had the money to spend, I would love to spend a few nights in La Posada.  I can understand the impulse to simply pay the money to set oneself up in an atmosphere that soothes and calms one.  What’s a couple hundred bucks if the coffee cup is well designed?  Well, to be honest, for me, now, that couple hundred bucks represents basketball shoes for my boys.  In another life maybe.
Winslow's 911 Memorial

            So after a few moments of wandering around La Posada and dreaming of another life—thank you very much, Ms, Colter (and Allan Affeldt) for that experience—we strolled back to our truck parked near The Corner.  I am, of course, driving the family crazy, humming “Take It Easy.”  Before heading back to the campground and then on to Meteor Crater, we stopped at Las Marias for an early lunch.  We just couldn’t pass up the prices:  the white board outside the restaurant proclaimed three tostadas and drink for under five dollars!  One of the joys of the second half of this trip—that is, the move west—is the return of Mexican food to our diet.  We just didn’t have the nerve to try it—except on one or two occasions—in the East.  My tostadas were fresh and light and crispy.  The salsas (note there were several choices) were punchy.  Now Las Marias is just a little hole in the wall kind of place, but Dr. J. filled up on cheese enchiladas and Captain Crunch enjoyed his beef tacos.   Knightsmama was happy with the price.  Often we have trouble escaping from restaurants for under $50, but not this day.   

            Anyway, so there we go:  What began as a silly indulgence, a kitschy, meaningless tourist stop, became a real history lesson, and an appreciation of two American personalities, the entrepreneur and the artist, Fred Harvey and Mary Colter.   I’ll end this post here, and take us to Meteor Crater another time.  But before we leave Winslow, let me simply mention that they do have a small memorial for 911 with two metal beams from the Twin Towers.  In part the plaque reads, “We hereby dedicate this Garden to Northern Arizona's promise that 'WE WILL NEVER FORGET.'"  Great sentiment.  The problem is that in these United States there is so much to remember.

Soundtrack.  Eagles:  "Take It Easy."