To say I slept well the night before would be a bold faced lie. Not only was the motel room bed shoddy, the constant blast of train horns robbed me of any quality sleep. It was going to take a lot of coffee to jump start me for a long ride ahead. Lucky for me, I would be having breakfast and lots of java at Miz Zip’s restaurant on old Route 66 in Flagstaff.
Breakfast at Miz Zip’s in Flagstaff
When I lived in Arizona, Miz Zip’s became my all time favourite breakfast and lunch place in Flagstaff. Everything is cooked from scratch, the portions are generous, the price is right and the dining rooms are chock full of memorabilia and Route 66 folklore. Moreover, the coffee is bottomless and I really needed it. The usual suspects were having their breakfast there, some Navajos, Mexicans, construction crews, contractors and a few tourists. It brought back a flood of good memories as I would often spend my summer weekends in Flagstaff. Not only was it 20 degrees cooler, it was also a great hub for many road trips to places such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Meteor Crater, Holbrook, Seligman, Los Angeles and more.
A Brief Visit to Williams, Arizona
After breakfast, I decided to make a brief visit to Williams, AZ. This place also has a number of fond memories. In the past it has served as a launching point for motorcycle and train rides to the Grand Canyon, motorcycle rallies and it was always one of the places I used to love visiting when I live in Arizona. Most of all, it was the last time I went out drinking with my father, back in 2003. He came to visit me in Arizona, we took my jeep out for a road trip to the Grand Canyon and we overnighted in Williams. I did not have time to explore the town, so I decided just to ride around there for old time’s sake.
Seligman Arizona, The Playful Heart & Soul of Route 66
In more ways that one, Seligman, AZ., is the quintessential Route 66 town. It is the birthplace of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona and home to it’s legendary founder, Angel Delgadillo, the “Guardian Angel of Route 66”. It is also home to the world famous Delgadillo’s Snow Cap restaurant, owned by Angel’s brother, Carlos until he passed away. Today, his son, Juan Delgadillo carries on the family tradition at Snow Cap’s.
One could easily site the history of Seligman and how it was almost destroyed when I-40 bypassed Route 66, but that would be too cut and dry. There is something very playful, colorful, quirky, funny, unique and spirited that makes Seligman really stand out from other Route 66 towns. In my experience, it is the beating heart and soul of all towns on the Mother Road. Many of the local businesses have gone out of their way to lure in customers with garish decor, crazy mannequins, colorful signs, antique cars, bold paint jobs, funny slogans and just any other oddball grass roots ideas they could muster. The American spirit of individualism, self-expression and entrepreneurship is alive and well in Seligman. The rest of the country could learn a thing or two from the good people there.
Snow Cap And Remembering Carlos Delgadillo
Part of me was crushed when I discovered that Snow Cap’s was closed for the day. Sure, I was looking forward to a hamburger and fries served in an old school cardboard container, but that is not the feature attraction. For me it was a trip down memory lane and reminders of many a great laugh. Back when Carlos Delgadillo was alive, people from around the world flocked to this one of a kind place to experience one of Carlos’ many pranks. You remember those joke mustard bottles that would squirt out a piece of yellow string? Well, Carlos fooled countless people over the years with this old gag. He would ask if you wanted cheese on your cheeseburger. He would offer you discounts to have ice cream served on broken snow cones. He would ask unassuming customers if they wanted “new or used” napkins. I remember he would write down orders on those resuable doodle pads (magic slate) we had as kids. Alas, Carlos is gone, but his son Juan carries on this tradition.
Since the restaurant was closed, I had to content myself with a walk around the property and quietly smile as I gazed over Carlos’ wacky creations and decorations. There was his crazy car, the silly slogans on the building, “Dead Chicken, Cheeseburger with Cheese”. I miss the old man and I was fortunate enough to have met him on three occasions.
Such Awful Service and Crappy Music
Since Snow Caps was closed, I would have to look elsewhere for lunch. From memory, I knew there was a Mexican restaurant around the corner, but it was also closed. As I walked down the street, it was apparent most businesses were not open and that left just one place in town serving lunch: The RoadRunner Cafe. It was really crowded and noisy, not my kind of place. Nonetheless, I sat down at the one empty table and waited a full 20 minutes without being served. That’s simply not acceptable and to make matters worse, the place was blasting fucking pop music over the PA system. Really? This is Route 66, where is the nostalgic music, the folk songs, heck even country music?
I walked over to the Return to the 50’s gift shop to look for a Route 66 T-shirt for my girlfriend. I spoke with the proprietor and asked if there were any other lunch options in town, she said there was one place just before getting back on the interstate and expect it to be crowded. I made a comment to the effect, “That fucking RoadRunner across the street is playing the wrong kind of music for Route 66”. She smiled and said, “Thank God someone else feels that way too! I’m so sick of hearing it and it’s totally inappropriate”. We both felt vindicated. Unfortunately, she had no suitable T-shirts in my girlfriend’s size, so it was time to motor on. By now, I was getting sick of the tourists who flocked together in large groups. I have to admit, I was rather pissed off for no particular reason, so I’ll blame it on low blood sugar and hunger.
Before leaving Seligman, I made a brief visit to Angel and Vilmas Souvenir and Barber Shop for old time’s sake. I remember back in 2001, I had the privilege of meeting Angel Delgadillo and sitting in his barber chair. He is such a kind and happy person, yet when it comes to defending and promoting Route 66, he manifests a fiery passion.
The Dambar Steakhouse in Kingman, Arizona
As rode out of Seligman, I found that restaurant just before the interstate and, just like the lady said, it was packed with nowhere to park and no open tables. I’ve never seen Seligman so busy before! So, I figured I would just ride out to Williams, AZ, the next town on Route 66 and get a late lunch at the Dambar Steakhouse, yes it’s actually called the Dambar! Unlike Seligman, Kingman was quiet and peaceful, there was no shortage of tables at the Dam Bar. I fueled up on chicken wings and a tall beer in this old western themed restaurant. Only the locals were there: a mixture of sun tanned cowboys, old men, truck drivers and surly staff serving up beers and finger foods as country music played softly in the background. That made me smile. After a satisfying and relaxing meal, I braced myself for the hot ride ahead across the Mojave desert.
Getting My Ass Kicked By The Mojave Desert
Back in 2002, after living a year in Arizona, my blood thinned out and I adapted well to triple digit heat. Riding in 120+ temperature, although challenging, was not uncommon and I learned a few tricks to deal with it. After being back in Canada for 12 years, my blood has thickened up and I’ve lost my desert legs. This ride was a tougher one than I bargained for. The crazy mid-day desert heat across the Mojave was kicking my ass. Every half our or so, I had to stop into an air conditioned gas station and guzzle down water along with Gator Aid. At one station, I went around to the back, grabbed the garden hose and watered myself down head to toe. It felt great, but within 15 minutes of riding, I was bone dry again. I lost count of how much fluid I drank, but it must have been around two gallons.
Unfortunately, I was behind schedule because of delays in Seligman and cool down stops across the Mojave. I was hoping to be in Newberry Springs, California by dinner time, but it was too late, the day was already over. The coming of night was a splendid relief from the day’s punishing heat and there was a beautiful sunset.
Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs, California
Well into darkness, I arrived in the teeny tiny desert town of Newberry Springs. Now why would I bother with this two blink town? Only one reason: to visit the Bagdad Cafe, the site where a German movie bearing the same name was filmed.
If you have never seen “Bagdad Cafe“, I urge you to do so. It is a wonderful, quirky and heartfelt movie about a middle aged German woman who is abandoned by her husband in the dessert, she finds her way to the Bagdad Cafe, a crumbling cafe and dilapidated motel, run by an angry and bitter woman, whose husband also abandoned her. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and the German lady transforms the cafe into a successful business featuring her magic act as the main attraction. Literally and figuratively, the cafe and the characters are transformed into their better selves.
I made it there by the skin of my teeth. Had I arrived just 5 minutes later, I would have never seen inside the Bagdad Cafe, as they were just closing the doors. It was a surreal setting, the sun long gone and the only light around for miles was the cafe sign and everywhere else, the sky was pitch black. I fumbled around for a flash light so I could find my camera, a video light and microphone. To make matters worse, I had to deal with some very strong winds that made it it difficult to get my gear out. I managed to take a few photos and video myself before the cafe’s lights went out. I went inside to see if I could talk with anyone. Much to my disappointment, the owner left just minutes before I rode into the parking lot. Thankfully, there was still some staff at work and I met a lovely young woman named Mary Jane, who graciously allowed me to record her performing some Mariachi singing.
I consider myself lucky that I had time finally see the Bagdad Cafe, so scratch one another item off the bucket list. So, under the canvas of a black sky, I had to get back on the Interstate and ride out to Barstow. Leaving Newberry Springs, it was a cautious ride through unlit sideroads and powerful wind gusts. Once I got back on I-40, it was good to have extra lighting from other vehicle headlights and go with the wind instead of against it.
Barstow California, Home to Meth Labs and a Great Route 66 Motel.
After a long day riding through oven-like temperatures in the Mojave Desert and dealing with gusty winds under a pitch black sky in Newberry Springs, I was quite glad to arrive in Barstow. Over 13 years had passed since my last visit to this little Route 66 town and things have changed a bit. There was quite the gang presence on the streets and it appeared to be a more dangerous place. Many of the local businesses had bars over their windows and the liqour store was under tight security. The following day, I learned that Barstow has become notorious for meth labs on the outskirts of town. What a shame to see human scum setting up shop here and the gangs roaming the streets late at night.
Thank God there is are some really decent folk in this town and I was fortunate to meet a great family who own the historic Route 66 Motel. They are hard working immigrants from India who have done a fantastic job of refurbishing this historic property and promoting Route 66. I will have more information on this motel and an interview with two wonderful people in my next post.
I had travelled quite a few miles and was still feeling the effects from my injuries, so I was looking forward to relaxing. A pizza was ordered from Dominoes, I chugged down a few brews and was excited about seeing my good friend, Ray Huston, in the moring. I ate far too much pizza for my own good, but had just enough energy left to take a few shots of the motel before going to sleep.
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