Winslow, place 85 of 92, is up! I expected to find a corner and not much else. Instead I was overwhelmed with history, culture, hospitality, generosity and strange tacos. In Winslow, I was reminded why I do what I do. I connected with this place like few others.
Tuesday, August 27th
Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona, USA
(Just a reminder, my previous post about Cedar City broke chronology. After my visit there, I continued on to Las Vegas for a night, then saw Hoover Dam the next day. This post will pick up where two posts ago left off.)
Of the 49 states not named “Nebraska,” this is the one where I have spent the most time. I was glad that the state included two song places, Winslow and Catalina, giving me a good excuse to enjoy the state again. Shortly after crossing the border, I recommenced my most circuitous tour of Route 66. Once again, each gas station had a whole aisle dedicated to “mother road “memorabilia.
Arizona welcomed me with its iconic heat. I-40 was a veritable graveyard of truck tires. After a number of uncomfortable hours I begin to climb elevation towards Flagstaff. Around 3000 ft the trees returned and the temperature became milder.
With plenty of daylight remaining, I set up my tent in a National Forest outside of Flagstaff. I was weary from the lack of sleep in Vegas the night before, so turning in early was just what the doctor ordered.
Wednesday, August 28th
I gotta be honest.
I’m pretty tired of camping.
However, this morning help me remember why some people consider camping a leisure activity. It was a crisp 55 degrees in the morning, which has to be the ideal temperature at which to wake up in a tent. I rolled over, started my coffee and felt like it was going to be a good day.
I needed a full day of work to do some catching up, so I decided to leave the maroon cocoon set up at its site and head into Flagstaff. I was probably at the library for around 7 straight hours and got many things accomplished. The only drama on the day was a fairly intense hailstorm as I did my work. Sorry, Annie!
Thankfully, my tent back in the National Forest was just fine.
Thursday, August 29th
I had just a short ride before reaching my next destination.
I hadn’t done a lot of research about Winslow before my arrival. Pretty much the only thing of note that I was aware of was a street corner…. I suppose that may require a little bit of an explanation. I would encourage you to listen to the song below by The Eagles, “Take It Easy.”
The lyrics to begin verse 2 are as follows:
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 flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me
Come on baby
Don’t say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me
We may lose and we may win
Though we will never be here again
So open up I’m climbin’ in
So take it easy.
This song was primarily written by a great composer named Jackson Browne in 1971. The lyric about Winslow truly describes a time when Browne was broken down in northern Arizona. To this day, this lyric is the thing that most commonly comes to mind when one thinks of Winslow. Though I am tempted to criticize the city for having so much of its identity wrapped up in a single song, it might seem a little hypocritical coming from someone who has spent over two years on his own song related quest. 🙂
The town of Winslow eventually embraced this notoriety. In 1999, they constructed a special corner to serve as a backdrop for travelers who are looking to hop off of I-40 and “take it easy” for a bit. Taking a picture on this corner has become one of the most quintessential experiences for those traveling Route 66. (Photo from my parents visit in 2013)
There’s even a beautifully restored flatbed Ford on site!
I knew from the start that this corner would serve as the backdrop for my picture to define the place. However, I was also hoping that I would be able to acquire a guitar from someone in order to sing “Take It Easy” myself. I checked my trunk, just to make sure I hadn’t thrown a guitar in at some point, but came up empty.
After a brief stop at The Corner, I back tracked along old 66 (which actually splits into two one-way streets in this town) to the visitors center, housed in a 100 year old trading post. Even with my standard allotment of cock-eyed optimism, there’s no way I could have anticipated what a great stop this was going to be.
I met Bob, who is the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, and told him what I was doing. When I expressed my interest in knowing more about Winslow history, he unveiled his wealth of knowledge. He is a busy guy with loads of responsibilities. However, I just happened to walk in at a time when his schedule was wide open. All told, he spent about 2 hours patiently answering all my questions, imparting to me information which will be interspersed throughout this post. Though countless visitors pass through this town, Bob made me feel like I was the most important one.
Towards the end of the conversation, I asked Bob if there is anybody he knew that might loan me a guitar for a performance on the corner. Less than a minute later, I had Bob’s phone to my ear talking to his musician friend, Greg. Greg never asked me any credentials about why he should loan me a guitar, he merely asked, “What kind do you prefer?” This was an incredibly beneficial stop and I was so glad to have Bob add his name to Annie’s collection.
But wait, there’s more!
I returned a little while later, as I’d forgotten to get Greg’s number. Bob was in his office and this time he had a question for me: “Do you ever need a place to stay? I have a spare room available.” I hope I always remember his demeanor when he posed this question. There’s was something so incredibly courteous about it, as if he was trying not to offend me!
I know what you are thinking, I thought it too: This guy is the epitome of workaholic. The manager of the visitor’s center offering a visitor a place to stay? This is the very definition of taking your work home with you! But please don’t judge him too harshly, he really is a nice guy. 🙂
I felt so honored that he would ask and accepted as graciously as I could. But I had no time to get emotional! I had a song place to see!
Winslow sprang up as a railroad town when the A&P line reached the area in 1881. It became a common pit stop for travelers and soon grew into the largest city in northern Arizona.
A name that was new to me was that of Fred Harvey, below:
This entrepreneur is credited as being the first person to successfully implement the idea of a chain, in the business sense. He wanted travelers along the railroad to be able to come to his establishments and know what kind of food, service, and accommodations (even sheets) to expect. One of these “Harvey Houses” is the La Posada hotel, constructed in 1930.
Mary Colter was the architect of this establishment. Female architects were extremely rare in this era, but she was able to work her way up through the Harvey corporation to become a renowned designer.
She considered the hotel her masterpiece, painstakingly selecting every piece of the decor: The gardens, the furniture, the china and even the maids’ dresses. As railroad travel declined through the middle of the 20th Century, nearly all of the Harvey Houses closed. La Posada was shuttered in 1957, with all of the fixtures being sold at auction. Colter, who was 89 at the time, remarked that “There’s such a thing as living too long.”
Some of the buildings of La Posada were used as offices for railroad employees, but it was mostly abandoned. The building fell into disrepair and was nearly demolished in the 1990s. Citizens of Winslow pulled together, saving the historic building.
The building was purchased in 1997 and four brave souls moved in and began restorations. They worked room by room to make the space suitable to host travelers again. The fruits of their labor are readily apparent in each nook and cranny of the impressive property.
This hotel serves as an accurate microcosm for Winslow’s history. The fortune of this city seems to have always been linked to the number of travelers passing through. The 1930s and 40s were boom times. Not only did Route 66 come through town, but Winslow’s airport was selected as a stop along the first transcontinental air route.
The end of railroad travel was a huge hit to Winslow. When the I-40 bypass was built in 1979, many businesses along old Route 66 were shuttered. Winslow continued to lose population and businesses, hitting a real low point in the 90s.
For most cities, this would be the end of the story.
Winslow is not like most cities.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what lit the spark, but something began in the late 90s which is still going on: The people of Winslow began to dream. They dreamed about a hotel, a corner where tourists would come to take pictures, and much, much more.
In addition to providing my lodging for the night, Bob offered to buy me supper as well. He took me to a place called Bojo’s on 66 where I ordered tacos “Winslow style.” This is where there is half of a hamburger patty in the taco instead of ground beef. It’s another interesting holdover from Winslow’s history.
I had a great evening chatting with Bob. He is originally from San Francisco and came to Winslow during its low point in the mid-90s. He is one of the people responsible for its turnaround, investing his time and talents to the betterment of the community. He says he has no interest in running for mayor, but he will have my (albeit worthless) endorsement if he ever does.
Friday, August 30th
I shelved my normal shower-singing repertoire this morning, instead focusing on scales and warm-up exercises. I had a performance to prepare for!
I made Bob a batch of my Swedish egg coffee before heading down to The Corner. I met Greg who had a guitar for me in the back of his truck. It was perhaps fitting that I was borrowing it from him. He was a founding member of the foundation that developed The Corner. Were it not for him, this place might not even exist.
In the photo above, Greg shows some of the anchoring work they had to do to secure the mural wall after a fire in 2007. The whole building was destroyed, except for this one wall.
I was eager to grab the guitar and run the song a couple of times. I had composed the arrangement in my head while riding around, but I wasn’t quite sure how it would translate in real life. I still had to choose a key and a tempo. Normally I would like to run a song at least 20 times before performing it. But this time, twice would have to do. Here we go!
Alright, let’s grade this thing….
Arrangement: The original, with its four part harmonies and banjo solo, is daunting to try to emulate. I chose to play the song in swing time, which frees me up to a little more vocal expression. I totally rearranged the second half of the song, attempting to “trim some of the fat” out of the original. I wanted the whole arrangement to build towards the beginning of the third verse. This is the lyrical climax and I thought the music should reflect that as well. I never quite nailed down my preferred tempo, which is why there are a number of them represented in this performance. 🙂 All in all, for doing this arrangement almost completely mentally, I am very pleased. Solid ‘A.’
Performance: I’m rusty. Both in my singing and playing. I had a couple of flat-out misses on some chords, but thankfully my hand muscles held up the whole time. It was a bit early in the day for my voice to really flourish and there are quite a few issues both in pitch and tone. Maybe I’m getting too used to singing inside of a motorcycle helmet, because my tone has become “shouty.” I really went for it though, not holding anything back. I’m giving it a ‘B minus.’ Not terrible, but not up to my standards. However, if you would have offered me a ‘B minus’ performance that morning, I would have taken it. It’s a tough song under tough circumstances.
Greg took some great action shots of me while I was playing.
I especially like the one below, looking from the perspective of the girl in the flatbed Ford. It’s no wonder she slowed down to take a look at me! 🙂
If I have a guitar, I have to sing my theme song right?
This was a fun, loose, “swing for the fences” performance. Other than running out of wind in verse 2, its a pretty good take. 🙂
I hardly had a chance to talk to my impromptu audience that formed as I was singing. They were really supportive. If any of you are here, say hello!
Greg had to head to work, but before he did I had him initiate the two step process of crossing a place off of my sign. He was so generous to let me put my grubby, vagabond hands on his nice guitar. I hope that I will have a chance to get to know him better on my next visit to Winslow.
I wasn’t the only performer at this intersection this morning. Local legend, Tommy Dukes, was at his usual post on the SE corner of the intersection. He’s far from a run-of-the-mill, busker. He’s a member of the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame.
You can hear him make some comments at the end of the “I’ve Been Everywhere” video. His reaction to my initial tempo was, “Naw, he can’t get all that in.” 🙂 I had a fun time chatting with him too.
A lady at one of the Corner-themed shops heard my performance and generously gave me a Winslow sticker for Annie’s trunk lid. There was a Harley parked nearby which had the world’s most boring license plate design. Designs that dull can only come from one place: Nebraska!
My new friend, Tom, is from a town I had never heard of in the panhandle, Hemingford. I had a great time chatting with him, even discussing some topics other than football. It was nice to have him add a “Go Huskers” tattoo on Annie’s epidermis.
We parted ways, but that was not the end of it. A few days later, I found an envelope tucked into my tank bag:
What moved me most about this gift was not just the amount. Given the variety of bills, it appears that he gave every last dollar in his wallet. He was only thinking about the gift, not about what he might need the money for later. I hope this sort of attitude is one that I can learn and adopt myself. Wow.
Next up was the Old Trails Museum. It is on the same block as The Corner and is completely free. After free parking, free speech and free beer; free museums are probably my fourth favorite free thing.
Two ladies, Ann-Mary and Margie welcomed me warmly. They seemed interested to hear about my journey and were so helpful in answering any questions that I had.
Ann-Mary (left) is the Director of the Old Trails Museum. She wrote the book, literally and figuratively, on Winslow’s history. She’s also done a great job of making historical information available through the museums website (LINK HERE). I’ve referenced this many times during the composition of this post and lots of the stories I’ve shared were from things I learned here. I am so glad I stopped.
But Ann-Mary was not quite finished helping me out. I think she saw that I was really interested in the things that make Winslow unique. Though it was a hot day, she took me to a Snowdrift.
This building on Route 66 was a department store during Winslow’s heyday. Like many of the other buildings here, it was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair. Though it has kept the name from the shortening advertisement on its exterior, the interior has been completely reborn.
Snowdrift Art Space is now a gallery, theater, studio and home residence of Ann-Mary and her husband, Dan. Dan is one of the “brave souls” I referenced earlier that came to Winslow to help renovate the La Posada Hotel. He is a sculptor and the whole building is filled with his work.
Many of the items he uses are things that were being discarded, from the hotel or other places around town. They even rescued some seats to make their own theater.
Dan took me downstairs to where he does his work. It was a pleasure to hear about his artistic process. He’s a real mixture of creativity and ingenuity.
He took so much time out of his day to show me around. By this point, however, I was beginning to expect such treatment from the residents of Winslow. 🙂
Snowdrift is usually just open to the public for special events, but they may do tours at other times. HERE IS THE LINK to their facebook page. Thank you so much, Dan and Ann-Mary!
I still needed one more ‘X’ on my sign, so I rode back to the visitor’s center where this wonderful whirlwind began. I wanted Bob to punctuate my time there. Like so many other places, the personal connections I made here will be the things I value the most.
All told, I was only in Winslow for about 26 hours. During this time, I feel like I had a month’s worth of experiences. There’s still so much about Winslow that I did not get to tell: The Native American influence, the twin towers memorial, the La Posada galleries, the Harvey girls, the “Everywhere” postcard sign…the list goes on and on.
Despite just being here for a short time, I developed a deep love for this place. It is at a unique point in its history, where it has definitely bounced back but still has untapped potential. Route 66 travelers become more numerous every year and Winslow is doing an outstanding job inviting them in.
So many residents have used their unique gifts to add to Winslow’s culture and help it progress. In the face of adversity, Winslow still stands strong. I believe it’s best days are ahead.
Thank you, Winslow.
7 to go!
Keep standin’, everybody
Realtime update: Yowza. That’s a long one. I just spent eight days writing about three days. Does that mean I will be caught up soon? Both Cedar City and Winslow were such wonderful experiences that I wanted to give them their due. Unfortunately, it’s caused me to get way behind.
I’m currently in Sacramento, California. Catalina, Pasadena and Bakersfield have all been completed. Reno is up next, but I’d like to be closer to caught up before heading that way.
Great things keep happening to me, but I’m feeling pretty worn down and I’m not the only one. Annie has had her first real “breakdown” of the trip. Her rear shock gave out in the Big Sur area. The spring still works, so I’m bouncing around until I get the replacement which shipped to Vancouver. Even Sonic is currently sitting legless. He threw his left leg off on a freeway in the central valley…but that’s another story.
We may be limping, but the finish line is in sight.