Back on Route 66 out of Laughlin, the road takes you forward in mileage but back in time. Sometimes the clock winds back to the Wild West of the 1800’s, in hokey, tourist-dominated towns like Oatman, Arizona. More often, Route 66 goes back to an innocent moment somewhere between 1950 and 1970.
Preserving Time on Route 66
At Delgadillo’s Snow Cap restaurant in Seligman, Arizona, the Delgadillo family has preserved a roadside burger joint with outside seating next to 1950’s cars, road signs and outhouses. The property backs onto a vacant lot, then the Santa Fe railroad, then an infinity of empty plains.
Founded in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo, his son still mans the window today. He squirts mustard-colored string on customers’ shirts and offers a bundle of hay straws when you ask for a drink straw. He gives you a cup mounded with crushed ice if you ask for ice. He’s a practical joker in the traditional mould, but there is a sense of melancholy in the game. You can tell that he’s learnt these tricks from his father, who passed away in 2003, and that every joke serves as a reminder of him.
In Williams, Arizona, an hour south of the Grand Canyon, Route 66 becomes a main street in the original meaning of the word. Here, 66 is a two-lane, one way thoroughfare, lined by red brick buildings housing bars, coffee shops and $50 per night family-owned motels. The shops’ neon signs flicker on amidst the clear, mountain air sunset. Compare this with Pasadena, near the Huntington Art Gallery, which also has a main street formed by Route 66. Pasadena’s version of 66 is America’s new idea of a main street, one which hosts high-end chain clothing stores, Cheesecake Factories and Starbucks.
Hopper’s Trips to the West
Many of Hopper’s pictures depict a time similar to that preserved in Williams and Seligman. In his later years, Hopper motored frequently with his constant companion and wife, Jo, around the West, painting Wyoming, Mexico and New Mexico. His pictures from this time capture the openness of the West, where motels, gas stations and people are dwarfed by the surrounding desert and mountain ranges.
There is no use in doggedly hanging on to the past. But in a country which relentlessly pursues progress, it’s comforting to know that some of its past remains preserved.
Where in America do you think the past is best preserved and why?