It was just beginning to dawn on me that covid-19 had shut down almost all of America, and that probably included the Grand Canyon, which I was in the process of speeding towards. What I planned on doing when I got there, I had no idea. My desperate mind was fantasizing about driving off the edge of it, but a more likely scenario probably would’ve involved getting drunk in one of the parking lots.
When I got to Phoenix, I avoided driving into the city, instead skirting around it and taking the 17 north towards Flagstaff. Flagstaff, with its university and small contingent of prospectors, free-thinkers, stargazers, and motorcycle gypsies, seemed like it could possibly be a haven from the hysteria that was choking out the nation.
Driving past Phoenix, I was suddenly stricken by a fit of anxiety so lethal, a cross between an epileptic convulsion and demonic possession, that I nearly lost control of the vehicle. I was forced to pull over and try to get a grip, and noticed a sign advertising a certain Pioneer Village. Unfortunately, the gate to the attraction was closed with a lock and a chain, and right next to a big sign that said HOWDY, was another sign explaining the reason for the closure. In the distance I could make out what looked like the Main Street from an Old West town, with a bank, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, and a jail, all shut down until further notice.
The only thing open in the area was a gas station, so I walked in, bought a four pack of little chardonnays, chugged down two of the bottles, and got back on the road, barely calm enough to function.
Flagstaff was cold and all locked down when I got there, and continuing on towards the Grand Canyon didn’t seem like an option anymore. I started driving east, now heading back towards Los Angeles, a real, live chicken running around with its head cut off. When I saw an exit for Route 66, I got off on that, desperate for any distraction.
It was all empty road until I reached Seligman. There I pulled over in a vacant lot, downed the last two bottles of wine, and got out to investigate. Seligman is packed with artifacts that conjure up nostalgia for a simpler time in America’s past. Classic cars, old neon signs, a 50s diner, cowboys and Indians, Hollywood stars, there was something new and surprising around every corner. What there weren’t any of, however, were tourists. Almost all the establishments were locked up and there was no one else out walking around.
In the center of town, I did come across a local, a real cowboy, looking the part, with a hat, flannel shirt, vest, jeans, belt buckle, and boots, complete with stirrups. He wore a handlebar moustache and was holding the reins to a brown and white dappled mare, hoping to get some business hiring the horse out for a ride. He was out of luck. We both were out of luck. We stared at each other like we were each seeing apparitions, and when we finally spoke, could only question what in the world was going on, and how bad things were likely to get.