Thursday, July 8, 1999
Another supposedly easy day’s drive chewed all to pieces by reality. We’d planned to drift less than two hours to Scottsdale, having dinner, then staying, with Tom’s friends. But when we got there, Syd’s live-in mother was too sick for me even to be introduced. Tom sat by her bedside, making polite noises, and the dog trotted in—after briefly escaping the back yard. But I was confined to the living room.
I studied our map. We were two days from home. The next stop was Victorville, to pay our respects to Roy and Dale—though she’s still alive, so I suppose we’d just have to wave, and say Howdy. That was too far to go now, since it was almost dinnertime. And we didn’t want to rent a room in gross Scottsdale, though that was apologetically suggested.
“She might be better in the morning,” Tom predicted. “We could all have breakfast.”
“And stay near the airport tonight? Jets zooming in and out.”
I didn’t think he’d go for it. He still remembered Rochester.
Wickenburg seemed a pleasant hour north, along a larger road than I would have preferred, but it was indicated scenic on the map.
Seemed. Indicated. Sucked.
The ugliest, slowest, two-hour crawl through industrial Phoenix. That was finally relieved—relieved?—by miles of cellblock retirement condos. Sun City? El Mirage? Oh, yeah, places I want to be. We reached Wickenburg in the dark, then wished we’d eaten dinner that way.
Our waiter was another of those drooling bango kids—squinty, pale, and fish-faced like pictures of dead Jesse James. I wasn’t sure whether to order, or give him all my money and credit cards, and cower under the table. The room was over-friendly Andy Griffith—six different kinds of fightin’ flower wallpaper—maybe fitting ’cause Merv Griffin had an expensive horse spa just down the road. And we could’ve been eating race track losers.
But the motel had a history. It was the first Best Western. Back in the thirties, this family of earnest-but-desperate Clampetts coaxed their old flivver west till it croked in Wickenburg—what a place to die. (“Fate just chose it for us,” Ma Clampett is cheerily quoted on the menu.) There they abandoned their previous lives—he was something like an accountant, she a grade-school teacher—to cook in a greasy spoon. (It was the Depression.) Eventually, they bought the ur-diner, and expanded to a motel across the way.
Still, people weren’t flocking to Wickenburg—and there’s so much sand to see. The war came, with its usual uplifting stories, but they survived again. By the June Allyson fifties, the oldest Clampett kid was off to college, in California. Of course, the family had to visit—in a more dependable car— and where else would they stay but a motel? Papa Clampett liked what he saw. He chatted up the owner. They formed the first independant motel chain. Best Western. (B is for the BeautyRest—our mattress. E is ’cause there’s Everything to Eat…)
Or something like that. Names, dates, and facts have been changed to protect the absent-minded. Lillian Hellman non-fiction. The motel had been expanded with success. The restaurant, too, which was sold, then franchised, then–when that was botched by overstepping new owners—rebought by the family (gotta protect the ancestral name). On its walls are many pictures, one of the existant Clampett clan, Ma now shrinking in a wheelchair, breathing though a tube—though not like the Weeki Wachi mermaids.
For breakfast we were back in the restaurant—by default. There were other places in town, but they weren’t air-conditioned–-not air-conditioned!—and I was already sticky as I dried from my shower. Our waiter was the zombie-twin of the guy last night.
“You’re sure it’s not the same one?” Tom asked.
I didn’t want to look that carefully. Direct eye-contact brings out chain-saws.
Breakfast was just as greasy as in the Thirties. But it went down easy. Leaving, we stopped in their gift store—you knew there had to be one. Tom bought a small bronze lizard—I don’t know why. I happened on postcards of the Mona Lisa done in Southwest colors as a tanned Native American. Cramping laughter, I bought every one.