Scene Along the Road: 7

Dinner Theater

In Kingman, Arizona, on the western edge of the Route 66 corridor in western Arizona, it’s not all about the confluence of historic road kitsch, railroad stops, native Americana, proximity to grand dams, Vegas glitz and glitter, Grand Canyon breathtaking geologic history, associated Hualapai First Nations’ Sky Walk, river rapids, helicopter rides, and various and sundry tawdry tourist distractions. No: it can be a simple quest for dinner. The native resident population of Kingman is around 28,000, and there are approximately 79 eating establishments in the Kingman metropolitan area; if everyone arranged a yearly eat-out day, there would be . . . well, you do the math of populace per restaurant. As wandering mendicants, we aspired to quality over quantity.

But this Scene Along the Road story takes us to our heavily researched Italian restaurant of quality, Mattina’s Ristorante Italiano, described online, and by our informative waitress, as the only fine dining restaurant in town, and—to distinguish itself from the culinary crowded cantinas, cafes, coffee shops, and chophouses—it was located off the beaten path of hungry roving tourist eyes and rumbling ruminant intestinal tracts. Once upon a time, in an earlier, more genteel era, one might be expected to enter this establishment in semi-formal attire, in contrast to today’s banal baseball cap-wearing, baggy shorts, tank tops, and sandals crowd. (We wore none of the above.)

But . . . let’s drill down even deeper into this scenario. We witnessed the front door opening and a captivating couple entered the room as in an E.F. Hutton commercial, “When E.F. Hutton talks, everyone listens.” A vacuum of attention passed through the room drawing all eyes to this couple, in their early- to- mid-30s, but the vortex of attention was to the Woman in Black. If you look up an example of the “little black dress” on the web, you would see the image of that femme fatale magnetically attached to her partner.

All eyes were on the Dress that rode her like cling wrap on a damp bowl. Lace rimmed the edges of precipitous danger zones, and the hemline rode in the upper quadrant of legs that stretched from black high heels to a voluptuous hip:waist ratio. I looked at Ruth, she at me, and we sucked in our breath to capture it before it escaped like air from a blown-up balloon into the scene before us. The Woman in Black had eyes and hands completely focused on her man: I’m not even sure she realized she was in a restaurant. In the prospect before me, my vision blurred for a moment and I saw the mirage of a spider spinning a web around its prey. This was going to be an informative and entertaining evening.

The couple were seated at a table adjacent to us, and at first the Woman in Black sat across from her paramour. She quickly decided that the distance between them could not provide her with the proximity necessary to press her case, and moved next to her seemingly oblivious beau, who yammered on about stocks and shares (or was it bytes and RAM?). Was he playing it cool, holding tight to the appearance of aloofness? The constant drone of the man’s voice engaged her in a one-way conversation, and we stole furtive glances out the windows past them to witness her stroking his neck and arms, tousling his hair and whispering into his ear. He appeared to take no notice of the spell being cast by her cat purrs. I wondered if he was savvy to her guile, and at least saw the game being played with clear eyes. Were we witnessing the power and pinnacle of her life’s flowery bloom, working to capture her mate?

I must say parenthetically, that after a few icy cocktails, a delicious Silver Oak cabernet was set before us, the aroma of Napa Valley California terroir captivating our senses. This set the stage for a shared crisp caesar salad, titled “The Big Boss,” with soft palatable anchovies and the pièce de résistance entrees of spinach ravioli in tomato vodka cream sauce for Ruth (moniker: “Uncle Paulie’s Ravioli Espinachi”). Rib eye steak was my choice, “The Capone,” cooked excellently medium rare with a crisp charred crust to offset the soft juicy inner core oozing with fatty umami flavor. Complementing this awesome cut of beef, angel hair pasta in Sicilian sauce provided a tangy Mediterranean counterpoint to, and lightening of, the fare. The admixture of the couple drama faded in contrast to the sensual demands of the banquet before us.

While our Woman in Black pushed the limits of public propriety, I tempered my embarrassment with subtle sips of winemaker Dan Baron’s finest 2013 vintage, tasting the essences of sandalwood, leather, blackberry liquor, sage and a soft tannin finish that resonated in the palate like wind rippling across a still lake. But I digress.

It appeared as though our couple would be getting their “dessert eats on” post-prandial, away from the public eye. Our spider Woman in Black had played her hand to the max to capture her prey, we assumed, but all that is best left for speculation.

We celebrated their equally captivating and relieving departure by examining the dessert menu, and after consulting with the Maître d’, who informed us that Chef Yashica baked her own creations, he recommended—and brought us—the unique carrot/cheesecake topped with whipped cream, and a generous slice of rich, tangy key lime pie. We stimulated our senses back to attention after our sumptuous meal with a couple of cups of well-brewed “joe.” I called for cream and sugar but after a quick taste of this bare-naked perfect brew, let this cup cap a delightful dinner experience.

This scene along the road was dinner theater at its finest.

Artifacts, Hulks, Ruins, Relics, Rubble, Remains, Remnants….

 

Arizona Route 66

Route 66, the “Mother Road,” as it is affectionately named, was officially decommissioned in 1984, but still clings to life in fits and starts across eight states and three time zones. What once was a major transportation artery across America from Chicago to Los Angeles, providing fuel and sustenance to travelers in oasis stops, now harbors ghosts of its past. Ruth and I simply can’t resist the magnetic pull of abandoned kitscheterias, trinket shops, gas stations, and cafes, providing a fresh marquee for graffiti and social commentary.

Meteor City Trading Post
Twin Arrows Cafe and Trading Post

When we cross fenced barriers, open broken doors, and step across rubble-strewn entranceways, we hear voices echoing in time.

Abandoned Twin Arrows interior

Around us are the artifacts of a not-too-distant past, once discarded in the American dream of rapid interstate transportation, that stimulate reflective awakening and pining for a simpler time. The adventure of discovering unique food, lodging, and inhabitants exclusive to the region faded away from the Mother Road like upstart children grown out and away from the old ways.

There is a move afoot to restore much of this once grand road, and it is all not driven by commerce. Two-lane Route 66 traverses barren country, connecting small towns and historical, geographical, and geological points of interest. We hunger to escape the highway of mundane, ordinariness, mediocrity of chain stores and restaurants—mind-numbing mall uniformity—exchanging comfort for quirky, off-base stimulation.

 

 

While ruin-spelunking we discovered some elegant graffiti conceived by a poetic peripatetic traveler with the moniker of Boots, who states on her Instagram page, “I write poetry while traveling, photographing, and spray painting my poems in abandoned places.” She, like many others, has left her mark on the canvas of remnants and ruins, to breathe art and awakening form to ephemeral spirits within deserted places.

 

Our stopping point along a multi-week progress along the Little Colorado River brings us to Homolovi State Park, where we continue our exploration of a chain of archaic indigenous peoples’ habitations. Petroglyphs, relics, rubble, and remnants of primeval lives lay scattered about partially excavated mounds of former thriving communities.

Homolovi II excavation of two rooms that were two floors high. 1200 rooms in total. Pottery shards left by visitors on room divider wall
Homolovi I partial excavation site. Previously two stories with 700 rooms. Unexcavated rooms behind.
Homolovi petroglyphs
Eagle or thunderbird
Hopi hide stripping/cleaning stone
Hopi loom weaving stick hole
Visitor collected and NOT TAKEN pottery shards

Messages—graffiti, if you will—abound from the past telling stories we strive to decipher. New American immigrants, explorers, and trailblazers “discovered” the ancient petroglyphs and, in kind, added their own “tags,” memorializing the primordial urge to proclaim, “We were here!”

European rock art 1880 or ’90
European immigrant rock art tag
Modern terra-ephemeral petroglyph

It appears quite clear that images of animals, humans, and nature, so carefully pecked into ancient desert varnish-baked rock faces, are not all about life’s essentials, or to simply make our mark, but an enduring expression of passionate art. For this reason, I am drawn to these symbolic voices from the past, for they are OUR declaration: “We were here, we are here, and we will be here.”