Herb Benham: 'Standing on the corner,' other road trip detours

Herb Benham, The Bakersfield Californian
·5 min read

May 3—It's important to do some dumb stuff on a trip. That's not hard. Dumb comes naturally. Dumb is part of our daily lives.

How about standing on a corner in Winslow, Ariz.? The Eagles song "Take it Easy" is a great road trip song. "Standing 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."

We were driving from Flagstaff to Santa Fe on the second day of our 6,000-mile cross-country road trip and Sue suggested we stop in Winslow. She's not as conversant with dumb as I am so her suggestion took me by surprise. However, it got us off I-40 and onto Route 66 and soon there we were on the corner. We struck up a conversation with Sam and Terry from Southern Illinois. They were about our ages, he short and grizzled, she tall and friendly. They were in the midst of their coming-out-of-COVID trip. They'd be on the road until July. They were taking a trip and taking it easy at the same time.

Trips can use a sense of humor just like they need a playlist and Sam and Terry were game. They snapped pictures of us in front of the sign and we did the same for them.

"This is a mecca for baby boomers," Terry said.

"I had to come here," Sam said. "This is one of my top five songs. Now they'll let me into hippie heaven."

Earlier in the day, we'd gone off script by veering off I-40 and going to the world's largest privately held crater and meteor site. How does someone own a crater? I'd like to see the will: "We leave our three beloved children one massive hole in the ground."

Talk about a lark, taking a flier, going to the circus to see the two-headed baby. It had bust written all over it. We bit and when we did, every mile a new sign appeared: "Five miles to impact zone." "Four miles to impact zone."

You know what? When we pulled up and saw the museum built into the hillside, paid $20 a piece ($20? Are you kidding?) and then walked up the concrete pathway to the top of the rim, we almost gasped and wept at the same time.

What a hole. It was magnificent. Hard to imagine how big that meteor was that hurtled out of space but maybe a small rock can make a big hole when it's going a zillion miles an hour. One thing was certain: Sometimes adventure starts when you take a detour and leave the itinerary in the car.

You never know how the day is going and judging by the way it had begun in Flagstaff, you wouldn't have called its chances good. The day started with my homemade raisin oatmeal muffins and lukewarm mocha from Starbucks. I learned something about my make-them-from-scratch muffins. Not only are my muffins overrated, but they don't travel well across state lines.

Still hungry from breakfast, we stopped for lunch at Gordo's Cafe in Gallup, N.M. It was on a frontage road in an industrial part of Gallup and you might not have bet the farm on what you're going to find but who knows about food anymore.

Surprise. I ordered two chicken tacos and one beef taco in a crispy shell. Sue had a chicken tostada. It was the best chicken I've ever had, white meat, shredded just right. Usually people bury their chicken remnants in tacos and enchiladas but Gordo's put their best chicken foot forward. It was a chicken revelation. It's worth going to Gallup and Gordo's just for that chicken.

We returned to the road and I learned something else. As good as those chicken tacos were, it might not be the best idea to do the afternoon drive after tacos, rice, beans and three homemade corn tortillas.

Especially given the weather we encountered. The first song of the day had been Creedence's "Who'll Stop the Rain" and it wasn't the windshield wipers that couldn't keep up. Between the chicken tacos and the torrential rain, I was struggling.

There's weather and there is real weather. If we had that kind of rain in Bakersfield in an hour, we wouldn't be complaining the rest of the year.

Forty miles outside of Santa Fe, I was officially tired. I saw a sign that said 100 miles to Las Vegas. We've just driven a thousand miles and we're still only 100 miles away from Las Vegas. What do we have to do to get away from that city?

"That's Las Vegas, New Mexico," Sue said.

I knew that. I was just messing with you. I knew that there was another town named Las Vegas in the U.S.

***

Santa Fe impressions: Definitely the most attractive median strip coming into a town I've ever seen. The buildings are light brown, no more than three stories high and calming. If you have high blood pressure, you can run, swim laps or go to Santa Fe. Get up early, take a walk and see the architecture and outdoor sculptures in the morning light.

Next up: on the road to Oklahoma City.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.