Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No need to be coy, Roy: Roy's Motel and Cafe of Amboy, California

In the Mojave Desert of eastern California sits the town of Amboy, a once-prosperous stop along Route 66 where weary drivers could gas up, get some grub and spend the night before heading out the next morning on another lonesome stretch of the Mother Road. Roy's Cafe and gas station was opened in 1938 by Roy Crowl, who owned the whole town of Amboy (not a very big place, but impressive nonetheless) with his wife Velma. The Crowls' daughter Betty married a Herman "Buster" Burris and together they expanded Roy's and made it a booming post-War success. And then, as was the case with most Route 66 establishments, the Interstate came along and dried up all the local business. Buster sold the town in 1995 to a party that then went into foreclosure and then Buster's widow bought it back in 2005 and sold it to its current owner, a Mr. Albert Okura, who promised to keep the yesteryear ambiance and reopen Roy's in the future. When we were there last spring, the gas station was pumping $4.99/gallon gas, the cafe had cold soda and souvenirs and a busload of European tourists were milling about the place. The motel cabins were deserted but graffiti-free, like a well-preserved ghost town. The awesome decaying Googie sign reaches for the sky like a skyscraper in this hardscrabble no man's land to all fans of dilapidated roadside nostalgia. It was 100 degrees when we stopped by, a little chilly for these parts, but it was worth every bead of sweat to see such an amazing eccentric roadside site. Roy Orbison, Roy Scheider, Roy's of Amboy...there's a lot of greatness in the name Roy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eccentric street name of the week

I'm gonna love you,
like nobody's loved you,
come rain or come Shinarump...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beloved souvenir of the week

We picked up this gem at a flea market for about 25 cents. Several years later, Sherry's parents bought a used furnished camper and inside was the exact same plate. I considered it a sign from God that the camper was truly blessed...or maybe God likes to go to flea markets, I'm not sure.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rebel without a causeway: James Dean's Last Stop -- Lost Hills, California

Here's Jimmy and his Porsche on the same day he died in 1955.

Jimmy stopped for gas at this location, Blackwells Corner at Routes 46 and 33 in Lost Hills, California, just before his crash.

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was driving with his mechanic west on Southern California's Route 466 (today called State Route 46) in his silver Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed "Little Bastard," to compete in a race in Salinas, California, when a 1950 Ford coupe coming the other direction crossed in front of his path and the two cars collided head-on. The driver of the other car, a 23-year old student named Donald Turnipseed, and Dean's passenger Rulf Wutherich, both survived, but Dean, only 24, was killed and his mystique as a tragic youthful Hollywood icon began. "Rebel Without A Cause," featuring his signature teen angst role, hadn't been released yet nor had "Giant," his final film. Today, the lonely intersection of Routes 41 and 46 has been designated the James Dean Memorial Junction, and in the town of Lost Hills, 25 miles from the crash site, sits Blackwells Corner, where Dean stopped to fill up his tank at a gas station just before he died. There's still a station there, at the intersection of Routes 46 and 33, and they make the most of their moment of infamy. In addition to gas, you'll find nuts, taffy and gifts at the East of Eden Fudge Factory, and if you're in the mood for some '50s-style grub, there's the Forever Young Restaurant. Even though there's been a rest stop here since 1921, the whole place looks brand new and brightly lit. You get the feeling times have been a little tough around here, though...big signs thank you for your patronage with a plea that "your purchases are the only reason we can stay open in these trying times." We were no pikers and stocked up on lots of delicious nuts and souvenirs.

While Jimmy's "You're tearing me apart!" from "Rebel" is the line of his I like the most, there's another one of his quotes that seems apt here: "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Parks and Wrecks Department: The former Ghost Parking Lot of Hamden, Connecticut

Merging traffic: Hamden's Ghost Parking Lot in its late '70s heyday.

Road to ruin: the latter day GPL. These photos come from the cool blog The Lostinjersey Blog. Check it out!

Regrets, I've had a few. Eccentric roadside attraction-wise, one of the biggest would be to have lived in the host town of one of the coolest, wackiest roadside attractions ever and to have NEVER taken a picture of it.

My hometown of Hamden, Connecticut is a pleasant and innocuous suburb of New Haven. In the '70s, a Mr. David Bermant, the owner of the Hamden Plaza shopping center on busy Dixwell Avenue, wanted to do something unusual to draw attention to his tenants' stores. A self-described art lover, he commissioned New York sculptor and architect James Wines and his firm SITE to create a conceptual public art masterpiece that would entail partially burying 20 old cars in the Plaza parking lot, filling them with concrete and covering them with asphalt. The finished work, referred to as the Ghost Parking Lot, resembled dead cars rising from the grave and the public reaction was decidedly mixed. Hamdenites aren't unenlightened hicks, but this exhibit would be considered pretty far out even in SoHo. I was in high school when the GPL was installed and it so happened that the school was right next to the exhibit. The Plaza management allowed students to park their cars in that part of the parking lot and I remember, on the occasions I had a car, always trying to park in the spaces between the buried cars because it was such a kooky thing. I remember the joke was if you parked your car illegally on school property, it would be towed, buried and asphalted in the Plaza lot. Why I never took a picture of this delight, I'll never know. I suppose it's like a native New Yorker never going to the Statue of Liberty...you don't appreciate what's in your own back yard. Over the next twenty years, the GPL was left to deteriorate, with remnants of the car carcasses poking out through the asphalt. This, to me, only added to the aesthetic awesomeness...the dead cars were like rotting corpses in front of J.C. Penny's, Hallock's and Lafayette Stereo. By 2003, the Plaza was under new management and the dead cars had to go, not just to remove a perceived eyesore, but also because they actually needed the parking spaces for shoppers, of all things, leaving me with only my memories and whatever the Internet has to offer in the way of visuals.

Ghost Parking Lot (1977-2003): we hardly knew ye.

Check out this cool vintage 1978 video. Skip ahead to :36 to see the GPL part. It says it's New Haven, but trust me, it's really Hamden.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eccentric street name of the week

Smallpox is a contagious, disfiguring and often deadly disease that has affected humans for thousands of years. Symptoms usually occur about 12 - 14 days after infection of the virus. They may include: backache, delirium, diarrhea, excessive bleeding, fatigue, high fever, malaise, raised pink rash -- turns into sores that become crusty on day 8 or 9, severe headache, and vomiting.

Oh, and it's also the name of the street that runs through a very nice neighborhood in southern Rhode Island.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Up to speed: Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats

Interstate 80 takes you there.

They don't call them flats for nothing.

Our Subaru Forester's proudest moment: making it to the flats.

They tell you not to venture off the road...

...and for good reason. It can be pretty muddy out there in the winter and spring.

Say "cheese."

We encountered this scene on the road to the Speedway: an SUV stuck in the mud, a tow truck, a woman taking charge of the situation in the street and a sheepish-looking husband behind the wheel. Imagined dialog: Wife: "Honey, the sign says to stay on the road." Husband: "Oh, it'll be alright, trust me. Besides, I want to tell the guys back home I drove on the flats." Husband:"Uh-oh" Wife: "Sigh"

The Pontiac Bonneville is named after the Speedway, although I can't imagine this model setting any speed records.

"The World's Fastest Indian" with Anthony Hopkins also takes place at the flats.

The Bonneville Salt Flats of northwestern Utah are what was left behind after an ancient lake evaporated and left huge concentrations of salt. They're named after a Captain B.L. Bonneville, an early U.S. military explorer charged with heading west. Today the salt flats measure over 44,000 acres and are mostly public land. Interstate 80, that long, long cross-country highway, runs right through them, but they are most famously known as the place where land speed records are made at the Bonneville Speedway where motorized vehicles can compete at stupid crazy speeds for as far as the eye can see when the flats are dry in the summer and fall. Several events are held during this period, the largest being SpeedWeek, run every August by the Southern California Timing Association and the Bonneville Nationals. A Mr. W.D. Rishel was the first guy to come up with the idea of using the flats as a raceway in 1896, and other notable figures include Teddy Tetzlaff and his 141 mph Blitzen Benz in 1914, and Ab Jenkins and his 24-hour-endurance-record-of-161-mph Mormon Meteor III (you heard me) in 1940. We visited in the spring when there was still water across a wide expanse of the flats, but we could definitely picture souped-up vehicles going for miles and miles across the ultra-flat lunar landscape. Maybe next year we can come back and enter our Subaru Forester in the World's Fastest Station Wagon competition. That would be flat-out awesome.