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The Way I See It: ‘Standin’ on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona …’

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pencil drawing of older white male
While writing a column about Montpelier’s most interesting intersection, starting with the line “I was standing on the corner of State and Main,” I received a postcard from Winslow, Arizona. Suddenly, the Eagles’ hit, “Take It Easy,” and memories of an early pandemic road trip ran through my head. I shelved the other column.

The enduring classic rock hit came out in 1972 — 50 years ago — and became one of the Eagles’ signature songs. Jackson Browne and the Eagles’ Glenn Frey co-wrote the song — both the Eagles and Browne recorded it — and the city of Winslow made the most of the famous lines: “I was standin’ 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.” 

On a downtown corner, they installed a statue of a young man with a guitar, and on the wall behind him, they painted a mural showing a young woman in a bright red flatbed Ford checking him out. The corner also happens to be on Route 66 and has become quite a tourist attraction.

The last time I stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, was March 2020. I was on a road trip that a week later would become a road-home trip. At the recommendation of a Montpelier friend, I had stopped in Winslow to visit La Posada, a one-time Fred Harvey trackside hotel that has been beautifully restored and includes gardens and an art gallery. I wasn’t looking for the tribute to “Take It Easy,” but it’s hard to miss.

Before Winslow, I had spent a few days in an Airbnb hogan (a traditional, round Navajo home with a dirt floor) on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, an area that was about to face big COVID losses. Other than the dust inside, I enjoyed my stay there — especially the desert views. 

The Navajo owner, a college grad working as a medical technician at a regional hospital, lived near the hogan, and both homes were traditional; neither had running water and they shared an outhouse. I brought my own water for personal and kitchen use. Public showers and laundromats were in the nearest town, about 15 miles away. 

My destination was Tucson, where I planned to spend three weeks. My sister and brother-in-law were going to fly out for a few days, and I planned to see my cousin and nephew. By the third day, everything was up in the air. My sister and brother-in-law had canceled their trip, and places were closing abruptly. Events were canceled; museums, historic sites, parks and restaurants closed; and grocery store shelves had gaping holes. 

I planned to spend a lot of time outdoors, so I thought of staying. That changed at the ranger station in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park. While looking at a park map, I asked a ranger about a hike I wanted to take the next day. She grimaced, leaned toward me, and said in a low voice, “I’m not supposed to tell anyone this, but we’ll be closed tomorrow. The gates will be locked and you won’t be able to come in, not even for a hike.”

I called my cousin Maggie, and we spent the next day together. We took a hike in a park that was still open, had an alfresco lunch at Seis Kitchen, and walked on the deserted grounds of the San Xavier del Bac Mission. She went home, and I went back to the Airbnb to pack, so I’d be ready to leave early the next morning.

On my 2,600-mile drive home I shared the interstates with truckers, quite a few snowbirds in RVs who decided to head home earlier than usual, and college students in cars packed with everything they had had in their dorm rooms. I had to skip all the people and places I had planned to visit.

I didn’t know what was ahead, so before leaving Tucson, I stocked up on foods that didn’t need to be refrigerated and could be eaten without cooking, like bagels and fresh fruit. My plan was to eat two of those basic meals each day, supplemented, if I could find it, by one hot meal. 

Few options were available, and the best — a better bet than the offerings at most service station convenience marts — was McDonald’s. The restaurants were always closed, but the drive-through windows were open, and — bless their souls — they left the buildings open so travelers could use the facilities. Since many rest areas were closed — including the rest rooms and sometimes even the parking areas — the golden arches were a welcome sight. (Did I really say, “bless their souls” about McDonald’s?)

After going through a McDonald’s drive-through in New Mexico, I parked in the lot to eat. Looking around, I saw at least a dozen others doing the same. As Yogi Berra would say, it was déjà vu all over again: just like when we were kids and the only way to eat at a McDonald’s was in your car.

Many motels remained open, although none were busy. I stayed at one that had at least 60 rooms; mine was one of four cars in the lot. After four long days, I made it home. Catchy and upbeat, “Take It Easy” came home with me, although to an older guy, different lines stand out: “Well, I’m a-runnin’ down the road tryin’ to loosen my load, / Got a world of trouble on my mind …Take it easy, take it easy. / Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy …”

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