It’s been a long day, and a quiet haven with decent beer is just the thing. I’m sitting now at Mad Dog’s. It is quiet in here right now, a couple of locals are playing pool, a few more are sitting at the bar, and I’m across the room in one of the booths. There are televisions, but the big ones are turned off due to lack of sports, and the small ones are quiet enough to be avoidable. I am drinking Black Dog Ale, which has a nice balance between hops and malt. It is also quite reasonably priced. There are paper towel dispensers on the tables, an indication that ribs are on the menu. There is a very big Iguana in an enclosure, and he’s territorial. I looked in on him and he immediately began to go into the old head-bobbing, throat-flap-showing, weird-disk-throat-things (ears?) flashing routine. The dude’s got to be five feet long.
Behind the bar is a pitcher to hold donations for Biker Bob. To meet his expenses. I asked, and Bob’s dead now. Pancreatic cancer. The locals lost a bit of color recently. I wonder how long that pitcher will be there. Could you take it down? Will you rate a pitcher?
As I write this, I am pausing periodically to take a deep breath. Air in, stress out. Prolonged adrenaline shock. It all started in Holbrook, where I had planned to stop so I could assault the pass in Flagstaff after the storm passed. That was going to leave a long, long drive tomorrow, and then I heard the weather guy say that things were going to be no better in the morning, and perhaps worse. I decided to forge ahead.
At first things went pretty well. The snow started coming down in big, fat, flakes, but there was enough traffic to keep the slow lane fairly clear. We all just slowed down to 40 mph and trundled on. At the flagstaff exit that leads to the hotels, things were going well enough that I decided to keep going.
The “things going well enough” lasted another mile. There I was in a long line of trucks keeping the slush churning so it wouldn’t freeze, then every damn one of them went south on I-17 toward Phoenix. Road conditions got suddenly, dramatically worse, and they stayed that way. To make matters worse, there was no place to pull over to put on chains. In Donner Pass chains are commonplace, but through Flagstaff no one had them, or, like me, they were unable to find a place to put them on. The next exit was a ways on, and after slipping and sliding down the road I reached the exit to find it unplowed and untracked. I decided not to guess just where the road was, and continued on down the freeway at a nerve-wracking 20 mph.
At one point traffic came to a stop as we worked past an accident. Despite the level ground the back wheels broke free when I tried to start moving again. Finally I put the car in 2nd gear and worked the clutch very, very gently and managed to creep forward again. After a couple of miles of barely moving, my clutch leg was wearing out.
My old ice-driving skills slowly came back to me, and things were going smoother, but there were accidents everywhere. On truck had a trailer folded in a big ‘V’, with boxes strewn about, interspersed with what looked like loaves of bread. There were plenty of solo spinouts as well. Traffic crept on, and in the distance I saw another truck off to the side of the road, next to a structure I couldn’t make out. As I got closer I realized that I was looking at the underside of a horse trailer that had tipped over. Holy crap. As I passed I saw the two horses standing off to the side, but that must have been a pretty traumatic time getting them out of the tipped-over trailer. I hope they weren’t hurt.
Not long after that a truck passed me. It was a flatbed trailer carrying steel, and as it pulled up next to me it hit the brakes. I could just imagine the trailer skidding to the side and swatting me off the road like a fly. I started making emergency contingency plans. Nothing happened. We all continued our creep over the divide and gradually down the other side.
After a while tires started making the splashy hiss of water, but it was a long time before anyone on the road summoned the courage to speed up. The collective trauma of the pass still held us all, and it wasn’t until many miles later that traffic gradually picked up speed again. That was fine with me. Snow turned to rain as darkness fell, Half the traffic sped up while the other half continued to creep along, adding one last threat before I saw the lights of Kingman and said, “No mas.”
The girl at the hotel desk pointed me to Mad Dog’s, an easy walk, and it was the right choice. The juke box is playing now, and the tunes are pretty good (at this moment Jimi Hendrix is playing “The Wind Cries Mary”), and loud enough to be worthwhile.
One more deep breath, one more beer. It’s OK now.