As I wrote the post on Thursday there was obvious meditation about Kingman as a vacation destination. In the back of my mind there was also meditation on Kingman as a destination for those in search of a fresh start, looking for a great place to raise kids, or simply a place to while away the retirement years.
Our recent excursion on Route 66, international correspondence, and the position behind the counter at the day job provide an in depth view of what Kingman has to offer and what its shortcomings are. The hardest part of looking at this objectively is that Kingman is the closest thing I have to a hometown.
We moved here in the summer of ’66, left in late 1971, and I returned in 1976. With the exception of four years in New Mexico between 1977 and 1981, this has been home. For my wife, roots in Kingman run deep stretching back for several generations.
Yes, I occasionally entertain thoughts of moving to Australia or Alaska but more often than not these flights of fancy are fed by waves of nostalgia for the Arizona of the past, the land of rugged individualists and fiercely independent people. Snapping me back to reality is the realization that in spite of changing times and changing attitudes, Kingman is still a pretty good place to call home.
No, it is not perfect here. The town is suspended somewhere between the world of Mayberry and the modern metropolis so we have some of the big city problems but few of the conveniences.
Yes, I miss old Kingman but hell, I miss the whole country. Still, things change whether we want them to or not. All we can do is steer, hope to keep things from going off the cliff, and pray we live long enough to irritatethe young folks by starting every sentence with, “I remember when…”
When we first moved here, I was to young to fully understand or appreciate the unique attributes of Kingman. The only thing I knew for certain was that it was different, it was unusual, that I liked most of the people, and that if it wasn’t the place warned about in Sunday school it was darned close.
It was a town filled with unique characters nestled amongst some of the most amazing landscapes on earth. There was a barber that loved his suds and that kept an old refrigerator at the back of his shop. It was a fair bet that anyone with a haircut that looked like something from a discount barber school had stopped in a bit late in the afternoon for a trim.
There was another barber who had the shakes and used a straight razor for the trim work. It would scare the daylights out of you to see that shaking razor out of the corner of your eye but his touch was flawless once the blade was on your skin.
For decades time flowed past Kingman and transformed the world. Some twenty eight plus years ago I would leave the ranch at sunrise, roll the old ’46 GMC north to Ashfork, catch Route 66 at Seligman, and hit Kingman in time to pick up my date, now my wife and dearest friend, for a picnic near Cottonwood Springs in Johnson Canyon.
She would tag along as I picked up supplies, then we would hit the late afternoon double feature at the State Theater, and afterwards stop at Jan’s Soda Fountain in Kingman Drug, the same soda fountain frequented by her mother and father on their dates after a movie at the same theater.
As late as the early 1990s, at 6:00 AM, I could stop by my favorite barber, who had been operating in the same location since 1957, and be told there was one ahead of me even though the shop was empty. Then the police chief or mayor would step through the door, leave their car running out front, and settle into the barber chair.
A haircut here on Saturday morning was tough. By 8:30 all the chairs were full as a grandfather, his son, and grandson, all with dark faces crowned in pale white and a Stetson perched on their knee patiently waited for their turn.
When I first moved to Kingman major shopping options included JC Penny, a couple of mom and pop shops, Western Auto, Safeway, Hoods Market, or Central Commercial. The latter was an old fashioned general store on steroids housed in a huge brick building that dominated the corner of Fourth and Beale streets.
Fortunately this old building has survived into the modern era relatively intact. In fact it now houses Redneck’s Bar-B-Q, Homestyle Furniture, a wine shop, and the Beale Street Brews & Gallery, and is the cornerstone for the renaissance of the historic district.
So, when folks today complain about shopping being limited to a handful of box stores, a super Walmart, and Kmart, all I can do is smile and remember a time when a mail order catalog was a necessity. When I hear the mantra that for shopping one needs to go to Las Vegas, one hundred miles to the north, there is a silent sigh coupled with fond longings for Central Commercial with its fascinating array of smells.
In the restaurant category I would have to say the selection was much better forty years ago. Within a few blocks downtown we had the Frontier Cafe, the El Mohave, Peppermint Shop, Beale Cafe, Jan’s Soda Fountain, the Jade, the Kingman Club, Kimo Cafe (now Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner), and the bus station. If you didn’t mind a drive of a mile or two you could add the City Cafe, Hobbs Truck Stop, and a few other places.
Kingman and the world have changed dramatically in the past dozen or so years. Not all of these changes have been for the best but more than a few are real improvements.
If your thinking of pulling stakes and getting a fresh start, I would suggest you give Kingman a long look. It may not be the frontier era time capsule I remember but it does look as though it will soon be the crossroads of the past and future, a special place where memories and futures are made.