After bidding adios to Dan Rice, his charming wife, Jessica, Farmers market, and my hat, we rolled south on Fairfax through a sea of automobiles and hopped on to the race track signed as I-10. The destination for this leg of the adventure was the L.A. auto show at the convention center. The goal in this segment of the adventure was, “A”, avoid friendly notices from the L.A. police department similar to the one received in Santa Monica, and “B”, avoid the crush of traffic at the convention center. To that end we found a parking garage in the area of Grand and Olive offering a $5.00 special for those visiting the auto show.This left us with about a ten block walk into a chilly wind. As it turned out it was also a cultural experience. There were panhandlers who spoke no English, folks trading baggies of spices for cash, gals shivering in the cold because they just couldn’t afford a dress that fit or a jacket, interesting corner stores with signs in Spanish as well as Korean, and friendly security guards lounging in front of a church. The auto show was full sensory overload. For the first time, as I stood in line for tickets, I understood how the cattle felt as they were herded through the chutes.
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The sea of humanity that poured down the escalators as a waterfall was broken into various eddies by the automotive displays, the stylish models, and the multitude of high tech exhibits. It was almost as though someone had bussed the entire population of Kingman, as well as Hackberry, Wikieup, Peach Springs, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu City into one location. Once inside there was a stunning array of over sized posters featuring historic photos from previous auto shows, including the 1929 disaster where most all cars on display were destroyed by fire including the unique Auburn cabin speedster, stylish models, robotic displays, and, of course, automobiles. The concept cars, as well as futuristic production models, provided a startling contrast to the vintage vehicles and ornate, simplistic machinery examined at Jay Leno’s garage.
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With realization that our time was limited, and that we would never be able to see all that was on display, we selected areas of particular interest and set out on an expedition of discovery. The stylish lines of the Infiniti line have captured my wife’s attention in recent months so that exhibit rated high on our list. Likewise with the electric vehicles, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota. In my humble opinion the only period in automotive history more exciting than today would be the infancy of the industry, roughly 1885 to 1935. Again, daring styling is moving the automobile from mere transportation into the realm of art. Again, innovation is pushing the envelope of engineering and technology.
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However, in this era of automotive revolution the advancements further distance the owner from the actual experience of driving, of becoming intimate with the inner workings of the vehicle. As a result, even though the innovations in engineering and styling excite and quicken the pulse, they also seem cold and alien. One aspect of the auto show that I found depressing the Chrysler exhibit. At every turn there were crowds of people swarming around the new Mustang and the Raptor, the Leaf and Camaro, the Honda and Toyota, Cadillac and even Fiat.
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It was almost impossible to photograph a vehicle as a result. However, the Chrysler exhibit was so empty it was startling. A handful of the elderly, perhaps stirred by memories of the legendary 300 series or the Imperial, carefully examined the sedans. The very young enjoyed the mini van as they would a club house. There was no life, no enthusiasm, no tangible excitement. The vehicles seemed to be mere obstacles to the crowd moving between exhibits rather than a destination.If the crowds are an indicator, Ford is doing well. As is Toyota, Kia, Honda, Nissan, and few of the smaller companies. Chrysler may be in serious trouble. By late afternoon weariness was settling deep into our bones and as we still had a long drive ahead of us, we reluctantly left the glittering, promising future, and returned to the grim reality of homelessness, drugs, and tattered neighborhoods as we wandered back to the parking garage. Without realizing it, we had selected an excellent location for our getaway. The traffic was very light as we pulled from the parking garage and we were mere blocks from the I-10 race corridor. The drive east was relatively uneventful. In L.A. anesese that means we saw but two disabled vehicles and two wrecks. We caught up with Route 66, Foothill Boulevard, in Ranch Cucamonga and began looking for a supermarket as we had decided dinner would be picnic style at the Wigwam Motel, our evenings destination. To that end we stopped in Fontana and explored a market that was an intriguing blend of modern mega store and Mexican village market. Fresh produce, tortillas being made and packaged, wonderful aromas of fresh spices, drying chillies, and simmering menudo blended with all of the generic trappings of a modern American grocery store. Here, English was the foreign language and as a result the illusion that we were now international travelers rather than mere tourists was made complete.
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Words can not describe the Wigwam Motel, it must be experienced. In the Route 66 community I have been hearing much about the loving restoration of this property and the friendly curator of this time capsule, Kumar, but nothing prepared me for the actual experience. I was left with but one regret, being to tired for a long visit with Kumar. Rectifying this now rates very high on our list and will serve as an excuse for another visit. If you are looking for a unique experience, as well as clean, reasonable lodging, in the east end of the L.A. metro area this has to be your destination. The intrusion of the modern era has been limited to a large flat screen television and cable. For all intents and purposes, this is a near perfect snap shot of the Route 66 experience circa 1955. Again we were blessed with relatively light traffic as we rolled east early on Foothill Boulevard, Route 66, Monday morning. The only blemish on our near perfect escape from the confines of the L.A. basin was detours and resultant congestion where Mt. Vernon meets the freeway in San Bernardino.
Our last stop on this adventure of discovery was Wrightwood, a very short detour from Route 66 accessed via the Cajon Pass or Phelan Road out of Hesperia. I discovered this hidden gem on my last trip as a result of an invitation from Kris and Hank Hallmark and was quite eager to share it with my dearest friend. Breakfast at the Evergreen Cafe with Hank and Kris was followed by a guided tour of this charming mountain hideaway. Unfortunately, we had to cut our tour short as a result of issues that required us to be back in Kingman early Monday evening. In spite of the crush of the pending schedule we chose the drive and see route by picking up old 66 at Ludlow. It proved to be the perfect end to a perfect weekend. The Hinckley hillbillies survived an adventure to the big city. The question that remains to be answered is has the city survived a visit by the Hinckley Hillbillies.