Walter is the honorary mayor in Oatman, Arizona, a ghost town on Route 66 that is often busier than Time Square on New Years Eve. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him this past weekend during a book signing at Jackass Junction.
I would be remiss if it were not noted that Oatman is world famous for the semi wild burros that roam the streets. For people trying to simply drive through town they are a source of frustration. For me the sight of the donkeys standing on Route 66 in the shadow of the Oatman Hotel that was built in 1902 is somewhat comforting. They remind me that not all the asses are in Washington or state capitals.
Even though his position is an honorary one, Walter is a unique politician. Yes, he is an ass. But unlike many of the folks that profess to be politicians today, Walter unites rather than divides. When he comes to town, people smile.
Now, I knew about Walter but we had never met. And I knew that he was quite popular, but had no idea that he was a bonafide celebrity. He currently has more than 350,000 followers on his Facebook page. That really shouldn’t be a suprise when one considers how popular some politicians are, and, well, as noted most of them have something else in common with Walter.
My association with Oatman dates to the mid 1960s. But as with the awe inspiring section of Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman that twists and turns its way to the summit of Stigreaves Pass and down the other side, much has changed in that old mining town during the past fifty years.
Oatman was a whisper away from becoming a true ghost town when I was a kid. Today it is a quirky destination for legions of travelers, Route 66 enthusiasts, snow birds, and folks from Kingman, Bullhead City, Needles, Laughlin, and Lake Havasu City that are looking for a unique and memorable day trip, or some place special to take visiting relatives.
My dearest friend and I made the drive early Saturday morning, grabbed a bite to to eat on “the patio” at the historic Oatman Hotel. I savored an excellent buffalo burger, some sweet potato fries, and a good cup of coffee, and listened to the excited chatter of visitors.
Then I signed books at Jackass Junction, answered Route 66 questions, and assisted with travel planning assistance using materials provided by the City of Tucumcari, sponsors in Cuba, Missouri, and from other Route 66 locations. We wrapped up the event by the meeting with Walter, and walking down to sign books for April at Fast Fanny’s. Before starting for home we enjoyed a cold bottle of sarsaparilla at the Oatman Hotel, and marveled at the crowds of smiling happy visitors. The old town is but a shadow of what it was in the first decades of the 20th century, but with teeming crowds on the sidewalks it was hard to think of Oatman as a ghost town.
I never tire of the drive to Oatman. But this trip was special as it was my first official book signing in Oatman. Carol and Bill at Jackass Junction rolled out the red carpet and made us feel like old friends. You can bet that we will be back again, perhaps to help celebrate National Road Trip Day in May.
And you can bet the bottom dollar we will be visiting with Walter again.