The year 2020 is a truly historic moment in time. In the blink of an eye the entire world was transformed. Travel, education, politics, shopping, employment, none of these will be the same as they were before March 15. It is is a time of tremendous worry and anxiety, of opportunity and of loss. How unnerving. How exciting. Still, there are those instances when I give thought that it would be best to read about all of this in a history book than live through it.
Personally the year dawned with great promise. I had a recently published book to promote, Murder and Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66. In the midst of the pandemic I would learn that it had been awarded the Independent Publishers silver medal award. Linked with this was a growing calendar of speaking engagements; the El Garces in Needles, California, a northwestern tour with five engagements, the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia and Miles of Possibility Conference to name but a few. As an added bonus I had finalized arrangements with another tour company, number 32, that would utilize my services. I had every reason to be happier than fleas on a puppy.
A packed house for my first presentation of 2020 at the historic El Garces in Needles, California.
The clouds on the horizon gave little indication of the magnitude of the storm that was fast approaching. There were growing hints of a troublesome virus brewing in China. Whether it would develop as a new strain of influenza, something a little more serious like SARS or a pandemic such as that which swept the globe in 1918 was still a matter of conjecture. The swirling conspiracy theories on social media muddied the water and made it difficult to garner an accurate picture of the situation. And as with every crisis or potential crisis of the past few years, the virus and any potential threat was manipulated for political gain and to foster carefully crafted divisions.
In February my pa passed away. It wasn’t unexpected as he was 92 years of age and quite ill. Still, that left a bit of a hole, and I was in a fog most of the month. And I had become adept at ignoring the drum beat of incendiary political rhetoric and the cacophony of conflicting news. This meant that I missed storm warnings, not that I could have done a great deal to prepare for what was coming. With the luxury of hindsight this might have been a blessing. If I had been paying more attention, and had been more aware of how many countries were preparing for a serious crisis while here in the good old USA we were whistling past the graveyard, I would have been as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
March is when the proverbial dog doo hit the fan. My dearest friend and I celebrated her birthday with a quiet dinner and talk about our friends that would we would be visiting with soon as well as the adventures awaiting us. Within days it all unwound. Tour companies began canceling for all of 2020. The college canceled the community education programs on tourism that I had developed. Like dominoes speaking engagements were canceled one after the other. I have never really learned to swim. Still I have long believed there is no better incentive to learn than when the ship is going down and the ice water is swirling around your testicles.
In April it felt like I was having a root canal during a tax audit and a prostate examination. The cascade of cancellations escalated. Then I got sick; fever hitting 103.9 degrees, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue. After several days without improvement I trudged to the COVID-19 evaluation tent at the hospital. It was there that I first learned that the entire country, not just me was in severe trouble. That was when I realized the national response to a potential disaster of epic proportions was akin to a one legged blind man playing darts. After a cursory examination I was give a simple single sheet that explained my condition. “You do not currently meet testing criteria for COVID-19. However, your symptoms are highly suggestive of infection of COVID-19 or a closely related viral illness. If your shortness of breath continues, worsens or is accompanied by a new symptom please return for further evaluation. It is imperative that you self quarantine immediately.”
It has been a long and interesting road to recovery. I picked up the morning walkabout, an ideal time to make a valiant attempt to see through the fog to get a hint of what the future of tourism might looked like and meditate on what I need to do to keep Jim Hinckley’s America afloat, to provide support for the Route 66 community during this time of crisis, and to ensure that my dearest friend and I continue eating on a regular basis, a habit I picked up many years ago.
Thanks to a friend in New Zealand, I began writing a weekly feature column on automotive history for MotoringNZ. Next I began writing blog posts for various companies. And I made a valiant attempt to figure out the labyrinth that was the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program as income had plummeted by something like 95%. And then there was the ongoing attempt to teach the old dog new tricks; paid presentations on Zoom (a work in progress), creation of new programs such as On The Road With Jim and Coffee With Jim, a complete revamp of packages for advertising sponsors, solicitation of consultation work all launched with a large modicum of hope.
Now,, if could just figure out if this the beginning of the end or a new beginning.
We are living through one of the most fascinating, most unnerving, most trans-formative periods the world has seen since at least WWII. To be honest I would rather be reading about it in history books rather than watching it unfold. I would like to skip to the end of this book or even wait for the movie. I would bet my bottom dollar that I am not the only one thinking these type of thoughts.
I can only imagine how the people living through the triple upset – WWI, the Spanish flu pandemic and the deep economic recession that followed on the heels of these two disasters – must have felt. For those folks, however, it was five tumultuous years that forever transformed the world. The current crisis that is still unfolding has changed the world in less than four months and nothing will ever be the same when we return to normal, whatever that may look like.
Since launching Jim Hinckley’s America my life has revolved around tourism (telling people where to go) and bringing history to life. This storm will pass but until then tourism is as extinct as the woolly mammoth. And after the storm passes, what will tourism be like? With this thought in mind I have been working to develop a short term and long term strategy for me as well as for some of my clients such as the City of Cuba. And I have also been working on developing as well as expanding current programs in a manner that provides maximum entertainment and inspirational value for fans, that gives sponsors and advertising partners the best return on their investment, and that provides support for the Route 66 community.
First there is 5 Minutes With Jim, our weekly audio podcast that is made available every Sunday morning. We keep it simple and fun with a blending of history, trivia and travel tips. As an example on our first program for April, I tell the story of an amazing Old West shootout in Holbrook, Arizona, and give directions to the historic homestead associated with the incident. Previous programs told the story of the Cactus Derby, a race that featured the best racers of the day including Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield. There have also been programs about my favorite places for pie on Route 66 (Grand Canyon Caverns and Victoria’s Sugar Shack to name two), infamous and overlooked murders, and automotive history.
On the crowdfunding site using the Patreon platform I have been sharing my autobiography in serial format as exclusive content. In light of the current Coronavirus induced economic situation this funding source is more important than ever as I am suspending fees charged to some advertising sponsors. I will continue to keep their name in front of people but if they are closed it just doesn’t seem right to be charging them. I have also discounted advertising packages by 50%, and am offering free listing for businesses with online stores across all platforms in the Jim Hinckley’s America network. And so to keep things going, to be able to support the Route 66 community and small businesses that are its life blood I am more dependent than ever on crowdfunding.
As so may people are in self quarantine and restricted on travel, I am providing short live stream programs on our Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page. This are being shot from various locations around Kingman, Arizona during my walkabouts. As I always say, shared adventures are the best adventures. A hearty thank you to the City of Cuba for their support of this project.
One project that I am quite excited about is the new Coffee With Jim program that is live streamed to our Facebook page on Saturday mornings from the offices of Jim Hinckley’s America. As book and movie reviews are a part of the weekly format, this will provide authors with a promotional platform. The fast paced half hour program features things like excerpts from the 1901 travel journal of Alexander Winton, travel related news and updates, product reviews and much, more. So, it also serves as a promotional platform for small businesses as well as communities that submit items for review or coupons. After the broadcast the video is added to our YouTube and Vimeo channels.
A 1914 guide to roads and highways in Arizona
I have also dramatically adjusted the format of the weekly newsletter that is published every Friday morning. This is offered free with registration through our Facebook page. It too features reviews, travel tips and news, and information on communities, events and new products.
The website is getting some much needed improvements as well. Much of the information will need to be upgraded or modified resultant of current travel restrictions and the economic climate.
Bottom line. Like everyone else in the world right now I am sailing into uncharted waters through an impenetrable fog. And like everyone else I am as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Still, the show must go on. And so I will continue using Jim Hinckley’s America as my platform for telling people where to go.
Am I the only one that feels like a rabid bear is chasing me but with my shoe laces tied together, and a bag with a wolverine in one hand and a bag with a bobcat in the other, it is becoming increasingly hard to keep the panic in check?
Still, the show must go on. And so I am developing new programs and projects, revamping old ones and finding ways to use these to support small businesses, the Route 66 community and authors as well as artists. As an example, for folks with an online store I am offering to put our travel network to work for them at no charge. Links to their sites will be added to the social media network and a new section that is being developed for the website as well as applicable blog posts. I am also offering a 50% discount on advertising and sponsorship packages, even for existing promotional partners.
Folks are going to need an escape from quarantine as well as a constant stream of bad news and political BS masquerading as news. And so the weekly audio podcast 5 Minutes With Jim will focus almost entirely on trivia, history, and stories from the road. As an example, on the episode of March 22, I share a rather dark tale from the ghost town of Glenrio, Texas. “In the old forlorn ghost town of Glenrio astride the Texas/New Mexico state line there is a non-descript cinder block-fronted building with broken windows and no door. Even though the town is a favored photo stop for Route 66 enthusiasts, this building is often overlooked even though it is one of the most famous buildings in Glenrio. It was here on July 10, 1973, that Dessie Leach was senselessly murdered.”
And we have launched a new live stream Saturday morning program through our Facebook page that is archived on the Jim Hinckley’s America YouTube channel. Book and movie reviews, a bit of reading from old travel journals (Edsel Ford, 1915, Alexander Winton, 1901), lots of surprises and lively conversation. This too is being used to lend a hand in these trying times as I am offering reviews of products, gift certificates, copies of authors books or anything folks want to provide.
The weekly travel planning newsletter is being revamped. You will find the latest information about closures, travel options, online gift shops, the latest releases of both books and movies and some great offers from businesses. You can sign up on our Facebook page.
As to the panic, it isn’t the idea of a self imposed quarantine or nearly empty shelves in the supermarket that worries me. So from that perspective, as I am a beans and taters sort of fella, the only concern is for the poor folks that might have to hunker down with me, and I am partial to quiet and empty places. As to hiding from the world with my dearest friend, well after nearly forty years together we don’t have a lot of secrets and to be honest there are few things that I enjoy more than time alone with her. Still, in all fairness I suppose it might be a good idea to cut back on the beans or to take more walks in the desert.
No, my concerns are with those families being devastated by the disease and economic tsunami that is sweeping around the wheels on the heels of the virus. My concern is for what this country is going to look like after the storm passes. After all, in spite of the crisis we seem to hold fast to our tribal divisions as a badge of honor and as Abraham Lincoln famously noted, a house divided against itself can not stand. My worries are for the Route 66 community. I am unsure how many businesses can weather this storm. Poorly informed folks sharing childish and juvenile postings on social media platforms have offended friends across the pond and kicked them when they were down. I am not sure how this kind of damage can be repaired.
Things are about to get interesting amigos. And I don’t mean to scare or panic you but it wouldn’t take much to get me to bet the bottom dollar that nothing will be the same when we get to the other side. The big question is, will we be the same.
Author Jim Hinckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw
In our home we celebrate Valentine’s Day every day of the week. Never is there is a day that I don’t reflect on how fortunate I am that an amazing woman looked beyond my down at the heels, rough around the edges exterior and accepted my invitation to share the grand adventure that is life. This year my dearest friend and I will be celebrating 37 years of marriage as well as countless shared adventures, both good and bad. And make no mistake about it, it has been an epic adventure.
When we first met, after the mines had shut down, I was working as an itinerant ranch hand and part time truck driver earning a few dollars while searching for more permanent employment. I drove a battered old ’46 GMC pickup truck, and on occasion we would double date in an even more battered ’26 Ford touring car. I had spent most of my life on the road. My folks often joked that I had been potty trained along Route 66. She was a quiet, but beautiful, clerk working in a local department store that drove a ’70 Charger. Her travels had been limited to a family reunion in Tombstone, a family vacation to Disneyland, a trip to the Grand Canyon and regular visits to family in Phoenix.
Me and my old dog, Critter, called a line shack about 25 miles from town, on a dirt road that turned into a quagmire when it rained home. I had an outhouse, kerosene lamps for lights and a word burning stove for heating as well as cooking, and hauled my water. To escape the heat of summer I often slept on the porch under the stars at night. She still lived with her parents. I will be sharing more of our story in the autobiography that I am writing in serial format as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding site.
Several years ago we launched our most amazing adventure to date, and it is still unfolding – Jim Hinckley’s America. Books, presentations, the website, a weekly travel planning newsletter, live stream programs, 5 Minutes With Jim podcast and more; a travel network and marketing venue for small businesses and communities as well as artists, authors, photographers, museums and nonprofit organizations with very limited promotional budgets. We provide a service for travelers, have made the most amazing friendships, and traveled to places we could never have imagined 35 years ago.
Kick off for the new presentation series in Needles, California
And now we are taking this to an all new level. We have developed promotional packages for most every budget, and created opportunity for partnerships invested in tourism related economic development. Three new presentations have been developed and we are now in the process of organizing a series of speaking tours linked with book signings. This was launched last week to a packed house in Needles, California and to date we have appearances confirmed in Spokane, Kingman, and Zlin, Czechia. We have tentative appearances in Ely, Nevada, Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri and Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Meanwhile we are chasing promotional partners for the two big projects this year; the Route 66 promotional tour that includes the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois and the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin. And we are moving ahead with development of community education programs through Mohave Community College and Route 66 Crossroads, a recently organized nonprofit developed to foster creation of cooperative partnerships in communities.
In recent years things have turned full circle. The quest for information that led to the writing of my first book began in Jackson. And last October we returned to Jackson for a speaking engagement, and the launching of a new chapter in Jim Hinckley’s America.
Thirty-eight years ago I would never imagined that telling people where to go could be so much fun or be so rewarding. And I surely never imagined having such an incredible friend to share the grand adventure that is life.
With the luxury of a half century of hindsight I can now see that the quest began in the summer of ’69. That was when I began trading hours of my life for money. That was the summer that I began working for Ed of Ed’s Camp on a long abandoned alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains. I now see that this is when the hunger to write, to share stories and to preserve history was sparked.
Ed was a geologist of some renown that had arrived in Arizona from Michigan shortly after WWI. He had established the camp sometime around 1928, and created a rough around the edges empire built on a desert oasis. The business evolved with Route 66 and in the years after WWII, Ed’s Camp offered an array of services to the traveler. There was a small cafe, cabins, gas station, garage, rock shop and produce market where Ed sold tomatoes and melons grown on site. Ed was also a prospector, was rumored to be involved with the burning of King’s Canyon Dairy and was internationally renowned for his geologic discoveries in the deserts of western Arizona.
IN western Arizona Route 66 course though a breathtaking landscape.
My primary job was to help with the gardens; weeding, helping with irrigation system repairs and other chores. But Ed had taken a shine to me and found other ways to put me to work. He also found ways to share his vast knowledge of the desert but I was far to young to fully appreciate the opportunity a summer with Ed represented. Still, I enjoyed books, especially books about adventurers and I was living an adventure of epic proportions.
Years later, even though I didn’t remember all of Ed’s quirky comments, details about the time a Pickwick bus missed a curve on Sitgreaves Pass and nosedived into a bank or his geology lessons, when I started writing about adventures memories of that summer often dominated my thoughts. That was when the seeds of my quest to become a writer were sown.
The pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of Arizona
Even though I have had nineteen books and countless feature articles published, the hunger is still there. I am still hungry to share and to inspire adventures. I am still eager to make new discoveries and to share them. And that is, perhaps, the cornerstone for Jim Hinckley’s America. It may have started as a platform to market my work, it has become a venue for sharing my talent for telling people where to go. And as a bonus, it has become an opportunity to provide a service, to assist communities, small businesses, authors and artists by providing them with a promotional boost.
To date the quest, the writing, the search for adventure and the development of Jim Hinckley’s Americaas a venue for telling people where to go has been a truly grand adventure. And now a new year and new decade is underway, and indications are that this will be the most amazing year to date.
Growth of the audio podcast, Five Minutes With Jim, is up 1,200% year to date. We now have 6,000 followers on Facebook. On February 7, I will be speaking about the Old Trails Road at the historic El Garces Hotel in Needles, California. On June 4, I will be talking about Route 66 travel in Spokane. And now the quest is on for sponsors as I have received a request to speak at the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia. The plans for a Route 66 centennial conference at Grand Canyon Caverns is underway. In limited partnership with Desert Wonder Tours, I am now leading walking tours in the Kingman historic district, and along the Cerbat Foothills Recreation trail system. The fall tour on Route 66 is under development and it includes attendance of the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. In answer to requests received, I am now writing an autobiography as exclusive content on the Patreon based crowdfunding website.
And so as the quest continues, I give thought to Ed, to a summer of adventure and to a the living of a life of adventure.