National Geographic : 1997 Sep
and went in. The place appeared empty, but all about, floor to ceiling, were stacks of old license plates, Burma Shave signs, typewriters and a piano, photographs of Edward Abbey, shelves with books by Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, Mahatma Gandhi. Two 55-gallon oil drums had been turned into a wood heater. The repair bay had become an artist's studio, and a salvaged shower door was being used as a solar-heating panel. On one wall a sign said LOS ANGELES 400 WEST, on another, CHICAGO 1900 EAST. From somewhere in the back a voice called out: "You want some coffee, just help yourself. It's on the table. It's not piping hot, but it'll be OK." A moment later Bob Waldmire walked out. He was bare-chested, gray-bearded, shoe less. He wore a red bandanna and cutoff jeans. "Welcome to the crossroads of the world," he said in greeting. For more than 20 years Waldmire had trav eled America as an itinerant artist, living in a Volkswagen van and peddling his work wherever he could. Then, hooked on Route 66, he started drawing wonderfully detailed sketches of life along the road and decided to settle down. He bought the abandoned gas sta tion, filled it with his stuff, and when the names of visitors from 60 nations had lined his guest book, he wrote old friends: "An endless parade of fascinating folks from around the world have dropped in here, having funneled onto 66 much as the migrants from the Dust Bowl did. They are modern-day pil grims and are the most excited, happiest bunch of people I've ever met. Their enthusiasm is contagious." So was Waldmire's. He bubbled on about the beauty of the desert, the lure of 66, and how just the other night he had jogged two miles down the deserted road at 3 a.m. But although his original plan had been to stay here forever, he has concluded that one day he will pack up again and move on. "No road is forever," he said. Nor is man's permanence if he has been both cursed and being alone and rootless... "Just horsing around," cook Anne Lowe (facing page) takes a break at the Frontier, a cafe and seven-room motel in Truxton. A bus driver from the forties-painted in 1991 on Kingman's Hotel Beale for a movie shoot-casts a parting glance at the fabled highway.