Day 3 of our Route 66 trip was intended to be from Flagstaff, AZ to Tucamcari, NM, where we had reserved a room at the restored Blue Swallow Motel.
Things started off fine, leaving Flagstaff with the obligatory stop in Winslow Arizona, where we ended up ‘Standing on the corner’ as the Eagles so aptly sung.
Winslow, like most of the Route 66 towns was (other than the tourist stops like the ‘corner’) was pretty much dead. If you have ever seen the movie ‘Cars’ which is essentially the true story of the I-40 bypassing towns on Route 66, it’s really pretty true to life. Route 66 is a shadow of it’s former self, with a very few businesses hanging on for the tourists like us who seek the slower pace and opportunity to see more of the country than you could racing along an Interstate highway at 65 mph.
Of course we drove up to the corner of Kinsley & 2nd St with the Eagles playing on our iPod.
There was a young couple there taking photos and an older couple. The man suggested he could take our photo.
“Are you the resident photographer?” I asked.
“Not a resident.” he replied. “We are from Ottawa.”
Pleased to meet a fellow Canadian, we greeted each other and took each others photos. They were snowbirds driving their RV back to Ottawa from Arizona where they had spent the winter.
We parted ways in Winslow and we continued on.
Near Holbrook, AZ we started to see billboards for the Painted Desert Indian Center, which seemed to be one of the more authentic stores selling native goods.
Sara had a shopping list of things and I thought that native crafts would make good gifts, so we stopped there.
We were there for quite a while, and when we were done, all our gift spending money and a bit more was gone. We were however pleased with our purchases.
As we were getting in the car, we noticed a big RV in the parking lot, and then saw the guy from Ottawa. He came over to see the Bug and was pretty impressed that it was in such good shape and that I had got such a good deal on it.
We waved goodbye for a second time and headed east. At this point we were on I-40 which is also designated Historic Route 66, even though it has been literally paved over by interstate.
As we were humming along, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, north of the Petrified Forest, we both heard a noise.
“Was that…” Sara asked.
“…a flat tire.” I responded.
With that, I gently pulled over on the gravel shoulder in time for both of us to get out and watch the right rear tire slowly deflate to flat.
With confidence, I pulled everything out of the back seat of the car – the new windshield, the seat covers, our suitcases, etc., since the jack is under the rear seat.
I had of course made sure the jack was there and that we had a good spare.
What I had NOT checked though was that there was a jack handle/lug nut wrench.
“Really?” I said.
Oh, well our Classic Car insurance had roadside service ‘anywhere in North America’ (or so they promoted.)
I called them and told them our location. They promised to send out a service truck and said they would call back when it was arranged.
We relaxed in the dry but 90-100F desert heat. Luckily Sara had bought a case of bottled water to keep with us.
A few minutes later, a big RV pulled up and stopped. Our Ottawa friends stopped to see if we needed help, a cold drink or a washroom break.
We told them our insurance company was getting help, and thanked them. We said goodbye for a third and last time, and they headed off.
A few minutes later two ambulances whizzed by at high speed heading east with sirens and lights blazing.
We waited a while longer, and a Service Truck pulled up. A native guy got out and asked if we needed help. He was not dispatched by the insurance company, so I thanked him and told him they were sending someone.
He said ok, and started to walk back to his truck, then stopped, turned around and pulled out his business card and held it out to me.
“Just in case.” he said.
He took off, and we were left with the desert, a few cars and trucks whizzing by on the highway and in the distance one of the almost constant BNSF freight trains that seemed to go back and forth across the desert all day long.
The insurance company finally called back and said they could not get a service truck and that they would call the police.
I suggested that the police were not the best people to call for a flat tire, and asked if we could call back our native friend and bill them back.
They agreed and I called the number on the business card. It took a while but he finally arrived and happily changed the tire.
We were finally on our way again, but had lost a lot of time.
As we headed down the highway, the traffic started to slow and there was a sign indicating ‘Left lane closed – accident ahead’.
As we finally approached the accident scene, I saw a Honda SUV overturned in the center median, and a body covered in a white sheet on the road.
“Don’t look”, I told Sara, but of course she did.
We drove on in solemn silence for a while, pondering the fact that a flat tire and our delay which seemed like a bad thing might have stopped us from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We crossed into New Mexico, and I was still hoping we could push through to Tucamcari tonight, although I was not happy that our only ‘spare’ tire was flat.
There are not a lot of towns on this part of the journey, so we stopped in Gallup, NM to try to find a new spare.
What I had not considered is that it was Sunday, and almost all the stores were closed.
We checked Costco and their huge tire department took a look at the rather obsolete size of tires for the Bug and shook their head.
A helpful guy at a Firestone store that was just closing tried his best to find a match, even rolling a couple of tires out to the parking lot, but no dice.
He checked the code on the tires and said “These tires are 14 years old. I wouldn’t drive on them.”
Sara responded with an “I told you the tires were not good when we bought the car.”
I told the Firestone guy we were hoping to get to Tucamcari.
“After Albuquerque, there is nothing all the way to Tucamcari.” he said. “Your best bet for tires is Albuquerque.”
Alright then – Albuquerque it would be.
We called the Blue Swallow Motel and explained our predicament. The owner was totally understanding and wished us a safe drive.
As we approached Albuquerque, the sun was going down and we noticed lots of people on the side of the road with cameras and tripods all pointing west.
“Strange.” I said. Maybe it was that Albuquerque hot air ballon festival I had heard of. There were no ballons in sight though, so I figured it was just the Albuquerque Camera Club.
We pulled in to the Hampton Inn, and a guy was coming out of the hotel with two pieces of paper in his hand, one with a small hole poked in it.
“Check this out!” he said excitedly as he focused the paper with the hole over the blank paper, showing an image of the sun.
“Today is a TOTAL solar eclipse!” he said.
Sara suddenly remembered that her Grandma had told her about the upcoming eclipse – which explained the behavior of the ‘Camera Club’.
We had not planned to stop in Albuquerque, but once again fate had shown it’s hand and placed us in the only city in the Southwest that was in the direct path of the eclipse.
We managed to shoot a few pretty good photos from our room with only seconds to spare as the eclipse passed totality.
I got on the computer, and checked in to The Samba (the VW Forum I found the car on) to get tire advice.
I got good advice that Discount Tire was the best place to buy the odd sized VW tires. I went online to Discount Tire and found out that not only was the Discount Tire in Albuquerque just across the road from the Hampton Inn, but they had the tires in stock.
I booked an online appointment for 8:30am and then we decided that we had had enough for one day and retired for the night.