Route 66 - Essex & A Very Unpleasant Encounter

Entering California from Arizona
After leaving the less than exciting London Bridge, we made our way back to I-40 and crossed into California. There's really not much choice here as I-40 basically goes along the earlier Route 66 layout for a number of miles. For anyone thinking they will see palm trees, orange groves and lush landscape as soon as they enter California, nope, but there's nothing here except wide open spaces full of hot nothingness. And it goes on for mile after mile after mile. I can't imagine travelers in the Dust Bowl years traveling through this desolate section of road in 120 degree temperatures in a 1929 Ford prone to overheating. Heck, I got nervous when my cell phone shows no bars!

After navigating 54 miles of Mohave Desert on the interstate, we got back on the pre-1931 alignment of Route 66 (also named "National Old Trails Highway" in this section) by jogging over to the town of Essex. If you've been following along from the beginning of this trip, you may remember the scary incident we had in Gallup, NM, but it was in Essex where we had the worst, most depressing encounter with another human being. It actually was the only really negative incident of the whole 2 week, 3,500 miles of our journey, but it was a doozy.

Route 66 coming into the town of Essex
Essex was founded, so the story goes, when a  motorist had a flat tire in 1915 and discovered there were no services for miles around. During the heyday of Route 66, the town served the needs of travelers with a service station, café, store, towing service, post office, and, thanks to the Automobile Club of Southern California, free water from a well located alongside the road through town. For a while, there was even a public school which served the educational needs of children living in the town and surrounding area. When I-40 was opened and bypassed Essex by a few miles though, the town began its slide toward ghosthood.

One thing Essex did not have, at least until 1977, was television. In that year, all 50 residents in the town went to the Johnny Carson show to be featured as the only town in America without television service. Afterward, equipment was donated and Essex was brought into the modern era.

Essex Post Office - showing the dirt road between it and
the abandoned store/cafe next door
Upon our arrival, we noted the complete absence of any other cars on the road. The whole place was eerily quiet and deserted. We saw the old post office so we parked in front of it in the small dirt and gravel parking lot. I walked up to the front door, but it was locked and obvious that nobody was there. I took a couple of pictures and walked next door to the abandoned store/café for a couple more pictures and that's when I spied a man walking toward us.

He was dressed in typical old service station mechanic's clothes - grease stains, a bit dirty, a bit down at the heels- a man used to working hard for not much of a living. He ambled toward us more than walked. When he got within a few feet of me I said, "Howdy." Without slowing down one amble, he looked at me with absolutely no change of expression so I said, "How you doing today?" By now he was almost past me, but he did glance back and gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. Certainly not friendly, but not crazy unfriendly either. He walked on to the Post Office, opened up one of the external mail boxes, removed a small package and started walking back to, I suppose, the garage where he worked at the other end of town about 150 yards from where we were. He didn't bother to look our way as he ambled back from whence he came.

Route 66 painted on the road in Essex
After taking a picture of the Route 66 shield painted in the road, we walked back to the post office and then down a dirt road beside it toward the back. There were a bunch of old cabins and what looked like falling down storage buildings spread around back there. I stopped about 50 feet from the nearest buildings and took 1 picture while still standing in the dirt road. Since some of the buildings appeared to have stuff in the them and I wasn't completely sure they really were completely abandoned, I decided to just turn around and leave. As I turned, a beat up old pickup came driving up toward me. I waited a second for it to stop as I thought I could have a nice conversation with the driver about the town, its history, and maybe get an interesting story to write about. Boy, was I ever wrong about the nice conversation.

Closer shot of the post office

The driver appeared to be ancient, but I couldn't really tell if the fella was 90 years old or 60  and the desert had done a serious number on him through years of living harshly. Even though I was several feet from his open window, it was readily apparent to my eyes and my nose that it had been a while since water and a bar of soap had gotten anywhere near him.  "How you doing, sir?" I asked. And this is what ensued:

Old Codger: (In an angry, very unfriendly tone) - "What are you doing?"

Me: "Just taking a couple of pictures and taking a break from the road."

Old Codger: "You're from the city aren't you? G*d*mn city people! You have no respect for other people's property! You just walk on in and take whatever you want, don't you?!"

Me: "Sir, I really don't know what you are talking about. I just got here, I haven't taken anything and I wouldn't do that."

Old Codger: "G*d*mn city people! You're all alike! I deal with this all the time! You g*d*mn people just walk right in my trailer and steal my things! You're all criminals and trespassers with no respect for other people's stuff!"

Me: "I haven't taken anything at all, sir; I haven't been in any building or trailer. I'm standing in the middle of a road and I haven't seen a 'No Trespassing' sign or anything that indicates I shouldn't be on this road, but we'll just go back to our truck and leave. Sorry to bother you."

Old Codger: "Sorry?! You should be sorry you g*dd*mn city son-of-a-b*tch!

By now, his unwarranted cussing and confrontational attitude had me at my snapping point and any semblance of compassion or respect for another person was next to gone. However, I need to set an example so I forced myself to turn and walk away, back toward the front of the post office and my truck. As I was walking, twice he shouted, "You're a g*dd*mn city son-of-a-b*tch! You've got no respect!"

Me: "You have a nice day" and I waved my hand, surprisingly even to me, without the middle finger pointing up.

Old Codger: "You're g*dd*mn right I'll have a nice day you g*dd*mn son-of-a-b*tch!"

Buildings behind the post office. This is the one picture
I managed to take before the unfortunate encounter.
At this point, it was all I could do to keep on walking away. I did slow down and turn my head back to glare at him. Our eyes met and I guess he figured he had pushed it far enough or was satisfied he had made his point because he abruptly sped off. I'm glad he did because I was mad enough then to be shaking.

We got in the truck and left that little piece of nothing town. For a while, I remained mad. I tried to work up some sympathy and understanding for that old dude, but it wouldn't come. No matter how old you are, whatever your background, however many boulders life has thrown in your path, there's no cause to treat another person who has done you no wrong in such a manner.

After getting over being mad, I was depressed for several hours before I could eventually get myself out of that funk. I kept thinking, "Unlike him, I've got all my teeth. My clothes are clean. I'm driving a new truck with air conditioning and I'll be sleeping in a clean air-conditioned room with fresh sheets tonight." I'm pretty sure none of that actually matters to him. I can only assume, for whatever reason, he himself has chosen to live in a filthy old trailer surrounded by junk. He certainly is not a happy person though.

My advice? Skip Essex. There's nothing there really. It's obvious the handful of people who live there want nothing to do with visitors. Unlike all the other citizens of Route 66 who are happy, friendly, glad to sit a spell and enjoy a conversation and are appreciative of having people stop by their towns and place of business, the two Essex folks we ran into apparently just want to be left alone. So I say give them what they want and let that town continue it's slide into absolute nothingness with none left to mourn its passing. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. Of course, that's just my opinion and I could still be a little resentful. 

At this point, we had a decision to make - continue on down the old Route 66 alignment through the desert which would take us through Amboy, Bagdad, and a couple of other old towns and sites, or get back on I-40 for a while. We had been on the road for going on two weeks and Youngest-daughter had been missing Momma-woman for a while now. She was being a good trooper and definitely wanted to finish the trip at its end in Santa Monica, but she was ready for it to be over. My injured foot which had been re-injured back in St. Louis was still bothering me a lot and an old slipped-disc problem in my back had painfully flared up. We decided to miss a few sites on the old Route 66 alignment and take the interstate for a couple of hours to save a day. One place we didn't want to miss though was Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch so it was back on I-40 for 140 miles to Oro Grande and our next really interesting site.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: