My son and I soon settled into a routine, in which I drove and he found the same song over and over again on the radio. He was conflicted about going to Tucson, where he spent part of his childhood (he is now in his rookie year of legal drinking). Like anyone's, his childhood memories are not uniformly pleasant. He said on the way out, "Arizona is nothing but old people with bad health habits, gun nuts and teenagers on crystal meth."
"That's not everybody in Arizona," I told him. "Just your relatives."
On the way out we stopped in Gila Bend. I had been there before, but I had forgotten that once the traveler gets off the interstate in Gila Bend, he or she is forced to travel the entire length of the town before getting back on the road. This design, hatched long ago by the state authorities and the city fathers, enables the town to survive as a roadside Anopheles, sucking a little green from the wallet of each passerby.
While we had stopped at a fast-food place near the edge of town on the way out, the eye-catching Space Age Lodge was noted by my son while we were seeking the entrance back to the road east.
"Ate there thirty years ago," I told him. "Had the Astro-Burger." Haven't been tempted to stop there since, I nearly added.
Arizona is a beautiful state, and it can be visually stunning in unexpected ways. On the way back, my son took dutiful note of a mountain shaped like a pair of female breasts. The Mammary Mountain was noticed by me on my first trip down that highway many years ago, and no doubt by every traveler prior to me down to the earliest North Americans, fresh off the land bridge across the Bering Sea. I guarantee that the first humans that laid eyes on that mountain couldn't help giggling and saying to themselves, in their primitive Paleolithic mother tongue, "Huh! Mountain look like boobies!"
A few miles later, a tease of a desert rainstorm burst over another mountain ridge in the distance. The storm was being blown through by a wind that elongated the falling rain into a curve. "Looks like shrimp feet," my son observed.
After passing the Shrimp Feet Mountains we were hungry and I knew we were destined for a stop in Gila Bend again and the Space Age Lodge. Our waitress was a stolid woman of Central American descent. After depositing our Astro-Burgers, she disappeared as completely as any civilization her ancestors had ever founded, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy the extraterrestrial ambiance of the place. Spaceships and space-walkers lunged at the diner from every corner, but my favorite painting was the one above. It depicts the disembodied head of a Russian cosmonaut floating over the curved surface of the earth, surrounded by seagulls whose need for oxygen and living space near a landfill has at least temporarily been obviated. Possibly it is a memorial for this brave soul, blasted into bits and birds by some terrible Soviet accident while trying to set forth into the galaxy.
But the décor of the Space Age Lodge can only distract the patron for so long. Eventually I noticed my fellow diners. They consisted of two elderly couples eating French fries, a pair of rail-thin teenagers drumming their fingers on their table, sucking down cokes and talking relentlessly and three well-fed men who wore camouflage jackets festooned with NRA patches.
None of them were related to my kid. I swallowed the last bite of my Astro-Burger (not bad) and we got the hell out of there.