At the start of our anniversary road trip through the southwest, we flew into Vegas, where we got married, and so I envisioned champagne on The Strip and dinner at a fancy restaurant. But Helen had a different idea; go to a derelict old mining town in the desert, where they were holding the 24th annual fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk contest; mmm…sounds romantic. But it didn’t take long to convince me; less than 24 hours in Vegas and I’m already done and ready to go.
Driving through the desert along old Route 66, we turned onto the neglected road to Oatman, Arizona. Oatman was a booming gold mining town in the early 1900’s, but by World War 2, it was all over and the mines were shut. The town has not changed much since and now lures travelers with its authentic old west feel; clapboard buildings, abandoned mines, saloons. There are also free-range burros that roam the streets, offspring of the burros used during the mining days. When the mines closed, they let the burros free and decades later they are still around; not just a few, there are dozens of them all over town, blocking streets and trying to get in stores.
It was high noon and the egg frying contest was about to start. It is usually well over one hundred degrees in Oatman this time of year, but on this July 4, it was overcast and in the low 90’s, not the best conditions to fry an egg on the sidewalk. The competition was tough: mostly kids under age ten! but there were also a few people taking it very seriously with magnifying glasses and mirrors to enhance the rays of the sun. None of this worked; after ten minutes the eggs looked the same as when they came out of their shells; and at the end no one’s egg was remotely close to being cooked. However, in this contest, everyone’s a winner! Helen got a gold plastic metal for being the contestant from the furthest away, England. She did try to explain that we live in Seattle, but they could not understand her accent.
After the contest, as per usual, Helen looked round the shops along Main Street and I went to find the local dive bar. I ended up it the old Oatman Hotel, where randomly Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had spent their wedding night in 1939. The hotel had a saloon wallpapered with signed dollar bills from patrons dating back decades. I chatted with a biker and his wife; he had on a Harley Davidson tee with the sleeves cut off and a tooth pick in the corner of his mouth. They gave me top tips on where to go along Route 66.
Feeling overly chatty on this day, I then struck up a conversation with an old-timer sitting next to me. He had on a Korean War Vet cap and a red, white and blue patriotic shirt. He introduced himself as Uncle Charlie and handed me his card.
He said that he had started life as a professional taxidermist but got bored and switched professions throughout his life and now his favorite thing was to be the local Reverend and do all the wedding ceremonies in Oatman. He also worked part-time at the saloon and lived in a small trailer out back. I realized he was the unofficial mayor of this town as all the locals that walked by shook his hand. Then Helen walked in and Uncle Charlie was not shy; I think he was a little smitten.
We were celebrating a few things on this July Fourth; Independence Day, Helen recently becoming a US Citizen and our tenth wedding anniversary. I briefly wondered how many couples visit Oatman for their anniversary, (probably zero), but it made perfect sense to us; we like the unconventional. As we pulled out of town on the dirt road avoiding the burros, I thought to myself, that was random but pretty great; so glad we escaped Vegas.