(This article appears in Issue #2 of Americana Magazine, The Great Wide Open, written and photographed by Margaret Malandruccolo)
Unlike many parts of Route 66, the relatively short distance between Amboy, CA and Seligman, AZ is a veritable goldmine of photo ops and kind faces. From the Hackberry General Store’s incredible collection of old rusted vintage cars, to the breakfast burrito at West Side Lilo’s, this stretch of road is a celebration of the senses.
I hadn’t done a road trip on my own for many years, and I have to say that on some of the long stretches of dark, nighttime, desert highway driving (staying on Route 66 instead of venturing back to the Interstate), I had my moments of fear and doubt. A woman driving alone, out-of-state license plates, no cell reception, miles of dark highway with few passersby – it was the makings of a thriller movie.
But I had to see the famous Roy’s (being a huge fan of the 1993 film, Kalifornia) , and with every rest stop, day or night, I was met with kind smiles and a true sense of pride and camaraderie for being on Route 66. Somehow, I felt like someone had my back.
The highlight of my trip was meeting Angel Delgadillo in Seligman, a living legend on Route 66, and recognized around the world as being, “Part of the story of the United States.” Angel was literally born on old Route 66, in a house in Seligman, AZ. He was raised on Route 66, went to barber school in Pasadena, CA on Colorado St. (Route 66), then moved back to Seligman to open Angel’s Barber Shop on the then new US 66, now called “Angel and Vilma’s Route 66 Gift Shop,” with the Barber Shop still attached. How much more authentic and genuine can you get? At 88 years old, he still pedals his bicycle to work everyday and meets with tourists from all over the world, since the man himself is a key attraction along the Route. He and his town can be said to have lent some inspiration for the animated movie, “Cars .”
Not only has Angel’s presence on Route 66 been 100% consistent, his activism has been as well. In 1985 he founded the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, and was instrumental in the development and implementation of the iconic “Historic Route 66” road-side signs. He has been coined “The Father of the Mother Road,” “The Guardian Angel of Route 66,” and sometimes simply, “The Ambassador.” Through his work, the failing town of Seligman (due to the Interstate bypass of many of America’s Main streets) was revitalized and is now a very important source of tourism revenue for the state of Arizona.
While his vigor and passion for The Mother Road is apparent, the most striking thing about him is his sheer happiness. He exudes a peacefulness when he speaks of his admiration for his wonderful wife, Vilma, who had “just cooked [him] the best lunch,” and for his daughters that help him run the shop and stay active in the preservation of Route 66. In fact, after our meeting, he and his daughter Mirna were immediately jumping in the car to drive to Kingman to meet with the Historic Association.
So while traveling on Route 66, of course one receives great enjoyment from the eye-candy of the colorful and historic road-side relics of old cars, gas stations and motels, but the true magic is in the faces and stories of the people who have lived that history first hand.