The Route 66 Gas Station/Mini-Mart/Garage/Biker Bar, by Emily Krauser
There used to be a town here. There still is if you look beyond the parcels of dust and dirt traded for concrete and heartbeats. Route 66 was paved with wet cement and American dreams, littered with neon-lit roadside motels and mom-and-pop gas station quickie marts fueling the weary. The cement has dried, the dreams have died, the stores are cloaked in boarded windows.
It was blistering on a good day when this gas station/mini-mart/garage/biker bar was still in service. It’s even warmer now, a dry heat that stings the eyes when high desert winds roll through. Gasoline flowed not that long ago, the nineties maybe, when gas in even California could be had for a dollar a gallon. You could fill your tank, head northeast up National Trails Highway on the old Route 66 towards Barstow, gawk at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch and wonder why anyone would buy a vacation house in this desert, in a town called Silver Lake, where the liquid oasis was man-made. You could get to Arizona for ten bucks back then.
The desert was—still is—the way in, the path to Los Angeles, the Hollywood set pieces, the luxuriously sandy beach. This gas station/mini-mart/garage/biker bar would fill you up, fix you up, get you going right on past this town. Maybe in the sixties you’d rest in the now-shuttered motels, but now? Stop in the antique malls if you need a tchotchke, grab a beer with the bikers (that service still stands, always works), slide a greasy slice of pizza down your throat at the one-stoplight outpost’s only restaurant.
It’s not a ghost town. There are still people clinging on here, living a life on their terms here, commuting into Victorville and Barstow from here. Maybe it’s only a pit stop on the way to and from if you need it to be. Maybe for the folks here, there’s no reason to leave. Why did you get off the freeway only to disturb them?
Emily Krauser is an MFA candidate at UNCW, the Nonfiction editor of Ecotone, and a pop culture and craft beer journalist. Her fiction can be seen in HeartWood and The Daily Drunk and is forthcoming in BigCityLit. Originally from New Jersey, she currently resides in North Carolina.