Dirt Roads & Dairy Queen (ML Across America Stage 3)

Kicked off our first morning outside California with a tour of Mesa, AZ courtesy of my uncle Bob.  The place is pretty much exclusively populated with massive mansions and gated communities… all of which had just had a brown/tan/reddish brown paint bomb dropped on them from 32,000 feet.  At least that was the case on the side of the highway we saw.

The city abuts national park land, so suburbia backs right up to wide open desert.  It’s bordered on the other side by golf courses, and everything gazes westward at the Phoenix skyline.

I was pretty eager to get on the road, because one of the free maps we snagged from AAA in Los Angeles laid out a spiderweb of dirt roads all over this state, and I was keen to see Birdie’s skills on wheels when conditions get primitive and there’s no Starbucks for 1,000 miles.  Well, maybe 100 miles.

We deviated from the main highway shortly after leaving Mesa and proceeded down US-76 which, despite being a state highway, is a long and lonely dirt track.  Beyond ruts, puddles, blind corners, and oft-flooded dips, there ain’t much out there.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I described it as “lonely.”   In about three hours we passed one other truck, three dogs, and about a million cacti (Which were, much to Birdie’s amusement, dusted with snow).  Somewhere during hour two it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked to see if the Benz was carrying a jack- or even a spare tire for that matter.  Naturally this was a concern I dared not voice, for fear of jinxing the integrity of our Michelin Latitude HP’s.

Thankfully, the issue didn’t come up.  Birdie took to the dirt like a regular Colin McRae (RIP), skipping the ML over loose granular like the world’s biggest flatstone on a halcyon lake.  The amber “/!\” light flashed in the speedometer as the 4ETS worked up a sweat pushing power to the tracting wheels to keep the car in motion.

We cleared the dirt without injury or damage and if that weren’t enough good luck for the day, the trail intersected with the main road at a Dairy Queen/western novelty store.

The car was now sporting a healthy dose of mud splatter, and I was confident our off-road street cred had increased substantially (from zero).

We spent the rest of the day on main roads and wound up in Silver City, New Mexico.

When we arrived it was dark, snowy, and miserable.  We had some apprehensions but didn’t want to drag ass another 100 miles to the next settlement, so we shacked up at the Motel 6.

In another brilliant stroke of luck the previous occupant of our room had left three microwavable dinners in our minifridge.

“Hell yeah, free dinner!”

We dined on Stouffer’s finest and headed back into town.  You don’t come to a weird, creepy looking place like this and not hit the bar.

We took two laps down the main drag and settled on a place called Buffalo Bar- The only place open.

I wanted to kick the saloon door open like Billy the Kid, but still didn’t know Birdie that well and figured I better stick to my roots and just hold the door for her.

Turned out to be a good call, because as soon as I crossed the threshold I worked out that I was the least badass bloke in there.

Two enormous country boys were holding down the bar, while a Boss Hog lookalike was orbiting the pool table with a bolo tie around his neck and a shortbarrel shotgun slung over his back.

I went for a Bud Light and Birdie braved the cocktail menu.  The bolo guy, a sophisticatedly-haggard looking gentleman in maybe his 60’s, sauntered over to order something similar.  The drink came back, he dropped his firearm on the bar next to me and returned to his pool game.

With facial scars, toothpick hanging off his lip and a cowboy hat arresting a greasy flow of grey hair he was easily the most interesting feature of the Buffalo Bar.  I couldn’t help but overhear his discourse with one of the other patrons; it sounded like they were trying to complete some kind of transaction.  Regardless, it was the old man’s response that was priceless; “I only deal in guns and gold,” he grumbled in a Jeff-Bridges-in-True-Grit voice.  Which was of course, exactly how I had hoped he’d talk.

The bartender seemed to transcend the stereotype though, with an orderly appearance and understandable dialect.  He was even kind enough to send us off with a six pack of “to-go” beers (Motel 6 minibar was out of Bombay Sapphire).

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