Nostalgia, when done right, is charming. When we rolled into Williams, AZ prior to our train trip to the Grand Canyon, I felt we had discovered a little town that had gotten nostalgia just right. Carol was still a bit unsettled from seeing our accommodations for the next two nights. Even after I had explained how the guy backing up next to us in his pickup with his personal belongings neatly tied off in hefty bags had made his reservation using Expedia.com, she remained skeptical, suspecting I'd once again booked us into a hotel occupied by characters in a Rob Zombie movie.
The walk through town changed her fears to cheers. Williams had resurrected its Route 66 roots from the death caused by Interstate 40 into something of a living museum, mixing the reality of its reduced circumstances with a nostalgic embrace of its heyday during the golden age of the American automobile.
A few of the skeletal remains of the old town were left intact, a couple of others were repurposed as museums, complete with the old tower-style gas pumps fronting a classic "garage" that now sold tchotchkes ranging from Route 66 refrigerator magnets to Betty Boop posters and more Route 66 refrigerator magnets. Carol remembered Williams as the model for Radiator Springs in the Disney movie Cars, which came as a relief that she no longer was seeing the town as the setting for The Devil's Rejects or House of 1000 Corpses.
We had luckily timed our arrival to be there for the annual classic car weekend, drawing dozens of 50's era and earlier gearheads from out of the surrounding woodwork. Then it all started to go to hell for me.
I had hoped to avoid what I knew would be a lame gunfight reenactment preceding boarding the Grand Canyon Express the next morning. I would not be disappointed in its lameness, and even Carol second-guessed her initial interest. On board, we shared an upstairs scenic domed car with a group who talked among themselves like it was a private car. That they were from Alabama, which had just recently voted to return itself to antebellum times did not advance the camaraderie. The end of my personal interest in excursion trains came when those lame gunfighters reenacted a train robbery. I immediately offered myself as a hostage, just so I'd get pulled off.
At the car show the next morning, we were enjoying the exquisitely restored, polished chrome '56 Chevys, '55 Thunderbirds and cherry red street rods, when I chanced upon a '63 Cadillac boasting a Trump 2020 flag. In an instant my nostalgic portal collapsed, and now all I could see were lumbering guzzlers spewing leaded gas, no seat belts or air bags, with steering wheels designed to become harpoons in a head-on crash, and all those sparkling classics darkening back now to an era of jim crow, polluted rivers and back alley abortions. I saw in that flag a dark side to a nostalgia that I wanted no part of.
"I'm over that Route 66 road trip," I said to Carol. And along with the Deep South, I was now writing off the Old West too. In my epiphany, I did not see nostalgia as a charming harkening back anymore, but a regressive rearing of an ugly head again.
What I needed was perspective, and I'd gotten it in Sedona, though only by the accident of non-planning.