A Wasteland or the Promise Land?

December 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In Bedrock.

Life seems overwhelming sometimes. There’s so much to do. I have all these obligations connected to my children that have kept me running for the past two weeks. I have a million and one other things to accomplish, and I’m trying to squeeze into all of that a few gatherings, some baking, visiting relatives, wrapping presents, writing holiday cards, and so on. Sleep seems elusive these days. The holidays, American style. So what’s it all about? I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s all about. We just keep on. For some reason, we just keep on keeping on, following the way it should be done, even though at times we are burdened by it all. We’re caught up in the mechanism of society and its subcategories within each community that dictate, without a word spoken, how we should be doing things. I’m actually rushing now to get this done so I can be at the elementary school by 10 a.m. to take part in holiday arts and crafts at my daughter’s preK class. The pressure is on to get there on time, even though I’m already late. Wait a minute. Let’s put things in perspective here. Granted, I know being with my little girl is special, and these childhood moments will pass quickly. But we’re talking preschool arts and crafts, for God’s sake. I pause, then the pause becomes elongated, then, snapping out of it, I kick into high gear.

Amid all this holiday flurry, I take a step back and reflect on our Southwest trip, and the day that we stumbled upon something quite unusual, something considerably worn out, degraded, dingy, crumbly. Despite its appearance, this roadside stop was one of the most magical places we have ever been. Even now, thinking back made me realize that this location managed to rise above all the day-to-day drudgery, all the monotony, the obligations, the weightiness of life. Have you ever looked in the mirror and see someone unfamiliar? The worn eyes that don’t hold a spark anymore, the dark circles, the permanently concerned look. What’s underneath it all? I don’t know. Then I go back again to this land they call Bedrock, to the home of the Flintstones, where we stopped overnight on our road trip.  Despite the obvious — this place was on verge of condemnation and closure — it was still alive. Just take a look.

Class is in session at Bedrock.

Do I dare? I COULD use a new hairdo.

What do you see? What do I see? Yes, I see a life-size Rock Quarry and the small village that includes a school, a market, a beauty salon, the homes of Fred and Barney. Then everything else just melts away and it becomes fun again. The tables have turned. Life has lifted. And your — my — whole sort of perspective changes. What about that? In a phrase, just lighten up.

Bedrock City, location Williams, Ariz., is a 40-minute drive from the Grand Canyon. I briefly searched the Internet before writing this post and saw that it has had some reviews, on sites like roadsideamerica.com and yelp.com. One person wrote, “They shouldn’t even be open in that condition. We were the only ones there, wandering this surreal wasteland on our own. Get out, take pictures of the front signs, then save the $5 and get back in your car and go somewhere else!”

Still in the afterglow of the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, we came upon the larger-than-life waving Fred Flintstone from the side of the road. The buildings of this roadside pitstop looked sort of like slabs of rocks colored coral red with blue flat roofs. It didn’t take much to make out that it was nothing more than eroding concrete. Brightly painted caveman signage seemed oddly misplaced against the gravel and crumbling concrete parking lot. Rundown, yes. Inviting? We felt the welcoming pull of cheeky Fred glowing in the darkness.

We were again entering yet another surreal situation after nightfall. I pretty much stayed in the RV that evening, taking my first shower in there after hooking up to Fred’s water supply. The morning brought a sharp reality to our Bedrock City cartoon world. This place was nothing more than a makeshift long-term trailer home park, I thought to myself as I scanned my surroundings. Trailers rested on concrete blocks and some even had small porches and staircases built off them. Dismembered cars were parked in another part of the barren parking lot. I found myself spending a lot of time that morning bouncing between Wilma’s Laundry and Fred’s Diner. In the dingy laundry area, our kids found the only working video game within what appeared to be the remnants arcade and billiard hall, equipped with some well-used washing machines and dryers. There was an ancient Pacman game gathering dust, and the kids lingered for most of the time at a foosball table. I felt a certain connection with Wilma as I folded my laundry and looked up at a cartoon painting of her sudsing clothes, scrubbing them clean within a wide-open pelican’s mouth as her bubbly washbasin.  I guess I couldn’t complain about my workload with smiling, perfectly coiffed Wilma slaving away.

Then it hit me, the absurdity of it all. What the heck was I doing washing my family’s clothes in machines that have laundered who knows what? The disgusting possibilities were limitless. I just couldn’t bring myself to think about that and kept going through the wash-and-dry-and-fold ritual. Meanwhile, a small group of young men, apparently migrant workers who weren’t likely to give anybody their names, were hanging out by one of the washers, waiting for their laundry. The seediness of this all intrigued me. At the same time, I was glad I had my own bed to sleep in, and I didn’t even attempt to use the showers in the expansive bathrooms. I did use the toilet and found a few belly-up cockroaches in the stalls. At least they were dead.

We skipped breakfast in the RV and ventured through a dusty maze of a gift shop (I couldn’t resist buying a small handful of Flintstones/Bedrock City/Grand Canyon postcards) to the diner that boasted 5-cent coffees and a limited selection of cereals that included, yes, Fruity Pebbles. We asked for our 10 percent discount because we stayed overnight here. As if the food wasn’t cheap enough. I couldn’t resist getting an even better deal.

And we did pay the $5 a person to enter the main attraction. We came this far. You can’t even buy an ice cream cone for that much at Disney World. This was the real America, a sort of oddly conceived homage to Fred and Wilma. It’s perfect roadside nostalgia that attempts to make a cartoon come alive. And fails. But, strange as it may seem, that is OK and you can’t help but admire the blokes who put this all together. (Wonder if there is any celebration planned for its 40-year anniversary in 2012. I think the most we can hope for is that it isn’t closed down.)

The best was yet to come. Behind pseudo stone-slab walls reaching 8 feet high was the Promised Land. Bedrock City. Behind there was the land of Fred, Barney and the gang. It’s set up like a deserted prehistoric village, or the set of a Hanna Barbera cartoon. An ardent Flintstones fan in my younger days, I quite possibly got more out of this little village than my three children, although they had a blast meandering through the buildings that were straight out of the cartoon world.  The concrete huts painted in primary colors were peeling under the merciless Arizona sun. The kids even had the rare opportunity of sliding down the tail of a dinosaur. To them, it was bottom-sizzling fun thing to do. For me, I had flashbacks of Fred at quitting time.

High noon at the Quarry.

There was a “grocery store” with a deli sign with such delectable fare as rhinosaurus ribs and brontosaurus beef. Today’s special, another sign reads, cactus juice. Throughout the park streamed audio from a nameless segment of the Flintstones, with Wilma yapping with Betty about how their men never take them out. (Some things never change.) There was a gas station with fuel labeled regular and dino supreme. All this juxtaposed against barren scorched land.

We got our fill of Bedrock and I had given up on fully drying our clothes that had been tumbling in an overworked dryer for more than an hour as I wandered through Yabba Dabba Doo flashbacks. I folded the still-damp clothes and carried the big stack back to our moveable digs. Time to shove off and to remind myself that it’s all about perspective. It’s all about having fun, even in the midst of decay.