If you've ever wondered what it's like to run a magazine or how crazy my personal life is, be sure to read the behind-the-scenes peek at the daily trials and tribulations of running True West. Culled straight from my Franklin Daytimer, it contains actual journal entries, laid out raw and uncensored. Some of it is enlightening. Much of it is embarrassing, but all of it is painfully true.
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October 15, 2018 I don't often give out trade secrets, but here you go:
The three secrets are in the covers, above. Also, one of the secrets is in this letter to the editor:
I am a very satisfied subscriber of your fine magazine, thank you very much.
Upon reading your last issue, Nov. 2018, page 41 shows a collection of "Art History", that your magazine has published over the years. All of the illustrations are good. But I almost fell off my Barbary Coast bar-stool with laughter when I saw the (1930s?) drawing of a naked hottie, holding onto a wooden barrel to cover herself; next to her stands a desperado, pistols drawn, with the caption, "Stick 'em up!"
I absolutely find no offense with this cartoon. It is humorous! The attractive woman is not exposed in the illustration (yet?), nothing to hurt the eyes of prudes which might unfortunately read your magazine. Nor is this sexist; anyone held at gunpoint is advised to do what is best to survive. But I'm getting serious, which is ludicrous when talking about this classic and funny comic.
One of the reasons that I enjoy TWM is the humor, be it comics, stories, or even 1800s recipes! Stuffy historians and ill-humored historical fans of Americans great Old West should get over themselves, go out with some friends to a bar or saloon, have some drinks and lighten the heck up.
Thanks for your time. Cheers!
San Francisco, CA
Here are the three secrets: Have a sense of humor. Be authentic. Have a point of view.
That's it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"If it's true that legend is truth exaggerated to make a better story, then one of the things we historians do best is to ruin a good story."
October 14, 2018 On Wednesday, we lounged around Nipton until noon, enjoying the quietude (full disclosure: Nipton is right next to a branch line of the Southern Pacific train tracks and about every hour or so a long freight train comes blasting through with sirens blaring). Kathy and I were headed for the hottest place on earth. Driving west to I-15 we headed southwest to Baker, California, then headed north into the the least popular National Park in America.
The Longest Vanishing Point I've Ever Seen
Back in the day, New York art directors were fond of vanishing point desert vistas and I remember driving all over Arizona with a professional photographer from Phoenix who got the assignment to find a two-lane highway example for a national ad shoot. We found the one on the back side of Monument Valley, heading for Mexican Hat (it is seen prominently in the film "Forrest Gump") but this one, above, is about twice as long as the Arizona one.
Of course, I couldn't drive through Shoshone without sampling the local museum and I wasn't disappointed:
Local bad girl, "Shotgun" Kitty Tubb
From Shoshone, Kathy and I motored over the divide and then stopped at Badwater, which is 282 feet below sea level.
According to Roger Naylor's fine book, "Death Valley: Hottest Place On Earth," that white stuff I am standing on is 95% pure table SALT, and it covers 200 square miles and is 9,000 feet deep and consist of accumulated sediment and SALT. All from lakes drying up during the ice age. And it is still damp now!
From this interesting hell hole, it was only a hop, skip and a jump to Furnace Creek in Death Valley.
The Oasis at Furnace Creek
"It was so hot that swallows in full flight fell to the earth dead and when I went out to read the thermometer with a wet Turkish towel on my head, it was dry before I returned."
—Oscar Denton, caretaker of the Furnace Creek Ranch on the record hot day of 134 degrees, the hottest ever recorded on the planet, July, 1913
October 12, 2018 I've got a thing for wide spots in the road. You know, those little roadside attractions with one or two businesses, maybe five houses and a stray dog, or two. To me, the heyday of these settlements was 1957. I have such fond memories of my father driving us through places like Hackberry, Truxton. Leupp, Cubero, Cline's Corner, and on and on. In 1957 every section of the country had them, but they are in decline now and too many of them look dilapidated, or worse. Last Wednesday, Kathy and I took the backroad from Searchlight, Nevada and landed in this cozy, little wide spot in the road out in the middle of nowhere:
Nipton at Sunrise
Nipton, California has a general store and a small hotel. It's so isolated, an alleycat jaywalks with impunity:
Nipton Cat Crossing
Here's a close up of the jaywalker:
Cat On A Hot Thin Asphalt
The service in Nipton is a tad spotty, but then that is part of the charm. It took me about 45 minutes to get a key to my room. One of the problems was the Cal Lottery was up to $545 million and construction workers from a nearby highway bridge project were pouring in to the general store and lining up to buy tickets.
I wasn't in a hurry. In fact I had actually driven four hours out of my way to avoid being in a hurry. That's why I came to Nipton in the first place. I took the time to look at the store full of trinkets and T-shirts and books (Sherry Monahan, one of your books is carried here!). Plus, they carried the usual wide spot in the road sense of humor:
Remember the golden rule:Whoever has the gold makes the rules.
Finally, this old hippie guy (four years older than me) saved us. Sam saw us waiting and he jumped in to get us checked in. There was one problem: nobody in the store had a key to our room. Sam finally got in his truck and personally drove across the road to a line of trailers to hustle up the key to our room.
Sam The Man gets the key
The Hotel California
Had a great evening and in the morning, I walked the entire town without seeing a car or a soul, except for that cat. About an hour later I met two, brave souls who spent the night in one of the teepees.
The Louisiana Teepee Girls
Kristen Fallon, on the right, and Noelle Henderson were driving from Louisiana to Sacramento for Kristen's first nursing assignment and they Googled AirBnBs and rather than stay on the Interstate, they decided to get off the freeway and stay in a teepee. They get major points, from me, for being so damn adventuresome. They did admit it got a little cold during the night but they were game. Oh, and one more thing: when we finally got to the hotel room, Sam gave me the door code: it was 1957. "You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave." —Eagles, "Hotel California"
October 11, 2018 A year ago, the noted historian, Doctor John Langellier, and myself, were going the back way from Bullhead City, Arizona to the Lone Pine Film Festival in Lone Pine, California, when we chanced upon a lush oasis, clustered in the barren high Mojave Desert. It turned out to be an outlaw way station with 15 residents. Here is the sign on the edge of the wide spot in the road:
Nipton Stop Sign
And here is the general store, at left, below, with a crazy painted car outside. It took me a year, but I made it back with Kathy yesterday to try out the place.
Nipton Flies Its Freak Flag
& The U.S. Flag
They have five rooms in the Hotel California, and nine Tee Pees and maybe four eco-cabins parked on the desert outside the tightly clustered trees of the town. We decided to spend the night. Pictures and details tomorrow.
"The Internet: whose idea was it to put all the idiots on earth in touch with each other?"
October 10, 2018 Gave a history talk last night in Lake Havasu on Olive Oatman and all the ne'er-do-wells from Mohave County (my home stomping grounds). The talk was filmed by CSPAN and will appear on the channel in early November. Here I am this morning on the waterfront with the notorious London Bridge in the background.
On the waterfront with BBB
When I was in junior high, in 1961, my parents took me and my grandparents on a Sunday picnic down to Site Six, on the arid banks of Lake Havasu and I remember there was just one lonely boat dock building on the edge of the water. A local historian told me last night that in WWII the army scratched out a dirt airfield and put a couple barracks out there to support it. This was to protect the rest of the country in case California was invaded and taken over by Japan. Ironically that is also the origin of Rocky Point, Mexico which was also established by the Army Corp of Engineers as an alternate sea rout to the States if Japan blocked off the Pacific Coast. I also remember Charlie Waters (his father owned the Mohave Miner and they got the scoop) coming to my parent's house on Gates Avenue in Kingman and telling me the developer, Robert McCulloch, of McCulloch Chain Saw fame, had just bought London Bridge and was going to ship it, brick by brick, to Site Six and that he was going to call the proposed town Lake Havasu. It just seemed so insane at the time, but it was a brilliant stroke of promotional genius. That was fifty years ago. Today there are some 55,000 people living in Site Six, I mean, Lake Havasu.
London Homesick Blues
Well, when you're down on your luck And you ain't got a buck In London you're a goner Even London Bridge has fallen down And moved to Arizona Now I know why And I'll substantiate the rumor that the English sense of humor Is drier than than the Texas sand You can put up your dukes, and you can bet your boots That I'm leavin' just as fast as I can. . .
October 9, 2018 One of the weirder phenoms of this world, to me, is all the look-alikes who pass themselves off as famous people. I have an old bandmate who looks like Carlos Santana and he has played in front of 50,000 people in Sun Devil Stadium, more than once, accompanying the ASU marching band, doing Santana songs at halftime. Many, if not most, of the people in the bleachers are convinced he is the real Santana and after thunderous applause (Mike is a very good guitar player) the crowd clamores after him to get an autograph, and, or, to touch him. He told me it is a strange sensation, having that much power for being someone who you aren't. When Kathy and I were on the Rock & Roll Retirement Home tour last Saturday, our guide, Charlotte, told us they had a resident celebrity, who came out of an elevator just as we were going up to the second floor. "He was in the 'Our Gang' movies as Freckles," she told us proudly. He carried himself well and is apparently 98 years old.
When I asked him if I could take his picture he agreed and was gracious and when I asked him about being Freckles in the "Our Gang" flicks he quickly added that he was in the silent versions which have all been lost. Oh, how convenient. I flashed back to working at New Times in the eighties when a news report in the Republic claimed a bagger at one of the local grocery stores was, in fact Buckwheat from the "Our Gang" series and several TV news stations did stories on him. Then another guy, back east, claimed to be Buckwheat as well, and I realized there are probably quite a few Buckwheats—and Freckles— passing themselves off as members of a very porous cast of characters in a long-running show. Another time a New Times reporter came in the office and told me that Hank Ketchum, the creator of the comic strip, Dennis the Menace, is a homeless person living in Phoenix and the reporter had a drawing of Dennis that the down-on-his-luck cartoonist had done to prove it. Being a cartoonist myself, I quickly saw that it was not the real deal. Homeless Hank claimed the syndicate had robbed him of all his royalties and he was forced to live on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Unfortunately, when our editor did a little research he easily found the real Hank Ketchum who told us this bum imposter (literally!) was causing him all sorts of problems. The real Hank Ketchum was living on a lake in Switzerland and was very much alive and receiving ample royalties for his cartoons. On another occasion, one of my New Times amigos came in the offices, upstairs in the San Carlos Hotel, and said Glenn Fry of the Eagles was downstairs drinking in the bar. Being a big fan, I ran down there, only to discover some hippy guy with long hair who sort-of looked like Glenn Fry, but not quite. Anyway, I didn't bust him and besides, he was holding court at the bar and, of course, everyone was buying him drinks and fawning over him. Probably the most bizarre encounter with one of these taken-identity people was when I was a drummer in a Country band in Tucson playing the VFW circuit in the 1970s. We were told in hushed and reverent tones by the wait staff of the VFW that was just outside the gate at Davis Monthan Air Base, that one of the women who came into the bar regularly was actually Ronald Reagan's first wife, Jane Wyman. Well, there was a decent resemblance, but REALLY, she's hanging out in Tucson in a VFW? To this day I don't know if it was the real Jane Wyman or not (although a quick search shows that the real Jane Wyman had a home in Palm Springs!), but then, that is the thin line of believability all these Taken-Identity people play on. "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant." —Cary Grant