I packed more than I normally would for a trip--all I had to do was survive a layover in Denver. Then my rolling bag, large tote, and oversize purse could be thrown in the backseat of a car. The car would become our home, our closet on wheels, that could be accessed anytime we stopped for gas, at an interesting diner off-road, or if I felt really desperate, by straining backwards like a cat until I could reach awkwardly around my seat and find a missing item amidst the moving baggage. I remember that being much easier as a kid.
I was in charge of directions, but Julia was in charge of music, which was probably more important on a road trip through the American desert than anything else. Famous names that had permeated through marketed products spotted the map and came up as a surprise: Hidden Valley, Coachella Valley, Palm Springs, La Quinta. I had images in my head of what those places might look like, but no thought whatsoever had been spent on what the miles and miles of land in-between were made of.
As our iPhone's battery died and Julia's music faded out we entered Amboy, California. We started to familiarize ourself with the radio, sporadically jamming out to all the Hispanic stations in-between the static. If we found a song, it only lasted thirty seconds or so before fading once more. Everything outside our windows was brown anyway, so it seemed fitting to try to listen to "Funk You Up" faintly, reminding us how far away we were from anything that song represented.
Amboy, as the official tourist website calls it, is "the ghost town that ain't dead yet!". There must be about 10 buildings left, and only 4 people live there (if any). All along the road are mailboxes, dusty and rusted. They lead to nowhere, they belong to nothing. Any mail, if any, that goes through there takes on the desert's version of a message in a bottle. I imagine someone may find it someday and wonder who left it there and why.
Amboy was supposed to be a tourist town--fifty years after being established, Route 66 opened and the "iconic" Roy's Motel and Cafe was opened with the aspiration of being an historic landmark. A railroad also brought visitors regularly until the Great Depression forced everyone to stay home. Alas, this is an American tale: the need for speed and efficiency resulted in Highway 40 opening in 1973. This forever diverted tourists trying to get to the Pacific Coast away from Amboy.
I didn't stop to take any pictures except from my moving car. It was part practicality--we were driving from Las Vegas to San Diego through Joshua Tree National Park, and we didn't have much time to spare before sunset. But I think it was something else too. As fascinating as it was on paper, the forward propulsion I inherently have stopped me from pulling over. This was a town that had been rejected from mainstream society, that had stopped growing, that had frozen in time. Even the two volcanoes nearby had gone extinct. Even Route 66 was not fast enough for people trying to get through it.
And so, the ghost town only exists for me in memory.