Despite winter’s chill, I quickly warm up to Williams. Restaurants and gift shops thrive on the Route 66 business strip. I’m surprised to learn the final nail in Route 66’s coffin was hammered here. In October 1984, a new stretch of interstate siphoned traffic away from Williams, the last Route 66 town left behind. The legendary road was decommissioned the next year, and the pavement cracks have been growing larger ever since.
Laundry is first on the agenda because I’ve been wearing the same undershirt for three days, reversing it every morning. Nobody’s gotten close enough to notice.
Bumped to second priority is finding refreshment. Size doesn’t matter. Any small town becomes a great one if it has a brewery (see Hermann, Missouri). In Williams, Grand Canyon Brewing Company is what every brewery should be: fine liquid craftsmanship in a who-gives-a-s%it setting.
I enter a cloud of steam. The aroma of hops pulls me deeper inside. Peanut shells crunch underfoot. Guns N' Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle is turned up to eleven. A smile breaks across my face. I’m in the right place, ready for wherever this night goes.
The bar is empty. I sit before the taps expectantly like a child in front of the tree on Christmas morning. From the back echoes a welcoming holler. Derrick, the lone server, has his hands tied as “keg master” slapping labels on stout cylinders full of what I crave.
“You’re on a bicycle — in December,” he confirms with the concern of a parent while pouring me a pint of Winter Bourbon Bomber. It was an easy choice given the season.
“Winter here is kind of a roller coaster. It’s unpredictable,” he says. “In Williams they say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”
With snow forecast, the town is buzzing with excitement that it’s going to look a lot like Christmas. But nobody knows how much or when. One to three inches tonight. Three to five all day tomorrow. Five to eight into Sunday. I’ll have to wait and see how the flakes fall at 6,766 feet above sea level.
“We never really know until we wake up and see it,” says Ronnie. The junior brewer has dreams of opening his own place someday. Ronnie’s bushy eyebrows and soft cheekbones give him a likable look even before the relaxed 24-year-old opens his mouth.
The windows are foggy and darkness is falling. I’m dug into the bar with Derrick and Ronnie at my side. I can’t see the outside world and it doesn’t matter. But actually it kind of does. With each passing hour my chances of leaving tomorrow are falling like the temperature.
By the time I go outside for a peek, I’m belly-deep in beer and snow is up to my ankles. I retreat into the steamy warmth and bury my head in my elbows. I’ve already spent two nights in a motel and don’t want to pay for a third. Clearly, camping isn’t an option.
Ronnie offers me a place to crash if the going is bad in the morning. We exchange numbers, and as a parting gift, he gives me four low-pour bottles sealed with wax. The brewery can’t sell them, so they’re mine. At 22-ounces each, I’ve added quite a liquid load to my cargo. How many can I finish before morning? None. I fall asleep after putting them in the mini-fridge.
The motel room is warm and dark when I awake. Am I still at the brewery? I stumble to open the curtains and greet the day. An avalanche of white light blows me back onto the bed. Holy s%it, how deep is that?
My jaw hangs loose and my fingers tremble as I text Ronnie for help. He’s already at the brewery and tells me to come over to drop off my stuff. It’s still coming down as I push the bike through the snow trying to accept the frozen reality that could end my trip prematurely. It’s too early to sip away my sorrows, so I head to breakfast.
The rest of the day the brewery is home. After all, I’ve got four free beers to finish. I catch up on writing and also give the guys a hand moving stuff around, literally getting my feet wet.
This camaraderie, albeit temporary, nourishes the growing loneliness across New Mexico and now Arizona. I join Ronnie, his girlfriend and their friends for dinner. We share dessert and end up at the “world famous” dive bar Sultana, a former speakeasy that looks like the kind of place where someone would throw me through a plate glass window just for fun.
Nobody messes with me. I’m folded into the fabric of this small town, living the dream of an adult snow day embedded at a brewery. Let it snow. I’ll deal with it in the morning.