Felipe II was the finest creator and destroyer of roadside attractions ever seen along Route 66 back in the day. Or roadside distractions, as he liked to call them. Felipe had quick and changeable interests. The plastic reproduction of the redwood forest in Chloride, Arizona held his interest until it was two-thirds completed, and now it lies, a city of cracked and petrified plastic wood, with bumper stickers fading on the date shake shack – from the gulfstream waters to the Chloride forest – and the exit itself is a cluster of broken asphalt, a closed, possessive world. Felipe never looked back, it was said. Rumor had it there was no Felipe I, that’s what they said.
Felipe II wore a quirky wood band around his head, giving him the look of a suffering Christ with the figure of a Bob’s Big Boy. He did not tolerate philosophical discussions, but he did love time and the road itself.
“The older I become,” he told me the day we met – the only time we met – “the more connections I can make between time, experience and place.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Nothing, what the hell do you think I mean?” He said, and pulled out his map of California. Death Valley – good place for a dinosaur museum and ice skating rink. The Thing – it is whatever you want it to be. Wherever you want it to be. The roadside fruit stands, the tarantula meandering across the yellow lines, the shimmering road itself. That was time. I think that was time. To Felipe. Every crack in the road, every fissure, was another idea, another tumbleweed, another billboard. Every 100 miles a sign said “next gas 100 miles, stop here!” and we did. We bought copper bracelets and moccasins, postcards and ashtrays, plastic fish skeleton combs, mirrors with dead city logos embossed on the back.
Felipe II died in Flagstaff in 1982. His body was taken by Mexican bandits and laid out on the top of a flat red butte, and there he rejoined the earth, turning slowly into Felipe jerky, lines of his life spreading out on the hot surface, still visible even 30 years later. A faint tracing, like an old town, you can see it still, if you can find the way up.