Southern blues guitar folk hero Robert Johnson is rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads, which is the Junction of Highway 61 and 41 in Clarksdale Mississippi. That was where he gained his legendary guitar skills and thus born the Delta blues style, from which his songs would influence many later generations. Names such as Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Robert Plant. However, this blog is not about that Crossroads experience, it is about my own experience, circa, 1979 and the devil was not the main protagonist but rather my Great Aunt Alice.
I was a young boy travelling with two great polar opposite forces in my life, my Grandmother Gale and my Great Aunt Alice. The first was a child of Danish immigrants, with fiery red hair and a fiery temper to match. She called herself a “jack-mormon” from Southern Utah. The latter was a prim and proper Methodist from Michigan, who proudly wore her elephant pin on her lapel, designating her as a true Republican. Both were nice, potentially sweet but both absolutely had a stubborn streak worse then any mule that I have ever encountered. My Grandmother and my Great Aunt in the same room together was always fun, it was amazing how many emotions and thoughts could be shared in a cold silent stare. Needless to say, my grandmother did not get along well with her sister in law from Michigan.
I do not know the reason why I ended up in a long 14 hour car trip captive as the only passenger with Grandma and Aunt Alice, but there I was. Travelling in the back seat in some 70’s model 4 door sedan. They were driving me back to California from Colorado. I would frequently spend the summers in California at my Grandmother’s house. A time I would always look forward to. So it was with great anticipation I rode patiently in the back seat as we drove though the Southwest desert landscape, I do not remember much of the trip, but I do remember the incessant fighting. It was a like watching a tennis match between two professionals. A back hand here, and back hand there, my head was on a swivel as I witnesses a true exhibition of argumentation prowess.
You see both my female matriarchs were not privy to the fact that the Federal Government went to great lengths in 1957 to build the 15 Intererstate through Cajon Pass, or perhaps they were weary of it, I am not sure which. They decided they would much rather take the old road, through Needles. Highway 40 for those of you who have never travelled that way. I think we stopped for something to eat in Kingman Arizona. I was complimented on my ability to clear an entire plate of fries and we headed out into the hot desert late afternoon. They agreed to take highway 40, but that was the last agreement of the evening. They argued about every turn. I think they were aiming to head down 395 at Kramer Junction or perhaps they were looking to go through Lancaster on highway 14, but they could not agree. We went straight out into the Mojave, I believe at this point heading northbound past Fort Irwin.
You know you are in trouble when you start seeing signs indicating the test locations for moon missions, Apollo, Marks, Venus, etc. Night began to fall and we were still heading out on some small two lane road, that I think turned dirt a few times. They kept arguing about taking one turn or another, but they could not agree so we kept on going straight. You will have to forgive me, we turned in circles a few times and I just do not recall exactly where we were. To this day, I cannot recollect the steps, but I do remember very distinctly coming to a T shaped intersection and a decision had to be made. We could no longer go straight, we had to make the call. Right or left. Of course Alice wanted to go Right (the Republican way) and Grandma wanted to go Left (the Democrat way, but really more the opposite of Alice).
So there we were, sitting at the intersection, the CrossRoads. Right turn blinker on. No maps, no gas, and no direction home. I probably would have sold my soul right then and there for a way out of the back seat of that car. I am not sure how long we sat at the CrossRoads, in a silent and stubborn trench warfare, but eventually my Aunt Alice suggested they find a room for the night. So we turned (right of course) toward some lights and there we found a road side inn. The good news is that they had Color TV, the bad news is that the man at the front gate looked eerily similar to Anthony Perkins. Regardless, we checked in to our room, pulled our car up to the door and unloaded our things.
I was instructed by my Grandmother to take a shower, for which my Aunt Alice vehemently disagreed. You see there was no shower caps available, for which my Aunt was really setback on. No shower caps? How can you run an establishment and not provide shower caps for your female guests! The audacity of this flea ridden road site oil slick of a motel! Aunt Alice was convinced that there was no way that I could take a shower, because I would get my hair wet and I could not stay up until it dried. I, who had never even considered the use of a Shower Cap in my short life time, objected. I swore, on all that was holy, even up to and including swearing on the name of Goldwater himself that I could take a shower and NOT get my hair wet. My Grandmother smiled at me, as I had won the argument and thus sided with her. I took my shower, and went to bed with dry hair, thank you very much.
The next morning we woke up from the crossroads, Alice, after asking the Devil for directions, openly admitted that Gayle was right and we headed south out of the Mojave desert. I do not remember the rest of the trip, but I do remember very vividly my own personal encounter with the cross roads. I determined right then and there that I would never let indecisiveness decide for me. From that moment forward, I would decide for myself what direction I would take in my endeavors. No mo’ backseats for me. Sounds like the title of a Robert Johnson song. This is a story of a young boy learning the blues and my own encounter with the Devil at the Crossroads.