SEARCHING FOR AMERICAN SUPERSTARS

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN LAUGHLIN, NEVADA, AND CLINT'S WELL, ARIZONA, YOU MIGHT FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE IN THE '90S. ROGJT.

There was an extra reporter's notebook in the trunk. I tossed it to him. He just kept repeating, in a strained but calm voice, "This is pathetic. This is pathetic."

I decided to take this serendipitous opportunity to check out the majesty of Arizona nature--also to let Tim retain some iota of modesty--and I wandered off into the desert. There were small types of plant life, opaque bits of quartz, tiny, wind-formed hills of fine sand; things you miss cruising by at 80 miles per hour. But I made one mistake. Sheets of reporter's notebook paper, when flung to a strong wind traveling over a flat surface such as, oh, the desert off Old Route 66, can attain one hell of a velocity. And I was downwind of the action. Suddenly, a wretched scrap of paper sailed into desert weed just to my left, then another caught. I spun my head 90 degrees. That's when I began running. There was a swarm of three-by-seven-inch pages bearing Rorschachlike smears closing in on me as I took off, dodging snake holes and hurdling tumbleweeds.

What a way to go! I knew at any minute I was going to land knee-deep in a bed of maddened rattlesnakes, and they'd find my sad, bloated corpse plastered with Tim's butt litter. But that didn't happen. I maneuvered through the ersatz TP storm and watched it flutter off into the horizon, not exactly a Remington Western tableau. I found my way back to ground zero, where Tim was now a relieved, happy boy, we got in the car and headed east. When Nat "King" Cole sang "get your kicks on Route 66," I doubt if this is what he had in mind. @rule:

@body:This is one heck of a great big beautiful state we live in, and I can tell you that because on this stupid trip, I got lost in half of it. So I'm no Magellan, I admit it, but nine months ago, I lived someplace where all you had to do was get on the subway to cross state lines. After a couple more stops at places that had actual bathrooms, we pulled into Flag at around 5:30. Spent the night--nothing exciting--and hoped there'd be a few nudists still hanging around on Saturday.

Riding on a nice, early start and primed to make a beeline for the top-secret site of the nudist Olympics, things seemed wonderful. Lush forest, crisp morning air, no hangovers. We stopped at a really fine McDonald's at Camp Verde, made our turnoff and figured about a half-hour to go.

Two hours later, we were crisscrossing backroads looking for some goddamn place called Clint's Well. We were supposed to turn there, the directions said, but there wasn't even a sign.

Nothing was easier to find than this place.
We stopped at a gas station/cafe to eat corn dogs and pull ourselves together. As we sat there, the oldest couple in the world walked in. They were thin, frail, could barely get the door open. They sat next to us and Pops wheezed out an order for two Cokes. It took my mind off the situation, it pulled at my heart strings, how inspiring. The lady seemed to be listening to us grumble about the mysterious Clint's Well. She slowly turned her head toward us, and dribbled some Coke out of her mouth. I think she was smiling.

We got out of there, and back into the nightmare.
Tim, who at this stage was a quivering wreck, a man convinced he would soon be unemployed, bounded from the car, begging hints and clues from anyone who happened to be stopped at the side of the road. Which, out there in Happy Jack land, is not a lot of people.

We tried a cowboy, hooking up a horse trailer. A guy playing trombone next to his car. Finally, a biker: "I thought I saw some o' them nakeds down there on horseback a while ago," he gestured vaguely. "But there's a ranger station up the road, though."

It may be hard to understand why this was such a big deal, but bear in mind we'd been sitting in this car for hours, driving on deserted roads, embarrassed, crazed, mystified idiots. Looking for a bunch of nakeds. Was it all a big joke? We found the ranger, and, of course, she knew exactly where the Olympics were going down, but, she said, "They swore me not to tell anyone." Uh-huh. Our insistent pleas and abject whining finally got it out of her, and this fun bit of information, as well: That gas station/cafe was Clint's Well. Unbelievable. Cute old couple? That hag had been mocking us!

The secret dirt road that would lead us to the naked sportsters finally appeared, two miles of axle-reaming potholes and ditches deep enough to swing a dead cat in. And bury it when you're finished. But we were getting warm. A car passed us going the other way; it contained two guys with nothing on.

I have never been so happy to see two naked men.
Then in a clearing up ahead we saw the first flash of skin. And there it was, our deliverance from evil, our manna from heaven, a gaggle of naked people playing volleyball. Which may not sound like much to you, but . . .

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