(The Other Side of) Amboy, California

Nearly everyone who goes to or through Amboy, California, takes a photo of Roy’s (see one of mine below…). And why not? It’s justifiably famous, very scenic, it’s on the old Route 66, it's a great example of very Californian Googie architecture, and it’s just so, well, recognisably, iconically, American.

I’ve actually been in to Roy’s — back when it was still a real place, not a movie prop or out-of-the-way hipster tourist bucket list item — and bought a soda on my way through the shimmering heat to Needles. It must have been the very early 1990's, back when Buster Burris still owned pretty much the whole town, and when Amboy was a convenient place on the shortcut from the Twenty-Nine Palms area through Amboy to Interstate 40. The cafe had a signed drawing of Ronald Reagan or John Wayne up on the wall if I remember correctly. And it was deathly quiet; I was the only person there besides the older woman serving me. I didn't hang around (I was in a hurry to get to Vegas for the night).

Roy’s hasn’t really been “Roy’s” for a long while now (as of 2019 you can’t really get food or gas reliably there any more), and the last time I stopped there for more than a few minutes (a few years ago now), there was even an earnest little art show in the (otherwise-closed) motel, which seemed kinda diagnostic (but also a sign that maybe something might be happening with the place — my arty side was definitely intrigued…).

But if you look away from Roy’s, the view’s both a lot less inviting and a lot less brightly self-promoting — and a lot more scenic (in its own way). That Roy’s sign is a bit of a distraction from the harsh realities of living in a place like Amboy. So I think photos like the one above, which I took looking the other way a few hundred yards down the road from Roy’s, say “Amboy” in a way that many photos of Roy’s don’t; I think it says a bit more about life in the harsher bits of the Mojave (are there any soft bits?) than the bright, omnipresent, familiar and very likable Roy’s. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just overreacting to the potential for hipsterisation and rampant self-conscious spectacle of places like Roy’s nowadays. And for all my cynicism above, I really really (really!) hope the current owner can get Roy's and the rest of Amboy back into shape as a working cafe, gas station, and motel — or some combination of working businesses that keep the basic look and feel of the place intact. It does look cool both up close and from a distance shimmering in the heat…

Postcript: as of March 2022 when I last went through Amboy, Roy's was open and selling gas and snacks, so there's hope for the place yet…

  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In