If you don’t live in Darlington County, S.C., you probably hadn’t heard of it before Bruce Springsteen made it famous. The same might be said of Simon and Garfunkel’s Saginaw, Mich., where not too many people go to “look for America,” except NPR.
But each year thousands of people, usually on the way to somewhere else, make a stop in Winslow, Ariz.,about 60 miles easy of Flagstaff, thanks to Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, whose death was reported Monday. And, thanks to the Eagles’ classic “Take It Easy,” they go to a special corner, where Old Highway 66 meets North Kinsley Avenue, and just stand, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do.
It’s called “Standin’ on the Corner Park.” There’s not much there — a statue of a guy holding a guitar and a red flatbed Ford at the curb. They say if you look hard enough, you’ll see the girl from the song, too. In fact, they’ve made sure of it.
Well, I’m a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona,
and such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.
Come on, baby, don’t say maybe.
I gotta know if your sweet love is
gonna save me.
We may lose and we may win
though we will never be here again.
So open up, I’m climbin’ in,
so take it easy.
The 1972 song “Take it Easy” preceded the park by three decades, and you have to wonder why it took Winslow so long. Perhaps it’s because the city didn’t need it in 1972, when Old 66 went through the heart of town, only to be cruelly bypassed in 1979 when Interstate 40 cut it off — “bleeding Winslow dry,” as Kevin Baxter wrote in the Los Angeles Times a year ago. He, too, was “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” but not alone.
“With me are a cute couple from Southern California, who are shivering in the winter chill; three giggling women on break from a holiday office party; and a beefy guy in blue jeans and a lime-green shirt who didn’t say where he’s from,” Baxter wrote. “But it’s no secret why he came. We are among the estimated 100,000 people who will visit this same spot over the next 12 months, drawn by nostalgia to a town whose best days ended decades ago.”
“It’s really crazy. People come here from all over the world,” a clerk at the souvenir shop across the street told him. “They are in such awe of the place.”
But is it the right place? There’s a bit of confusion about that. Glenn Frey said he first heard the song from Jackson Browne, his former roommate. But Browne never completed it or recorded it.
“I told him I really liked it,” Frey said in an interview in 2003. “What a cool tune that is. He started playing it for me and said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t know — I’m stuck.’ So he played the second unfinished verse and I said, ‘It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.’ That was my contribution to ‘Take It Easy,’ really, just finishing the second verse. Jackson was so thrilled. He said, ‘Okay! We co-wrote this.’ But it’s certainly more of him. Sometimes, you know, it’s the package without the ribbon. He already had the lines about Winslow, Arizona. He’d had car trouble and broken down there on one of his trips to Sedona. He spent a long day in Winslow. … I don’t know that we could have ever had a better opening song on our first album. Just those open chords felt like an announcement, ‘And now … the Eagles.’”
So that sounds like that corner really was in Winslow.
But wait. Browne has given both Winslow and Flagstaff credit, Winslow for the broken down truck, Flagstaff for the girl.
The Los Angeles Times quoted an interview with Browne saying, “‘It was always Winslow. But the image of that girl driving a truck was an image that came from east.’ To be precise, from East Flagstaff. So Frey exercised poetic license, and the result would later be voted one of the 500 most influential songs in rock history.”
On the other hand, maybe the girl was not in Flagstaff: “A friend of mine who grew up in Winslow and is married to a federal judge, adamantly proclaims, ‘I was the girl in the flatbed Ford,'” wrote Bob Boze Bell in his True Western Magazine blog. But the raconteur took the story with a grain of salt: “I’m sure she’s not alone in that claim, but on some level she’s probably right. A glancing semi-encounter with a gypsy song-writer on old Route 66 gets elevated to epic myth in a popular song. We can all relate to that fantasy road trip narrative on some level and stake a claim to it.”
Among those staking a claim is Gary McElfresh, owner of the Dag Haus restaurant in Flagstaff, who somehow determined that the Toyota (not Ford) truck Browne was driving was pulling out of a restaurant then called Wienerschnitzel,” which just happens to be the restaurant McElfresh now owns and calls Dag Haus.
As Reuters’ James Kelleher wrote, McElfresh “claims his corner on Route 66 in Flagstaff is the real ‘Take It Easy’ corner.” But he has yet to put up a statue and is content to let Winslow bask in a false glow.
“Winslow,” McElfresh told Reuters, “needs all the help it can get,” unlike Flagstaff, the hub of the universe.
The truth is that the town that builds a statue first or puts up a sign is probably going to get the credit. After all, people really think the Pilgrims made landfall at Plymouth Rock, almost entirely because there’s a big sign saying “Plymouth Rock, Landing Place of the Pilgrims.”
So shock jock Don Imus took his wife to Winslow before he got married, “to stand on the corner,” the same reason thousands of others make the pilgrimage to “Standin’ on the Corner Park,” like one traveler, on TripAdvisor.
“I can’t describe the joy,” the traveler wrote, “of putting my feet in the spot I’ve heard about in song for decades. If you’re a fan of Jackson Browne or The Eagles or just the song ‘Take It Easy,’ do yourself a favor and stand on this corner yourself!”
On Monday night, sad to say, the night clerk at the historic La Posada Hotel in Winslow, where they get a lot of guests who want to visit the corner, had to hear the news of Frey’s death via a phone call from The Washington Post. Dan Posey said he’d never heard about the corner being in Flagstaff, and he’s pretty positive it wasn’t. Why?
“Jackson Browne stayed in this hotel,” Posey told The Post, “and Jackson Browne said it was Winslow.”
Wherever she is — that girl in the flatbed truck —perhaps she knows.