Travel

You’ll remember this segment of Route 66 for haircuts, hamburgers and, most of all, its sense of humor

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Visitors pose for photos with a cardboard likeness of Angel Delgadillo in his barber shop at Angel and Vilma’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Ariz.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

You know you’re on a strange trip when the biggest highlight is getting a haircut from a 90-year-old barber in Seligman, Ariz., about 100 miles southwest of the Grand Canyon.

But Angel Delgadillo is no ordinary barber.

His patter is nearly nonstop. People are constantly taking his picture. And he has been enshrined in the Smithsonian.

Delgadillo has been called the “Guardian Angel of Route 66” and the “Father of the Mother Road.”

Oh, and he has been semi-retired since 1970. His simply named Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman includes a small barber shop in the front corner of the store with a view of Historic Route 66.

Visitors outside of Angel and Vilma Delgadillo’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Ariz.
Visitors outside of Angel and Vilma Delgadillo's Original Route 66 Gift Shop in Seligman, Ariz.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

After Angel fixed a leak on the roof of the shop, I asked him if he could give me a haircut.

“No, but I can sell you one,” he said , laughing at a joke he’d obviously told countless times.

Delgadillo is a storyteller who fine-tunes his routine with the stream of visitors through his tiny barber shop.

He talked about the death of Route 66 (1978, when the highway bypass was completed).

He mentioned how it remained moribund for a decade until curious travelers in search of the old Route 66 of their youth started trickling back in the late 1980s.

“They all told me the same thing,” Angel said. “‘When I was a little boy…’ ”

And he spoke of how the visitors’ stories inspired him and others to establish the Historic Route 66 Assn. of Arizona in 1987.

Now his gift shop is a major stop for any Route 66 pilgrimage. Tour buses disgorge tourists from Japan, France, Ireland and Mexico.

Delgadillo speaks seven languages well enough to greet his visitors with a “welcome” and send them down the road with a “thank you” and “goodbye.”

Scores of reporters from around the world have sat in his barber chair to interview the unofficial mayor of Route 66, he says. A bulging guest book attests to his claim.

“This town is really the America of yesterday,” Delgadillo said.

Aerie Delgadillo behind the counter at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap restaurant.
Aerie Delgadillo behind the counter at Delgadillo's Snow Cap restaurant.
(Brady MacDonald / Los Angeles Times)

Two doors down the road, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap restaurant was founded by Angel’s late brother Juan.

After waiting in a long line to place my order, it became clear that the comedy gene runs deep in the Delgadillo family.

“Do you want a napkin or are you just going to use your shirt?” asked the energetic young clerk wearing a name tag that said, “Aerie.”

When I asked Aerie her last name, she said, “Delgadillo, of course.” As if I’d asked the most ridiculous question in the world.

The experience was better than the cheeseburger and fries, but the hot fudge and caramel shake was incredible.

Across the street at the “world famous” Black Cat bar, the Cardinals-Rams football game was on TV and free nachos and romance novels were available for paying customers.

Black Cat regular Marc Jacobson brought his own beer cozy and paid for his tab by personal check. The bartender kept the cozy filled with a constant stream of Coors Lights.

“I don’t like getting my fingers cold,” Jacobson said.

Not likely given all the light and warmth in these parts.

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