Keeping It Straight: Living With The London Bridge

My move to Lake Havasu City was precipitated by the publishing company I worked for making the decision to move from Laughlin, Nev., to the Tampa, Fla., area. Being a hard-core desert rat, I could not see myself spending my declining years in Florida and catching the "early-bird special" at the Golden Harvest/Come 'N' Get It/Stuff Your Face Buffet each afternoon. So I traveled the area and looked into moving to Kingman, Lake Havasu City and Yuma. Although I liked Yuma, it was a tad too expensive and too big. I decided on Lake Havasu City and have not regretted a moment of it. I honestly have no negatives about Lake Havasu City - other than it not being laid out in a standard grid pattern. I dislike most "planned" communities for that very reason, nothing tangible, just a quirk of mine.

My first visit to Lake Havasu City was in 1972 when McCulloch was busily promoting the place, the London Bridge had just been relocated and the Bridgewater Channel completed. We had lunch at the Nautilus Inn, looked around a bit and then headed home to Phoenix.

After moving here I was surprised to realize that if you want to visit Lake Havasu City you had best have your own transportation. No Greyhound bus, no Amtrak and no scheduled air service - oh, and no interstate. All of which are, in my opinion, no big deal. The city does very well without any of them.

Having written numerous books and articles about the iconic Route 66, I was surprised when reviewing DVDs of the "route 66" TV series to see an episode that was filmed at Site 6 on Lake Havasu in 1961 (Site 6 was a R&R location for Army Air Corps pilots during and following WW2, before becoming a test location for McCulloch boat engines). This was before Lake Havasu City actually existed, and what I found intriguing was how the producers of the series found the location for filming. Virtually the only reason anyone would turn south after crossing the Colorado River eastbound would be to come here.

The road, still dirt in many locations, ended at Site Six and what would one day be Lake Havasu City. And yet there was Tod (Martin Milner) "working" for a boat manufacturer testing boats on Lake Havasu. (The episode is "Go Read The River" and originally aired on March 16, 1962). In an interview with Marty years later, I asked him about filming on Lake Havasu and he said there were only two things he remembered - it was hot and he was scared to death racing around the lake with a camera boat trying to keep up.

Once my move was completed and I settled in, I found the city to be active, clean and inviting, with a viable downtown that still staunchly resists its destruction by "big box" stores north of the city. To walk along the Bridgewater Channel from the beautiful Rotary Park to the London Bridge and back is not only good exercise but allows one to meet neighbors and make new friends. Events take place in both the uptown and island areas of the city that are always well run and enjoyable. Each year we are beneficiaries of the spring break crowd consisting of, for the most part, fun and enthusiastic young people looking to decompress from the rigors of university.

Spring also brings the amazing Desert Storm, where million-dollar boats reach, and sometimes exceed, 200 mph on the Lake - in the parlance of the young, "Awesome!" Weekend boaters come to Lake Havasu each summer and further keep the economy churning. During the winter we have the snowbirds (not a pejorative by the way) who grace the city with their presence and of course, dollars. It is always fun to go to Scotty's, Krystal's, the Black Bear, Casa Serrano, Juicy's, the Taco Hacienda or other restaurants and see the wait-staff greeting winter visitors who have returned to Lake Havasu City and are treated like family. Access to health care is outstanding and medical care at LHRMC is excellent. Shannon does her best with my "old guy" thinning hair and Virgil keeps the Yukon on the road. One thing I do miss is a real English fish and chips shop - having been spoiled by those in the U.K. Heck, even Long John Silver's would be welcome.

One drawback is each August the river, the lake and those of us downstream have to endure trash and effluent generated by the Laughlin River Regatta that loads the river with thousands of drunks who generate garbage that floats as far south as and clogs the trash racks at Parker Dam. But we have become used to it and the clean-up is accomplished in a day or two - it is unfortunate the city doesn't bill the community responsible for the annual mess.

There are times when I walk to the English Village area, sit beneath the bridge and smile as I remember walking, or in inclement weather riding a Big Red, across it to get to work, and will comment (sometimes, embarrassingly, out loud), "I remember you when your home was in London."

When I have visitors in town I take them to Shugrue's for not only an excellent meal but to point out that the first time I saw that bridge just outside the windows was in London, England. I then regale them with what I call "Granpa Simpson" stories ("When I was a boy we used to ride the streetcars for a nickel. The nickel in them days had a buffalo on one side. Now a buffalo was ...)." Knowing I am an old guy who likes to talk, they quietly sit and allow me to chatter on.

I have to admit Lake Havasu City is more than just a "place to stay until I find a place to live." It is now my home and I fully expect to live out whatever time I have left in my house filled with books, films, music, and an office/broadcast studio overlooking the lake, comfortable in the knowledge that I made the right decision to move to Lake Havasu City. And, of course, there is always the bridge I once knew in London to visit.

A nice history with great historic photos of the area can be found in the Images of America book, "Lake Havasu City" by Frederic B. Wildfang.