Route 66 Road Trip 2013
A Perspective Changing Journey
When I was 12 years old, I first read Michael Wallis' book "The Mother Road." To my young mind, it was incredulous that a road could be so much more than a mindless stretch of pavement. The idea that people, places, and things owed their existence to a winding and convoluted route westward seemed unfathomable. Traditions were born and bred, culture influenced, celebrities made, towns prospered. The thought of "progress" sweeping it aside and leaving it for dead troubled me.
I continued reading, realizing then that the post-life purgatory Route 66 had entered was where the real magic was. Towns that refuse to die full of people that will not move, steadfast in their ways and traditions. Thousands of interesting people living in interesting places with so many interesting stories to share.
Having grown up with interstate travel, the thought of driving down the main street of each town to get where you were going seemed nothing less than horrible. Why, it would take DAYS to travel 1000 miles, and they would be full of inconvenience. Why enter town for gasoline and lunch? There are a multitude of travel plazas I can be in and out of in 15 minutes. Just enough time to wolf down tasteless food served by faceless minimum wagers, put a few gallons of gas in the car, and return to being completely ambivalent to the world around me.
The realization of the Baby Boomer poison I had been fed was starting to set in. Why is there such a need to "make time?" Why wouldn’t you stop and talk to people? Why not have a cup of coffee and a slice of pie? Go see the world’s largest catsup bottle, marvel at a giant cement whale, or buy some Indian trinkets. Perhaps the key is to actually appreciate where YOU ARE, rather than just ignoring its existence until you need something.
Yes, maybe this was the way to travel after all. I developed an itch… at the ripe old pre-teen age of 12. Someday I will travel this road. I will meet these people, see these places, ride with the windows open and my tires thumpity-thumping over 80 year old portland cement. A slow but meaningful progression across this beautiful and ever changing country we live in.
There is only one way to go, and Steinbeck so aptly named it in 1939. "66 is the mother road, the road of flight." Indeed.
Our journey will begin outside Phoenix, Arizona. Sadly, the entire length of Route 66 will be unattainable on this trip. Flagstaff, AZ to Chicago, IL will have to suffice. We pack up my 94 year old grandfather, put him on an airplane bound eastward, then load as many of his belongings as the suspension in his Buick LeSabre will allow. This will be our ride for the journey, and it’s fitting, really. Like so many before us, we will make the cross-country journey along with a household full of stuff. In 6 days we should be in Chicago.
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013
Route 66 2013: Sun City, AZ to Holbrook, AZ
After watching one last sunset in Sun City, AZ and a restless night of sleep, Maureen and I launch HMS Buick on a brilliant Sunday afternoon. It’s a few hours north to Flagstaff, where we coax the lumbering sedan eastward. A few abandoned bridges later we roll into Winslow, Arizona, a desolate town made famous by the Eagle’s hit “Take It Easy.” There is a park on the corner, and just so you don’t forget, the gift shop across the street endlessly plays the song. There is a brilliant desert sunset in the rearview mirror as we cruise up Hopi Dr. into Holbrook, AZ for a night in The WigWam Motel. Burritos and sopapillas for supper, and early to bed, for tomorrow will be New Mexico.
Route 66 2013: Holbrook, AZ to Tucumcari, NM
It’s an early morning on the road so we have time to buy Indian trinkets at Chief Yellowhorse. Desolate sections of old 66 in this part look exactly as expected. Amid the pawn shops of Gallup, NM, we find an awesome local cafe that serves pizza and Mexican food. Albuquerque feels irritating with all of its modern conveniences and congestion. Long gone now are the red rocks of Arizona, and after passing through the Sandia Mountains, the landscape changes to the high plains. “Tucumcari Tonight!” the billboards proudly exclaim. This is our destination; more specifically, The Blue Swallow Motel, where it is perpetually 1939. After checking in, we gorge on huge helpings of chicken-friend steak and homemade pie. It appears as if Texas is leaking into this part of New Mexico.
Route 66 2013: Tucumcari, NM to Oklahoma City, OK
A wildly colorful sun rises over the Blue Swallow on a frigid March morning. Continuing eastward, we roll down the old road through deserted places like San Jon, NM. Texas is getting close and the landscape is hilly. On the radio, Mel McDaniel sings “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On” while we idle into Central Time at Glenrio, TX. Sad, really, what progress has done to the towns across the Panhandle. Every last one has been bypassed by I-40. Adrian, Vega, Conway, Groom, Alanreed, McLean, Shamrock… the land of the forgotten. We try to stop in as many as time will allow, but we have to make OK-C tonight or we’ll never get home. We cross into Oklahoma on the old road and motor up a beautiful 4 lane section of pink concrete through Erick, Sayre, and Elk City. Thumpity Thump! An evening gas stop reveals a nail in a fast leaking tire, snow is forecast across Missouri, and almost every motel room in Oklahoma is booked. The enormity of the trip we are undertaking starts to settle in.
Route 66 2013: OKC, OK to St. Louis, MO
Fast Freddies Discount Tire has our tire patched quickly on a bitter cold morning. Skies are clear, the sun is up, and “OK-City looks oh so pretty.” We make a quick stop at the Federal Building Memorial before boarding the car, cranking the heat, and shoving off northeast. We have decided to race the snowstorm across the Show-Me-State so we have to make St. Louis tonight. This is very easy on the interstate, but it will be tough to see the old road. Despite this, we still manage the Blue Whale, Sidewalk Highway, the Coleman Theater, and that little itty bitty corner of Kansas. Dinner in a must-stop biker bar in Devils Elbow, MO (bypassed 1932) for oh so sweet pulled pork and a few cold and frosties. Descending out of the Ozarks after dark, St. Louis is lit up in front of us and the snowstorm worries are a thing of the past. Tomorrow we cross the mighty Miss-ippi, it’s 2 days now to Chi-town.
Route 66 2013: St. Louis, MO to Chicago, IL
After a good night of sleep 3 blocks from the Gateway Arch, we venture out into the cold and take a ride to the top. Great views on this clear morning. It’s Spring time, now, but you wouldn’t know it outside. Since we pushed ahead of the snow last night, we have more time for the St. Louis to Chicago stretch. We take advantage of this by going to see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, walk the Chain Of Rocks Bridge, and stop in just about every town across Illinois. By the time we roll into Chicago at supper time on Friday, March 21, we have traveled 1800 miles of Route 66 in 5 and a half days. I am tired, Maureen is feeling ill, and we still have the 775 mile blast across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Take out deep dish will have to suffice for dinner in our hotel on the Magnificent Mile, and then early to bed for the last leg home. I will miss the Old Road, the people we met, places we went, things we saw. I can only hope to get back there again to pick up where we left off, and get some more kicks out on Route 66. Peace.