Travels 21: You Can Still Get Some Kicks On Route 66

We’re tucked away at an RV park in Albuquerque.  I can feel the shadow of Jesse Pickham and Walter White all around me.  I stopped at the check-in desk and asked where I could get a local newspaper.  She gave me directions.

I’ll bet you get a lot of questions about “Breaking Bad” from the tourists, I said.

Mostly foreigners, she said.  Americans don’t seem to care too much.

Any nearby places that were made famous, like the car wash? I asked.

I wouldn’t know, she said.  I didn’t watch the show.  People here say the show will make or break this city.

I thought about it, thanked her and went for the paper.  Ok, the show did highlight the dark side of the place…

Moments later, I passed by a prostitute closing a deal with a guy with a white beard (wasn’t me).  I went to the store to get the paper and a woman pushed ahead of me in the check-out line.  She had the body type of Calista Flockhart on an uncontrolled diet.  She didn’t even say sorry.  I looked at her well-worn face.  She may have had a molar somewhere inside her mouth…but I wasn’t going to look.

Ever since Kingman, Arizona, our route, I-40, wove back and forth along the historic Route 66.  I decided we should drive along a stretch of the classic old highway of Americana that went roughly from Chicago to Southern California.  Most of it is gone.  It turned into I-40, or was simply torn up and forgotten (by some).  I even ran across several sets of Burma-Shave signs.  The part we were on was the actual stretch of the historic road.  I know that because the signs said “Historic Route 66” at several exits.  The route is not much more than a service road for I-40 for most of the distance.  But if you’ve followed these stories I’ve done the trip, I wanted to see the “real” USA, and not from an Interstate.  So, you get off onto a “historic” road and are immediately confronted (smothered, really) by the “nostalgia” shops.  These places were filled with Coke signage, Harley plates, James Dean mugs and American flags.  Even refrigerator magnets!  I mean, really.  What would the hobos of old think of buying a refrigerator magnet with Route 66 on it?  They could barely afford a cuppa joe.  I stood looking at the assortment of post cards and key chains…all devoted to a bygone era.

You should know me by now.  And you know I’m fascinated by the lost and the lonely people who roamed the dirt roads (and Route 66’s) since the late 19th century.  I wanted to come face to face with Tom Joad and look him straight in the face.  I would look his wife straight in the face.  It’s like the Stones’ song…Mick Jagger sings: “Well, you know what kind of eyes she’s got…she’s got those faraway eyes.”

But, with the overabundance of faux-rural history, there were still places alongside the road that spoke to me.  I’d like to say they screamed to me…but they were too tired to even whisper.  “I’ve got a story.  I have a history.  People lived in me.  Guys named Bud changed oil in my ruins, while lying on their back on scorching concrete.  Men drank too much in my upstairs room, out in back where he could look out on the broken desert-like landscape.  Women welcomed drifters in order to have a warm night of closeness against an unshaved cheek.  Children played on tire swings in yards strewn with bottles and wrenches.  There’s hardly anything left of my walls, the paint has faded and the dust blows through broken windows and doors ajar.  But, don’t drive by me!  Stop and look at me.  I was something once…once upon a time.  Take my picture with your Brownie.  Take several, because once I’ve fallen, I won’t get up.”

I sped past these places and where it was safe, I stopped and photographed the ghosts.

Then we arrived in Holbrook, Arizona.  Yes, the check-in guy said, there’s some old places if you take a right on Yuma Drive.

So we did take that right.  And in about a mile, there it was.  The famous, Wigwam Motel.  There were vintage cars parked in front of the units that were actually constructed like wigwams, and you could rent one for the night.

Now that’s traveling in class.

But, it’s been a long trip and home is still over 1500 miles away.  It’s time to end this adventure soon, perhaps in about ten more days of driving.  Don’t laugh, you can only go so fast pulling a ton and a half of stuff.

Yes, I’d like to get home.  I can’t wait to attach my Route 66 magnet to my refrigerator.

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