"The Diana Ross clause"
Well, we threatened to send occasional bulletins from the road. Looks like this is one of them. Probably wont be able to send it until we get somewhere with a phone line...which is likely going to be Joplin, tomorrow night. (Not a lot of cyber cafes along 66)
We left Chicago at 5:10 a.m. Neither Jim nor I slept last night so we are both rather frazzled. Got here (Shady Jacks Saloon and Camp-Inn) a little after 10 this morning, and decided to spend the day plotting out our attack for tomorrow and recuperating in general. Last time we were here the whole place had been rented out by a motorcycle "club." Genuine outlaw scumbags that gave us the stink eye and refused to let us in to the campground proper. This weekend the place is deserted, a couple of permanently parked RV's and us.
It's about 8:00 p.m., sun going behind the ridge to the west of us. Sitting at a picnic table, running the laptop off an extension cord strung to the RV hookup 30 feet away. Plugged in the speakers and am currently listening to Zipperhead's first album, which Jim seems to prefer to Abdel Aziz El Mubarek...the Sudanese pop singer I have been raving about lately.
Just finishing off a pot of double strength coffee the bartender made us, and am slowly coming back to life. Looks likes tomorrow we will shoot our way to Joplin, near the Kansas border, and then shoot Kansas on Sunday. There are only 12 miles of Route 66 that pass through there, so it will be tough to find something that hasn't been in every book already.
Missouri is absolutely lush....we are right at the beginning of the Ozark foothills, and it is nothing but rolling green hills as far as you can see. No skeeters so far...just lots of Monarch butterflies and garden variety moths. Humidity is just enough to make it summery without being oppressive, but I can tell once the sun goes down, it will turn to a damp chill. Got a fire stoked and ready to light once the sun is completely gone.
Prided myself on my packing job on the van, which Jim refers to as the "Milwaukee tailgater" approach. Had enough room to keep the back open for working/sleeping etc. Then photoboy comes out with the entire contents of his closet in a bag that is big enough for me to climb into and close if I cared to. Six or seven winter coats sticking out the top etc. I've insisted we start UPSing some of the stuff back.... at least the ski wear...but he swears he needs it all. Note to self.... have Mary Alice insist on a "Diana Ross" clause in all future contracts with photographers...luggage must be smaller and weigh less than the person bringing it.
Wind beginning to pick up from the north,
bringing black clouds with. Going to get this
PS Jim sez hey
"Amish Girls Shopping for Panties"
We hit Joplin about 6PM, and decided to forego the Comfort Inn for a local joint, in this case, the KoKo Motel. Even at 6PM we had to ring to get someone to come to the office. When the guy unlocked the door and let us in, the smell could have knocked you over. It's rather hard to describe, but imagine purified celery, with undertones of horrible BO, and curried chicken. In all odds it was likely a combination of the guys BO and whatever he was eating in the backroom before we arrived, nonetheless I just kept hoping the room didn't smell the same. It didn't -- a bit stale and musty, but not as bad as the mutant BO on the owner. Not sure of the gent's national origin, but I would bet five bucks he speaks Urdu.
Jim immediately ran to the Target across street to score some swim trunks, and found himself watching a group of Amish girls shopping for panties. I'm sure there is nothing illegal about it, but something about it just seems creepy. Perhaps it's just hearing the words "Amish" and "panties" used in the same sentence. Could be worse I suppose....he was regaling me earlier with tales of a friend who does midget porn websites. Now when he comes up with Amish midget porn...that'll be something.
So far we are running well ahead of schedule,
but I know there is going to be a lot of stuff to shoot in the
Southwest so we will likely lose time there.
PS Jim sez hey
"Road-Kill Armadillo, Possum and Snake"
Left Joplin around 9AM, and it was already in the mid-90's. My left arm is now a completely different color than the rest of my body. Most of it anyway.
I should fess up now I suppose.....Jim and I had planned on cheating our way through this trip....as in deadheading on the interstate to where we needed to interview or shoot pics. The idea of actually driving old Route 66 all the way to California seemed incredibly time consuming and a hassle in general. When we left Shady Jacks two days ago we decided to take the old road.....we haven't been back on the interstate since.
When we left Joplin...we picked up a section of the original alignment from 1926 and followed it into Kansas. There are only 13.2 miles of 66 there..but man are they something. The first thing we hit was the old mining town of Galena....which looks like something out of the Dust Bowl....a lot of falling apart buildings...and a bar. Thats it. Literally looked like a war zone, or someplace a tornado hit...but just another American small town on the wrong side of the economic cycle. Come to think of it..it was a war zone....Civil War....really.....a bunch of Union soldiers were slaughtered there.
After that Riverton...and the Eisler Brothers General Store. FYI....soon after the Eisler brothers opened it they decided it was too much work...and hired other people to work there while they got other jobs. When we pulled in the parking lot was full of brand new BMW and Harley-Davidson motorcycles...a group of rich German tourists driving 66 from LA to Chicago. Spoke at length with the guy leading the expedition..an ex-patriot German who moved to Montana a few years back...because it was the same size as Germany...with 100 times less people. So now he works for a German company, leading motorcycle tours along Route 66...and through Mexico. Tough duty.
Here's a no-shitter for you....the guy working at the General Store has a rather unique talent....don't how or why he can do this...but he could literally turn his feet backwards from the knees down...I about flipped when he started doing this so the Germans could take pictures of it...but he actually spun the bottom of his legs around completely backwards..very freaky
So there are only 13 miles in Kansas...which put us in Oklahoma toot sweet. Within 45 minutes of crossing the border we had seen road kill possum, armadillo, and snake, ate some damn fine barbecue, and gotten bum directions from a local. What we were trying to find was the very first section of Route 66 paved back in 1926. It's nine feet wide from curb to curb. Some of the books out there have pictures of it..but none ever tell you how to find it. We were determined we would.
The best information anyone ever gives in books or maps is that it is between Miami (that's pronounced MY-AM UH) and Afton...we drove as far as Afton and realized we han't found it..so we stopped in the Route 66 Cafe for a cup of joe and asked the waitress if she knew anyone who knew anything about the history of Route 66. This particular waitress was 65 if she was a day. She said "Well...what wuzya wantin ta know?" When I told her what we were looking for...she just smiled and said "Letma tellya a liddle story" I won't bother to tell it all here..mainly because I am too lazy and if you really want to you can buy the book like every other swinging richard....but to make a long story short..she knew where it was...because her father was one of the crew that paved it back in 1926. She told us exactly which gravel roads to take...and holy shit if there weren't big sections of the original pavement sticking up through years of eroded gravel.
As we were out looking.the temp dropped about 20 degrees in as many minutes...horrible black clouds moved in out of no where...and it began to rain. Bear in mind...it was yesterday that tornadoes ripped through this same section of Oklahoma. Jim was off shooting different angles...and the wind started gusting so strong it actually knocked all six foot six of me up against the van like I was a rag doll.... As I stood there taking a leak on this deserted road...I realized most of the trees were down....and very obviously blown down or ripped out of the ground. We took the last shot..with me holding a big cover over Jim and the camera and got into the van just in time.
It poured...and it poured...and it poured. It turned so black I had to put the lights on...the highest windshield wiper speed did little to help me see. Call me a pussy...I was damn scared...trying to think of where the nearest overpass was we could crawl under if we saw the funnel coming...but....given we were in the middle of Oklahoma...on a beat up section of road that was 73 years old...there were none. We got back to a main road and hauled serious ass south as fast and far as we could go until we came out the other end of the storm in Vinita.
After that we took it slow all the way into Tulsa...ending up at a Super 8 on the edge of town. Had a big dinner at Fajita Rita's with a couple of big margaritas for good measure. Um.... how exactly do you define "couple"
This trip is changing me. I am learning to appreciate things I thought I didn't give a shit about. I am seeing parts of America I have never thought about going to, I am meeting people I thought I had nothing in common with, but feel an incredible closeness to after just a few minutes. It has everything to do with staying on this old road. I've done the interstate, it's fast and its easy, but it doesn't compare. And it is just the stupidest things that have made the biggest impressions.
Yesterday...somewhere near Carthage, MO I stood in line with my beer and ice at a general store as two boys...probably 10 or so...took forvever spending every cent they had on candy and soda...all the time asking the lady how old they had to be before they could buy a Playboy and some snuff. At the time it annoyed the shit out of me because I had to wait...but after I left I began to flash back to the days when I did the exact same thing...took me right back to being a little smarts in Mendota, Ill.
Today...sitting in Miami, OK eating barbecue...I watched as a man got up and walked over and grabbed a couple toothpicks and sat back down at his table and slid one to his wife. Not remarkable in it I guess...but the way he caressed the back of her hand as he handed her a toothpick spoke volumes about love, devotion, and commitment. Made me think hard about the wife I could be nicer to, the son who has been walking around asking where "dada-car" is, and the daughter who says nothing yet, but probably has a few questions of her own
So uh...like yeah...it's a great trip so far. We are about 900 miles into a 2400 mile trip (5000 miles for me -- driving back from LA solo) and I can only scratch the surface of how fucking cool it is. Frankly, before I got this book deal...I knew and cared little about Route 66. After I got it and started my research, I knew a lot more...and cared a little more. Now that I am out here on the road.... I am completely overwhelmed. The scenery, the people, the food, the history....it is all just enthralling.
I have yet to meet an asshole, been cut-off or tailgated, or any of the other stupid annoyances we put up with in the city. It's not a different world...just a different way of living in this one
PS Jim sez hey
"He is reading the compass backwards"
Strange days have found us. Today was one of the best shooting days we've had so far...beautiful clear sunlight, fantastic scenery and all sorts of neat little attractions along the way. But underneath it all was a rather dark vibe.
We had a quick breakfast at the Country Kettle, where you actually have a choice of 1.2, or 3 porkchops with your eggs and hashbrowns, etc., and the waitress calls you "honey," as in "Want me to warm that coffee ferya honey?". As we left, good sport that I am...I decided to let a semi turn in front of us. The guy cut so sharp his flatbed was coming straight at us....I thought he would stop, or slow so I could back up a little...but he just floored it without looking...Jim yelled "we're going to get hit!"...I managed to throw the van into reverse and crank the wheel hard just in time to get off onto the shoulder. The bed of his trailer was OVER the hood of the van and headed directly for my face as I floored it. My first angry honk and one-fingered salute of the trip.
We started off at the Greenwood Cultural Center, which is essentially devoted to the history of black culture. It houses the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, with a lot of cool exhibits, but it also has another section covering an event not so cool.
The Greenwood district in Tulsa was known as the "Black Wall Street". It had thousands of black-owned businesses, banks, churches etc. It was self-sustaining, and a symbol of pride for blacks throughout the Southwest. On June 1, 1921,...a black man accidentally bumped into a white woman in a hotel elevator. She claimed he had assaulted her, and almost by the time the elevator hit the ground floor all hell was breaking loose.
White men (mostly Klansman) stormed into the Greenwood District and began killing people at random, often drenching them in kerosene and burning them alive. Within 24 hours, 300 people had been killed, 23 churches, 2000 businesses, and 36 square blocks burned to the ground. The smoke hung over the city for three days. The National Guard was called in, and over the next few days 6000 people were rounded up and held in football fields, gymnasiums, etc., "for their own protection." I looked at some of the archive photos...men, women, and children were marched through the streets at gunpoint...hands in the air. Along the gutters charred bodies were everywhere.
I had been in touch with one of the directors of the place, and she had agreed to get us copies of some of the archive stuff. But when we got there she had left to pick up her kids, and the people there were somewhat less than helpful. In the end we left with no archive shots, and a general feeling that people remembered things for a very long time in Greenwood. We drove off looking for 66 again...and as I was sitting at a stop light I happened to glance up at the street sign, and realized we were sitting in the middle of the riot zone...actually where I had just seen a picture of charred bodies and people being taken in by soldiers. It was the weirdest combination of déjà vu and shame I have ever experienced. Yesterday, as we pulled into Tulsa, there was a guy selling flags by the side of the road...Confederate, and Nazi, with variations on both. Perhaps the folks around Greenwood and Archer have long memories for good reason.
Note to self: Reading a light meter and reading a map are two discrete talents. Jim possesses one.
After a lovely, but unnecessary, tour through Tulsa we found the old road again outside Sapulpa. Every so often, there are little jogs of SR66 that are the actual old old Route 66...we took everyone we could find. Great graffiti covered overpasses, an old drive-in theater (complete with graffiti reading "Eric Scott KKK"), plus every other house had an oil rig in the back yard. The soil is bright red clay, and anywhere there isn't grass or gravel there are these big splashes of color.
Stopped for a late lunch at Dan's BBQ Pit in Davenport, and continued on. Just before Chandler we hit another warzone....this one from a tornado. At least ten trees laying on their sides in a ditch. Not surprising, until I realized there weren't any stumps associated with them...they had been dropped there. Just ahead a semi trailer by the side of the road, that looked like someone had opened the side with a can opener, still full of cardboard boxes it had been carrying, and across the street a factory of some sort...that you could see straight through. The I-beams were all that was left of the top half.
Stopped and shot again in Arcadia...home of the "Red Barn," a circular barn built in 1898. The top floor was used for barn dances etc....the acoustics are incredible. Passed several more yummy looking BBQ stands....perhaps for breakfast.
No matter what is was famous for in the past, there is only one thing people think of when you mention Oklahoma City these days. We weren't really sure how to find the site, but when we started seeing buildings with blown out windows and missing roofs we knew we were close. Then we saw the fence, and pulled over to shoot.
I had seen all the news reports, Brokaw or Jennings or Rather anchoring the network reports from the site, but it just doesn't prepare you for actually being there. The pictures, the ribbons and flowers, and most sadly.....the teddy bears. But what hit hardest with me, was a shoe. One baby's shoe....buckled into the fence. I've seen a shoe exactly like it before....on my 11 month old daughter.
There are illustrations there of what the actual memorial will look like....a reflecting pool....168 empty chairs etc....but there is already one as poignant across the street. It's on the site of a chapel that was heavily damaged by the explosion and had to be demolished. It is a statue of Christ, with his back turned to the site of the explosion, with his face in his hand. The inscription reads..."and Jesus wept"
In some ways it seems almost everything we did today was involved with death and sadness, but I suppose those things are all part of a larger story. Still...it put a bit of a pall over things for me. But that doesn't mean there haven't been a few moments of pure comedy. Fer instance...
Watching Jim fall asleep with a can of Guinness of his chest...and as it falls over he just swats away the beer like it's a fly...until he realizes he is being slowly basted in stout, and jumps up like he's on fire cursing. Or perhaps the fourth wrong turn on gravel roads when he realizing he is reading the compass backwards.
We are still running WAY ahead of schedule...but Texas and the best part of the Southwest is still ahead. I can't wait.
PS Jim sez hey
"Northwest at El Reno Southwest at Fort Reno"
A rather short run today, not even a hundred miles, but the shoots have been phenomenal!
Didn't leave Oklahoma City till around noon. Jim ran some film over to a pro-lab for processing, just to be sure everything was working as advertised. In the meantime we had the pancake special at the Hungry Frog (2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 "meats" and a cup of coffee that seemed to get refilled every time we took a sip -- $2.99) then went and picked up the slides. Outstanding....high saturation, absolutely gorgeous shots. More I think about it, the more I think this publisher got one hell of a deal when they signed our little team.
Leaving OKC SR66 is fairly boring...all repaved and full of the standard chain restaurants and video stores. Other than the general weirdness of being at the Murrah Building site...the biggest thing I remember about Oklahoma City, is that to its residents, the idea of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) pissing on something must be incredibly entertaining Every other car or truck had the little back window decal -- if the guy was driving a Ford, it was Calvin whizzing on a Chevy logo, it he was driving a Chevy, it was Calvin watering a Ford logo. I actually saw a Dodge with Calvin sprinkling a Dodge logo. I used to own a Dodge pickup -- I felt his pain.
The first real planned shoot we had was in Yukon (Garth Brooks' hometown -- or at least so it says on the water tower) , which according to information we got from the Oklahoma Tourism Council, had a memorial to Wiley Post, the pilot who was flying Will Rogers when their plane went down in Alaska. Everyone talks about Rogers, but few mention Post. So I figured I would have a piece about him in the book.
We drove into Yukon, and could not find it. We drove back through Yukon, and couldn't find it. Finally I walked into the City Hall (which had a sign on the front window asking people not to bring firearms in with them) and spoke with a woman who had lived there all her life. She had no idea what I was talking about. She pulled out a brochure from the Tourism council...and right there it listed the Wiley Post memorial in Yukon Oklahoma.
We looked at a city map -- couldn't find it. She called the Yukon Chamber of Commerce -- never heard of it. She called the Yukon Cemetery Association -- no such place in Yukon. Finally she called the state tourism office -- they screwed up and listed it in the wrong town. It was actually in Edmond, about 40 or so miles in the opposite direction. I thanked her for all her trouble, and as I was leaving she asked where I was from. I told her Chicago, and she just sort of smiled and said "You must think us ole Okies are purty dern amusing huh?". I walked back to the desk and told her that "you ole Okies have been some of the friendliest and most helpful people we have met on the way, and I appreciated the trouble she took to try to help me." I got a big "Thank Ewe" back. We decided to pass on backtracking to Edmond, and continued west.
Between Yukon and El Reno we came up on the absolutely weirdest thing. The only was to describe it is as the oil rig graveyard. Out on this blacktop sits huge, huge huge oil platforms, like the ones they drop in the Gulf of Mexico. They are all smashed to hell, but they are everywhere. All this massive machinery -- pulleys the size of the van, derricks shooting four or five stories up. I just can't imagine how they got them there. A lot were dismantled, but most were still together. It would be like putting a four story building on the back of a truck and trying to drive it from New Orleans to Oklahoma City. Insane.
note to self: Taking outstanding photographs along Route 66 and knowing the goddamned difference between bearing northwest at the "Y" in El Reno and bearing southwest at the "Y" in Fort Reno are two discrete talents. Jim possesses one.
note to self (addendum): Throw Jim's compass out the window first thing tomorrow.
We followed the old road toward Bridgeport and Hydro, and as we drove along I spotted a water tower to the north of us. I pulled out my binoculars and sure enough, it read Bridgeport. I assumed we had taken a wrong turn or something, and should have been a mile or so north. We shunted up a dirt and gravel road (absolutely brilliant red clay) until we found the water tower. And that's all we found, no houses, no businesses, no people. Just an abandoned water tower in the middle of nowhere. Creepy.
West of Yukon, there are all sorts of subtle things that let you know you have left the Great Plains, and are now officially in the West. Signs at car washes advise you to only wash the outside of your stock trailers. The places that 50 miles earlier were farm service companies now advertise oil field work. The sun seems brighter, and hotter, and the air is full of the smell of a freshly harvested wheat fields.
Just west of Hydro is a little spot known as Lucille's. It has been run by the same woman, Lucille Hamons, for 57 years. It started off as a gas station, then the gas company cut her off in favor of the new Texaco station on the interstate. She is the genuine stuff of legend on Route 66. I had seen her face in every book, listened to her talk on every video, and listened to real audio cuts of her on the Internet. In the outline I turned I turned in to our publisher, she is right there. We figured we would stop and jaw, buy some beer (her only staple since she lost the gas franchise) and take some good shots. I felt that I knew this woman already, and I liked her. A lot.
When we pulled up the neon sign said open, but the door was locked. In the window was a sign, written in a very, very, shaky hand, advising anyone who wanted to look inside or buy something to come knock at the house next door. I did. She was older, and frailer than I expected. I introduced myself, and told her I was writing a book on Route 66, and she walked past me tossing me a dirty look and said "yeah..yeah..yeah." She walked to the back door of her shop and walked in, as I walked around to the front. She unlocked the door without opening it. Jim and I walked in, and before we could say a word she started in on us.
"I'm telling you right now it's gonna cost you three dollars... APIECE to come in here!" she crowed pointing a bony finger at me. "I do this all the time for free and I'm sick of it." I handed her a ten and told her to keep the change. "These people come here always wanting to talk about Route 66. Everyone wants to talk about Route 66" And on, and on, and on she went. It was heartbreaking.
She is known as "The Mother of the Mother Road". It is her only claim to fame. She is in books, movies, videos, and television documentaries around the world for her connection to Route 66. And she absolutely hates it. She is now in her 80's, and every day, several times a day she is rousted from her house by one tourist or another wanting to look around and talk about Route 66. As she vented at us she kept mentioning different things she had for sale....I bought an overpriced T-shirt, some underpriced cigarettes ("You like cigarettes?" she asked cocking her head like I was from Mars) and a few postcards. Jim managed to click off a few shots with an on camera flash -- we thought we would be able to set up some nice lighting and do a beautiful portrait of her, but decided to get back on the road and leave her alone. The Mother of the Mother Road is not too fond of her child....or it's friends. As we left I told her the book would be out about February, and I would be sure to send her a copy. She gave me a rather blank look, and said she hadn't been feeling that good lately. Perhaps she doesn't expect to be there in February.
We got back on the old road and continued on through Weatherford and into Clinton, which houses the Route 66 Museum, right across the street from the Route 66 Restaurant. And right next to the Route 66 Restaurant, is the Trade Winds Inn, now run by Best Western, and formerly known as the Gold Crown. We are in Room 215.
It is just a bit garish. Red velvet curtains, this weird s-curved naugahyde couch that also turns into a bed, the cheesiest looking lamps and furniture. Looks like it hasn't been updated since the 60's. In reality, all the other rooms have been updated, this one they keep exactly as it was -- when Elvis Presley used to stay here.
Apparently he stayed here four times...always in this room, typically on the road between Vegas and Memphis. They said he usually rolled in around midnight with his band and Col. Parker, slept most of the day...and left again at night. The very last time he stayed the room service waitress recognized him and went through town telling everyone, and soon a crowd gathered outside. He came outside and mingled with the crowd, even played stickball with some kids in the parking lot.
There are a couple big matted framed thingies with all sorts of pictures of him, stamps, etc. It is just too weird. I remember hearing about this place, but had no idea when we pulled in that this was the place. When I walked in I asked for a room, and Jim saw the flier on the counter...right as the woman was assigning us a room, I asked her...just for shits and giggles, if the Elvis room was open. It was. Jim and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. We had to do it.
Anyway....just back from a dinner of Chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and fried okra. Life is good. We left Chicago looking for Route 66. We have found a lot more, some good, some bad, some so-so. There is an old Buddhist adage that says "The journey IS the destination." Every mile further west makes that point clearer to me.
PS Jim sez hey
"Jim has officially lost his mind"
Greetings from Shamrock Texas....no cellular service...next McDonalds about a hundred miles up the road. But if I can quote the always astute Morty Seinfeld...."THEY GOT A PHONE IN THE JOHN HERE!!!!"
Jim has officially lost his mind. I sensed something last night when he started jumping up and down on the bed yelling "I'm jumping on Elvis's bed..I'm jumping on Elvis's bed!" I told him I would take to couch thing and he could sleep in the bed...which prompted a few rounds of "I'm sleeping in Elvis's bed...I'm sleeping in Elvis's bed!" All day long he has been muttering to himself..."Ahm thu Kang baby...Ahm thu Kang!" He set up a few shots of himself sprawled on the bed as if he had passed out...I passed on the opportunity to shoot him slumped on the toilet in a white towel with a peanut butter sandwich.
Shot the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum across from Chez Presley this afternoon -- a very cool place. It's split into sections by decade, and there are little buttons you can push that will play period music for whatever decade you are in. I saw him walking toward the button in the 50's section and had a sinking feeling. He hit it and out comes "Don't Be Cruel." Again with the Elvis inspired geek-dance? Sheesh....
note from Jim: knowing how to write a lot
of happy crap about Route 66, and knowing
note to self: Jim can't find his compass. Be sure to conduct an exhaustive search.
Soldiered on through western Oklahoma for the rest of the afternoon. We found a section of 66 that we were tempted to jump on even though it looked to be closed. Decided against it when we realized the trees had grown across it on both sides, and there wasn't enough room to get a car through anymore.
Picked up a tape back in Kansas at the Eisler Brothers General Store full of Route 66 songs. Some are just plain crap, but there are a few gems, Nelson Riddle's Route 66 theme...Bobby Troup doing "Get Your Kicks" , plus Jason Eklund with sort of a twisted version...called "Get Your Kicks, on What's Left of 66", but appropriately enough, the coolest thing to hear putzing down Route 66 through western OK was a Woody Guthrie song, "Willy Rogers Highway", as covered by Kevin Welch.
Kevin is a songwriter from Nashville, who literally grew up on Route 66, traveling with his family. He contributed an incredible story to this book, one of the coolest things that will be in it in my opinion. Hearing him singing that Guthrie song, just seemed to add a sense of continuity to the entire trip. Guthrie travelled it in the 30's...Kevin in the 50's and 60's...Michael Wallis (that prick) in the 80's, and us in the 90's.
When I was doing the original back and forth with the publisher about how this project would come together, my editor advised us to try to capture that "boulevard of broken dreams" feel...the loss that happened when the interstate bypassed many of the towns along the way. We've seen some of that, but for the most part we have seen wonderful, vibrant little towns. Not as much traffic passes through them any more, and I guess they aren't what they were when 66 was the main line, but they are still there.
There are still people in the coffee shops, kids walking down the street in swim trunks, soaking wet with a towel around their shoulders, still farmers harvesting wheat fields. It isn't the same...but if you think about it, nothing is the same as it was in the 30's. Towns change...but life goes on.
Shooting across the Texas panhandle to Amarillo tomorrow. This whole thing just gets cooler every day
PS Jim sez he's the Kang baby
"Amber waves of grain"
Here in west Amarillo on the tail end of a massive hail storm. Been trying to out run the storm all day...rain started in just after we got loaded into the motel.
Left Shamrock late morning, and picked up old 66 on the edge of town. Most of it was frontage road along the interstate and easy to follow. Passed through Maclean, which is where Peter Bogdonavich shot The Last Picture Show. Followed on to Alanreed...or what's left of it. Two things there to shoot...an abandoned cafe, and an abandoned gas station across the street...nothing spectacular about the cafe...just another crumbling building...but the gas station was a shocker.
It was built by a gent named Bradley Kiser in 1930, and was called the Super 66 Service Station. It was cool enough from the outside, neat brick construction, pumps still there and so on. But the inside was just a bit creepy. I looked through one of the broken windows, and it was as if someone had just locked the door and walked away. There was an old roll top desk and chair...complete with a stubby pencil sitting on top...off to one corner an improvised sort of pallet bed with a pillow and ancient looking quilt still on it..and a small table in the corner. It was tiny...couldn't have been more than 12X12 on this inside...and the way the light shined through the dusty windows it was almost monochrome...like looking at a black and white photo. In fact Jim shot the inside in black and white...since the door was locked and he couldn't get a strobe inside. All over the windows, fellow travelers had written their names in the dust. I walked around to the front and found a spot and added ours -- right under "Tom 4/10/99," and "Soon Jung Kwang 1998-10".Off for Jericho.
Our guidebook warned that we might want to get back on the interstate because what was ahead was "troubling." We figured the book was a few years old, and had led us on some bum turns before, so we kept to the old road.
After a while a sign popped up that said "Pavement Ends" -- no sweat, we've done gravel before. A mile or so up the road a big arch over a gravel driveway announced "Trew Ranch (member Southwest Cattle Raisers Assoc.)." After that we hit dirt, and kept going. About another half mile or so we crossed over this funky little bridge...kind of made of big steel tubes spaced six or so inches apart. next to it was another sign announcing "Trew Ranch." After a few hundred feet I turned to Jim and said, "Is it just me, or are these cattle no longer behind fences?" It wasn't just me.
We kept going another few hundred feet and the dirt road turned into two brown ruts leading off into a scrub pasture. I gave up and turned around. As I backed around and headed the right way I looked out the window, and about three feet away from the driver's side door was an extremely large Texas Shorthorn bull staring at me. He did not seem to be in the mood for visitors. It seems we were no longer on Route 66, but smack in the middle of the Trew Ranch (member Southwest Cattle Raisers Assoc.) We started back down the road with some haste, as about fifty cattle started standing up and looking at us. One walked across the road directly in front of us, and with no room to go around we had to wait till it decided to mosey, In the meantime the bull had lost interest in us and when the road was clear we went back over the little bridge.
"That's called a cattle grate" Jim said as we bumped over it. "You can drive over it, but cattle can't cross it." Good info, but a bit late.
We backtracked to I-40 to the next highway that would take us south to Jericho. After missing the road by a few miles we backtracked again and found Jericho. All that was left was a cemetery.
The next town along the route was Groom, home of the Golden Flame Grill, and the "Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere."
note to self: Never order anything in Texas that says "double meat."
We had a fine but filling lunch at the Golden Flame, and pulled into the site of the big cross. It's about 7 stories high, and made of what appears to be aluminum siding. All around it were life size sculptures of Jesus at the different stations of the cross.
When I was a kid and getting my weekly dose of catechism I was told Jesus died at 3PM and the sky turned dark. One Good Friday, when I was 8 or 9 I remember watching a perfectly sunny Good Friday afternoon cloud over and turn black right at three. I've never forgotten it.
I was walking around the stations of the cross looking at the statues and inscriptions, and on my way up the hill where the final three crosses representing Calvary were when Jim ran up and said we ought to try to get into Amarillo to shoot the next thing before the storm hit. I turned around and looked south and a massive black cloud that stretched from the horizon to twelve o'clock high had rolled in. We jumped into the van and headed off. It was just after 3.
Stopped at the Big Texan Inn, where you can get a free 72 oz steak, (if you eat it within an hour). As I got out of the van I looked across and there was a guy who stood a full foot taller than me, not including the cowboy hat. A "real" big Texan.
We stayed on 40 through Amarillo on our way to the Cadillac Ranch. It's a weird piece of pop-art created by a wealthy rancher named Stanley Marsh. It consists of ten vintage Cadillacs sunk into cement up to the dashboard at the angle of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Rand-McNally lists it on the map, but the locals aren't very proud of it, so there are no signs anywhere. We had figured we missed it when Jim looked out the window and saw it on the south side of the road. We backtracked around and got there ahead of the storm. Jim shot some fantastic stuff with an extremely wide-angle lens, that will show the Ranch, plus the entire skyline, complete with the massive back clouds we had just driven out from underneath.
We tooled though Amarillo, and stopped to scout a location we are shooting tomorrow. Next door was a funky little guitar shop where I scored a sweet early sixties Kay open-backed banjo for a song. Jim just looked at me and asked if he would have to buy it from me now to keep me from playing it.
Got to the motel and loaded everything in just as it began to pour. Within 15 minutes it was pounding us with hail, but all is clear now.
Agenda for tomorrow...shoot the Nat Ballroom, buy a cowboy hat, possibly an interview with an aged doyen of Amarillo society, then a mad run into Tucumcari, NM to shoot their motel row neon at night, before backtracking the next day to shoot the ghost town of Glen Rio at sunup.
Jim seems to have lost the Elvis thing...perhaps because everytime he says he's the Kang...I go grab the Kay and start playing "Dueling Banjos." I believe this is what Nixon called detente.
As we were shooting a leaning water tower somewhere east of Amarillo, Jim was walking back to the van to get something out of his bag and pointed to the wheat field next to the place. I really didn't understand what I was supposed to be looking at, so I asked him "What?"
"Amber waves of grain" he said with a smile.
PS Jim sez howdy.
Needed: A written policy on refried beans"
A long ass day if there ever was one. Left Tucumcari early, stopping for a quick breakfast at (no lie) Mom and Pop's Diner (potato or beans? toast or tortilla?) Took a quick scan and realized we were the only two guys in the place not wearing some sort of hat. Forgot to get a cowboy hat in Texas....damn. Next item....a serape.
What's left of 66 here is barely drivable in some spots, and we had to get to Albuquerque...so we made some quick time on I-40. Crossed the Pecos River in Santa Rosa, got to Albuquerque, and promptly got lost. Spent an hour or so going south looking for something that was actually north...and found ourselves right near the place we needed to go to on the south side of town. Duh.
The place we were headed was the National Atomic Museum, on Tinker AFB. They wouldn't let us drive on base, so we had to wait for a shuttle to come. It is both impressive, and spooky. There are a bunch of planes and missiles outside...a B52...a Minuteman...a Peacemaker etc. Inside there are large displays about Marie Curie, Einstein, and Fermi and the Manhattan project. There are lots of newspaper reprints about the cold war, and a short film about the atom (yawn). But if you walk toward the rear...you find the military stuff. More than you can imagine. Missiles of ever stripe, from sub launched to surface fired...to ....backpack carried? bazooka fired? It was insane the number of different ways that had to detonate one of those things. There was tons of history on the weapons, (nothing out their actual use in Japan) but it all stopped when the Berlin Wall came down. They also didn't mention anything about the other side of the base, where one of the most top-secret research installations in the country is still making better bombs to kill more people.
The Sandia National Laboratory is a Dept. of Energy site that is run in conjunction with Lockheed. They seem to have created the perfected industry. They create both supply and demand. They build better bombs, and they build equipment to dismantle the old ones. They monitor the whereabouts and age of almost ever nuclear weapon on the planet, and provide that information to a list of friendly governments. It's the most non-descript little brick building.... from the road you would think it is an office complex. Just off the base, there is a big billboard that reads "Welcome to New Mexico, America's Nuclear Weapons Colony" Creepy.
From Albuquerque we shot north into the Sangria de Christo Mountains about 7500 feet to Santa Fe. The air is thinner, the sun hotter, and the van just was not used to heading up these never ending grades. It started smelling hot so we pulled over to see what was up. Nothing...oil, tranny, everything fine. just hotter than usual.
Santa Fe is a fine little art colony, full of adobe and... well...art. If you know the way they sell cheese in Wisconsin, that's the way they sell art in Santa Fe. Coffee and art.... restaurant and gallery. It was just packed...no parking anywhere...the streets are all tiny little passages with room for one car if you're lucky. Lord was it beautiful though...huge mountains in the background...massive puffy clouds. We shot what we could and pushed on back to Albuquerque.
note to self: Never enter the southwest on a car trip without some sort of written policy on refried beans.
On the way back (and there) we passed through several Indian Reservations...the San Felipe, the Santo Domingo, and the Cochiti. Rather sad looking from the road....nothing but aging double-wides as far as we could see. One had a huge outlet mall right next to the road...completely empty....no cars...no tenants in the stores. The other's both had casino's...one sort of a glorified sports dome with parking. On the San Felipe, there was a mountain looming over it, with a massive black cloud shooting bolts of lightning into the top. As we left the southern edge of the reservation there was a big billboard next to the road that read "Welcome to New Mexico -- Number One in Nuclear Weapons -- Number One in Poverty", then a bar. Creepy
Hit a massive storm on the Acoma Reservation west of Albuquerque, winds that knocked us around like we were driving on one flat tire. Not as bad as the hail in Amarillo though.
Anyway...ended up here in Grants, an old uranium mining town where most of the miners who are still alive, sit in the cafe's with their oxygen tanks.
Been out for almost ten days and 2000 miles now and its starting to get tedious. I spoke with my son yesterday, and he just said "dada-car back!". When I told him I couldn't come back for another week or so...he started crying hysterically...Mary Alice had to take the phone and try to calm him down. Broke what heart I got.
We push on into Arizona tomorrow, three days there, and then three days in Cali. Jim flies back on the 20th and I drive the gear back solo. Taken at a prudent speed and number of hours per day...probably take me five days to get back to Chicago. Be the longest three days of my life.
"My husbandhe's a Mexican up in Gallup"
As Peter Rowan used to say "the wind blows cold in the land of the Navajo." Got an early start and it was freezing, actually had the heat on in the motel. Put on some overalls and a shirt and lit out of Grants. Where were we headed? The Arizona desert? Welcome to Planet Dork, population me.
We crossed the Continental Divide just past Thoreau (pron. Threw). Huge sweeping vistas all around...and if you didn't know...rainfall east of that point drains into the Atlantic...west into the Pacific.
Made our way into Gallup to shoot at the El Rancho Motel...which is this ultra cool place where a lot of movie stars used to stay. Not only was something of a resort destination, but they used to film Westerns in the desert nearby, so the walls are covered with signed pictures of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Andy Devine, plus a million other character actors whose faces you would know, but probably not their names. Very cool interior...like something out of the old West. On to Lupton, or so we thought.
We had just passed Maneulito and were pretty much on the middle of no where when I saw something purple ahead by the side of the road. As we drew closer I realized it was an Indian woman...looked to be in her 60's or 70's. It was still windy and chilly, and she was wearing a thin dress and a short coat pulled tightly around her. As we came closer she stuck out her thumb. Jim wasn't really into it, but I pulled over.
We cleared out some space in back for her and she climbed in. She spoke very broken English, but said she was going to Chambers. She sat silently as we rode along...holding on to the shoulder belt but never fastening it. We pulled into a Trading Post a few miles up the road where Jim wanted to shoot some pics. She just looked at the place and said "Johnny Yellowhorse -- he knows me" Jim got out to shoot, and when he was gone she began to talk.
"My husband...he's a Mexican up in Gallup. Last night he tell me `I don't want you, go' He tell me to walk" So she did. She walked out the door with nothing but her coat and had been walking back toward the reservation in Arizona all night. Gallup was a little over 25 miles back. She had to have been walking all night in the freezing hills. She said she was cold, and thirsty, so I rolled up the windows and gave her some water from the cooler.
We jumped onto the interstate to take her to Chambers. We crossed over the New Mexico border into Arizona, and onto the Navajo Reservation. A few miles before Chambers she started saying something about Sonny Boy and pointing to the exit. We got off, and she said go to the "Sunoco" station. We pulled into the Conoco gas station ahead and stopped. She pointed to a house across a field and said "My home...my sonny boy home." As she got out she asked what my same was...and I told her. She just grinned and said "My Sonny Boy is Tim...Tim Kulak(sp?) . I'm Betty Kulak...thank you" She started off across the highway as Jim put some of his camera gear back into the back of the van. I watched in the side mirror as she stepped down off the road into the field where the house was. Jim hopped back in and we turned around to get back to the interstate. And she was gone. I swear we only sat there a minute or so...and there is just no way she could have covered that whole field in such a short time. Next stop the Painted Desert.
Much of 66 comes in fits and starts in this section, so we stayed on the interstate through the reservation, and into the park. It's like being on the moon.
You can see for miles, and miles, and miles (sorry Pete). We stood looking at mountains that were 120 miles away. There are huge flats and hills reaching everywhere. Jim grabbed a a stack of film and proceeded to go nuts, shooting color and b/w. The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest abut one another, and there is a 28 mile loop that leads you through both. We made the loop, stopping to shoot here and there, visiting a Puerca(ancestors of the Hopi and Zuni tribes) pueblo that was almost a thousand years old, complete with petroglyphs chipped into the side of a huge boulder. Made our way out the south end of the petrified forest and grabbed 180 into Holbrook.
Shot some great stuff of the WigWam Village there. Thought we were going to stay there that night, but it was only early afternoon, so we pushed on. Passed on the opportunity to buy some petrified dinosaur droppings at one of the many rock shops on the main drag. "Hi honey...Im back...and I brought you some dung" Wouldn't have worked.
After Holbrook we stopped at the Trading Post in Jackrabbit (no serapes!) and rolled into Winslow, which on a Sunday afternoon, was pretty deserted. Stopped long enough to have some lunch, and snap a pic of writer boy standing on a corner, and hit it again.
By now the heat was monstrous, we wussed out and turned on the AC. Took a detour down to the famous meteor crater, which is about 2.5 miles around, and utterly amazing. Jim saw some rusted out cars about a half mile or so out into the desert, and demanded we shoot them. He jumped out and went traipsing out loaded down with gear.
note to self: Next time you're in the desert with a photographer, remember to bring a small rattle to shake suddenly behind him for comic effect.
Hit the interstate again, and took it all the way to Winona. Got off there and snapped a few pics, the began a slow climb up into the San Francisco Mountains, and Flagstaff. Not a bad little burg, but mostly unremarkable. Decided to push on to Williams before calling it a night. Good choice.
Williams is a wonderful little town. Sort of like Galena, IL with another street. We found a fantastic room -- almost a suite really -- for $45 bucks at the Route 66 Inn (first motel built on 66 in Williams) and went out for dinner.
Phone lines would not accommodate our laptop, so we weren't able to send out our daily waste of cyberspace. But still, one of the most fantastic days of driving and scenery we've had the whole trip.
Who could know that tomorrow would be even better.
PS Jim sez "You don't like my driving
do you? That's what this is all about"
"Hey MyrnaI'm doing a Kojak!"
Another early rise, to shoot the owner of the Red Garter in Williams, an old whorehouse now converted into a very cool B&B (Bed&Bakery). Got back on the interstate to just past Ash Fork, where old 66 veers way north into the desert. First stop, Seligman.
As you pull in, the first thing you see is Delgadillo's Snow Cap. It's an incredible funky little diner/burger joint run by a fellow named Juan Delgadillo. He is 83 years old, and if you check Webster's, you'll find his picture next to the word "character." Most of his customers are Route 66 tourists, and he absolutely skewers them with jokes.
There is no menu per se, just a board in the back with a list. If you hem and haw like you're not sure what you want...he'll ask you if you "wanna look?" If you bite...he hands you a Look candy bar and turns away. Need a napkin? He hands you a wad of used ones...Oh...you wanted a clean one...ok...he hands it to you. Need a fork? He hands you a melted one with one prong....then he pulls out a box of five hundred and sets it on the counter. Want salt? He hands you a brick with the word salt written on it. Need catsup? He pulls out a gag bottle that shoots a red string at you...do you need to ask about the mustard? The thing that makes it even funnier, is that most of the customers are European, and speak little English...and are not quite sure what to make of him. Just off to the side of the place is a long row of chairs....it took me a second to recognize them and Juan as the fellow I had read about in National Geographic. Deja who? Wait...it gets better.
Juan has a brother, Angel, who is the town barber. He was born on Route 66. He went to barber school on Route 66, he did his internship on Route 66, and came back to Seligman and opened his shop on Route 66 47 years ago. When the town was bypassed by I-40...he got together with 15 other people in Seligman and founded the Historic Route 66 Association. Everyone thought he was nuts, but he persevered, and soon others began following his lead. Throughout the country, chapters sprung up and soon there were Route 66 associations in every state. Two days ago, congress approved a $10 million dollar bill to help restore 66. It all started with Angel.
Since we started this project, Jim has had one burning desire, to get a shave from Angel. He got it. As did I. I'm 38, Jim is 28, and neither of us had had an honest to goodness barber shop shave before. It was an incredible treat. Angel also gave me a haircut. He asked if he could choose the style...and if so he would do it for free. I said sure...and he immediately called to his daughter in the next room "Hey Myrna....I'm doing a Kojak!"
We burned way more time than necessary in
Seligman...just sitting on the bench in front of Angel's shop
talking. We found out after the fact, that he is actually retired,
but still comes to the shop every day because he knows people
from all over the world will expect him to be there. He stopped
doing the guys in town's hair 2 years ago, and told them "You're
still going to see me here cutting hair...but its all public
relations work" The absolute sweetest man we have met along
the way. His mother named him well.
We passed through several small rainshowers in bright sunlight, that cooled things off a little, and brought the smell of wet, steamy asphalt up off the road. Came out the bottom edge of the reservation near Valentine, and soon we were in Hackberry.
The Hackberry General Store is famous stuff on the Route, since it was run for years by a fellow named Bob Waldmire. Bob looks like your garden variety burned out hippie, but in actuality is one damned fine artist, and had devoted much of his life to Route 66. He has a very cool, almost R.Crumb-ish style, and is an all around sweetheart. Last year he tired of the grind in Hackberry, and sold the store to a couple from Washington.
A light rain started just as we pulled in. One of the new owners, Kerry Pritchard, was giving their dog a bath in the front yard while her husband John worked on the roof upstairs. She greeted us warmly and asked if we would like coffee or anything. After so much desert driving...all I wanted to do was sit in a big rocking chair out front and let the rain hit me...so I sat while Jim looked around.
A minute or so later....a HUGE gust of wind blew in....knocking a bench behind me over and into the chair. and sending forward. It knocked John down...almost blowing him off the roof...and sending a nine foot section of corrugated tin careening straight into the van. A minute later..it was gone.
We stayed for way longer than we should have...but it so peaceful, and the Pritchards so friendly it was hard to leave.
We followed the old road back off into Kingman, where we landed for the night. If yesterday was remarkable because of the beauty of the and...today was remarkable because of the beauty of the people. Friendly doesn't begin to describe it.
We are almost to the California border. This is ending too fast. I want to go back and set a spell on main street Seligman....or sit in a rocking chair at the Hackberry General Store and wonder what people with jobs actually are doing on a weekday afternoon.
PS Jim sez "my face feels like a baby's
"It was now 115 degrees"
Here in Barstow at the less than savory El Rancho motel. The a/c no trabajar and it looks like most of the folks who are here live here, and spend the evenings sitting on the benches out front drinking out of paper bags. Somehow we seem to fit in rather well.
Had NO idea leaving Kingman what was in store...the scariest white knuckle day of driving the whole trip. Bearing out of Kingman we picked up Oatman Road, and headed out into the desert. If any of you folks from the Route 66 listserv are driving the road this summer (especially in anything larger than a minivan) beware. It is about 30 miles of winding, twisting, no railed mountain road with several hundred-foot drop-offs just off the shoulder.
I dropped the van out of overdrive....and eventually into second as we wound our way up the hills. We finally hit Sitgreaves Pass...at about 4000 ft, and there was a pull off where a few other cars were already. We got out and poked around...and looking down on the hillsides we saw three things....outstanding desert mountain views....cars laying smashed at the bottom...and white crosses planted in the ground above. Jim was a little spooked...since one of the cars was the same color and make as his. We found one that had obviously run straight off the road into a sheer rock face and exploded. At the very bottom were the remains of a pick-up truck. A door...and a few yards away a bumper..a few yards further the chassis...after that a side panel....just completely spread out.
That short stretch took us almost an hour and a half to do...partly because of stopping to shoot pics, but mostly because it wasn't prudent to do more than 15-25 MPH along the way. Regardless....getting into Oatman made the whole ordeal worthwhile.
It's a tiny little place, with one street -- an old mining town. There are wild burros roaming through town mooching carrots, licking up spilled ice cream, drinking out of kiddy pools and getting by as best they can. When the gold mine closed in 1942, the mine company just let them all loose into the hills, and they have been wandering about, generation after generation ever since.
There are a lot of historic buildings there, including the Oatman Hotel, where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned, but we opted for a newer place for lunch -- Cactus Joe's. It' s a funky little cantina at the far edge of town and when we walked up Cactus Joe himself was standing in front cooking on an outdoor grill.
It's absolutely charming and ramshackle on the inside....cobbled together with sheets of plywood and particle board, the whole thing built up around a giant cactus that sits in the middle of the dining room. We were both starved and thirsty, so we got a couple of beers and ordered lunch. I chose the "Stinkin' Garlic Steakburger" (patty fried in garlic..then soaked in garlic as they sauté the mushrooms and onions in more garlic, then top it with garlic and serve it with fries and a clove of garlic. Jim, playing Khrushchev to my Eisenhower, ordered the same, with a side of onion rings.
It was already 106 degrees when we left, and it was beating us down pretty good. We rolled down out of Oatman and into he Mojave oozing garlic out of every pore. A quick check of local radio told us it was now 110 degrees. We followed the old road through Golden Springs, where we rejoined I-40, and crossed the Colorado River into California.
The heat was like a blast furnace. By the time we had dropped down to the desert floor it was 115 degrees. We picked up 95 north to catch the old road into Goffs, trying to best each other with garlic belches. The pages on the atlas were starting to curl when we caught the old road, and found ourselves stuck behind a two-trailer semi load of freshly harvested onions. We followed along into Goffs where we got stuck by a slow moving train, then continued south of I-40 toward Amboy. The road was completely deserted, so we decided it was time to stage our own small protest against California's open container statutes.
As we were tooling along the deserted road...Jim pointed out the window. There is a small embankment that stretches for miles, and all along it people had spelled out their names by arranging rocks against the side. We kept on, not wanting to get out of the air conditioning until Jim saw a spot he wanted to photograph. I jumped out behind him and started gathering stones, which were so hot they burnt my hands. When Jim finished shooting he started piling them up as well and soon we had spelled out our names. We jumped back in the car dripping with sweat and almost overcome by the heat.
Rejoined the interstate to Newberry Springs headed for the Bagdad Cafe, famed for being the location of the movie of the same name. Stepped inside and had a cup of coffee while Jim shot exteriors. In a booth by the window a little boy of maybe 5 or 6 sat alone. He said he was thirsty and asked the fellow behind the counter for a Mr. Pibb. He got a glass of ice water instead. I ordered a large Mr. Pibb and took it to him, and told him it was on me. He lit up like it was Christmas. He started telling everyone around "look...I have a big Pepsi glass!" He was having the damnedest time playing with the paper sleeve of the straw and taking little sips...like he was trying to make it last. Then his father came out of the back room where he been doing something.
"Look Dad! I have a big Pepsi glass!" he said. His father looked at him, walked up and pulled it out of his hands, and walked away drinking it.
"Not no more you don't boy" he said as he sat down at the counter, and began discussing the differences between the new and old Folsom Prison with another former con. It made my blood just fucking boil. I was wearing sunglasses....so I guess he couldn't see me staring daggers into him. My heart pounded in my chest as I sat wondering whether his piece of shit ex-con buddy would try to jump me as I smashed his goddamn face into the counter. He got up and walked into the back again, as the boy called after him saying "I want to go home.....I'm ready to go home now"
Andre is a sweet, sweet woman who runs the place, and as she filled our coffee cups we began to talk about this and that, and ended up lingering for over an hour. When we finally got a good enough caffeine buzz going, we left. I got the kid another Mr. Pibb in a to go cup, and told him not to let anyone take it from him. I'm not sure what happened, but I hope the poor thing actually got to drink this one.
Anyway....putzed our way into Barstow and landed at the historic El Rancho motel....seedy would be a compliment. Drunks staggering up and down the street, sitting on the stoops etc. Spent the day in 115 degree heat and end up in a room with a barely functional airconditioner. Soon as I send this...I'm off to the pool for a refreshing dip.
A brutal, beautiful, horrible, fantastic, mind-numbing yet awe inspiring day on old Route 66. Tomorrow we're off for Victorville, Helendale, and San Bernadino. LA is getting too close for comfort. This is ending way too fast.
PS Jim sez it's like somebody's out there with a big hairdryer pointed at us.
"She moved to the desert to die in peace"
It's like, uh...ya know.... totally Hey...
Shortest run of the trip, hence not much to report. Left Barstow early to shoot Exotic World , a museum devoted to burlesque performers. We met with Dixie Evans, the proprietress, and caught her in curlers and rubber gloves scrubbing out her microwave. She had a big Chamber of Commerce group coming later in the day, so Jim shot the interior of the place, and we came back later in the day to do her portrait and interview.
She's a fantastic dame...no more fitting term to use. After an illustrious career as a stripper...she bounced from one crappy job to another...finally ending up as a nurse's aide. A long time friend and fellow stripper who was running a few nightclubs had developed terminal cancer, and gave up the clubs to move to the desert to die in peace. Dixie visited her friend often, and ending up staying in the place after she died. She built the museum in what were former goat sheds...one room at a time, with her own money.
These days she has reunions every year for other former burlesque strippers, and the museum contains things museums would die for. Sally Rand's fans from the Chicago World's Fair...Jayne Mansfield's heart shaped divan, even a dress of Marylyn Monroe's.
Been another beat down day in the desert. We rolled into the San Bernardino Mountains looking at the huge back cloud of smog over LA. 66 is pretty much lousy barrio along the whole stretch into Rancho Cucamonga. Had planned on staying at the wigwam motel in San Bernardino...but the place was crumbling..cashier behind bullet-proof class...no credit cards...a deposit for the key...pool empty...we passed.
It's officially done tomorrow.
PS Jim sez 7 of 9 is way too fine
"Drive West on Sunsetto the sea"
We left Ontario following every twist and turn of the old road we could find, knowing the end was near. Old 66 roughly follows Foothills Blvd. through the northern suburbs of Los Angeles -- Upland and Claremont, San Dimas and Azusa, before dipping down into Pasadena and entering East LA.
We followed it through the barrio, full of Botanicas and Guardenia de Ninos, passing a food plant that made hot sauce...the Tabasco smell pervading the van. On to Sunset full of gay porn houses and storefronts advertising acting classes and immigration law. For two Chicago boys, in some ways it's like being in the heart of enemy territory. But oddly enough, we passed a Halstead Street...a Whole Foods...a Lincoln Park, and flipped on the radio and heard Jonathan Brandmier.
We caught Santa Monica Blvd. and drove on through West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and into Santa Monica down to the pier. Final mileage -- 3361.0.
It's been an incredible trip in every way. We have been through duststorms, hailstorms, and windstorms. Had temperature's ranging from the upper 40's to 115. Driven through elevations between 300 feet in the Mojave, and 7500 feet in the Sangria de Christo mountains, driven through cornfields, hayfields, wheatfields and cotton fields We've met the Germans and French, the Navajo, Okie, Texan and a host of others.
Jim and I started out as acquaintances working on a project, and have come out the other end as damn good friends. We've met the most fascinating and kind people you could ever imagine, and it has everything to do with being on Route 66. It has been the trip of a lifetime for both of us. I don't know that I will ever have a chance to do it again. I walked away from a job to take this project, and I'm not sure if I will have one when I get back to Chicago. Even if I had the time, a 3000 mile car trip is not much of a family vacation. These days kids want to go to Disney World, not Disneyland.
All along the way we tried to stick to as much of the old road as we could. We did our best to drop a buck or two where we stayed, and pass a little onto the folks who have made, and continue to make Route 66 what it is. We never ate in a McDonalds, or Pizza Hut, or any national chain. We have not had a cup of coffee that cost more than 50 cents, or was referred to as anything other than coffee. If we picked up a T-Shirt or postcard or souvenier, we got them from the old businesses along 66, not the gas stations near the interstate. We stopped to help people that needed it, and got the hell out of the way of those that didn't.
We've landed with some friends of Jim's up in Topanga Canyon. Just grilled a couple steaks, and are having a few beers and a few laughs. He's laying over until his flight on Sunday, I'm taking off first light tomorrow for a 2032 mile trip back to Chicago by myself. I suppose I can make it in three or four days. My son seems to have grown up since I left, and I'm pretty sure my daughter took her first steps while I was gone, but wifey doesn't want tell me long distance.
As a kid growing up in cornfield Illinois, I always had certain fantasies regarding LA, and they always had one specific soundtrack. Jim and I have pretty different tastes in music, and he has been pretty good about indulging my weird tastes and spur of the moment banjo playing. But as we rolled into Los Angeles proper, I slid a tape into the deck and turned it up louder than normal. As we rolled down the Boulevard toward the Pacific, it rang out the windows.
"Drive west on Sunset....to the sea
PS Jim sez "You were reloading the camera every time I handed it to you right?"