Route 66 – Day 1
Illinois and Missouri
Jeff has wanted for a very long time to drive Route 66. It has been a bucket list item for him and since he fulfilled my wish to go to Italy last year I felt that it was only fair to reciprocate and drive 2400 miles from Chicago to L.A. I mean, it’s almost the same thing as Venice, right? Maybe not, but at the end of the first day it appears that this trip may offer a certain charm of its own.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Ariston, which is supposed to be the oldest restaurant on Route 66. Of course, it did not open until 4 p.m. and it was 2:30. However, when the owner saw us peering in the window he insisted we come in and look around. Then he put us behind the counter and took our picture. He was a sweet old man and told us that this was his last day of ownership of this restaurant after 60 years. He looked as if he might cry and we both left the restaurant feeling as if we had known him forever and hoping that he would be happy in his long awaited retirement.
There are a lot of biggest, oldest and other superlatives on Route 66. Our next two stops involved seeing the biggest covered wagon in the world (driven by Abraham Lincoln no less) and the biggest ketchup bottle in the world, perched jauntily atop a water tower. Not to be missed. A famous stop on Route 66 in southern Illinois is Henry’s Rabbit Ranch. Ranch might be overstating it; apparently there is one rabbit that Henry shows you when you come into his general store. This too was closed even though the guidebook stated it would be open at the time we were there. However, there was a huge sign that read “semi-retired – will only be here by chance.” So apparently we missed our chance. Our last stop before reaching St. Louis for the night was in Edwardsville at an historic building whose businesses served Route 66 travelers in the day.
There is only one business in the building these days. It is now The Evermore Gallery; a tattoo parlor.
Day 2 – Missouri
Breakfast was at the Eat-Rite Diner today. And we did. It is one of the oldest (again with the superlatives) restaurants on the route. While we were there I read the lunch menu and it said
Burgers – 2.95
Hamburgers – 6 for 7.95.
I guess the words burgers and hamburgers must have meant different things back in the 30’s….
We then headed to Cuba, Missouri (named after the country), a town that underwent a huge economic depression in the 1980s and revitalized itself by painting 13 murals on the walls of buildings throughout the downtown area. Apparently Amelia Earhart landed in this town on one of her flights for a very brief time because she had some kind of technical problem. She has her own mural.
Lunch was at Harold’s BBQ Shack, a charming place where waitresses wear t-shirts that say “I’m a hick chick from Missouri.” Just down the road was – wait for it – the world’s largest rocking chair.
We stayed for the night at a “motor inn”, one of those motels where you drive your car right up to the entrance of your room. Jeff said, “I feel nostalgic about this trip but I’ve never been here.” And true, we’ve never been to this particular motel but we both stayed in similar places when we were kids. And I think he was nostalgic (we both were) for what life was like when we were kids. Not that it wasn’t without its own problems, but in a lot of ways it was simpler time, like a motor inn where you just pull up to the room. It had a playground with a metal slide too. No plastic for us when we were kids. If you burned your legs a little, well you would survive.
Day 3 – Missouri and Kansas
There’s nothing like breakfast in a diner. Preferably an old one with pots and pans hanging on the walls and a lady with a hair net cooking your breakfast to order. Today it was Anton’s Coffee Shop. The coffee was ground right in front of us with a Ronocco (that brand still exists??) grinder. Delicious. After a pretty drive through southern Missouri we crossed into Kansas and had lunch in Galena. We had to search for a while for a place that was actually open. Apparently many places in this part of the country are closed on Mondays and many others close for the July 4th week, often without putting up any notice. After lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was open and had excellent food (unexpected in Kansas….) we walked to Pickers’s Post, a vintage/collectible/antique market. The proprietor was excited that we were from Chicago. She took our picture and told us she would put it on her Facebook. (Which she did.) A small town named Commence, Oklahoma was the birthplace of Mickey Mantle and that was our next stop. There’s a statue and a baseball field named after him. It’s a good thing too because there was not much else going on there. We are staying at the Campbell Hotel in Tulsa, a relic from the past if ever there was one. They seem to have a spirit of independence and defiance out in this part of the country that is unlike Chicago. The restaurant next door to our hotel, Maxwell’s, had been changed to a deli named Jane’s. We were disappointed as the guide book made Maxwell’s sound really classy. However, the staff insisted that Jane’s was just as good (doubtful) and told us we were going to be in their Monday night Trivia game, even though we said that we were leaving after we finished eating. They gave us game cards anyway and then when no one else agreed to play they had to cancel it. (They must not have wanted us to hog all the prizes.)
Pick up trucks
Blue jeans (even when it’s 104 degrees outside)
We had the best breakfast today (I know I keep talking about breakfast but these old diners are the bomb) at the Corner Cafe. We were waited on by a woman, easily in her late 60s, whose name is Wanda. She had a huge beehive hairdo. My french toast was 3.99. When was the last time anyone in Chicago had breakfast in a restaurant for 3.99? Sometimes I think this part of the country is in a time warp.
Other interesting things we encountered today:
It was 104 degrees
We drove through a town where every single business in downtown was closed. (permanently) A real ghost town.
We ate at an outside cafe by a river and a crane landed 5 feet from us and sat there for quite a while.
That’s the great thing about this trip. You just never know what is going to happen.
See Oklahoma Day 4
We saw a guy driving on the sidewalk today. I have to give him credit. He was driving pretty well. He navigated a telephone pole and then a low wall. Then he turned into a parking lot, cut off the corner and pulled into the street.
People love their religion here. We went to see one of the world’s largest crosses. It is 19 stories (that’s right stories, not feet) high. It’s enormous. It belongs to a church and they have a whole display. There is also a tomb with a stone that has been rolled away, as well as three life size crosses with people nailed to them. On a hill.
This morning on our way out of Oklahoma City we stopped at the bombing memorial. The bombing happened in 1995 at a federal building. 168 people died. I had honestly forgotten about it until we saw the memorial. It was really well done and very touching. I’m glad we saw it and had an opportunity to remember.
Texas and New Mexico
I forgot to mention that I peed on Route 66. Well, not on it actually but on the side of it. This was in Oklahoma. We were on a really old part that goes on for a few miles and is pretty deserted except for the occasional cow or horse. And I had to pee pretty badly. But don’t worry; no one was around, I used a kleenex and I took it with me. No harm done.
We had breakfast at the Stockyard Cafe today, which is a great name because it is smack in the middle of a stockyard. There were no cattle there because it’s only used for auctions and there was no auction today. But out back were the pens where they keep the cattle while they are being auctioned off. It was one of the most interesting settings for a restaurant that I have seen. There was also a dead cow in the parking lot.
One of the really weird things about this part of the country is that there is crap everywhere. Old tires, shells of cars, appliances, railroad ties, hot water heaters etc. It is common to find them heaped on the side of the road. It’s as if something breaks and instead of putting it out for garbage collection people just toss it in their yard. I can’t imagine that this is true for the whole of these states but the towns that Route 66 goes through are often depressed because new highways were built that mostly bypassed these towns. Their only livelihood is often tourism and it’s not enough. But the junk; oh my. In one town we actually saw a truck cab lying on its side in the grass by the side of the road. It had obviously been there for a very long time. It’s as if someone tried to take the corner, misjudged it, overturned the truck, got out and walked away. And no one in the town seems the least bit concerned.
We are staying in Tucumcari New Mexico tonight. We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and we were the only ones in there. The waitress told us that the town in mostly retirees and that the young people are urged to get out so that they don’t end up on drugs or pregnant. Now that’s depressed. (And depressing.)
New Mexico (again)
Our cat is dying. Claire called us two nights ago and said that he was walking funny. His back leg kept giving out. Yesterday he could hardly walk at all so Sarah took him to the vet. The vet said he had lost a lot of weight and was very dehydrated and that his kidney failure had advanced quite a bit. By this morning Frankie had stopped eating. We conferred with Sarah and Claire several times and finally decided that it is best to have him put down. They are going in tomorrow morning. This was a very hard decision. Frankie is 20 years old and the best cat anyone ever had. But the hardest part is that we will not be there to say good bye. You don’t cancel a long planned and awaited vacation because your cat is dying, especially since there are two perfectly capable people at home to handle things. I just feel bad. He has been a part of our family for almost as long as anyone can remember. I wish I could say good bye. I know it won’t matter to Frankie but it will to me.
We will continue on our trip and we will enjoy it. We have already planned a little reminiscence party for Frankie when we get back.
Miss you already buddy.
Day 8 – New Mexico (it’s a big state)
We are in Albuquerque tonight, sleeping in a vintage Airstream RV. We thought it would be cool but it’s kind of like the idea of an outdoor wedding in Chicago. It sounds better than it turns out to be. It’s very old (hence the word “vintage”) and it has a toilet but no shower. The showers are across the parking lot. The lighting is awful and the air conditioner sounds like a train is running through the place. But, it’s only for one night and we will survive this adventure and live to tell about it.
We drove by the Walter White house from Breaking Bad. The owners put up a six foot wrought iron fence around the house because apparently people used to drive by and throw pizzas on the roof. (recreating a scene from the show.) People are so crazy.
We went to Old Town in Santa Fe this morning and bought a really cool metal flower sculpture. It cost 80 dollars and we decided to ship it home because we are flying home. We drove to a UPS shipping center and they charged up 90 bucks to ship it to Illinois. Yikes.
Day 9 – New Mexico and Arizona (finally)
After we both recovered from sleeping on the worst mattress ever (circa 1969 I think) we went to breakfast at a local diner and chatted with two guys who go in there every morning. They were very friendly and interesting to talk to. Of course when they found out we were from Chicago they said that they will never go there because it is too violent. But our interaction with Lou and Alfred reminded me of one of the reasons that this trip is so much more than just driving 2400 miles. It enables us to get to know our country better; the different regions, cultures and behaviors of our fellow countrymen (and women).
We spent a good part of the afternoon at the Petrified Forest, which was absolutely breathtaking. I love our national parks – they rock.
And we get to sleep in a real bed tonight in Winslow Arizona.
Day 10 – Arizona
“Standing on a Corner in Winslow Arizona..” That’s how we started the day. Winslow doesn’t have a whole lot going for it but boy they are sure trying to cash in on this song. There’s an actual corner with statues of Jackson Browne and Glenn Frye, who co-wrote the song. There’s a story on the internet that says Jackson Browne actually thought up the lyrics when he was in Flagstaff but that the word Winslow sounded better. But nobody in Winslow cares about that story. They have a gig and they are sticking with it.
We drove a lot today but much of it was on the actual Route 66 (you can’t drive all of it) so it was cool and the Arizona part is very pretty. We stopped overnight in Kingman Arizona. The propietor of the hotel was an Israeli man who apparently knows everything there is to know about Kingman and Route 66. He claims that many famous people stayed in this hotel because it was one of the first to have private bathrooms. He says that the Three Stooges stayed here and that is all Jeff needed to hear. However, the air conditioning sucks and although Moe, Larry and Curly probably didn’t even have AC, here in 2018 it sucks.
Day 11 – Arizona and California
Another long day of driving. (I guess that’s sort of the point, right?) But we drove through the Mojave Desert and that was fascinating. It’s hot and dry and arid and windy at times and we actually saw a tumbleweed blow across the road. Just like in the movies. And people actually live out there. Every once in a while you would see a cluster of trailer homes or ramshackle houses and we also saw the occasional trailer sitting completely by itself. I think this is the Western way of living off the grid. We stopped for lunch in a town called Oatman. There are Burros wandering the town (by design) and the whole town smells like manure. I guess it’s their tourist attraction. We saw some babies (or whatever you call baby burros) and they were cute but then we saw a male burro who was obviously in heat (and I don’t mean the temperature kind) and he kept following a female around and braying really loudly. Then another male came over and kicked him in the head so that kind of cooled him off. Just as we were leaving another male burro stopped right beside us and peed a bucket of urine right on the sidewalk. It was a fun place to visit but I don’t think I would want burro antics as part of my daily existence.
Tonight we are staying in the Wigwam motel in San Bernadino. The units are shaped like teepees but they are actually made of concrete. I was fearing the worst after last night but they have been completely remodeled since they were built in 1948. And the air conditioning works.
California and, wait for it, Santa Monica Pier!
We did it. Two thousand, four hundred and fifty one miles. We drove from San Bernadino to Santa Monica today, which is only a distance of 76 miles. However, Route 66 at this point goes through heavily populated areas and it took us four hours. The only stop we made was at the Donut Man for a mid morning snack. Tasty. We got to the Santa Monica pier and found the sign that said Route 66 – End of the Road. It was really cool to to see that sign after 12 days in the car and 8 states. We asked someone to take our picture in front of the sign. After that we watched other people get their picture taken and it occurred me; there is no way all these people just traveled Route 66. They were having their picture taken for fun, because the sign is there. I’ll tell you I got a little annoyed, even though I have no definitive proof of this. You could just tell. Jeff thought it was funny that I got annoyed but hey, we put in the time and these people are just posers. Jeff said, “why don’t you say something to them?” But me? I’m a bigger person than that. Let them have their unearned fun.
We are staying in a Hampton Inn in Foothills, California, about 15 miles south of Anaheim. The traffic here is horrendous. We went to a Canyon Nature Preserve and hiked. It was hot but very pretty. Then we went to a Panera to cool off for a while. We saw an Angels game tonight. We are trying to visit every baseball stadium and that one made 18. So we are getting there. It was a very nice stadium. They have a Japanese pitcher who is apparently very good although he is currently on the disabled list. Tonight was his bobble head night and there were a lot of Japanese people there wearing his jersey. It was a beautiful night for a baseball game.
We spent the day in a town called —-. There is a lovely beach there and we brought a lunch and sat and read and walked for a while. The town is adorable with little shops and restaurants and pots of money. We went to a Dodgers game in the evening; number 19. Those fans are weird. They get there in the third inning and then keep getting up to get food and beer because they don’t sell anything in the stands. Most of them did not seem the least bit interested in the game. Almost every single person who came out of the tunnel immediately turned around and took a selfie. It is a great ballpark; lots of character. But the people who go to the games treat it like a tourist attraction, not a sporting event. Only in L.A.
Home tomorrow. What took us 14 days to drive will take us 4 hours to fly. This was a great trip; better than I expected. But I’ll be happy to be home.