Thursday, May 20, 2021
“Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox”
That’s George Strait on the radio.
It’s day three of a month-long road trip.
We’ve travelled down the eastern side of California’s San Joaquin Valley and are now passing through the Mojave Desert on the Southeastern edge of the state. When it comes to radio, we’ve been ordering from a limited menu; mostly conservative talk, God, and Country/Western.
Every now and again we receive a dash of sports talk and during our drive down the valley we got a spicy helping of Mexican Norteño music. The valley is ag country and the labor is heavily Mexican so we tuned to the Spanish speaking stations when we got weary of right wing talk and couldn’t find Country.
I have a fully loaded and functioning Spotify app, with a variety of playlists but I’m traveling to sample the flavors of the places I’m visiting and local radio is a big part of the sampler. Local radio speaks the local language.
So, yeah, I go with the conservative talk radio until I can’t take it anymore and then scan to something else. I’m skipping the God stations until we get to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the proselytizing should get real intense. I wanna get it straight from God’s own shock jocks why me and all the other sinning, Beelzebub loving liberals are doomed to burn in the pit.
This third day marks our first on Route 66, the Mother Road. John Steinbeck coined that term. The Mother Road. In the 1930s she was the siren enticing migrants who were fleeing the ravages of the Dust Bowl and all its collateral damage; failed crops, poverty, hunger and bank foreclosures. They drove the Mother Road from small towns and sharecropper plots in Oklahoma and Arkansas, Americans who came to California to be treated as foreign interlopers.
In later years the Mother Road teased the adventurous spirit of travelers, as the automobile became a symbol of 20th Century American freedom. Route 66 was America’s Main Street, carrying vacationers west to glamourous Southern California, the Land of Milk and Honey, where the land locked could dip their toes in the blue Pacific.
Route 66 starts in Chicago and cuts through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, ending at the Santa Monica Pier.
Over the decades sections of Route 66 were rerouted. The late 1950s marked the decline of Route 66. With President Eisenhower’s push to build an interstate highway system, the Mother Road was either bypassed or had sections of it incorporated into new highways.
Today sections of the two lane road still exist. Other sections are closed or come to a dead end and some segments have disappeared completely. Today traveling Route 66, is time travel; a journey back to jalopies, chrome laden Buicks, family owned motels with big neon signs and diners that served simple comfort food for a fair price.
Where it hasn’t been incorporated into a multi-lane highway, the Mother Road is two lanes, sometimes rough, that curve and in places dip and roll like a concrete coaster. Most of the towns and cities that survive are those that were swallowed up into the interstate system.
The others? Route 66 goes past the remains of towns that were once vibrant but in the end could never survive being cut off from travelling America. Death by loneliness.
Other towns, like the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, turned their history and that of Route 66 into an attraction that’s allowed them to survive as kitschy tourist destinations.