Thursday, July 24, 2008

Along Route 66

I have always liked taking a trip and driving at night. I remember clearly the first time I knew it was great. When I was six we took a trip from California to Illinois. I learned it was my Dad's choice to drive at night. Almost every trip of substance started either at 9pm after dinner or early, early in the morning, 4am.
My Father would say, "We need to get ahead of the traffice or We want to cross the desert when it is cool".
This one would start after dinner. Dad had found an automobile Air Conditioner, it attached to the passenger side window and it looked and worked like a jet engine, taking air blown into the front and blew cooled air from the water inside the container into the car. It dripped a bit. But it worked! It was like having a wet rag on your face with the wind blowing in. What was the best about these trips is that most children fall asleep as soon as the car starts. At least mine did. I didn't. My parents would say.
"Mark, does not want to miss anything."
That wasn't really accurate but when I was a youngster you did not contradict Mom or Dad. Times have changed for most parents. The truth of the matter was that it was the only time when I had my Father's complete attention. Mom would fall asleep, my three brothers would fall asleep and I could talk with my Father for miles and miles. My folks had purchased a fire engine red 1956 Chevy Belair Nomad Station Wagon for the trip. It was a beautiful car. My Dad had a pad made so that when the rear seats were put down it turned into a rather comfy bed. By the middle of the night I was sitting on the passenger side getting dripped on while everyone else was asleep in the back.
I would learn a great deal. My Dad would tell me how to find which way you were traveling from the stars. As a pilot in World War II it was part of his training. How to reckon from the North Star and figure which direction was North. Where Orion would rise and set and which direction it would travel. The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, due North I was sure my Dad was some kind of genius. I would learn about farming beans. A High School project to earn money he and his twin brother had engaged in. Green Beans was a warm weather crop and if skillfully farmed could allow for lifeguarding at the community pool during the summer days as well. The key was moisture and soil. Being a shallow crop the key was enough moisture for growth but not enough to allow for "rot". Wasn't really sure what "rot" was but it didn't sound good.
I would learn about how teenagers in the 30's spent their summers. That practical jokes of the 1930's I am sure would land someone in jail today. And how in fact my Father had been arrested. It was a revelation of immense purportions. I learned the important questions: how? Where? Really? Why? What happened then? Climbing and swimming in the cities water tower during the hot summer nights in Iowa.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time." It really was the first time my Father admitted to consuming adult beverages. He told of how after being arrested it was his Grandfather who had to sentence he, his twin brother and another friend for swimming in the city water supply.
"Was it worth it"?, I asked.
Then this sly grin came across my Dad's face.
"I was never so scared, I had never climbed so high before. It seemed you could see the lights of Des Moine from that tower."
It had been worth it. For hours my Father would quietly talk as we moved down Old Route 66. Across California and Arizona. I remember the asteroid showers in the middle of the night in the dessert. I had never seen them before. My Dad said August is a great time as he explained the extraterrestial visitors plummeting to the ground somewhere over the mountains and plains of the United States. Sometimes two or three a minute and every once and awhile a big one.

" ... could be a small rock but it burns up and lights up." My Dad would comment. It was amazing.
Route 66 was never boring. There were signs, interesting signs about place to eat and places to stay and about shaving. Rhymes about shaving. Every two or three hundred yards would be part of a poem.

They looked like this but spread along the highway.













The Grandest experience of all was the lights. Route 66 had Neon lights when you went through a town. Not like today where the Highways bypass the business sections. On old Route messages galore along the highway did their best to entice you to get gas, eat, stay the night, enjoy air conditioned sleeping and communicate the reality of vacancy or no vacancy.

On that trip I remember driving all night and coming to a town. It was a larger town than most. While driving by one motel I notice it had a train in the middle of the hotel grounds and that train would go through the parking lot around the pool and kids could ride it. If you stayed at the hotel you could ride if for free. It was suppose to help with the ease of taking bags and people to thier rooms. But to a six year old it was Disneyland. It was clear to me that the motel was a bit over what my parents had imagined the budget to be. But, after a long night of commoraderie with me Dad he thought it was a fine idea and said so to my Mom. What a place. What for the train to take you to the pool or to the gift shop or just get on board and ride. I have wondered how much did that engineer get paid to run around and around in that train. I have got a feeling he would have done it for free!

Years later I would drive Route 66 as a graduating college student. Cars, girls, fireworks, 4th of July, Indian Reservations.......a bit different view of Route 66 but still magical.


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