Friday, August 26, 2016
In the morning, I had figured that from Heber, I had about 23 hours more driving ahead of me with three days to go. Of course, this daunting schedule didn’t stop me from sleeping in and I didn’t start out until about 11:00. Having no place in particular that I wanted to visit, my Friday was mainly devoted to driving. It wasn’t very long before I had picked up I-40, exited Arizona and started in on New Mexico.
Before leaving California, I had debated on whether I should attempt to follow the old Route 66 path from start (Los Angeles) to finish (Chicago). However, with time starting to run out on my trip, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to do a Route 66 tour justice. I needed time for exploration. Sadly, it would have to remain a goal for another journey. Still, driving east on I-40 through parts of Arizona and New Mexico did put me on the “Mother Road” for a time.
Established in 1926, Route 66 was one of the country’s main thoroughfares to the west, crossing through parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It gained a great deal of usage during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, as many Midwestern farmers and assorted “Okies” sought a new life in California.
In the post-World War II era, as 66 became a popular vacation route, small towns connected by the highway found profitability in the thousands of tourists that flocked through every year. Mom-and-Pop shops sprang up, fast food got its start, souvenirs and motels were in abundance. In short, it was consumer America in miniature. People got their kicks on Route 66. It was the epitome of road tripping.
The establishment of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 marked the beginning of the end for Route 66 as, over the following years, sections of the road (not to mention many small towns) were bypassed or subsumed by the newer, stream-lined interstates. In 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a highway. Sadly, it is no longer possible to drive continuously from Chicago to Los Angeles on the existing Route 66 roads, although there are enough stretches around to make a nostalgic trip out of it.
Sometimes, progress is not all it’s cracked up to be.
As the day rolled on, I watched the world go by from my windows: Manuelito…Defiance…Mentmore…Gallup…
It was late afternoon when I made a stop in Albuquerque. After scarfing down dinner, I decided that I would attempt to pay a surprise visit to a former co-worker of mine who had recently found employment at a library in town…at least, I thought it was in town. Thinking that Albuquerque would only have one library, I dropped in at what turned out to be the main branch of an extended network of libraries throughout Bernalillo County. As I didn’t know specifically which one of the libraries my one-time co-worker was at, I chalked up my visit as a failure and headed out. However, let this journal bear witness that I did try…
Moriarty…Santa Rosa…Cuervo…Tucumcari…San Jon…
It was dark when I crossed into Texas panhandle and the Central Time Zone. By midnight, I was in Amarillo and ready to call it a night. I found a cheap hotel just off the highway and was registered by a warty-looking man with a Texas twang who wanted to discuss the rainstorm that had recently passed through the city. As I hadn’t encountered any rain that day (and being rather road-weary), my participation in the conversation was minimal.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Much like the day before, there was much driving to be had. I was still about 15 and half hours from home and hoping to make it to St. Louis by the end of the day. I left Amarillo around 10 am and continued to follow I-40 through Texas and up into central Oklahoma, stopping occasionally for food and gas. Around Tulsa, I picked up I-44 and by mid-afternoon I had crossed into Missouri (State motto: “Where Missouri Loves Company”).
Although born and bred in Illinois (a dubious distinction to some people), Missouri had always felt like home to me. Having gone to college in Hannibal and being part of a traveling drama team during that time, I had seen a great deal of the state. Having a number of Missouri friends and family members (a dubious distinction to other people) ensured my repeated visits to the “Show-Me State” in the years following graduation. In recent days, my younger brother Tim had himself graduated from college and established himself in St. Louis.
I was 12 when Tim was born. In his infancy, I had nicknamed him (with brilliant originality) “Baby.” I’m not sure why I chose to call him that other than the fact that he was, at one time, a baby. The name stuck, however. But Tim started growing up, and as “Baby” no longer seemed suitable, his nickname was morphed into “Bee Bee.” Over time, that too was changed to just “Bee,” which I still call him to this day, much to the mystification of uncomprehending friends and family members. (Incidentally, my middle brother Jon was given the nickname “Mole,” but that’s another story.)
Thanks to construction, traffic, and paying a visit to the slowest fast food place I had ever encountered, it was after 10 pm when I reached the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood of St. Louis, where I would be spending the night at Tim’s apartment.
I recalled one of the many reasons why I could never live in St. Louis when I pulled up at the apartment building and stepped out of my air-conditioned car into the miasma of a late August night. Where Phoenix had been all heat, St. Louis proved to be all humidity. I texted my brother of my arrival but it turned out that he was not at home—but soon would be, he assured me. As there were no spots that I could legally park on the street, I went to a nearby gas station to wait. Tim soon found me and I followed him back to his building which had a gated parking lot.
Tim lived in a spacious and nicely furnished two-bedroom apartment that he shared with a roommate. After a quick introduction to said roommate, who was entertaining his own guests, I set up camp in Tim’s bedroom and made an early night of it.