Our recent journey on Route 66 to Springfield, Missouri, and our explorations this past couple of years in California, have provided me with memories, new friendships, and a renewed passion for this amazing chameleon of a highway that changes with the times. From the suburbs of Chicago to Victorville in California, the old highway is littered with forlorn remnants of better times, ruins, ghost towns, and all manner of flotsam from almost a century of serving the needs of a restless nation. Interspersed amongst these tarnished gems and time capsules are bright, shiny recreations and survivors that have withstood the test of time against all odds.
Together these elements form a rich tapestry chronicling more than a century of American history and societal evolution. It is from this perspective we find its endearing charm, its magical draw, and its power to mesmerize. This legendary highway became a casualty of the evolution it fueled. A society on the move, a society in search of the best and latest, be it tail fins or Disneyland, has no time for things as mundane as staying in a faux teepee misnamed as a wigwam or seeing the vast American landscape roll past the windows at forty five miles per hour.
In our rush to embrace the new and the modern we lost our soul and became a nation of lonely, harried, and hurried people with very little time to enjoy our new toys or to stop and savor a piece of pie with the locals along the way. As we have learned, the quest for stuff, the rush toward the destination without notice of what is missed in between, is a recipe for bitterness, unharnesses, and emptiness. To fill that void in recent years people hungrily turn toward the past as salve for the bruised soul. They are not seeking the past as it was with its “Whites Only” signs or the sweat soaked drives across the Mojave Desert in an unairconditioned car but the past as envisioned. Awaiting their return was and is Route 66, America’s Main Street. Tragically, many seek Route 66, drive its cracked asphalt and concrete, and stop at the old trading post but find only find disappointment. They are as the cancer riddled patient that seeks a cure but can not leave the smokes behind.
The cure for what ails you will not be found until you can turn off the cell phone, skip checking the email every morning, and rediscover the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee and unhurried conversation about something as mundane as last evenings sunset. Route 66 may be the medicine but you have to take it as prescribed. It starts with an exit off of the interstate. Step two is to turn of the cruise control and dropping the speed. Step three is frequent stops and abandonment of a schedule. Step four is misplacing your watch. Then and only then will you experience the restorative tonic that is a journey along Route 66. Then you will find balance and perspective restored. Only then can you rediscover life lived rather than life endured.
It would seem the concerns about the future that manifested as a heaviness bordering on depression a few days ago were little more than something I ate or myopic focus on the past. Yes, the future is a land dominated by apprehension because it is the unknown. Yes, from the comfort and safety of the here and now the past looks like a warm and fuzzy place. As with all things there must be a balance and that includes how we view the past or worry about the future. Yes, I learned this long ago and yes, I on occasion forget the lessons learned. Now, with that said please allow me to take a slight detour from Route 66 for a few minutes to share a few tales on how these lessons were learned. The first has to do with just how worthless money really is even though it is nice to have and how pointless it is to worry over the future like a dog with a bone. This story begins almost thirty years ago during the formative years of my “John Wayne” period. With the exception of knowing which end of the horse to feed and how to saddle it, my skills were rather limited in regards to the intricacies of ranch work. Undaunted I applied for a job with the X-Bar-1 near Hackberry, Arizona, just off of Route 66. As it turned out the timing was perfect. A friend of theirs was building a ranch from the ground up in the foothills of the Music Mountains and was in dire need of labor, preferably labor that wasn’t afraid of hard work, was willing to learn, and was willing to work on the cheap. With an irrepressible eagerness to begin my new life as a cowboy, and less sense than God gave a shiny brown rock, I hot footed it over to the temporary ranch headquarters at the post office building in Valentine, and signed on. My pay was $200.00 per month plus board. The schedule was all day, every day, and an occasional night shift, with Sunday off for church after morning chores and before evening chores. Every fourth week was a full three day weekend, provided I was not on the ranch. Those who chose to spend their days off at the ranch were expected to help with chores. They were not kidding when they said we were building a ranch from the ground up! I was informed it would be a least a month until we had electricity as the generator shed wasn’t complete, that until then water for washing was at the tank above the kitchen, and that trailers wouldn’t be moved in for lodging for at least another thirty days. Then I was told to report to the ranch foreman in the morning at 4:30 sharp. Next came an introduction to my new “home”a large four man military tent in the shadow of the looming walls of the music mountains. On my first day I learned the art of milking goats and cows, how to saddle and load a pack horse, received my first lesson in moving an antiquated D8 “Cat” with cable operated blade, and that breakfast is a very important meal. I also learned that setting fence posts in stony ground is no fun but it is much more fun than moving mountains of pig droppings by wheel barrow or unloading a truck load of building materials for pens and farrowing houses. I was no stranger to hard work and had done my time with farm chores but this made previous endeavors look like a church picnic. As crazy it sounds, the end of day one found me teetering with exhaustion, blistered, sun burnt, dirty, sore, cut, bruised, and unbelievably happy. I had made the grade, suffered the slings and arrows of good natured pokes, and earned the respect of real cowboys. That evening after dinner in the mess tent I managed to scrap much of the dust from my hands, face, chest, and hair with cold water from the storage tank on the hill. Then I watched the transformation of the desert below as the bright starlit night illuminated the valley far below and a guitar was passed around. By the third week a bit of the charm had worn thin and I was counting the time till my three day weekend. Lesson learned – plan for the future, rest assured those plans will need adjustment, and don’t loose sleep about what you can’t control. It was the afternoon before my long awaited weekend to howl in Kingman. The first crisis came with a break in the water line that ran from the spring high in the canyon above the ranch to the water tank. Well, as one of the low men on the totem pole I was assigned the task of temporary repair. This was accomplished with a long ride into the canyon, cutting the broken line, and using rubber from an inner tube and bailing wire. Well, I missed lunch and fortified myself with egg salad sandwiches, jerky, apples, and warm water. Then, on the way down my horse threw a shoe which meant we were both walking back. I had not been back for more than ten minutes when the driver of the supply truck stumbled into the ranch looking allot like a lobster pried from its shell and left on a rock at high noon above the tide line. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Well, instead of turning left at the power line he had turned right and now we had a tractor and trailer stuck in the sand about five miles below the ranch. Do you have any idea how long it takes to drive an ancient tractor that far? Do you have any idea how hard it is to back a truck, with loaded trailer, down a half mile of dirt road ? Long story short, a few of us missed dinner that night. In fact we also missed most of the night. In fact, a few of us missed bed as we called it a day sleeping in the seat of the ranch truck and tractor. The sun was chasing the shadows across the valley when the cook arrived with fresh coffee, egg sandwiches, and and the most delightful apple pie I had ever tasted. Getting the tractor and trucks back to the ranch consumed the morning. Unloading the truck consumed the afternoon and most of the evening. That night as I sat there under the stars, almost to tired to move, it dawned on me that I was so tuckered out my plans for painting the town had not been thought of for hours. Lesson two was also learned that night as the harvest moon cleared the rocky spires of the mountains behind me and illuminated the desert floor and the dry lake bed below. I had a months pay in my pocket and at that point in time the cold beer in my hand was of far more value. Lesson learned – that small roll of paper decorated with symbols and promises in green ink had no real value if you didn’t have someone who had something you wanted and they were willing to trade. The litany of lessons learned in a similar manner is a lengthy one. Even a loyal dog will turn on you without an occasional reward or show of appreciation – Driving Route 66 is the most enjoyable trip imaginable, unless you have a schedule to keep, it is the only road, and the crawling stream of traffic is causing the temperature gauge to peg – If you can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of a sunset or sunrise then a trip to Disneyland most likely won’t put a smile on your face, especially when you get the credit card statement – If you can’t be a friend to yourself how will you be a friend to others? There is a time for spurs and a time for sugar cubes, don’t get them confused and the ride will be much more enjoyable – When the world hands you lemons you can make lemonade but it will be just as hard to swallow unless you can get some sugar – Lost is merely an excuse to see new places – Lost is a state of mind, if you head east far enough you will be out west – Well, I deviated a bit today from the topic of Route 66 even though that old highway was never very far away, even in this story. Since at least 1959, the old double six has been the thread that ties my life in the here and now to the past. It is also the road that ties me top the future. To get from Cedar Springs Ranch to Kingman I would catch that highway at Antares Point, that big “A” frame building with an Easter Island head out front between Hackberry and Kingman. More often than not, this was the closest place for a cold beer. I picked up my mail at the little Hackberry post office and after the incident with the truck, all suplies were dropped at the Valentine post office. Well, enough of the old days and lessons learned. Lets look toward the future – yours, mine, and that of Route 66. I updated the calendar of events on the companion website, Route 66 Info Center, as well as my bio page. Now, I would like to expand on the other pages but will need your help. Care to share stories, or photos, from your adventure on Route 66. How about you favorite, or worst, lodging or dining experience?