I have been traveling the back roads of America since 1959. I have been tellling people where to go since 1990 (as a writer as well as through Jim Hinckley’s America) and since at least 1976 as a manifestation of a low tolerance for stupidity, grifters, and opportunists. This trip has been the most grueling, one of the most unusual and one of the most emotional to date. This trip has tested my patience for the aforementioned people. It has also been an adventure along memory lane.
Last year when I traveled to Jackson, Michigan and made a presentation in support of the future Hackett Auto Museum, I also visited my pa. At that time it was obvious that age was creeping up on him fast (he was 90). He was still working on his houses, mowing the lawn and could still pack away a hearty meal but there was ample evidence that he was in decline. We were never a close clan and even though we both knew our time together was limited, there was no thawing of a relationship that would best be described as distant and alienated. Reflections on his advancing age, and mine, made the trip bittersweet. At that time it was also one of the hardest roadtrips ever undertaken as it was the first cross country adventure in 35 years made without my dearest friend.
Today I visited my pa in an assisted living facility. His obvious frailty was in stark contrast to the man I had never seen sick, the barrel chested fellow who once delivered refrigerators to second floor apartments by strapping them to his back. Most troubling of all was his mental state. He didn’t know who I was. A tragedy on so many levels.
It was a delight to have my dearest friend with me again as my laughing travel companion, especially during the long hours spent negotiating endless miles of road construction and driving through torrential rains. To have her with me today was a blessing as I am truly embarking on a journey along Memory Lane.
It wasn’t all sadness and reflection today. There was a true ray of sunshine, a bit of inspiration. After years of sporadic phone calls I met with my nephew, his wonderful wife, and their youngest daughter. They have been dad’s caregivers since his wife passed away this past May. It was refreshing to see what a fine young man and passionate father he has become. I can’t say enough about his wife and daughter, especially after seeing them in action today as they gently took care of pa.
Overall the fall tour has been a blending of the old, distributing promotional materials for communities and advertising sponsors along the Route 66 corrdior, and meeting with old friends as well as business associates, and the new. In the latter category I have had ample opportunity to sample some interesting restaurants (stay tuned), and to visit some of the most fascinating people such as Ken Soderbeck, a man known throughout the world for his restoration of antique fire trucks and equipment.
And I topped my previous list of most unusual places to make a presentation. This time I spoke in a 110 year old auto factory that was missing windows and most of the roof (did I mention that it was forty five degrees?). It was far from the largest audience I have had for a presentation and book signing but, surprisingly, a handful of people actually turned out for the event including Anthony Hurst of the Hurst Foundation.
Incredibly the trip has just begun. Next up is an interview on JTV about the new book, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, and a discussion about plans for a book about Jackson’s rich industrial heritage. Then it’s the Miles of Possibility Conference and related meetings. That will be followed by a presentation and forum on tourism and economic development in Cuba, Missouri which will be followed by a fun filled evening, and book signing, at the 10th anniversary celebration of Connie Echols ownership of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel. From there its homeward bound along Route 66; visits with old friends, meetings related to tourism development and good pie.
It will truly be an adventure along Memory Lane. Every mile of this old road is tinged with memories. Memories of my dad as we traveled west in his new 1964 Ford Fairlane. Memories of my dad teaching me to repair a tube along the highway.
Memories of the epic move from Michigan to Arizona in 1966. Memories of him teaching me to drive a stick shift (’49 Studebaker stake bed). Memoris of him teaching me the value of a handshake, of looking a man in the eye. Memories of helping him build a homestead along Route 66 in the Sacramento Valley of western Arizona. Memories of a truck wreck near Gallup in 1976. Memories of roadside campouts, cold beans eaten from the can, roadside repairs, and silent meals eaten in countless neon lit cafes. There are memories of long hot summer days, the smells of wet pavement and gas stations at midnight. There are memories of trucks and cars; the ’58 Chevy Viking used during one of the many epic moves, the ’53 Chevy truck I drove from Gallup after the wreck, the ’64 Olds that dropped the transmission while pulling a trailer up a steep grade somewhere in the Ozarks. Memories of my dads unshakeable confidence to overcome any disaster or problem encountered. Memories of superficial conversations to pass the miles. Memories and my dearest friend, companions for the road trip home.
Yep, this will be a trip for the record books. This will be an adventure never to be forgotten. This will be an adventure along Memory Lane.