Well, this weekend the Miles of Possibility Conference added a few pieces to the puzzle. The future of tourism on and off Route 66 in the next 18 months or so is becoming clearer. And as I suspected, the news is a mixed blend of worrisome issues and hints of optimism.
From its inception in 2014 as the Crossroads of the Past & Future Conferenceat the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman, Arizona, the annual conference has evolved into an annual Route 66 convention. Last year it was canceled, and this year was via Zoom. Plans are already underway for the 2022 Miles of Possibility Conference which is scheduled for October 20 to October 23.
I am looking forward to an in person event, especially as it is being hosted by the dynamic community of Pontiac, Illinois. It will be a delight to visit with old friends, to have some in person discussions, and to hoist a pint or two after sessions and presentations.
As has been the custom since its inception, the roster of speakers was diverse. They included Bonnie Game, member of he Canadian Route 66 Association and owner of a travel agency, Liz Vincent, tourism director in Pontiac, Scott Piotrowski, president of the California Historic Route 66 Association, Dries Bessels of the Dutch Route 66 Association, and Marian Pavel. Pavel is the developer of the innovative Route 66 Navigation appand Mother Road Route 66 Passport. Brennen Matthews of Route magazine, Toshi Goto of the Japanese Route 66 Association and Casey Claypool, Executive Director of the Illinois Scenic Byway, member of the Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission, and chair of the Economic Development Working Committee for the Road Ahead Partnership were also speakers.
Author Jim Hinckley speaking at the 2019 Miles of Possibility Conference. Photo Penny Black
I try and keep a pulse on tourism trends, domestic as well as international. And so this past week I also spoke with the owners of numerous tour companies that I have provided service to over the years. This also clarified as well as confirmed some vague suspicions that I have had flowing in the back of my mind.
Domestically and internationally there is a pent up demand for travel. Still, the anecdotal evidence continues to mount that it may be several years before international traffic on Route 66 rebounds to pre COVID levels. Likewise with international travel to America in general as Europeans are rediscovering or discovering holiday wonderlands such as Croatia and Greece that are closer to home.
And with potential international travelers to the United States there are a couple of simmering issues, real and perceived, that could curtail this envisioned growth. These include the assault on the capital, as well as worries about manifestations of deepening political divisions, a concerted effort to undermine election integrity which could lead to societal upheaval, an increase in incendiary social media posts about foreigners, and the American response to COVID and vaccines, to name but a few.
Upward inflationary trends are also giving people pause. Domestically in some locations the cost for gasoline is at an all time high.
But this is not just an American issue. Several European countries are experiencing similar issues. And the discussions about rising prices and poverty are becoming more common.
On the tourism front domestically COVID had a silver lining. Americans are rediscovering the adventure, the fun, and the simple pleasures of the road trip. Last year records were set with recreational vehicle sales and rentals.
And communities that marketed outdoor activities such as hiking trails and mountain bike trails, campgrounds, and state or national parks maintained tourism revenue. Some even saw an increase in tourism numbers. And now those communities are becoming destinations.
Meanwhile, here at Jim Hinckley’s America, it is business as usual. I harnessed the down time during the apocalypse and cranked out two new books, as well as a few feature articles. And I picked up a few new clients that will be using my services in 2022 to enhance their tours.
I am continuing to build the Jim Hinckley’s America brand as a travel network. And after the upheaval of the past 18 months the decision has been made that in the next year I will own a Model A Ford as a regular daily driver. Best fitting my perception of self, and the perception that have of me, it will most likely be a truck.
This near fifty year obsession (for no discernable reason) has always been pushed to the back burner resultant of obligations, emergencies, and my rigid focus on being practical in my purchases.
Murder, chaos and good times. That may seem an odd title but I can assure you that for me this is situation normal. Let me explain.
Back in 2019 B.C. (before COVID) my latest book, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66 was published by Rio Nuevo Publishers. That was in late fall.
Apparently the blending of Route 66 and true crime stories piqued interest. In spring 2020 notice was received that the book had been awarded a silver medal in an international independent publishers competition.
And then during the apocalyptic year of 2020, I began fielding requests for presentations on the subject via Zoom. I was still being asked to talk about the founding of the American auto industry, Route 66 adventures and southwestern history. But morbid curiosity put discussions about murder and mayhem to the top of the list.
As more people began reading the book there was a noticeable uptick in the receipt of terse, angry and even occasionally subtlety threatening notes. These stemmed from inclusion of events such as the Tulsa, Springfield, and St. Louis race massacres as well as similar incidents from the history of Route 66.
At first I found being called left wing, socialist, anti American and liberal, comments often prefaced with colorful use of obscenities, as mildly humorous. Now, however, I view them in a larger context and see them as symptomatic of the increasingly toxic climate in this country.
But as a primary goal of the book, as it is with my writings and speaking engagements, was to add depth and context to the subject of Route 66, and to spark informed discussions, these derogatory comments will be ignored. But I can’t help but feel that being so narrowed minded it is possible to look down a beer bottle with both eyes is rapidly being considered a virtue and that doesn’t bode well for the future of the republic.
This year I added another dimension to my repertoire. As I began work on developing a narrated self guided tour to the historic district in Kingman, Arizona for Kingman Main Street, the discovery of obscure and fascinating movie and celebrity history opened another new chapter in the Jim Hinckley’s America story.
To date a lot of the discoveries have been Kingman centered. And that is the subject of a presentation that will be made at Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona on October 16. But I have ventured down a few rabbit holes and found that many Route 66 communities have some surprising celebrity history.
And I have found some obscure and odd stories. Who was Bessie Love and why was she visiting Kingman? On a bet did Jack Dempsey go a few rounds in the boxing ring at the Sump bar during a visit to Kingman, Arizona?
Counted among the casualties of 2020 was my work with tour groups. Unfortunately this summer was only mildly better as COVID 19 continues to inhibit a return to normal tourism.
But when it comes to tourism there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Even though the season is winding down, it has been a delight to meet with Austin Coop’s Two Lane America tours. Sharing stories about Kingman and Route 66, and answering questions during the tours lunch stop in Kingman has provided a sense of normalcy.
Shades of normal times are also found in the support from Steve Wagner of the Route 66 Yacht Club and Scott Dunton of the Kingman Route 66 Association. They provide pins, patches and other items that I can provide as free souvenirs.
As I look toward 2022, and a return of tourism I will be seeking support for other organizations, businesses and communities. I will be looking for souvenirs that can be provided to travelers, and advertising sponsors that will be my partner in promotional initiatives. Good times, better times just around the corner.
Adios (and good riddance) 2020. Hello 2021. It has been, shall we say, an interesting year. It has also been a year of opportunity, of challenge, of loss, of frustration, and of concern for friends and family. It has been an historic year, a world altering year and a year of discovery. And so I, for one, am eagerly looking toward 2021 with just a hint of apprehension and a bit of excitement.
With the cancellation of presentations, classes and the scheduled speaking tour I have had ample time to rediscover the simple pleasure of very long walks in the desert, to read, to work on learning about new technologies and how to harness them, and finding new ways to tell people where to go. But, to be honest, I have had to fight the crippling sense of futility and linked depression that seems to be lurking in the shadows this year. I suppose some of this can be attributed to the difficulty of accepting the fact that the entire world has been forever changed resultant of the pandemic and then seeing opportunity for Jim Hinckley’s America in the dawn of a new era.
Support of the crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform (www.patreon.com/jimhinckleysamerica) has proven to be more important than ever in 2020. This and learning to use Zoom have made it feasible to make presentations on Route 66 and travel for various groups such as the Rotary Club of El Paso and the Inland Empire Gardner’s in Spokane, Washington. The response received as well as seeing how important things like these presentations are to people experiencing isolation resultant of quarantine or illness has provided a distinct since of satisfaction. As always, the quickest way to get out of a funk is to help others.
In a similar manner the development of the weekly Coffee With Jim program that is live streamed on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page Sunday mornings has been quite interesting. Sponsored in part by the iconic Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, the program has apparently become an oasis in a sea of bad news for many people. I keep it light, fast paced and fun. Aside from a weekly trivia contest with prizes, and a plug for my books and sponsors, I cover topics that inspire thoughts of road trips, that inspire, and that are somewhat educational.
I am still surprised that people inspire me, and on occasion pay me, to beat my gums. This past Sunday’s program about interesting cemeteries on Route 66, and their surprising military or celebrity association, attracted an international audience of almost 5,500 people. And that was before it was archived with other episodes as well as programs in the On The Road With Jim series on the YouTube channel. This Sunday the topic will be an historic look at Christmas celebrations in America.
Counted among the interesting projects developed in 2020 to ensure that my dearest friend and I continue eating on a regular basis is blog writing for clients of MyMarketing Designs. When this company builds a website they offer a blog writing service for clients. I am the writer of those blogs. And so it has been an educational experience as well as a challenge to find material to write blogs for a kite store, for an RV sales and service company, for an air conditioning company and for several other companies.
I returned to my roots in 2020 with the writing of a weekly feature on automotive history for MotoringNZ, an online automotive publication based in New Zealand. My career in exchanging the written word kicked off in 1990 with an automotive feature written for Hemmings Motor News. For most of the next ten years the majority of my published work was on the formative years of the American auto industry. This included a stint as associate editor for the now defunct Cars & Parts magazine, and the writing of a regular feature entitled The Independent Thinker. These often overlapped with travel stories when I wrote about museums or Edsel Ford’s cross country adventure in the summer of 1915.
Shortly after I began writing for Motoring NZ, I adjusted the format for5 Minutes With Jim, our weekly audio podcast. It is now a journey through time with stories about automotive pioneers like Louis Chevrolet, the origins of automotive manufacturing companies, fascinating and and odd inventions, and similar subjects. The real boost for this project came with arrangement that allowed for it to be professionally edited by a New Zealand radio engineer. The audio podcast is now sponsored in part by the one of a kind Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
Speaking of sponsors we have been working on developing innovative ways to provide low cost or even free promotional opportunities for businesses, communities and museums this year. Now more than ever it is important that we build supportive cooperative partnerships. One of these initiatives is the Coffee Mug of The Week sponsorship. Each week on the Coffee With Jim live stream program I give a shout out to a business or museum that has sent us a coffee cup. It is the least I can do for business owners, many of them friends or acquaintances, that are struggling this year.
Several years ago I developed a series of community educational programs on area history, Route 66 and the economics of tourism for Mohave Community College. This spring they were cancelled, which was a kick in the income. But they were picked up again this fall via Zoom and that gave me an opportunity to learn more about this platform. It also proved to be the next logical step in developing and packaging these classes for other community colleges or communities. And that is just what I will be doing come 2021.
I have also launched a free weekly (soon to be biweekly) travel planning newsletter. In addition to providing another promotional venue for advertising sponsors, road trip inspiration and travel planning tools, it is a venue where I can offer event organizers free promotion.
This morning there was another glimmer of hope for 2021. It was in the form of negotiations about a new book with a publisher I worked with several years ago. Details will be forthcoming soon but suffice to say that book number twenty may be debuting next fall.
The battered Winton that was used in an ill-fated attempt to drive across the country in 1901. Photo Detroit Public Library
“Covering the North American continent from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic Ocean in an automobile has been attempted by Alexander Winton, president of the Winton Motor Carriage Company, of Cleveland. That the expedition failed is no fault of the machine Mr. Winton used, nor was it due to absence of grit or determination on the part of the operator. Neither was the failure dur to roads. The utter absence of roads was the direct and only cause.” Scientific American, August 3, 1901.
I have long had an obsession with the years between 1890 and 1930, an era of dramatic change and societal evolution. In recent weeks it has been my distinct pleasure to share the history of this exciting and fascinating period in time through feature articles, community education programs developed for Mohave Community College, Zoom based presentations and the Jim Hinckley’s America social media network. Quite often I give reign to the imagination as I consider what it must have been like to live in this era. How did people adapt to such a rapid transition? William “Buffalo Bill” Cody went from being an acclaimed eleven year old “Indian fighter” to buffalo hunter, Medal of Honor winning combatant during Civil War, and international celebrity with his wild west shows. He also purchased a Michigan from the Kalamazoo automobile manufacturer and served on the board for the National Old Trails Road Association.
Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail with an ox cart. He also toured the country in a National automobile, flew across the country in an airplane and helped build the first service station along the National Old Trails Road in the Cajon Pass of California. Henry Starr was a frontier era outlaw turned movie star. He began robbing banks and eluding posses on horseback, and ended his prolific career by attempting an escape by automobile. Wyatt Earp ended his days hanging around movie sets in Los Angeles and befriending up and coming movie stars.
In part people were able to adapt as the transition only appears dramatic when viewed in the context of centuries. They had time to contemplate, to give thought to the developments that were transforming every aspect of life. From the launching of the first automobile manufacturing company to a transcontinental drive was a period of almost ten years. in 1916 there was still a market for horse drawn wagons and carriages, albeit a shrinking one, and so Studebaker was producing these as they had since the 1860s as well as automobiles. Even in the modern era, another period of historic and dramatic transition, we had time to learn to adapt. The payphone was replaced by cell phone over a period of years. I started writing in 1990 on a 1948 Underwood typewriter, began using a word processor program in 2000, but did not need to fully abandon the typewriter until a few years later.
In a nut shell a primary reason the year 2020 has caused such consternation is that there was no time to adapt to a dramatic transition that has forever altered every aspect of life. It is the uncertainty that has made everyone as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. On the personal level in less than two weeks 2020 went from the breakout year for Jim Hinckley’s America travel network to a near complete collapse. An extensive schedule of international and domestic speaking engagements was cancelled. Work with thirty two tour companies was canceled. Advertising sponsors closed. The community education programs I teach at a community college were canceled. Two business associates died of COVID 19 induced illness.
Everything from education and business to the economy, politics and even the entire foundation of international relationships has forever been altered. We are in for a very wild ride in the months to come. In generations to come people will look back on 2020 much as we view the era between 1890 and 1930. They will wonder how we survived and how we adapted. They will ask why the Untied States abandoned its position as a world leader and play armchair quarterback as they mediate on the ramifications. They will also find inspiration in how we met the challenge, how we adapted, and how some found opportunity in the crisis.
Here at Jim Hinckley’s America it has been the best of times and the worst of times. I have learned a bit about how to use Zoom, how to develop and harness the power of live stream programs and had the opportunity to develop some cooperative partnerships. I have lost associates and watched friends loose their businesses. So what can you expect from Jim Hinckley’s America in the months to come?
A regular schedule for On The Road With Jim programs as I share the best of the Arizona outback
Our critically acclaimed presentations on the Zoom platform
With the acquisition of new equipment, improvements to the live stream Coffee With Jim program
Expansion of our advertising sponsor packages so we can offer something for every budget (currently starting as low as $6.25 per week)
Further development of community education programs on the economics of tourism, development of heritage tourism, and building cooperative partnerships to foster development of tourism
Additional work with the developers of the Route 66 Navigationapp to ensure this continues to be the number one aide for Route 66 travelers
New series as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding website
Also, we are adding trivia contests to the Sunday morning Coffee With Jim program. And in limited partnership with MyMarketing Designs, I am writing blog posts for their clients. I am also negotiating to have the Five Minutes With Jim audio podcast syndicated as a radio program. And now that the warehouse is open, I can again begin selling autographed copies of my latest book, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66.
Interesting times. Challenging times. Tragic times. Times ripe with opportunity. Unnerving times. Exciting times. Confusing times. Historic times. The wild ride continues.
I am confident that most of us are in the same boat. Every morning we put on a brave face and step out to meet a new day that is unlike any day ever experienced before. We hide our frustrations, fears and concerns behind false bravado. We desperately cling to the illusion of normal and avoid the reality by surrounding ourselves with people who won’t challenge us to think and who will affirm what we believe. We try to avoid asking the question what now, especially if we are an old timer that will have to fully reinvent themselves as a matter of survival.
And that takes me to the next project. I am currently working on a serious of programs to share what has been learned in recent months about changing direction after a persons 60th birthday. I will be sharing ideas, educational opportunities, networking suggestions and other ways to ensure continued survival. This is not to say I have all of the answers. However, I have more than I did several months ago, and really believe some inspiration can be provided.
At Jim Hinckley’s Americathis year started with such promise. I had a new book to promote and a slate of speaking engagements in three countries that stretched out to October. An interview for a British publication had given me a new moniker – “America’s storyteller.” Together with our tag line – Telling People Where to Go Since 1990 – I had marketing and promotional ideas that were only limited by the imagination.
On February 7, I kicked off the speaking tour to a packed house at a museum fund raiser in the historic El Garces Hotel in Needles, California. I was pleasantly surprised to find people had traveled from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix for the presentation. Even better, the reviews were favorable, the audience engaged and the positive comments flowed freely.
The next four weeks were a blur. My pa passed away, I picked up three new advertising partners, confirmed two more speaking engagements (one in Spokane), revamped the entire website, finalized a partial sponsor for attendance of the European Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia, resolved a dental issue and received notice that my new book, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66 was being nominated for recognition at the Independent Publishers Award. And then it all started to unravel.
First there was a steady trickle of tour company cancellations that quickly became a torrent. Then I got sick but didn’t meet testing requirements for COVID 19 even though my temperature was ranging from 101 to 103.9 degrees and I could breathe. Then the speaking engagement cancellations began coming in, and as businesses closed, I suspended arrangements with advertising sponsors as a means of providing what assistance I could. To subsidize their continued promotion I began pushing the crowdfunding initiative and developing unique exclusive content to add value to the commitment of support.
And that takes us to today. The Sunday morning live stream Coffee With Jim program continues to grow in popularity, and generates a bit of income; tips, crowdfunding and small business advertisers. I am writing feature articles on automotive history for MotoringNZ, a New Zealand publication. These are linked to the 5 Minutes With Jim audio podcast. On line book sales have been anemic (issues courtesy COVID 19). In short, I am having to almost completely abandon my work with tour companies and the live speaking engagements. An online presence has never been more important, for survival for the author, photographer, artist or small business owner with e-commerce opportunity.
What now? The hardest part of answering that question is facing cold hard facts, casting off preconceived ideas and seeking real information. For me this has required an honest evaluation of tourism trends. First, international tourism to the United States will take more than a year or two to recover, largely resultant of our inability to get a handle on the COVID 19 pandemic. Staycations are the foreseeable future. But even these will be restricted because of the ongoing pandemic. So, again, developing an online presence is crucial.
Stay tuned. This old dog is learning new tricks. And I plan on sharing those with you, and perhaps, you can share a few with me. Mi amigos, we are in this together. Aside from on online presence, the next most important item for survival in the brave new world is partnerships.