In his classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck called Route 66 the “Mother Road.” From our first few days on the road it is clearly that ….and much more.
I prefer to call it the “Highway of Hope and Dreams” for the masses of unemployed hoping to escape the Depression and the Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the post WWII migration of soldiers and their families looking for a better life in California, and the beatniks searching for enlightenment, artistic freedom and a joint in the 1950s.
For them and everyone else pursuing the American dream of a better life, this was, as my fellow travel writer Beth Lennon notes, “a journey of optimism and hope.” It represented a commitment to the future, a belief in new beginnings.
And for many others just looking for a fun vacation, it was the beginning of the iconic American Road trip, symbolizing the freedom of the open road.
For me, not fleeing anything and living in my comfortable bubble in Venice Beach in Los Angeles, this is a journey through Middle America, that vast land between the coasts that those of us living on the coasts sometimes condescendingly refer to as “flyover country.” This has been an eye opener. I am seeing things and visiting places I would have otherwise overlooked.
So what follows is a brief summary of the some of the highlights of the first few days of the trip.
Lots of old gas stations and motels:
(Jim, posing with his 1966 Corvette, one of the cars in our caravan)
charming small towns with stately houses:
museums and collections of memorabilia;
a huge cave (Meramec Cavern somewhere between St. Louis and Springfield, Mo);
a ride in a small pod to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis for a foggy view of downtown;
also in St. Louis, a visit to the Basilica, a cathedral that rivals most anything I’ve seen in Europe;
plus lots of other oddities, roadside attractions and noteworthy sites;
Pops Soda Ranch with the largest collection of soda pop I have ever seen,
formerly the Muffler Man, now, apparently, the Hot Dog Man,
But it wasn’t all fun and games. There were at least two sobering stops along the way. The first was Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Ill, reminding anyone who gave it even a moment’s thought what leadership is really all about.
and the most sobering of all, the Oklahoma City Memorial to the victims of the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995.
The chairs in the two photos above represent each of the people who were killed in the blast arranged according to their approximate location in the building. The small chairs are for the children who were in the day care. It was impossible to get through this exhibit and the associated museum with a dry eye. Nor was it possible to get through it without a sense of rage at the stupidity and hatred that produced such a monstrous act. And a sense of foreboding that this was probably not the last such memorial we will ever have to build.
(Note — Don is being hosted on this trip by Two Lane America)
Don, I am also on a road trip, I am riding my bike with 9 friends from Muskegon, MI to Niagara Falls, ending in Buffalo on July 1. Seeing a lot of farm fields, small towns along the St. Clair River. Today we crossed into Ontario at Walpole Island (which is 1st Nations territory, and a little strange). Canadian drivers are more respectful of us than the Michigan drivers. And there are some pretty poor towns in Michigan.