When traveling without expectations, a journey is at first a series of disconnected experiences because it occurs organically, not in a series of marketing meetings that plan it from start to finish. That’s where I’ve been for the past two days, trying to make sense of disparate experiences whose only coherence is the road, Route 66, that connects them.
It started yesterday with the round barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma. Other than its shape and free admission, there’s nothing exceptional about it. The first floor gives the history of the structure, and it was interesting to see how the mounted flat pictures to the curved walls. The center of the barn is a gift shop filled with t-shirts and related tourist items. Upstairs, the lost, said several signs, was available for parties, meetings, weddings, and receptions. Figuring that it was an empty space that made these activities possible, we didn’t climb the stairs. Instead we stopped by the bathroom, in a separate building, and it was air conditioned.
That afternoon we stopped at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma. After walking the exhibits, which were segregated by decades, what I learned seem worth the $5 admission, but I was vaguely disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the museum was well organized, researched, and staged. But it didn’t offer any surprises, bits of information or artifacts that surprised me. Nor did I get a feeling for the museum’s personality or the character of the people who shared their histories with 66 on video. It reminded me of a well done high school term paper, researched for basic facts and formatted to appeal to the lowest common commercial denominator.
This morning we crossed into Texas, and between Shamrock and Leila, at the corner of Texas 453, we came across what appeared to be an 1980s-era Phillips 66 station. Centered in the welded-wire fence that surrounded it was a For Sale sign. Inside the fence were an empty building and a collection of old cars, a VW bug, a T-Bird, and several old and older pickup trucks. It was the sad, forlorn reality of someone’s dreams for a successful business. What made it surreal was the Suburban parked in the gravel lot on the roadside. Its engine was running and inside a family was fast asleep, except for the blond youngster playing a video game in the front passenger seat. The air was certainly on full because slumped back in the driver’s seat, dad had a blanket pulled up to this chin.
Cresting a rise I saw a water tower, on old one with four legs, a center standpipe, and a conical top. Black outline letters name the town McLean. At the corner beneath it was a boarded up gas station, a hint of things to come, I’m afraid. Main St. crossed the old 66 at a right angle, and looking down its length both ways as we slowly rolled by revealed no signs of life. No open stores. No parked cars. No people on the sidewalk. The movie theater’s marquee was a tabula rasa.
At a gas station and convenience store in Groom, Texas, not unlike the one for sale, we stopped for a fill-up. Inside was the minimum essentials for small Interstate wayside in the middle of almost nowhere. Perched on folding chairs at one of the three folding tables with white plastic tops were three good ole boys talking about goings on in Amarillo, down the Interstate to the west. One was wearing an unusual long-round bag slung on a rainbow strap across his chest. Getting the bike ready to resume the journey, I heard an excellent trumpet rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. So that is what was in the bag. And underneath it was a Trump for President t-shirt. A trumpeter for trump in Groom, Texas, and with a good set of chops, too.
Stopping at the Cadillac Ranch, also known as Carhenge, was on Ed’s bucket list. Seeking directions at the t-shirt shop (it had all sizes up to 5X) behind a few pristine Caddies set at an angle, the surly blonde woman behind the counter pointed and said it was a half-mile that way. Cars parked on both sides of the road marked our destination a half-mile down the frontage road.
After walking through an unusual gate that kept cattle in and fat people out, Carhenge was at the end of a quarter-mile walk down wide dirt path through a sorghum field. A good sized crowd of all ages was working busily with cans of spray paint tagging the cars and recording their creations for digital posterity with cameras and phones. And when they were finished, their handiwork was quickly covered up by someone else. About half the cars were surrounded by a mud puddle, so dry working area was in demand.
I get the founding point of careenage, but its transition to a destination canvas for people to leave a digital image of their mark eludes me. As they walked back to the gate, a trio of 30-somethings with British accents was busily discussion not the automotive sculpture they had just tagged, it was how to post both stills and videos on Facebook at the same time.
As we rolled across the Texas Panhandle, Route 66 jumps on and off I-40, which parallels it. Ready for lunch, a billboard for the Wildorado’s Windy Cow Café caught our eye. The food was good, but the people were better. This is Trudy, our waitress. The back of her orange t-shirt asked, “Got Wind?” Life has clearly distilled Trudy to sinew and leather that is forever fed by a positive outlook on life. “Where you from?” she asked. Learning that Ed and I were separated by two-thirds of the continent, she asked, “How’d you get together?” After explaining the roots of our 20-year friendship and how we periodically get together for a ride, Trudy said, “That’s good! It’s better than sitting around the house.”
She talked us into strawberry lemonade, which was perfect on this hot and humid day. When she returned from waiting on the café’s eclectic lunchtime clientele (cowboys with spurs, members of the school board, and some workers speaking some unknown Eastern European language) she refilled our glassed with a warning: “It’s the same stuff, but they might of made it with different measurements.” She was right. It was pucker worthy, but still refreshing.
And refreshing might be the most apt description for the surprises the exploration of this new (to me) territory. If Mother Nature allows—we watched thunderstorms bubble up to the west and north of us as we rode today—tomorrow we’ll ride the Santa Fe loop and, we hope, end up in Albuquerque. The only thing we now for sure is that the road will provide some more twists and turns that we’ve so far enjoyed on this leg of our journey.