Bob Barnes, For FLORIDA TODAY3:24 p.m. EDT July 4, 2016
Bob Barnes is a West Melbourne resident and co-founder and executive director of The Children's Hunger Project.
"This land is your land. This land is my land/From California to the New York islands/From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters/This land was made for you and me." -- From "This Land is Your Land," by Woody Guthrie
You may have been to the Louvre in Paris. The Smithsonian Institution in D.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
What a sheltered life you have led. I've been to the Devil's Rope Museum, a tribute to barbed wire, in McLean, Texas. Folks, you can't make this stuff up. It's for real and it's fabulous. Moreover, when you lower your elevated nose a bit, you'll see that this museum, and dozens like it, will stick in your heart like nothing you have ever experienced.
Forget your existing "bucket list" of trips. If you do not know how great America is and how great Americans are, then travel Route 66, the 2,448-mile (give or take a mile or so) "ribbon of highway" between northeast Illinois and southwest California.
Yes, at 75, I finally did what I said I would do over 50 years ago and that was to drive old Route 66, decommissioned as a federal highway in 1985. My only regret is that I did not do it way-back-then and many times since. It was well worth the wait and every bit as enjoyable as I thought it would be ... "magical" would be an understatement.
I learned this: In spite of newspaper headlines and pronouncements to the contrary, know this Fourth of July that the United States of America is alive and well. "Flyover country" people are who made, and still make, this country great. And although I had not anticipated it, the trip reaffirmed my already existing "America is the greatest" attitude. I was at home each stop along the way.
In full disclosure, I "cheated" a bit by driving first to Oklahoma City and picking up Route 66 there instead of in Chicago. In addition, I turned around at Gallup, New Mexico, as I wanted to have time for a side trip to Roswell, New Mexico — you know. The place where "they" landed. Are they out there? I am sworn to silence about Area 51.
More tidbits gleaned along the way:
• Known to me before only as my jumping off point, Oklahoma City, I realized, is a jewel when it comes to museums and other cultural offerings for locals. Who knew? Very impressive. On my next trip, I'll allow a number of days there to enjoy everything from the National Cowboy Museum to a museum dedicated to early women aviators like Amelia Earhart, and women in the space program. "Regular" museums and cultural opportunities abound in addition to the Old West themes.
• In the Texas Panhandle, Vega is one of those "must" stops. With 884 people, the oldest hardware store on Route 66, an excellent culture museum plus the restored Magnolia gasoline station, it is considered by some the "real" midway point on Route 66. I'll let others argue that point. All I know is that the stop was quite enjoyable and the people there loved letting me know they are proud of where they live.
• Visible some 20 miles away, the third-largest cross in America (seventh-largest in the world) is found in Groom, Texas. At 19 stories, it's a sight to behold no matter your faith.
• Near an Amarillo, Texas, tourist trap, I met two young ladies on motorcycles. They posed for pictures with me, as did three women on bikes who were traveling with three men and had stopped at the MidPoint Cafe, a mom-and-pop restaurant in Adrian, Texas (also touted as Route 66's midpoint). I have no shame or fear: I asked, could I get a picture with you? The three women, who were French, were on a cross-country tour. It was a joy to meet people from other countries who were enjoying my homeland.
• New Mexico boasts stunning beauty and culture to augment the road trip. Tucumcari is worth a stop as they have their own historical museum and the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum. Continuing west: the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa. Car enthusiasts will love the dozens of cars on display, ones popular when they (and I) were younger. You can't miss it: a yellow hot rod positioned atop a 20-foot pole is their landmark. I decided to hold off on visiting Santa Fe until my next trip, as I was anxious to explore Albuquerque. After all, there I had the opportunity to drive the longest Main Street in the country.
• The 66 Diner near the University of New Mexico has so-so food but is worth the stop to enjoy the '40s and '50s architecture and furnishings. The area has so much to offer, including the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum. Into skateboards, telephones, rattlesnakes, meteorites or hot air balloons? There's a museum there to your liking.
I read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" when I was a teenager and it created a buzz of excitement in my mind. I read the book again recently — obviously, with a lifetime of experiences behind me instead of teenage wanderlust. Although it's a classic and still popular almost 60 years after it was published, for me, the book about road trips, partying, music and drugs doesn't represent the true values of America. Kerouac rejected, but so many Americans embraced, the idea of that white picket fence, mortgage, new refrigerator and a steady job. Those Americans, those proud to live in "flyover country," are an integral part of what we as a nation are today.
Near Amarillo, Texas, the proprietor of a convenience store shook my hand and thank me for stopping by — and I had dropped in only to use the restroom.
On the recommendation of manager Dot at the Roger Miller (he of the hit song "King of the Road" fame) Museum in Erick, Oklahoma, I stopped for a bite at the Main Street Cafe and Bakery. I sat at a table next to two cowboys who looked straight out of central casting for "Gunsmoke." Before I was even seated, they looked up, said "Howdy" and went back to their conversation. That short greeting, and the friendliness of the store manager, are metaphors for everything good about America: Those people were genuinely glad to acknowledge a stranger.
Fact is, I suspect there are never any strangers along Route 66. In spite of what you might read or hear, we are still the land of enchantment; the country desired by people all over the world. We seem to be the only ones who ignore the good while constantly berating ourselves for the bad.
And as I review this epic road trip in my mind, it's electrifying to realize the level of pride Americans have in their towns along those fabled highway ribbons. I came away from each stop with enthusiasm for where I had just been and a greater love of and for America ... with regards to Woody Guthrie yet again, this land truly was "made for you and me."
Rockin' on Route 66
It's been photographed, heralded in song and written about for almost 100 years. It's the topic of an exciting oral history project about the women and girls who worked and lived along Route 66, from architects to waitresses. A stretch of it in Missouri will be the first public U.S. roadway to go solar, with panels that can turn solar rays into clean, renewable energy. It's Route 66, and it's an important part of American travel and pop culture history.
Legendsofamerica.com offers a carload of history and tidbits on the famous roadway, aka Will Rogers Highway and The Mother Road, the latter of which writer John Steinbeck coined for Route 66 in "The Grapes of Wrath."
• Current maps don't include old Route 66: The last stretch of the old road disappeared from "official” maps in 1985.
• Route 66 was commissioned Nov. 11, 1926, picking up as many as possible bits and pieces of existing road.
• Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a federal highway in 1985. Use of the road had waned as interstates boomed and the public demanded for better transportation as the old road deteriorated after World War II.
• According to most sources, Route 66 is 2,448 miles long. That's a rough estimate as the road has had many different alignments.
• Route 66 crosses eight states and three time zones, running through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Don't-miss sites are found here. Interstate 40 runs parallel to Route 66 in several sections of the roadway.
• Because of a change in alignment of Route 66 in 1937, there is an intersection where Route 66 crosses itself at Central Avenue and 4th Street in downtown Albuquerque -- so you can stand on the corner of Route 66 and Route 66. •
• Entertainer and songwriter Bobby Troup wrote the tune "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" in 1946. Nat King Cole scored a hit with it that year but it's been recorded by many musicians, including the Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode. Another song inspired by sights along Route 66 is Bruce Springsteen's "Cadillac Ranch," named for an art installation in Amarillo, Texas.