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Cruising Along Route 66… in reverse

If you play Bobby Troup’s famous Route 66 song backwards, you’d get the highlights of my trip, though it doesn’t rhyme as well. I drove Route 66 in reverse: Los Angeles to Chicago, more than 2,000 miles anyway you do it!

In August, 1997, I set out from Fullerton in my twelve-year old Chevy Blazer (with no air conditioning), to drive as much of old Route 66 as I could. My first stop was in Kingman, Arizona to fill-up on gas along Andy Devine Ave. So few sidekicks get streets named after them that I felt like I owed it to Tonto, Barney Fife, and Andrew Ridgeley to have a look around.

All I saw worth noting in this dusty little town was a church marquee that informed me that “OD LOVES YOU.” Gee, thanks for the reminder!

I drove east into the mountains thinking to myself, “Man, I love being on the road.” The sun was setting in my review mirror and it made for an orange sherbet sunset, the kind you only see in the desert at the end of a scorching day.

With darkness in front of me, I turned on my headlights, which I soon discovered were only fifty percent operational. On my ascent up the mountain to Flagstaff, I was pulled over by one of Arizona’s finest.
“You seem a little bit nervous,” he said.
“Well, I’m getting stopped by the police,” I responded.
“We’re just normal people like you,” he said, right before asking to search my car for drugs and weapons.
“Go ahead,” I answered.
“I’ll take your word for it,” he said, backing-off, though he did question me about my one pound plastic bag filled with homemade beef jerky. I offered him some, but he declined as he wrote me a fix-it ticket for my burned-out headlight.

In Flagstaff, I pulled into a Route 66 landmark called the Museum Club. It’s a roadside country music venue that had been there for 65 years. The locals with their belt buckles and cowboy hats gave me a few curious looks in my board shorts and flip flops, but I ordered a Coors longneck and a pickled egg and attempted to blend in.

I was standing by the dance floor soaking it all in when a Indian maiden from Saskatchewan, Canada asked me to two-step. I didn’t really know how, but I was told at the Fullerton Assistance League cotillion by my castanet-clicking teacher Mrs. Gollatz to never turn-down someone who has the courage to ask you to dance. So, I two-stepped in my flip-flops with a Saskatchewan Indian maiden.

The night ended, the way nights probably always end at that honky-tonk, with whiskey-shooting cowboys fighting in the parking lot. I slept in my Chevy Blazer motel, parked in a nearby residential area as I did on a lot of road trips back then.

The next morning with a donut and a coffee buzz, I took a short side trip off the freeway to look at a 50,000-year-old hole in the ground known as Meteor Crater. I paid $8 to see the roadside attraction that perfectly symbolizes Route 66’s entrepreneurial philosophy of finding creative ways to separate motorists from their money.

I took another short side trip off the highway when I saw the turn-off for Winslow, Arizona because, as you’re doing right now, I started singing that lyric line from the song, “Take it Easy.” There wasn’t a girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford, but I did have a peaceful easy feeling driving through the sleepy little town.

Since I’d already stopped twice, I drove past the turnoff signs for the painted-desert and petrified forest – you gotta make some tough choices on Route 66. I was bombarded with moccasin billboards across eastern Arizona so much that I briefly considered buying some moccasins!

My next stop was the historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM. I had already learned that “everything” was on Route 66 is “historic”. A gas station offered a free ice cream cone with a fill-up, which was an interesting marketing idea, so I had unleaded and Rocky Road.

I rolled into Albuquerque on Central Ave, which is the old Route 66 road, found a cheap motel, and got ready for a night of minor league baseball. Paul Abbott, my old Golden Hill Elementary school friend, was playing for the Tacoma Rainiers against the Albuquerque Dukes.

After the game, I hollered to Paul when he was on his way to the clubhouse. He invited me to join him and a few other players at a nearby bar, which for a baseball fan like me was a Bull Durham type of thrill!

Paul introduced me to his friend Chip Hale (now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks). They had played together in the Twins system and at that time they were both in their early thirties and trying to work their way back to the big leagues.

They spoke of trades, and the possibility of playing in Japan, but little did they know at that time that their best big league days were still in front of them. I didn’t know it then either, but the best part of my Route 66 trip was still in front of me.

Next Week, Part Two: Land of Enchantment to the Land of Lincoln.