ROUTE 66, Southwest US. This 2,500-mile-long highway, established in 1926, is now as much a part of America’s story as any landmark and, although we mostly traced its route on the faster I-40, we deliberately followed the historic pathway millions have driven out of Los Angeles. After all, Route 66 inspired John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and also fueled hit music, a hit TV series and thousands of literary riffs from countless American writers.
In the tradition of young writers trying their hand at a personal ode to what Steinbeck called the “Mother Road,” Benjamin Crumm wrote this snapshot of the Los Angeles to Arizona stretch:
Getting in and out of LA outside of rush hour is essential. The freeway system there is extensive and extensively used. We arrived in LA with the help of a GPS so that we not only missed the traffic and easily found where we were staying, but we did it all without seeing a single landmark.
A friend in LA gave us a tour the next day, showing us all of the stuff to see; and LA is packed with stuff. Every other mile we’d see a scene from a movie, like Griffith Observatory or the bridge Keanu Reeves jumps in Speed, creating the sense that we were in some sort of massive movie land. That was even before we saw the Hollywood sign.
Bikinis on sand, dogs on cement and eccentrics on everything mingled so freely at our stop on Venice Beach that I’m still seeking words to describe it. Viewing the concrete cityscape from a downtown loft in an industrial park (built inside an old Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery) and hearing firsthand accounts of working in show business I was hooked by the magic of Southern California. Had there been a real estate agent present I would’ve rented a flat immediately. Thankfully there wasn’t and thankfully I’m too poor to afford such a thing anyway.
Leaving LA at 5 am the next morning to avoid the next rush hour we set off on I-40, a faster highway along the old Route 66, for the Grand Canyon and eventually Winslow, AZ.
We stopped at a Ludlow, CA, gas station. The attendant, a girl who was far too pretty and nice to be in such a nowhere place, explained that the cheese sticks my father had bought were the best in the world. We left without inquiring as to how many of the world’s cheese sticks she’d tasted before making that judgment. I merged onto the freeway, clicked the cruise control to 75, put on my aviators, set in for miles of wide open nothing and drove.
We saw the Mojave National Preserve. The difference between the unprotected Mojave and the protected Mojave is not noticeable. Both seem to contain nothing. Many miles passed.
At the Grand Canyon, we anteed up for an Imax movie, made for those who want to see the Grand Canyon without all of the nature. Then, we finally drove up to the first look out. These heights and breadths are on a scale all their own. Amid people speaking any number of languages we walked up to the edge, which has no guard rail, and peered down and down and down. Finally our eyes met the spindly Colorado River, which crafted it all. There is no doubt that anyone who sees this wonder will be impressed. As massive as LA is in its urban landscape, the Grand Canyon is in its natural landscape.
Some hours later we were standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona. Over a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken in our motel room I silently determined that this all was to be stored in that part of my brain labeled “days to remember.”
Follow us all this coming week with stories from Ghost Ranch, New Orleans and Atlanta!