I still don't get it...
23 Sep 1997 20:58:43 -0700
21:35 KOA Kampground;
Bernalillo (Albuquerque), New Mexico :: 21 SEP 97
Museum history time-lines and lengthy chapters from Pulitzer
I liked the history wall for its scope, for the brevity in its
descriptions of historical events. It's a good, succinct manner of displaying
the sweep of history. Patterns emerge, links between events: the prairies
declared unfit for agriculture; Indians forced to leave their coveted
land and move to the prairies in the Indian Territory; technology for
plowing tough prairie soil developed; The Indian Territory land rush.
The Indian Wars.
In order to keep the full sweep of a century within the periphery
of our vision, the events themselves must be made not much larger than
a sound-bite, an historical token to be manipulated, rearranged, compared,
contrasted with other tokens. The tokens avoid explicitly personal, social
or political statements; they draw few moral conclusions: it is up to
the reader to supply these.
seeks the opposite, seeks to dig into the encapsulated event, to draw
out its significance and meaning on personal, social and political scales.
A novel underlies each and every history wall token whether it be a "The
Grapes of Wrath," an "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "The Jungle," a "Last of
the Mohicans." Most such novels manage to tie together many tokens, show
their relationships, expose the resulting human drama and analyse the
socio/political significance. The token is impersonal, the novel personal.
The token supplies the objective; the novel the subjective.
I began by quoting "The
Grapes of Wrath" at the end of journal entries, as is my habit, until
the quotes matched the entries themselves for length and so I began posting
entire chapters of the book as entries. Attempting to re-encapsulate an
exposition seemed irresponsible.
"66 is the main migrant road."
"66 is the mother road...."
"66 is the mother road, the road of flight."
wrote all, and
all evoke different images, invite different meanings. Neither singularly
nor in combination do these quotes expose Steinbeck
whole vision of 66 and what it meant. The problem with quoting Steinbeck
book arises from how he develops his message. There are few "A-ha" statements,
few lines which can be quoted without first having to explain the full context
in which the statement is made, and it is much more succinct to use Steinbeck
development. So I quoted him at length.
"66 is the mother road" has been co-opted out of context in
a blitz of rah-rah boosterism. So has "The Main Street of America," a
catchy phrase often accompanied by the explanation, "called that because
it passed through the center of so many towns." What you are hearing is
over 70 years of promotional hype. All the new highways declared in the
late 1920s, and there were dozens of them, passed through the center of
numerous towns. There's little doubt some of these highways traversed
more Main Streets than 66. In fact, the phrase "The Main Street of America,"
along with the accompanying explanation, was adopted by the original Route
66 Association for promotional purposes in 1926. Yet guides and books
alike repeat the phrase as if it were the observation of a journalist
or a popularized anonymous saying rather than the slick advertising slogan
it is. It's a bit like a private citizen's group, The McDonald's Fast-Food
Association, rallying popular support around the hamburger chain because,
hey, "You deserve a break today!" Or the Ford Driver's Association pumping
up its members by reminding them their cars were built where "Quality
is JOB 1!"
07:45 KOA; Bernalillo (Albuquerque), New Mexico :: 23
I'm looking at a US road map, circa 1946. This is 20 years after
Route 66 became the first officially declared US highway and less than
10 years after the paving of 66 was completed in full from Chicago to
LA. Less than 10 years after the dust-bowl migration of some 250,000 mid-westerners
to California on route 66 alone. It is just after WWII and the post-war
automobile boom just barely underway. And in a year, Kerouac
will get on the road for the first time. The '50s heyday of the highway
are just a few years off. And on the map I see a United states covered
with the thick red lines of highways.
Hwy 80: Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California; via Montgomery,
Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; Shreveport, Louisiana; Dallas/Fort Worth,
El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona.
Hwy 70: Raleigh, North Carolina to Los Angeles; via Knoxville,
Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Wichita Falls,
Texas; Roswell, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona.
Hwy 60: Norfolk, Virginia to Los Angeles; via Richmond, Virginia;
Charleston, West Virginia; Louisville, Kentucky; Springfield, Missouri;
Enid, Oklahoma; Roswell, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona.
Hwy 50 from Washington, DC to San Francisco, California. Hwy
40 from Atlantic City, New Jersey to San Francisco. 30 spans between Atlantic
City and Astoria, Oregon and 20 from Boston, Massachussetts to Newport,
Oregon. These are all coast-to-coasters.
Between Detroit and Seattle, Hwy 10 crosses Lake Michigan by
Hwy 6, the Lincoln Highway, the route of Kerouac's
first journey, it seems on the map to be the longest highway in North
America: from Provincetown, Massachussetts, the tip of Cape Cod, to Los
Angeles, California; via Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut;
Cleveland, Ohio; just south of Chicago, Illinois; Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha
and Lincoln, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; a smidge south of Salt Lake City,
Utah. It is a grand, meandering parade across America, like an ox-bowed
river, the only waterway to cross the continental divide. If I do another
cross-continental trip, it will include this highway.
Originally, the promoters of 66 wanted the number 60 for their highway.
So did another group of promoters and a bitter battle ensued. The promoters
of 66 gave in when they saw the potential for damaging the national highways
movement through their bickering and chose the available number 66 instead.
Eventually, 60 and 66 became a braided pair of highways across the country,
their paths crossing a few times westward after Springfield, Missouri.
So, why weren't the Okies in flight on Hwy 60, or on 70? Both
ran through Arkansas and Oklahoma? Without a '30s era map, I can't know
if these alternative routes were thoroughly surfaced. I would guess they
were no worse or better than 66 over the long haul. I wonder if the lyrical
number itself isn't somehow largely responsible for the highway's eventual
fame...I wonder what magic had already been established in favour of Route
66, and how. Were the phrases "The Mother Road" and "The Main Street of
America" as popular in the early decades while 66 was still vibrant and
alive as they have been made now in nostalgia?
More digging to go.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
...ignorance joins with bad faith to produce a coded
discourse that flatters the anxieties of those who will do anything to
push away suggestions they find uncomfortable.
There's No Such Thing as Free Speech:
And It's a Good Thing Too