Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Going to and fro.
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 1997 08:02:15 -0700

08:30 Bernice State Park; Bernice, Oklahoma :: 10 SEP 97

So they built Route 66 on some very well worn paths, but this didn't guarantee the success of the new highway. It went through several significant towns and districts bulging with resources or the means to manufacture something from those resources or where folks had agreed to trade those resources and manufactured goods. That's no guarantee of the enduring fame attained by America's Main Street. And neither can any amount of promotion guarantee the popularity of a roadway. Something a little magical has to happen.

There were other transcontinental highways. You could get from New York on the Hudson to San Francisco via Chicago via Route 6. That's pretty much how Kerouac did it in 1947 on his very first road trip. And there were other promoters battling no less fervently to establish conditions favourable to their new highway. For example, Route 66's promoters chose the number '66' for their highway only after withdrawing from their bid to acquire the number '60' which was awarded to another highway. I wonder how much The Mother Road benefited from that lost battle:

Get to and fro on highway six zero
just doesn't have the same magical ring, or that bountiful post-war glee. Getting your kicks on Route 66 signifies a glorious age of travel, a time when getting there was all the fun and barreling down 66 was the best way to go. My mother posted some reminiscences, and I don't think she'll mind if I share them with you.
Sounds like ages ago to you that the road was so famous but it is really a skip and a jump in time for me, though at times it does seem like eons since I lived the age of Kerouac and the beginning of the beatnik era... V.W. vans brightly decorated,slightly dilapidated, whiskered and long haired men in old jeans and tee shirts in need of mending, their female companions too minus the whiskers. Beads, naked feet. Earlier though, forties black sedans, Art Deco gas stations, motels with cabins, men not afraid to wear white shirts rolled up at the sleeves, ties, laced black shoes, Camel cigarettes, ladies in short skirts, just above the knees, long hair rolled in 'rats' , seamed nylon stockings, red lipstick and finger nails.
It was a beautifully romantic and romanticized period that established character of the '50s and was the harbinger of the radical '60s.

But making 'kicks' the highest priority may well be the path to our current violent problems. Kerouac didn't start the Beat era with all his writings. He observed the early development of a fashion, one bent on experiencing everything without moral restraint. "On the Road" glorifies thievery, con artists and drunken louts. While the characters of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity move through the landscape with a hip grace, underlying their experiences is a compulsion toward self-satisfaction which negates real connections. Few relationships are meaningful or enduring, rather men are chosen as friends for their ability to provide mind-bending discussion and financial support while women are selected for financial support and sex. Communities are chosen for their bountiful supply of these men and women. Kicks come before people.

Perhaps I'm too strident here, grasping at straws a little, making too much of it. But if the popularity and significance of novels is any indication of their relevance, and if Steinbeck and Kerouac captured their age as all great American novels do, then something happened between the dust-bowl '30s of Steinbeck and the beatnik '40s and '50s of Kerouac. And it happened on America's Main happened on Route 66.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
The preacher nodded his head slowly. "Every kid got a turtle some time or other. Nobody can't keep a turtle though. They work at it and work at it, and at last one day they get out and away they go-off somewheres. It's like me. I wouldn't take the good 'ol gospel that was just layin' there to my hand. I got to be pickin' at it an' workin' at it until I got it all tore down. Here I got the sperit sometimes an' nothin' to preach about. I got the call to lead the people, an' no place to lead 'em." "Lead 'em around and around," said Joad. "Sling 'em in the irrigation ditch. Tell 'em they'll burn in hell if they don't think like you. What the hell you want to lead 'em someplace for? Jus' lead em."
  graphical element John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath
note: 'sling' is euphemistic meaning "[Baptize] 'em in the irrigation ditch."