The summer between my Junior and Senior year of college, I was restless. I was bored, and I was sick of working a typical “summer job” with no real social connections. I wanted to travel. I wanted to explore.
When my dad and I flipped through the channels and landed on a documentary about route 66, “The mother road” from Chicago to LA, I knew what I needed.
I needed a roadtrip.
My mom had the days off. I had the days off. I’d just gotten my 1983 Pontiac 3000 (manual everything, no AC, no extras). I had won a dumb little buzzard at the county fair, and hung him from the cigarette lighter.
It was a naming quest. It was an adventure.
Mom and I went to AAA to get a Trip-tick for the Route, and no such thing existed. Route 66 – as a route – had been retired. It wasn’t on any map. A man standing in line behind us told us to drive to Chicago and get off at a particular exit, he said to watch for brown historic marker signs.
So we did.
We spent three days – two to drive from Chicago to St. Louis on the old road, and then we had to drive back home to Ohio. We sweltered in the mid-July heat. We took photos of Normal, Indiana and Cozy Dogs Drive-through. We got really, really lost.
The car eventually became “Moe.” The buzzard, “Izzy”. I drove that car until 1999 when a car dealership paid me $50 to not leave it on their lot.
My mom and I went back in 2006, we drove a Mustang convertible from St. Louis to Oklahoma City, this time with better maps. We never found the blue whale. We did discover other things. Things only roadtrips can teach you.
Maps aren’t always right, trading posts should never be passed up, sometimes convertibles are really stinking hot…. and it is always fun to sing in the car.
My Rte 66 obsession is so much like my Appalachian trail obsession.
Will I ever finish either one of them from end to end? What is it about these meandering trails through state after state that lure me? Is it the Americana? Is this my bizarre brand of patriotism?
I know that I prefer to drive rather than fly. I prefer to drive backroads rather than the interstate. I prefer to bicycle rather than drive at all. And I prefer to walk than to bike. I want to taste a place. I want to savor it. I want to know a place’s dirt and trees and air. I want to know whether the mosquitos are bad there, or if the bears are scarce this year.
What is it about the trail that stretches into the distance that calls my name?