As with any great life lesson, most are learned at your mother’s knee. Great revelations, moments of joy and discovery happen with the woman who breathed life into your soul. She was literally the lifeline which connected all your dots. It’s not different when seeking new discoveries along the Mother Road that you learn life lessons along Route 66, especially on a solo road trip.
I didn’t know what to expect on this journey even though it had nagged at my soul for more than two decades. More work went into its planning than any other solo adventure I have ever taken in my lifetime. Where do I go? Where do I start? What will I find? The answers were so multi-dimensional that they left me in awe. Fear, anxiety, joy, tranquility, liberation and relaxation all played a role in my journey.
At the outset, the road less traveled made it difficult to really step back in time and drive Route 66 from coast to coast. Sure, there are long segments of it in Arizona and Texas and broken pieces of a bygone time in other states stretching from California to Illinois. Yet, construction of Interstate 40, a straight line dividing the middle of the United States, makes it difficult to navigate the romantic dreams of my youth, uninterrupted, and that’s where the adventure begins.
At the start I found myself singing Motown tunes, more like screaming along with The Temps and The Tops, as an endless freight train traveled a parallel path. I was home in the middle of nowhere. It was America. As days of weary driving made mile fade into endless mile, I began talking to myself to stay alert. It was illuminating. I liked the answers I found within. The inner turmoil was gone. In its place was the desire to live in the moment.
It wasn’t a calm, scenic ride by any stretch of the imagination. The odd pieces of service road, which used to be the country’s main artery, now lie broken and lifeless along wide stretches of nothingness. There is a great void in the middle of the country reflected in the road of broken dreams. It resembles the surface of the moon and plays tricks with your mind as you drive endless hours behind the wheel of a fire engine red Camaro. You can easily lose yourself in the great divide.
Weather, real serious weather, threatens your bliss as cloud-to-ground lightning sparks wildfires along the scorched earth and smoke clouds float like ghosts across the vast expanse. The winds blow you freely like a rag doll in Oz, forcing you to stay alert to stay alive.
Exit signs with brown-colored mileposts indicating “Historic Route 66” have you veering off in search of a connection…a connection to the past bridged with the present. This is where the journey gets interesting. This is where I meet the faces and places who remind me that we’re all chugging along together.
There was my only cowboy, Garbanzo. His face held a lifetime of stories. He found it in his heart to sing this solo drifter her own song. There were the ladies of the MidPoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas whose welcome made it feel like I was visiting a favorite auntie for a sandwich and a piece of pie. There was the gang at the U-Drop Inn, The Roost and the spirited widow who runs the antique mall in the heart of Shamrock, Texas. She questioned why she stayed in a four-store town where three of them are closed and the last was hers. She’s since left to cruise the world on her own journey of discovery.
I met so many wonderful people in Texas that I was sure it was my favorite state along Route 66. Then I arrived in Chicago, where Bruce and Wayne opened their home to me at Lang House B & B after a nightmarish stay along the lakefront downtown. It was also in the Windy City that I shared a lengthy conversation with a Syrian taxi driver, an expat in this country for ten years. He expressed sadness for so-called dreamers in a family divided but understood the need for laws in any society and the obligation to adhere to them to make it all work. My great-grandfathers came here without any expectation of a handout or entitlement to a better life. Like the Syrian taxi driver, they worked hard and became citizens themselves before bringing over their families, my own grandparents. This great country was built on the backs of legal immigrants who fought hard for citizenship but that’s fodder for a different article.
The beauty of this country, my home, was overshadowed in spots by extreme poverty in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. Victims of homelessness and mental illness clearly evident along Central Avenue, the historic Route 66, where neon signs beckon tourists to an area rife with crime and dangerous to travel. That feeling of emptiness echoed on a wide stretch of the Mother Road in Holbrook, Arizona where the only traffic for more than an hour was my car. Both the train tracks and the main drag were void of the action that paved their way sixty years ago.
As a writer, I was overwhelmed with the stories, the inspiration, the churches in the middle of nowhere, the people whose spirits are broken contrasted with the people who boost you up, even when you’re a stranger. We may be a country politically divided but we are a country united by a lifeline that connects us, a lifeline of people willing to lend a hand or lift you up. Yet, every journey begins with the first step you take yourself and your willingness to assimilate to your surroundings and help yourself. Life isn’t about entitlement. It’s about making your way, searching for your happiness and not hurting others in the process. We don’t have to sing Kumbaya together but singing God Bless America is a damn good start.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this week, I know my Mom’s adventurous spirit lives on in me as I explore this vast place we call the United States. It’s that adventurous spirit that spurs many to set forth on their own journey of discovery along the Mother Road to learn their own lessons along Route 66.