Monday, March 12, 2007

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Patty here…

I don’t like to make things up. I know that sounds odd coming from a fiction writer, but it’s true, especially when it comes to setting. I write about Los Angeles because I live there, which allows me to create what the literary world calls “telling details,” those colorful snippets about people, places, or things that add authenticity or deeper meaning to a scene.

Sometimes people ask me if I ever plan to take Tucker out of Los Angeles. I have taken her out of the city but never so far away that she couldn’t get back in an hour or so. I began to wonder if I was avoiding doing so. Since I had to go to Tucson for a meeting, I decided to drive and take Tucker with me to interview a man about a quest. We decided to take the historic Route 66, established as a federal highway on November 11, 1926. In its day the Route was called “The Main Street of America” and “The Mother Road” because it was the chief artery between Chicago and Los Angeles and the major highway taken by migrants escaping the dustbowl of the 1930s. In 1985, the Feds deemed the Route—all 2,448 miles of it—irrelevant and decommissioned it. I wanted to experience this piece of history and live its famous slogan, “Get your kicks on Route 66.”

Dull gray smog shrouded the San Gabriel Mountains as we left congested Los Angeles heading east on the 10 Freeway. With civilization in the rearview mirror we began our trek across the Mohave Desert, a dry brown expanse of land that seemed as wide as the ocean. Eying the landscape dotted with scraggly low brush and inhabited by rattlesnakes and scorpions and a few mice, I was struck by how little of the West was inhabited or inhabitable.

I stopped in Ludlow, California for gas. A hot wind kicked up dust to burn my eyes. The café across the street was closed, the fate of many businesses along Route 66 when the Interstate bypassed all of the towns. Seeing that boarded up coffee house reminded me of the lives and livelihoods destroyed to accommodate drivers who no longer wanted to slow down while rushing from here to there.

Once out of Ludlow, I passed more ghost towns and derelict buildings: the shell of a garage, a house, a gas station, and what may have once been another café. Traffic was sparse. An eery solitude surrounded me as I imagined Tucker racing down the open road in her Boxster—alone—past all of those broken-down abandoned buildings.

A shingle on the side of the road announced, “Amboy founded 1858.” We stopped at the famous Roy’s Café, which was closed for business as were the small cottages that once offered tired travelers a reprieve from the long straight road and the unrelenting heat.

We found signs of life. Larry Stevens was inside the café restoring the place to its glory days. I asked when he thought he might be finished. He just shrugged. Maybe in Amboy time.

As we crossed the Colorado River into Arizona I noticed something new. The long expanse of nothing was occasionally broken by a rusty trailer or a school bus converted into living quarters. I began to wonder what had driven those residents to choose isolation over community. Were they cooking up crystal meth in those trailers or did they just want to be left alone?

The road led us to Oatman, Arizona, and the Hole in the Wall Tattoo Studio. The woman inside the shop told me I’d pay $400 an hour in Las Vegas for the same tattoo she could give me for $85 an hour. I took her card and told her I’d think about it.

On my way out of the store I saw a do-rag I wanted to buy, but I got distracted by the burros roaming free on the street. I don’t have the do-rag, but I have the memory.

For me, writing wouldn’t be half the fun without those telling details. Sure, I could say that Tucker drove through the Mohave Desert to Arizona and that it was hot and desolate, that she interviewed some guy in an adobe house on a quiet street in Tucson. But I wouldn’t have Roy’s Cafe, those burros, and the dust burning my eyes. And I wouldn’t have been able to create the character of a bitter old man living in a rusted-out trailer in the middle of a vast expanse of desert as wide as any ocean who had lost his business to the Interstate and survived by selling do-rags and cheap tattoos to the occasional passerby who had taken the time to travel down a lonely forgotten highway that didn’t have much to offer except some good memories and a tired promise: “Get your kicks on Route 66.”


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  1. Anybody know if "Get Your Kicks" came from that old TV show starring Martin Milner and George Maharis or someplace else?

  2. When I first read this post, all I could think of was Jack Karowak's "On the Road."

    Back in the late 70s there was a guy at fisherman's wharf in SanFrancisco, who could play two trumpets at the same time; you know one of these "one man band" events that happened so frequently in that area......and his favourite and most often played tune was "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." Looks like you were able to get some kicks on your road trip to Tuscon [were you listening to Glenn Cambell's By the Time I Get to Phoenix...?]
    Route 66, once the Oregon trail of it's time, now it's like the Trail of Tears......It's sad that most of Route 66 has gone the way of the ghost. But it does have some really interesting parts.....even in SanBernardino County.

    Patty, I agree with you wholeheartedly, you have to actually see the culture to season your writings with that flavour. .....The flavour is perhaps savory with Roy's Cafe and anyplace calling itself a "Hole in the Wall....."

    When is it OK time to tell a Highway that it's adopted?


  3. Great post, Patti. I've taken that route on some of my annual pilgrimages to Tucson, too. For me, it's a necessary decompressing as I go back the thirty years in time since I left the desert Southwest.

    And I hope you at least had a chance to get to Mariscos Chihuahua in Tucson! "Our Tom" told me about it, and now it's a must on every trip.

  4. Patty,
    A great view of an area that is as different to me as another planet. I'm so used to rain, green, and alligators that sand, brown and Frank Loyld Wright don't feel right.

    Had a great time Tuesday which I intend to write about Thursday.

    Jim Born

  5. Good question, martyb. I'm not sure. Pauly, do you know the answer to that?

    Jon, I love those street musicians. Not enough of them anymore. I didn't play Glenn but a few miles into the trip I got a hankerin' for Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again," which I'd brought along for the trip Geehaw! I'd love to adopt Roy's as a starter. Wouldn't that be fun to help refurnish it?

    Louise, I thought of you often on the trip, knowing that you are from that neck of the woods and that you write about the area so beautifully.

    I can hardly wait to read what you have to say, Jim. I hope at least part of it is the truth.

  6. Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" is an American popular song, composed in 1946 by Bobby Troup and first recorded that same year by Nat King Cole. The title was suggested by his first wife, Cynthia. I like the song because, while it has fairly predictable chord changes, it does give you a jones the song.

  7. Yes, and as I recall, the song stirred debate whether getting your "kicks" meant getting high on drugs.

    The TV show began in 1960,I believe. Its bubbly score was composed by Nelson Riddle, and is famous in its own right. If you go to, and place Route 66 into the Search Window, you'll get on the same page the main titles (and Riddle song) for the TV show, and a terrific film clip of Nat King Cole singing the original song.

  8. Thanks for the info 356n Nostalgia. And Paul that youtube site was too cool for words. Thanks for the tip. I'm thinking maybe I need a Corvette...

  9. Great article! Makes me long a hot summer in the desert. Your article makes me wish I were born earlier to see the Route 66 in its prime (but with air conditioning).

  10. How interesting, Patty! Does the fact that the route is decommissioned mean that there is no maintainance done on it? Did you see any CHPs?

  11. More for you Route 66 Road Wanderers:

  12. Mims, the road was in super condition. No CHP-types that I saw. Few cars, so you could go really really fast.

    go4gr8, maybe you were too young for the Route in its heyday, but it's still out there waiting for you. go4it!

    Thanks for the link, Paul. I'm going there now...

  13. ...and now that I've been to the site...what great pics for LA and Route history buffs. Good job, Paul.

  14. Hey Patty:
    What a great post. Nothing like doing your research up close and personal. And experiencing things is a deeper way of writing about them. However, I tip my hat to those rare people who can write about places they've never been to, and make it sound real.

    Thanks for the time tripping. We encountered a remnant of Route 66 in Flagstaff (I think), Arizona back in 1999, and we were just tickled. Oh, the dreams of just hitting the road and just driving and stopping when you felt like it - where the places don't look like they've been made from a universal cookie cutter. :-D

    Great warm and fuzzy, Patty. Ta. I can just imagine Tucker experiencing the trip...

    Mind you, it would liken itself to a stranger than fiction set up, ala twilight zone affair. Especially if Rte 66 crosses a ley line out there in the desert - supernatural crossroads for all of those who wander in the past and present, with unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and destiny and despair. Dang, just given myself goosebumps...

    Have fun, Patty,

  15. Marianne, I love it when you channel your inner ET.

  16. Ain't it grand?! Sue & I get our kicks everytime we roll along The Mother Road, trying to spot/find things mentioned in the various travel books, AAA and others. Glad you stopped in Oatman and made some critter's day (4-legged).

    Poetry in that post, Lady, poetry.


  17. Poetry? Jeez, Group. I couldn't have asked for more glowing comment if I'd paid you to write it...wait a DID get my last check, didn't you?

  18. Yes, I did get your check, but I forwarded it to Naomi to bring the fund for Paul up to an even $5.00.
    Hope that was okay. . .?


  19. You iz soooo funny. You should forget Groupiehood and take your comedy act on the road.

  20. Great little story. My name is Ken. I'm the tattoo artist/owner of the Hole in the Wall Tattoo Studio in Oatman Az. Sorry, I must have missed you the day you were there. Glad you enjoyed the visit.