This afternoon I needed to go to the bank, a one mile drive from my house with a 30-second transaction to be made there. Now, two hours later, I'm home. The petroleum industry's best friend just had to burn another couple of gallons of fuel on this lovely, sunny day -- and Magnetic Route 66 was calling to me.
I have only driven over the Tulsa portion of Route 66 (11th St.) about 10,000 times since I moved to the city. To be honest, I really have nothing left to say about it that hasn't been said by me, as well as many others, countless times before. I'm about ready to start counting the cracks in the pavement just to concentrate on something different. But it doesn't matter to me. I love every block, every mile of it. And just watch me -- I CAN find more things to say about it!
It's not pretty. In fact, of all Route 66 from coast to coast, I'd say that 11th St. would be right down there with the 10 least attractive portions of the Mother Road. But being a proper roadie, I don't care. Eleventh Street is filled with used car lots by the dozens. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many "pre-owned" car lots in a 5 mile stretch anywhere in the country. It is a car orphanage where all sorts of vehicles go, looking for some kind and caring parents to take them home. There are those ubiquitous strings of colorful pennant-shaped flags fluttering over most of the lots, behaving as though they're the only such enticements around. How wrong they are! I'd like to have the pennant flag concession for that stretch! Many of the car lots have signs in Spanish, and others have signs in both Spanish and English. Many of the signs brag about the merchandise under the strings of pennants -- "Beautiful Used Cars", "Best Value Pre-Owned Cars" -- that sort of thing. I rarely see people looking at cars in these yards, but they must be there somewhere, because scores of such lots thrive on this small stretch.
There are also what I consider to be an inordinate number of pawn shops on 11th Street. Pawn your jewelry and go next door to buy a car? Or is it the other way around? Used cars and pawn shops seem to go together hand-in-hand. I've only been in a pawn shop once, and for a very different reason than pawning my belongings. It was the only place in the small town where I was living that had a notary public, and I had to get my divorce papers notarized. Talk about depressing! Despite being a huge fan of the History Channel's "Pawn Stars" TV show, I really don't ever want to personally step foot in a pawn shop again.
The old, borderline decrepit motels are the most touching aspects of 11th St. Sharing the road with the used car dealers and pawn shops was probably not what their original owners had in mind when they built them in the '40s and '50s. Although I can't for certain say that I ever stayed in any of the 11th St. motels when I was a kid traveling with my parents, I've stayed in enough similar ones to know exactly what they were like in their heyday. They were "recommended" by the AAA or by Duncan Hines, clean and tidy in the rooms, well landscaped, and in most cases with a spotlessly clean area containing a gleaming, inviting pool. Now, they are a mere shadow of their former selves. Many of the great neon signs still exist but all of the old pools have been filled in. The motels are still standing but not quite as spiffy as they once were, and the clientele consists of transients and renters by the month or, worst case, by the hour. I can stop in front of one of these motels, stare at it through blurred eyes, and be transported back to happy days in the '50s when the best times of my entire life were those family vacations, those small but cozy rooms, and a pre-dinner dip in the pool.
So, I continue to return and return to that stretch of roadway (actually just 5 long blocks from my house and yet in a different world) and soak in the "now" and the "then" of its magic. That magic has shaped my adult life in ways I could never imagine when I was a youngster. There are many of us for whom it could be said "They live for Route 66" and I'm proud to be among them.