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.
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I appreciate your waxing rhapsodic on the stretch of 11th Street with the used car lots that provide transportation for those who can't afford to buy a new car and the old Route 66 motels that offer housing by the month (or week) to those who can't afford a mortgage. You paint a poignant picture with your words and remind us of those who live their lives in this part of our economy. However, considering the many Radiator Springs kind of communities along 66--like Depew--with little more than ruins where the towns once stood, I think that raggedy section of 11th Street doesn't look so bad. I'd also like to point out to your readers who may not have visited Tulsa yet, there are 24 miles of 66 that pass through Tulsa and most of those miles reveal beauty and elegance. Along those miles are the University of Tulsa, block after block of re-purposed buildings (many of them old gas stations that once served travelers on 66), several gorgeous downtown churches--among them, the Art Deco gem, Boston Avenue Methodist Church and the cathedral like First Methodist Church, and the temple like First Church of Christ Scientist. Then, of course, there is the Cyrus Avery Plaza with Mullenhause's East Meets West sculpture, then on across the Arkansas River into West Tulsa/Red Fork. That's not even mentioning the Blue Dome District through which the original alignment runs. I'm not disagreeing with your description of those few miles of 11th St/Route 66, but don't want to leave the impression that's all there is of Route 66 in Tulsa. We may indeed have a spot on the "10 least attractive portions of the Mother Road" (although, I disagree and think there are hundreds of spots along 66 that are ahead of even the shabbiest part of 11th Street), but I believe we have some of the most beautiful miles of Route 66 here in Tulsa. I know you love Tulsa, too, Laurel--you've said it so many times--and I believe you were only writing about those few miles (Garnett to Sheridan? Or to Yale?), so, please, forgive my intrusion into your blog and accept what I've said in the spirit it was intended. Always the best for Route 66 and Tulsa.
In analyzing your response, I believe perhaps, after all, we think in terms of Route 66 in two very different ways. Tulsa is the best town (of 14) I've ever lived in so I can't be accused of lack of appreciation for this beautiful city. But I, like many Route 66 fans and travelers, aren't looking for the new and the beautiful. I am drawn to the remains of the Route 66 of old, and like so many remains, they aren't pretty. (My very own Afton Station is, after all, in the middle of what many travelers have told me is the ugliest town they've seen along the Route. People from foreign countries especially rhapsodize about its ugliness and how it adds to the "atmosphere" of the Mother Road. And yet it still is my first love.) I feel the same about 11th St. in Tulsa. Sure, there are pockets of improvements and loveliness (TU would be an example), but I love the old, the broken down, the reminders of what Route 66 was when it really "was". Like Disneyland, it's all an illusion now anyway. It truth, except to those who live here, it's nothing but an amusement park of sorts, a place to either learn about or re-create those old, iconic coast-to-coast roads of the past, those which are allowed to look seedy and well-worn because they are! And it's those beaten down areas that attract me the most. I have no understanding of how a new building can be built when there are scads of old ones waiting to be rehabilitated. The beauty of Boston Avenue Methodist Church and the artistry of the East Meets West statue are both to be greatly admired, but to me they aren't really a part of the Route 66 I prefer. The Oasis Motel Talley's are. It's a personal thing.
I do appreciate your opinions and thoughtful response to my blog. Maybe I'm just different. If I'm not driving up and down 11th St. or Southwest Blvd., my next most favorite thing is driving around the quarry district of north Tulsa or up and down Pine Street looking for manufacturing plants that will remind me of when things were actually MADE here. These are not pretty places, but they stir my blood more than anything else in Tulsa. Oh, I also love the refineries off Southwest Blvd. and how they belch steam which I can pretend is smoke when I'm weaving my fantasies of being back in turn-of-the-century Tulsa. For example, tops on my bucket list is to work for a week on an assembly line in a steel fabricating plant. So, as you can see, I view life out of strange eyes. Eleventh St. in beautiful Tulsa fits into my imaginings just fine.
Again, thanks for letting me rant and for stirring my emotions. It's always welcome.
Thanks for continuing the discussion and not taking what I wrote as a scold. I do get it, appreciating the down at the heels parts of the road, the ruins of Route 66. I find that fascinating--and haunting--too. I love Depew, Oklahoma, dilapidated and decaying Depew. Have you driven off of Depew's Main Street onto the residential streets? They're quite a contrast to the empty Main Street. There are several blocks of nice houses with well cared for lawns, a school, and three good sized churches. I used to take Pluto there on weekends for walks. I like the feel of that little town and I admire its people. I was there most recently in early November. Two men were moving a ladder from lamp post to lamp post, hanging Christmas decorations--in Depew! Depew Pride. So, I do appreciate the old and funky parts of Route 66. But I digress. Back to the subject of 11th Street. My reaction to your post was triggered by the first lines of the piece: "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." I took "least attractive" to mean there's nothing to attract anyone to Tulsa. I want everyone who is traveling 66 through Oklahoma to come see our 24 miles, meet us, eat at Tally's or Ollie's or Ike's or El Rancho Grande, see the things that are special here--and I'm afraid that Tulsa, big as it is, is easy to miss. I'm afraid that thousands of travelers every year, who aren't navigating with Jerry's EZ66 Guide, get on what they think is Route 66 when they spot the OK66 signs at the Hard Rock in Catoosa and the next thing they know they're driving into Sapulpa having only seen the parts of Tulsa that can be seen from I-44/OK66, which looks like the same urban growth and generic shopping centers that are seen on the edges of highway bypasses in every Midwestern town in the U.S. I have read some pretty detailed trip reports and looked at lots of trip photos posted online that go from Blue Whale to ghost signs in downtown Sapulpa with no mention of Tulsa at all in between and you bet the reason why is that they whipped through Tulsa on I-44/OK66 (no doubt thinking they were on THE 66) and never saw anything that looked worthy of a stop. That long explanation (read: rant) perhaps reveals just how touchy I am when I read something that I fear will discourage people from taking the time to find us. I'm confident that they'd love us if they'd find us. I'm mainly worried about them missing us and not realizing it or thinking were not worth turning around and backtracking from Sapulpa if they do realize their mistake. So, see, my angst has little to do with your reflections on car lots, motels, and pawn shops, and a lot to do with confusing signage.
I enjoy the "feel" of Depew, too. I never pass by without driving up the hill and around the town. Although it's obviously doing a lot better than Afton, it's in a similar condition. The difference is that there are still citizens there who care, which is not true for Afton. I remember several years ago when our OK Route 66 Assn. was invited to go to Depew and paint murals on windows. That is something I can never imagining happening in Afton. But I love both towns because they are windows of what used to be. They have not been gentrified beyond recognition.
As for tourists skipping Tulsa, I agree with you 100%. If following a map, it's far too easy to be led onto I-44 in Catoosa and find yourself in Sapulpa without touching our city. For that reason, I hand out a self-designed map to all westbound travelers at Afton Station who indicates that they might think about skipping Tulsa. It shows them how to avoid accidentally getting on the interstate, then it points about about 20 sites that might interest them on 11th St. Admiral, Southwest Blvd. and the Blue Dome. I don't pull any punches, however, by indicating to them that they're going to see nothing but beauty. After all, Tulsa has, until recently, barely acknowledged the existence of Route 66 within its boundaries, and even now it seems more interested in putting up new signs and monuments than honoring the old ones. I would love to see a guided tour of Tulsa that emphasized all of the old motels abd the small deco buildings that are barely noticed any more amid the ugliness. If people aren't willing to take the bad with the good, then I don't think of them as true Route 66 roadies. That's not to say that they won't eventually come around on perhaps their second or third trip, but it takes a while to depart from the same old "icons" that are mentioned in every guidebook and start looking between the lines at what else is there -- the hints that real people once lived right on the road, that it wasn't always thought of as nothing but a tourist mecca but as someone's Main Street in someone's home town. For this reason, the places that I described, perhaps unwisely, as "ugly" are actually just reality. And that's an important part of the heritage of Route 66 (and Tulsa), too.
Of course, the fun is discovering things that aren't in all the books--that's not to say that I don't enjoy Blue Whale who is in EVERY Route 66 book, bless him--and I'll tell you who seems relentless in searching out and photographing those less well known gems along Route 66. His name is Rhys Martin. I'm sure you've seen his postings on various Route 66 Face Book group pages--dozens a day. If I wanted visitors to Tulsa to only see the pretty parts of the city, I wouldn't restrict their travel to Route 66 (either or both alignments). I agree that Route 66 travelers who have any ideas about the road that are based in reality travel it expecting to find a lot of worn-down, patched-up, needing to be painted places. In fact, I'd say that such places are very attractive to travelers. I believe that's pretty much your point of view, too.
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