Topic: North America
Route 66 the Mother Road, a 2448 mile highway that wanders towards the sun, sand, and Californian girls. Hundreds of people from all over the world head here to drive through fields of peas and corn for days on end, on a road that technically no longer exists. Somehow this has become the best known bit of bitumen in the world. It’s September 2009, Chris and I hired a car and headed off to find the soul of America. Apparently It starts Chicago Illinois right beside the Big Lake, and ends up in Venice Beach California next to Pamela Anderson. We had hired Chevy PT Cruiser, and driven it from Philadelphia, on the other great American road, the Lincoln Highway. Topped up the tank in Chicago, were wearing sunglasses, lets hit it. Straight off to the suburbs. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect had family home in Oak Park just off the route. I seem to remember his house as a unremarkable family home in a nice old neighbourhood. Enough time wasted, lets go . We got a couple of miles before we hit a huge pot hole, and I mean hit. Four lanes of traffic, and nowhere to go. Bang. They must have been a bit of concrete reo by sticking up in the hole, all the sudden our tyre developed a slight leak, being lazy bastards we decided not to fix this, and just punched the nearest Eurocar dealer into the GPS . When we got there he wasn’t interested in changing it either so we just swapped cars. Our new ride was a very nice 6 cylinder Chevy sedan, much better than the PT Cruiser, it had a boot that we can put our luggage in, and a v6 which was much zippier. Next Stop Joliet Illinois made famous by being the first stop in the Blues Brothers movie. The old prison no longer operates but the prison gate that Jake Blues walked out of still look the same as I did in the 70’s . Obligatory Photo stop. We pretty soon got into the swing of things cruising along and looking at my route 66 guided book that my brother had bought me. Every 20 or 30 miles would be a gas station Dinner or other place of interest. The first couple of we got out and had a look at, then we would mostly just do a rolling stop and take a picture out the car window.
Chris was convinced we could live on American fast food. I knew this was impossible. I kind of like Mexican food, but Chris was convinced that it was all made of a hundred percent napalm. His view of a bowl of Mexican Chilli, it could eat a hole right through the back of your head from the other side of the room. Hence, no Mexican. Breakfast was at whatever dinner we could find. These are the hidden culinary gems of the U.S., Eggs, “Just say scrambled”. I never understood the complexity of ordering eggs in the States. Bacon won’t look like bacon but you are in the middle of nowhere. Hash browns, always good. Gravy, grits, and, anything else leave to the locals. Coffee will be like Crude Oil once the light aromatics have been removed. Add sugar and milk to taste, and then hide your cup at the far end of the table so they can’t pour more crude in while you’re not looking. Lunch, whatever untried weird fast food outlet we stumbled across. The food was uniformly grey, greasy, and plastic, and don’t order the upgrade. A 72 ounce cup of Pepsi should really last you a life time. Dinner, hit the nearest bar. Steaks and ribs are no brianers, wash em down with a beer and you can’t go wrong. This worked well until somewhere around Oklahoma. We pulled up at a place to find a family of 300 pound wilder beasts, feeding on a whole hog, three of them where under ten. I asked how the good lady of the establishment was going, and got the reply “Blessed, Where all blessed”. These are code words for “DANGER”. We got the chicken tenders and a chicken sandwich, me forgetting a sandwich is a burger in this part of the world. The chicken was deep fried in Corn Fructose Syrup, and covered with a inch of bread crumbs, it all seemed bereft of chicken. Both meals looked exactly the same, thank god we had 72 ounces of industrial grade cleaner to wash them down with. If your waitress greats you with the words “I’m Blessed”, RUN. The next day we ate Mexican.
Our days became a routine, drive, eat, drive some more. US Route 66 is no longer a major high way, and most towns have long since been bypassed by the interstates built in the 50's and 60's. Soulless hotels and fast food joints, live beside the interstates. Around about 5 o'clock in the evening we would punch accommodation into the GPS, and look at the list of options. We would generally try and find something off the highway that suited our budget which was pretty minimal. As it was 2009, the U.S. banking system, and the world economy was collapsing around us. Places like “Down and Out” budget motel seem to attract our attention first. We would pull up, give it a quick look from the outside, looking for things like bullet holes and crack dealers. Any more than three of either we would move on. Next we’d to talk to some guy through a grill about the price . Somewhere around $29.40 seemed to be pretty typical. The next question before we handed over the cash was “is there a bar around here” . Generally there was one of the other side of the road or just down then just down the hill. All the essentials being established, we will would move into a luxury room. Air conditioner, fresh towels and clean beds . Off to the bar to get a meal . American bars are great, generally full of locals who haven't been further than 50 miles in either direction out of town. A few Harley’s and pickups parked out the front. All you had to do was open your mouth, and before you knew it some helpful local was explaining the intricacies of deer hunting, tank collecting, or American football . After an hour you generally had trouble buying a beer, I cannot remember what happened most nights after that. Bars were always a great place to find out what the local must not miss things, and where the best breakfast around was . The local museum is another good option, though after talking to the locals for ten minutes they will probably want to continue the conversation in the local bar. You got the same info both places.
People always asked where we were from, and why we were there. I'D tell them we were driving route 66 and quite often they would say I’ve always wanted to do that. The fact that they had a car and lived on “66” already did not seem ironic. Towns with names like Normal, Lincoln, Lebanon, and Springfield rolled past with regular monotony. There is a Springfield and every state of America, and we went through most of them . At Springfield Missouri we found a cowboy bar which was great fun . Wet tshirt contest , bull riding , and $1 beer what more could one want . Eventually the peas and corn started to fade and the desert started . It was around here we picked up a hitchhiker. He was a 40ish bloke on the side of the road who gave us some handy hints on how to survive in the states when you have no money . As soon as he got in the car he offered us some deer back straps off a bit of fresh roadkill that he picked up the night before and barbecued. He headed east with his girlfriend in her car and was headed west alone now the relationship soured. Over the next six of hours, with only a stop at the famous Cadillac Ranch, he kept us occupied with stories . Did you know American government is suppressing the facts that you can re grow your brain cells if you snort enough meth. You have to hit it hard but it works apparently. More is better than less he was a firm believer of this fact . He had once held a job for Los Angles for 20 years in the California Lands Department but had to run from aliens, or something else just before he got his pension . He had a son in the army, another somewhere else but didn't really see them that often. Back west he mostly lived at his elderly parents at parents house . Someone had given him ten bucks, so he went to the local casino to get some chips, and 2 free meal vouchers by becoming a member . I know a smorgasbord will keep you going all day especially if you put a bit in your pockets . You go gamble $10 worth of chips - red and black, and get your cash back, after a couple of days you can either go to the next casino, or continue trip . He offered to put us up in California but we wanted to take a bit of a side trip to visit some friends. We dropped him off near Amarillo Texas with a six pack of beer and some biscuits . He said he had a few friends at the bus station they could fix us up with whatever we required but we passed that one . He was actually a really nice bloke.
Somewhere we passed an Indian reservation selling fireworks. Chris stopped to buy the biggest box he could find. At Taos New Mexico we caught up with our friends who own an ice cream shop on a ski field, and spent great couple spend a couple of days with them. Taos is a beautiful place up in the high desert miles from anywhere and it was nice to have a break from the driving. Their little daughter now believes that Australians always turn up with a boot full of explosives then proceed to let them off for about half an hour in the middle of the night, even the neighbours were very impressed. By now we really are in the middle of nowhere, Petrified forests and Giant Craters become the sights. Before we left Oz I had warned Chris that we weren’t going anywhere interesting. Once we got to the middle of nowhere intresting he suddenly asked me “how far is Sturgis”. “Its in South Dakota three days drive from here, and it doesn't happen till August.” “What about New Orleans” . “ Three days drives drive from here in the wrong direction Sunshine” . “I told you I was taking you to the middle of the way you just didn't believed me” . Fortunately it’s only a day’s drive to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, that's a bit more touristy. We get to Phoenix and turn off 66 and head north. Chris's happy because at last we seeing something that’s not flat highway. The Grand Canyon is just that, and we spend a couple of hours just looking at the canyon and the views, before jumping in the car for Vegas . Arriving at Las Vegas late at night is not a great thing to do, as the hotels jack their prices up after lunch time. The only casino room we can find is $500, but we find a dodgy hotel for $80 and settle in for the night. The next morning Chris wants to go, but I say give me a chance to see we can get a cheap hotel somewhere else . I wandered down the street for some milk, and see an office that says free hotels and sightseeing. In side is this lovely woman that you actually organizes accommodation for people coming to see time share apartments. It is Las Vegas, the economy is crashing, and everybody's trying to sell properties before the shit hits the fan. She's pretty busy but she had a good chat to me and tells me that the internet specials of the day of the Bellagio for 40 bucks. A pretty good price she tells me, you just have to turn up before lunch and ask for the internet special. On the way out she opens the boot of her car which has about ten thousand vouchers in it and hands me a couple of “two for one” meal or show specials. Catch the magician at Hooters if you guys want a really good show. I say thank you and we had off the Bellagio and move into a luxury that we've been looking for the whole trip. It’s stinking hot and I head to the pool with lazy river, and rent $5 inner tube. As I float around in circles, I look at downtown Las Vegas being built next door, 5 high rises and a billion dollar casino they all to lock up but none of them are finished. All being built on imaginary cash that has disappeared over night. That's what my friend and everybody else in Las Vegas was trying to get rid of I thought. I look at the guys working on the buildings and think there is still a lot of pain to be had here. It came true Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit with property prices dropping 60%, I hope my timeshare lady survived it.
We spend the next couple days living it up seeing magicians, or heading off for the all you can eat breakfast, and staying there long enough to have the all you can eat lunch at the same time. Our hobo friend would have been proud of us. During the day we walked around the casinos just checking out what's happening or go down to Fremont Street. We think about hanging out at Thunder Down Under the all aussie male strip show at the Excabalur but decide we probably wouldn’t survive. After a couple of days It’s the weekend and prices go up so we head on our way. Just out of town we go to the gun store and shoot machine guns for an hour or two. I get a free “ I don’t dial 911” t-shirt on the way out.
Its only 5 hours across the desert to Los Angeles. We take off through the cactuses, and head to Barstow. It’s a town attached to a huge military base with no redeeming features, but we find a good Irish bar playing country and western. WTF? At least I got some decent ribs. I take on the driving, Chris's never really got the hang of driving on the other side of the road, and it's going to get a bit more hectic from here on in. The Los Angeles freeway system has more traffic than I’ve seen in a long time. Finally we get to Tammy’s place in Long Beach . She has a work supplied unit, and her friend is just moved out so she's managed to score it for us for a night. We spent time catching up and drinking. By the time it gets late I’m hungry. The only place open is “IN and Out Burger” It's really simple you can either get a burger a double burger, cheese burger or double cheeseburger, cake or lemonade. That's about it. Unlike most fast food they’re good. On the way home I take a wrong turn and briefly end up on the wrong side of the road. At least there was only one car coming, a cop car. We get pulled over. I'm sorry Mate I'm used to driving on the other side of the road, and we just got here. He lets me go, thank god for the accent. After a couple days with Tammy we head into a L.A proper and bunk near the beach. Grauman's Chinese theatre, the Walk of Stars, Santa Monica Pier and Venice beach . I play tourist guide. I ask Chris what he wants to eat for his final American meal, he floors me by saying Mexican food . We find a good little restaurant around the corner we’re the only people in it . The lady there tells us about their life and the Californian bureaucracy . We have a great chat and she mentions that she couldn't talk like this if there were any other Americans in the bar . We pay her and give her the obligatory tip which she returned saying thank you I had a great night I really enjoyed having the conversation, it was a pleasure. Final night in Los Angeles and we get tip for dinning in a restaurant, I couldn't finish on a better note than that . I told Chris how was going to take him to the middle of nowhere to see the little country towns, and real Americans. Lots of people come here and go to Los Angeles and New York, but you've got to see something that that they will never see. We hand in the car and catch the new subway to the airport, thanks for the ride guy’s you’ve been good to us .