Thursday, May 23, 2013

Route 66 - part one

I’d like to claim superior literary influences, a lifetime of planned, intelligent reading. Truth is any inspirations have more often been hit and miss - obscure books bought on impulse, rescued from discount remainder boxes, forgotten, then found again decades later. Sometimes, my influences are even popular TV shows.

So it is with the motivation for this trip - an odd book and a TV show or, at least, the theme music from that show.

This curious tome tells of a bus driver’s life on what is, incontestably, America’s best-known highway. The author got behind a Greyhound wheel in 1951. About that time, the classic ‘Scenicruiser’ was introduced with, advertisements trumpeted, ‘handsome interior appointments’ setting ‘a new high in travel luxury.’ The model even had a washroom.

Back then, many male passengers put on jackets and ties, women wore gloves and signs read ‘Colored Ride in Back.’ However, it was more the author’s descriptions of life on Route 66 that caught my attention. Blizzards so bad that busses were trapped in snow; drivers on coffee and Benzedrine to stay awake, throwing newspapers to rural customers while speeding past (a practice known as ‘dive bombing'). 

I’ve usually enjoyed bus travel. An essentially lazy person, driving is less and less appealing. I sit in what Greyhound publicity of half a century ago described as a ‘deeply-cushioned reclining chair’ looking out ‘huge picture windows’ with ‘an unobstructed panoramic view of the landscape.’ The world unfolds with minimal effort.

Nowadays, anyone can sit anywhere and I can look like slob. The downside is that bus travel has a reputation of being the domain of homicidal maniacs. Still … still, the idea of a bus trip, a really long bus trip, has some appeal. And all that marvellous American highway kitsch.

I return to Greyhound Tales from Route 66 (chapters include: ‘The Bus that Wouldn’t Die,’ ‘The Crazy Hop-Head,’ and ‘The Navajo and the Rattler’) and listen to the theme music from an early Sixties TV show, ‘Route 66.’ 

When home from boarding school, I was allowed to watch occasional episodes. Don’t recall much about the show other than the Corvette, which I coveted until, as an adult, unhappily realizing skinny, bespectacled, underpaid reporters just aren’t the Corvette type. 

Fifty years later, I could probably afford a Corvette, however am still skinny and bespectacled and, as we know, indolent. But a bus, can a bus carry me along Route 66 while I listen to Nelson Riddle’s so so cool, road tune on my iPod? I’m about to find out.