Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Route 66 - part seven

Miami, Oklahoma, is pronounced my-am-uh and named after an Indian tribe. It is, as you can plainly see, a Christian, with a capital ‘C,’ community.

Of more interest is Miami’s stunning Coleman Theatre. As an aside, in a country that usually spells ‘theatre’ as ‘theater,’ I’ve found a lot of theatres that actually do claim to be theatres. Perhaps to seem posher. In the same building, you can also see there's a visitors' center, not centre.

The 1929 showplace is Spanish Mission Revival with a Louis XV interior (don’t ask, I didn’t design it). Will Rogers (of whom more later) appeared here. It fell into disuse, but, credit to a small town with umpteen churches to support, was restored. 

Along with the more general revival of Route 66, the theatre’s original Wurlitzer, which had ended up in Texas organ collection, was bought and reinstalled in the 1990s.

The Coleman Theatre restoration leads to some thoughts: Route 66 is consummately American in that the government declared it dead, but average people said, ‘to hell with government’ and brought it back to life.

In April, Mark Mardell, a BBC commentator I much admire, said, ‘There will be many Americans who agree that their country has an endless appetite to pick itself up, dust itself down and reinvent itself.’

Oklahoma is the place to briefly discuss dust storms, ‘Okies’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘Mother Road,’ the name by which Route 66 is arguably best known.

‘The Mother Road’ was really ‘the mother road’ - uncapitalized - in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: ‘66 is the mother road, the road of flight.’ Steinbeck was describing the exodus of impoverished Okies motoring to California in the calamitous mid-Thirties.

The dustbowl was caused by drought and poor farming techniques. Soil clouds could be a mile high and hundreds of miles in extent. Until researching Route 66, I’d never heard of a sometimes fatal illness called ‘dust pneumonia.’

‘My son, You got that dust pneumony an' you ain't got long, not long.’ (Dust Pneumonia Blues words and music by Woody Guthrie)

However, as Mardell suggests, the Okies, Oklahoma and the country did dust themselves down and reinvent themselves.