Sunday, June 2, 2013

Route 66 - part twelve

Sobering news: if you go back to my last posting and the pictures when leaving Oklahoma City, you’ll see a tower of some sort with ‘Yukon Oklahoma’ on the side. A few hours after I passed, the same stretch of the I-40 in Yukon was hit by a tornado. There have been deaths and damaged vehicles are still being searched for victims.

On the prairie outside Amarillo are ten old Cadillacs buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. This singular installation, from 1974, is the Cadillac Ranch. 

The project, commissioned by a - dare I say, somewhat oddball - Amarillo oil tycoon (who lives on an estate called Toad Hall), is a Route 66 favourite. Passersby are encouraged to add graffiti, so colours and impression constantly change.

The Ranch is now even more controversial as the elderly commissioner of pop art faces a number of sex charges, charges he denies. Some have called for the Caddies be bulldozed, which, given the idea’s bizarre originality, seems a pity.

On across the baking Texas Panhandle, arriving in Adrian, halfway along Route 66. An achievement -  I’m hardly alone in managing it - to be noted. 

A bird’s nest in a permanently vacant motel sign suggests how empty this place is.

Wandering around the service station, it strikes me I’ve seen the remains of so many gas stations. However, cars were less reliable and often had breakdowns. Route 66 was challenging, often very rough and the weather sometimes grim. Many a worried motorist must have nursed his car into such mechanical havens. 

On the Texas-New Mexico border is Russell’s Travel Center, a truck and bus stop. This is only noted because here - of all places - ‘mid country CDs, sunglasses, windshield washer fluid, coffee mugs and Route 66 shot glasses - I find an audio book of Stephen Fry reading Douglas Adams’ idiosyncratic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sold!

By the way, if you haven’t read the book, the answer to ‘The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ is 42.

Back on the highway and arrive in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Decades of advertising made Tucumcari one of Route 66’s most famous stops. The town (population about 5,300) once had more than fifty motels. 

Before the journey, I’d only heard in passing of an animated Disney film called Cars. Versions of the Blue Swallow Motel - when I arrive an old Pontiac is out front - and TeePee Curios appeared in the movie.

The Blue Swallow opened in 1939 when many motor courts had convenient garages next to rooms.

TeePee Curios dates from the early Forties.

Route 66 attracted me for an excess of gimcrackery. I happily snigger at today’s gift shops crammed with predictable knickknacks, but it was always so. Enticing tourist traps and their tacky contents were part of Route 66 well before every cheap souvenir in the world was made in China.

Pass a Harley and into Albuquerque.

A quick foray to the 1793 San Felipe de Neri Church, built of adobe with walls five feet thick. 

Outside, I break one of the ten commandments and succumb to lust. Route 66, especially in the Southwest, teems with classic vehicles, many complementing restored motels and restaurants.  However, this seems to be for private cruising.

In downtown Albuquerque, the 1927 KiMo Theatre - yes, theatRE - makes one’s design deprived heart turn somersaults. 

Today’s cinemas - as with bus terminals - are so drearily functional. The KiMo is pueblo deco, a combination of southwest Native American influences and art moderne. Opening year, it offered Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, first feature-length talking movie, but not, as sometimes thought, the first film with sound.

Dinner at the 66 Diner with a 1950s jukebox and blue-plate specials.

Grilled cheese and hot turkey sandwiches to malts and banana splits. Their trademark plate is the nontraditional ‘Pile Up’ - ‘a pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chile, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese and red or green chile sauce on top’ - $9.99. A half size, the ‘Fender Bender,’ is $5.99.


Latest news from Oklahoma City is that five died in the tornado. People attempting to flee clogged the interstate, were trapped and killed.

(Final note after returning home: the tornado was the widest ever recorded in the States, 2.6 miles (4.18 kilometres) and an EF5, the highest rating, with winds of up to 295 mph (474 kph). Twenty died. I was very fortunate.)