30 Sep Route 66 Postpartum
Route 66 Postpartum
Wikipedia defines postpartum as: “A postpartum period (or postnatal period) is the period beginning immediately after the birth of a child and extending for about six weeks.” Why is this word floating around my consciousness in relationship to the road I’m longing for? the great Mother Road of the US of A? I am now and have become “a child of the road”, a mere few times traveler who has now driven the entire length and breadth in one shot. And I’m longing – longing for the open road. I’m part of the “all the way gang” in the Ride for the Relay – we started at the beginning in Chicago and we all traveled the entire way to the Santa Monica Pier together. Why was I choking up crying when I got my husband on my cell to tell him I had made it to the Pacific Ocean? This road has gotten inside of me and now I am a part of IT! This feeling of connectedness to a road is something I cannot explain.
I followed the lead of a dear friend who lives in LA to meet him at The Autry Museum in Pasadena and see the wonderful Route 66 show they have mounted there. GREAT idea! Just the perfect ending to my trip. Why after he left and I strolled around the gift shop did I want to buy just one more token of the road to an already to full suitcase? Why did I begin to cry as I walked out to my car and took one last picture of the sign of Route 66 that I had already left, silhouetted against the museum backdrop? This feeling of loss of connection – I can’t put my finger on it. I’m irrationally emotional and I don’t know why.
On the plane trip home I finally started reading a fun book my dear friends Phyllis and Stanley had given me at the outset, “Billy Connolly’s Route 66” – a Scotsman with a reality TV show in Great Britain who came here to travel the road. I enjoyed his take on it – and yes – I needed more. I couldn’t let it go yet. I hung on his every word about his travels on Route 66. I wanted to be there with him again – right now.
Then when I got home, with no time yet to look over my own photos, I started delving into Michael Wallis’ classic “Route 66, The Mother Road”. I found myself fascinated more so than ever with the entire history of the road – how the advent of the automobile created a huge demand for roads in America – in the 20’s! They had to come up with something – struggles struggles between localities – old roads – what to name the roads – on and on – and finally they settled on this grand title for this road “Route 66”- and then it was “The Main Street of America” and John Steinbeck christened it “The Mother Road” during the Dust Bowl when so many devastated folks found solace traveling to Cali from OK! Then WWII – and huge rounds of soldiers and tanks and troops traversed the road. It was THE most important road in America.
And then, pause – the Interstate Highway System in the mid 1950’s and slowly slowly she turns, step by step, inch by inch – most of the dearest most dear, most important highways in our land was side stepped and all the little towns forgotten to time. This road was “left behind”- no longer relevant. And most of the towns had little to do but throw up their hands and admit defeat. (Thus the brilliance of the movie “Cars” – my fav – have to own it now ).
So how does this all fit into my story? I have been documenting and cherishing the icons of our roadside past for many years. I just couldn’t help myself – why – because I love the sensibilities – because I’m a fan of great design – because the people that created these great mom and pop businesses had a lot of heart – and the folks that helped them create their buildings – their signs were real artists and artisans – not corporate zombies using templates created by robots!
So I’m already a fan of everything that Route 66 embraces. But I think if I were to really analyze this unexplained sentimentality it would rest in the place of reverence. Because Route 66 had such an important place (in what I now see as “world history”) many many people have realized the value in preserving what is left of it. And because it has now gained value as a tourist destination (unbelievable how many people from all around the globe come to visit here), new fans are making investments to maintain and/or revitalize old failing businesses and keep the road alive for everyone to appreciate. There is something essentially “American” about the values of preserving this kitsch and camp – the “down home” authenticity that’s not stuffy or pretentious, but just plain American – that Route 66 speaks to!
But in the end – nothing can attest to my longing – maybe it’s not really “postpartum”. Maybe it’s just that the experience of being on this glorious road across America was heartfelt. There were so many aspects to it – from the mission statement of the Ride for the Relay group – to find a cure for cancer. These folks lived every day as though it was their last! and put their heart and soul into every inch of the ride too. From the passion I have for saving the imagery from our American roadside – for now in photos – some will be made into large paintings at some point in the future. And then there was the huge incident which changed the whole ride for me from just “a photo journalist having a great time – to a human being who has lost some of the most important things in my life” kind of trip. I will have to create this entire story as a separate chapter, as it certainly deserves that. In the meantime, I’ll end by saying that I now know that I am more than just a fan of a great American road (or “The Great American Roadside”). This great American road is now a deep part of my heart and soul that I will not long forget.