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Dave Kicks It On Route 66 to TCMFFIV


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Last year, after taking the train from Seattle to TCMFF III, I was standing with my friends, Emberly and Dawn, on the Santa Monica Pier. A sign set right in the middle of the pier announced …









I grew up traveling Route 66. At least, the part of Route 66 not in California. My dad had an aversion to the state. Something to do with a business deal gone bad in the 50′s. But, the rest of it? It wasn’t an adventure, it was a grind you had to endure to get some place else.



Whatever the personal history, I stood there on the Pier, and I thought about making the trip one more time. I tossed around the idea of renting a car in L.A. and heading to Needles, turning around, and heading back via 66. But, that isn’t really doing Route 66, is it? The thing starts in Chicago. It ends in Santa Monica. 2,400 miles of pavement, if you do it right (i.e. as little time as possible on the interstate).



So, what started out as a week-long theme trip that was competing with other trip ideas like The Missions of California, or The Taco Stands of California, or The Beaches of California, etc., became Dave Kickin’ It on Route 66 to TCMFFIV. Another year, another travelog about my annual return to this great film festival.



This year, I actually did a fair amount of research. When I tell friends how much work has been involved watching movies, they roll their eyes. But, really, it is a lot of work. First you have to watch the movie (the easy part). Then, you watch it again with the commentary track and take notes. God forbid it has multiple commentary tracks. Finally, you start searching for every bit of information you can find on the movie. If it sounds like overkill, it is. I knew I’d seen too much when I was watching the Lou Diamond Phillips horror film “Route 666″. Well, sometimes watching a film the first time can be a struggle, too.



It’s 7am, my bags are overpacked. Next I’ve got to unpack and whittle down my belongings. True, it’s a month long drive. But, I’m resigned to spending a little time at laundromats. In some small town the interstate bypassed. At a motel that announces itself in neon, just as it has for 60 years.



A little later, after a slug or two of coffee, I’ll head out for my first destination – Chicago. The weather has been sunny, so the prospects are good for clear mountain passes today crossing both the Cascades and the Rockies. After a long weekend there, I’ll be pointing the car to the southwest towards Hollywood and TCMFFIV. Along the way, I’ll talk about the road and the places I see. I’ll talk about films, some of which might even be shown at this year’s festival. And, I’ll talk about the influence movies have had on me. There are reasons I love tough guys and sassy dames. I hope you follow along. I’m going to do my best to make it worth your time. And, maybe you’ll start to feel the lure of the festival, too!



Oh, I almost forgot to mention. Today is the 100th anniversary of my dad’s birth. And, he died on April 20, 25 years ago. So, this is his month. Except this time, we’re going all the way to California, Dad. So, start the slow roll in your grave. You’ll be just fine. We’ve got to make it to central Montana by tonight. Saddle up, Ranger.

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Be sure to stop in Oklahoma City for B-B-Que!


Try to see Albuquerque at night with the old neon signs lit up.


In Arizona, be sure to stop and see the arrows in the ground (the remnants of the other buildings are fading away):






In Winslow don't forget to stand on the corner to see if a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slows down to take a look at you.


The La Posada hotel has quite a history and has been restored (there used to be Harvey House there):




When my mother and I made the trip across Route 66 in 1961 (we turned right at Kingman and went to Las Vegas), Route 66 in Arizona was filled with Indian Trading posts, alligator farms and Space City (old billboards were still visible for the tourist place near the Crater back in 2001) were in all their glory. The diner at Space City is where Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen stop for pie in *Starman*.


The Crater is between Winslow and Flagstaff and well worth the stop.


The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook is actually a chance to stay overnight in teepes!




Be sure to check out old town in Flagstaff:


Gable and Lombard are said to have had cocktails here:




Just west of Flagstaff is some original pavement (that you can drive on) of Route 66.


The folks in Oatman helped keep the mystique of Route 66 alive long after the interstate left them behind.




There is a Harvey House museum in beautiful Barstow. You might still be able to drive a portion of old road instead of the interstate between Barstow and Victorville.


Have fun and can't wait to hear your stories!

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Thanks to all for the supportive comments! I'm in the middle of 14 hour driving days. That cuts down on my time writing, but today's the last really long drive. I'll update this tomorrow.


David in Dickinson, North Dakota

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Dave, this is very cool. Like reading your posts about your adventures enroute to the TCM Festival.


We do our own adventure time permitting. This year, it's off to Las Vegas for a few days, then renting a car and road tripping it to Mount Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, etc. with lots of hiking, then LA for 4 days or so before the festival begins.


Have a great time and interested to hear about your adventures!


Edited by: RGlenn on Apr 4, 2013 10:03 AM

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When I told my buddies about my plan to travel from Seattle to Wisconsin over two-and-a-half days, they grinned. “YoDave, there’s no way you can do 1,800 miles on your own in that time. You’re delusional.”



“Look, I’ve done lots of long road trips in the past. I can do this blindfolded.”



“Yeah, but you’re old, now.” Guffaws and high fives rolled out, so pleased with the little joke.



Well, suckas, who’s laughing now? Two-and-a-half days, and I could turn around and do it again.



Folks, it’s not just my superior driving expertise, it’s technology. I can sit in my little Japanese-built travel pod, set the cruise control at 75, and float over precision-engineered highways using two fingers to guide the car around gentle curves. Except in Idaho.



Rounding a curve near Wallace, red-and-blue lights screamed out of the darkness. Wallace has one of those regional reputations as a big time speed trap. Especially if they think you’re one of those tree hugging pot smokers from Seattle.



Breathing a sigh of relief some other guy was occupying their attention, I slowed and pretended to be a sensible driver. Drawing nearer, I saw three highway patrol cars and the officers were walking slowly together towards a large black mass on the side of the road.



Now, I’ve seen a lot of road kill in my days. I grew up in Texas where you’ll see a dead armadillo on the road more often than you’ll see a tumbleweed. Hell, on this trip, I’ve seen a road kill coyote. A road kill raccoon. I’ve seen all kinds of unrecognizable road kill that used to be furry. I’ve even smelled my first road kill skunk in more than a decade. But, I’ve never seen a road kill black bear until Wallace. The way the officers were approaching it with a look of bemusement, I think it was a first for them, too.



What I didn’t see was any car lying on its side. I figure it must have been a semi that brought the beast to an end. I didn’t stop to get an “official” determination, though. Another 1,500 miles was ahead. And, I only had two days left before my final approach to Chicago for the real start of my trip along Route 66 to the festival.




The dun-colored hills of the Great Plains roll past my windows. They’re laced with lines of trees designed to break up the winds that routinely pummel these parts. A sign in a rest area describes the poor agricultural techniques that led to the Dust Bowl, and how these trees serve as one response to that expression of nature’s fury.



Bored with the music from satellite radio’s Coffee House channel, I decide it’s time to kick a little butt, and change over for some Outlaw Country. Southern rock and country rock sets are broken by dee jay Mojo Nixon trading insults with musicians from bands like the Drive-By Truckers. F-bombs fly by faster than the hills. This isn’t your mama’s radio.



The ability to control the soundtrack of a road trip is another significant change wrought by technology. My earliest road trips were with Dad as he traveled Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas selling to mom-and-pop jewelry stores. At night, we’d travel between small towns. He would work the tuning knob of the radio seeking a thread of baseball coherence in a sea of white noise. The best bet was always Harry Caray broadcasting Cardinals games on KMOX.



I’m as far from civilization as you can get in the north, but satellites beam games to me as though I was sitting in the radio station. For three hours, I listen to Texas’ Yu Darvish throw a perfect game at the lowly Houston Astros. Until there are two outs in the 9th. Crystal clear. No magic fingers tenderly coaxing words from this radio.




Snow gradually blankets the prairie. The temperature drops into the low 30′s. No spring here. Just the hypnotic effect of my soundtrack and the interstate slicing through it all. I wonder if Terrence Malick was inspired by moments like this. Starting with *Badlands*, he has made a series of wonderfully hypnotic films set against spectacular backdrops. My favorite of his work is *The Tree of Life*. In this film, his concept achieves its peak using his now-standard voice over amid stretches of silence and languid action. But, this time he shows us not just sporadic violence but the roots of it. The generational transfer. The difficulties of coping with life as we want it to be and how it is, expressed through the character of Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt).



The movie floats between the evolution of the planet and Mr. O’Brien’s small town Texas home, as if lamenting that this is as far as we’ve come. I believe Malick to be one of the great auteurs working today. His film *Badlands* will be showing as part of this year’s Festival. If you’re not familiar with his work, this would be a great time to become familiar with it. On the big screen. The way it was meant to be seen.



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> This year, it's off to Las Vegas for a few days,


Be sure to check out the recently opened Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas:




Also the Nevada State Museum has a new home at the Springs Preserve:




And be sure to check out my history of Fremont Street if you want to explore where Las Vegas got started and expanded out from to become the Entertainment Capital of the World back in the 1950s and 1960s:




Be sure to stop in at the El Cortez and enjoy the super restoration job that landed the seventy year old hotel and casino on the Historic Register of Places recently!



But most of all, have fun!

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Lynn, that sounds like fun. I'd love to see the historic El Cortez sometime, as well as the Neon Museum.


And isn't David's latest report from Route 66 wonderful? So happy you are having this adventure, Mr. Seattle, and sharing with us your vivid, insightful, and humorous comments. Thank you! :)

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Thanks Liz! Hadn't thought too much about what to do in Vegas. Figured the real fun would start once on the road seeing the great scenery. Your suggestions sound amazing, so will make sure to add these to the list!


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Chicago. The name conjures up images of Al Capone and John Dillinger. Ditka and Da’ Bears. Richard Daley and Barack Obama. This is a place where the Midwest, America’s Heartland, loses its nice and shouts in your face. America’s Second City? This town is second to none.



I’ve spent the last three days eating my way across the town. Juicy corn-fed steaks, the original deep dish pizza, the world’s best reuben, slabs of ribs, and a big ol’ chili dog. Forget that whole West Coast nouvelle whatever “cuisine”. The food here is simple and great. If you can stumble through a door, you can stumble into great food.



It’s got culture, too. Beyond sports, politics, and bootleggers. Really. Classic theaters, world class museums, hot jazz and blues. I’ve done ‘em all. It’s chewed me up and is soon to spit me out. What a blast.



Vivid images inspire to make Chicago a great city to film in or to base a Hollywood-shot film in. But, Chicago’s role in film history is far more foundational than a spate of gangster films in the 30′s and beyond or the angst of John Hughes’ teens in the 80′s might imply.



In the beginning, there was William Selig. In 1894, he saw an exhibition of Edison’s Kinetoscope in Dallas. Returning to Chicago, he went to work developing an alternative to Edison’s costly system, starting the Selig Polyscope Company two years later. His production of films ultimately led him to push operations west to escape the long arm of Edison. He later started a zoo in L.A. that eventually was the only remnant of his success, providing animals to studios in the area, including the first MGM Leo the Lion (AKA Jackie) used in talkies.



One of the great early film studios, Essanay, began life in 1907 as a collaboration between George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson on Wells Street in Chicago. The studio produced silent films starring such icons of the early days as Ben Turpin, Wallace Beery, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, Harold Lloyd, Eugene Pallette, Edward Arnold, and Charles Chaplin. Weather eventually forced the studio to move operations to L.A.



Just as critical to the success of the popularity of movies was the invention of “air-conditioned” theaters by the Balaban and Katz chain of Chicago. As Bob Balaban explained in TCM’s outstanding documentary series, *Movies and Moguls*, theaters had to be shut down in the summer because they needed to be shut tight for darkness. That meant oppressive heat, and resulted in few customers. Balaban and Katz resolved the problem by running fans across ice. Voila! Air Conditioning!!!



Today, the crown jewels of their chain vary in condition. The Chicago Theater near my hotel was presenting a tribute to a local African-American radio station – WVON – featuring Toni Braxton. This 3,800 seat palace was opened on October 26, 1921.






The Riviera opened in 1917 and holds around 2,500 people. It, too, hosts live performances today.






The Uptown Theater is in a sad state of repair, but is slated for renovation by Chicago preservationists. Currently, the estimate to repair this enormous theater, holding almost 5,000 patrons is $60 million.






If you look closely on the Uptown marquee, you can barely make out the names Balaban and Katz.






As a result of the innovation of air conditioning by Balaban and Katz, movies became a place of respite from the heat of summer. That inadvertently led notorious killer and bank robber, John Dillinger, to attend a showing of the movie *Manhattan Melodrama* at Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. He was gunned down by federal agents leaving the theater.






Returning to the days of silents, one Chicago-based company did quite well serving the industry. The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company , originally an instrument importer, began manufacturing pianos of all sorts, as well as coin-operated music boxes. They reached their zenith as a company custom-installing pipe organs in movie palaces.






Their building on the corner of Jackson (Route 66) and Desplaines housed a demonstration organ for theater owners to understand the value the instrument would provide to their businesses.



I would be remiss if I failed to mention the significant contributions of Oscar Micheaux, who spent his early adult years here. Micheaux was America’s first great African-American director. Known for making movies that, unlike those made by white directors like D.W. Griffith, portrayed blacks realistically. He dealt with issues that mattered, and this brought him success and problems. Today, the Chicago Film Critics Association awards the Oscar Micheaux Award to deserving African-American contributors to film.



I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Chicago and film. Many thanks to Chicago film critic, Patrick McDonald, for sharing his knowledge with me. If you’re in the Windy City, and want to learn more about movie history here, the Chicago Film Tour is a great value.



Tomorrow, it’s on to southern Illinois. My first real day driving on Route 66. I’ll be searching for history. I wonder what I’ll find.



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David, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful adventures with us. The lovely photos, the history of film and cinema in Chicago, and all the fun you are having makes for another exciting installment of your historic trip on "Route 66!"

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David, I'm really enjoying your account of your travels. I had to laugh when you mentioned the Riviera Theater. There was a movie theater by that name in my hometown, only all of the locals called it the Ruh-VEER-uh. I was grown up before I realized that wasn't the correct pronunciation.

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Now, the real journey begins. Leaving Chicago from the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Street, the historical beginning of Route 66, I edge my car through traffic on the narrow streets of Chicago. After a short stop for breakfast at the Route 66 legend, Lou MItchell’s (serving diners since 1923), I pass Union Station and begin to move out of the Loop.



There was a time when the fastest way between Chicago and Los Angeles was the train. You could catch the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe’s train, The Super Chief (aka The Train of the Stars) from the Dearborn Station in downtown Chicago. Service started in 1937, once a week. It took about 37 hours, often traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph, much faster than anyone could imagine traveling along Route 66. By the time Richard Fleischer directed *The Narrow Margin* in 1952, the Super Chief was making the trip daily.



[img=http://davekicksitonroute66totcmiv.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/lou-mitchells.jpg?w=300&h=225]http://davekicksitonroute66totcmiv.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/lou-mitchells.jpg 66 and the Super Chief parallel each other from New Mexico to California. As a car threateningly speeds alongside the train carrying Mrs. Neall to her grand jury date in Los Angeles, it could reasonably be assumed the car is actually on Route 66. Pretty thrilling if you’re a Noir fan who just happens to love traveling Route 66, too.



I spoke to a lot of folks about Route 66 while preparing for this trip. The challenge I gave them was this – other than *The Grapes of Wrath* and *Cars* – can you think of any other films that took place along Route 66? This was generally met with blank stares. When I asked Eddie Muller at Noir City Seattle, you could see the brain working furiously as a smile spread across his face. I think the guy loves these types of challenges. A few days later he suggested *The Narrow Margin*, which coincidentally happens to be showing at this year’s Festival. This suggests to me that both Mr. Muller and the TCM Festival staff are really on their game. Obviously, this particular film was scheduled just for moi.



The work of Eddie’s group, The Film Noir Foundation, is critical for finding and rescuing these vital contributions to our film legacy. From FNF’s website, the…



Foundation serves as a conduit between film companies and repertory cinemas still eager to screen these films in 35mm. Revenues generated by ticket sales encourage studios film archives to strike new prints of films that are at risk of disappearing from public view, either through neglect or scarcity. Once these films sare unearthed and returned to circulation, the chances exponentially increase that they will be reissued on DVD, available in pristine, affordable form for future generations of film-lovers.”



I try to do my part. I buy a full pass to Noir City Seattle every year, though I’m only able to attend about half the showings. I’m a member of the Foundation. And, I’ll talk them up every chance I get. If you attend this year’s showing of *The Narrow Margin*at TCMFFIV, and even if you don’t, please consider joining FNF. It’s quick, easy, and every little bit helps the work these folks are doing preserving a classic segment of American art.



Leaving Chicago, my car travels along Ogden to the southwest, through lower and lower-middle class neighborhoods once full of immigrant laborers from places like Poland and Lithuania. Cicero, once the home of Al Capone’s operations, goes

t to Chicago’s development as the transportation hub of the United States. Along with the building of the Erie Canal, there finally existed a water route that allowed goods to travel between the east coast and the western frontier (St. Louis, New Orleans, and the Mississippi River). The country was becoming more and more connected.



The development of rail travel between Chicago and Los Angeles was, for a time, the only rapid connectivity between the east and west coasts. It certainly solidified Chicago’s role as our major transportation hub. And, then, starting in 1926, Route 66 started the age of the automobile road trip.



On my first day along the road, I pass long sections of abandoned Route 66. As the nation readied for World War II, the patchwork of existing road that made up Route 66 was no longer sufficient for its new purpose – transporting war materials from ordnance factories to Europe. This started the first significant upgrading of Route 66 from a two-lane road to four-lane. The road never stopped evolving until it evolved into our interstate system of today. Then, it was decommissioned. But, the people and towns that live along it are tenacious, and they’ve held onto and work to restore the glory of this iconic slice of America.




Today, my first day on the road, I’ve learned Route 66 has evolved from The Mother Road of Steinbeck’s *Grapes of Wrath* to an elaborate museum celebrating the golden age of car travel, nurtured in part by the National Park Service. Each little town provides a contribution. I’ll be showing many pictures of their history throughout my journey to TCMFFIV. But, I’ve been sitting here at my table in this diner typing for about an hour and there’s history out there I need to learn about.




One final note. On my first day on the Route, as I pulled into the Polka Dot Drive-In in Braidwood, Illinois, someone from the “Going to the TCM Film Festival” Facebook group posts a note about the passing of Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello. I sat eating my cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shake at this diner opened in 1956. Three feet away, the wall is adorned with a picture of Annette and Frankie.




I asked the young girl taking my order if she knew who Annette was. When she told me she didn’t, I pointed to the picture on the wall. She replied, “I don’t know who any of these people are.” Her boyfriend, sitting in the booth next to mine, says he remembers seeing those old beach movies with his grandmother. She watches TCM all the time.





If you had told me I wouldn’t freeze up relieving myself in front of Marilyn, I’d never believe you.




And, that, my friends, is how the torch is passed.



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(I appreciate everyone's kind comments. If I don't respond, it's just that I don't want to bump this thread without me contributing an entry. And, I apologize in advance for this entry. It veers off topic, kind of, but I'm driving all day and into the evening, and writing this thing for a couple of hours late at night or early in the morning. I did manage to edit out the 500-word dissertation on my cats. Thanks again for following along with me. I hope I don't offend any of you.)


Springfield is the Land of Lincoln. Historic sites abound. On this trip, though, his presence seems like an anomaly to me. If anyone can inspire, Honest Abe should be the one. Yet his presence seems to be limited in the state to those few spots he lived and worked in. Beyond his preserved neighborhood lies political Illinois. Or, Al Capone’s Illinois. I think that’s because Route 66, springing out of the time of Capone’s reign, puts us much more in touch with the latter.



I wake in Springfield, though. From here, I intend to serve our national Father. That we, as a people, have rarely risen to his level does not mean that our country, in striving for a more perfect union, and the ideal of our country, which remains the laboratory for the evolution of human governance, does not need him. He showed us the way, still guides our national soul, and gives us something more perfect to aspire to.



Preparing for this trip, I watched every significant filmed Lincoln since D.W. Griffith first took the task on in 1915′s *The Birth of a Nation*. Watching Lincoln evolve over the decades is a fascinating study. The real Lincoln has proven elusive to Hollywood, but he has always served as an effective tool for directors by focusing on one or another aspect of the man, as it served their goals.



I began to understand how historical figures are shaped in film when I saw Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Adolf Hitler in the 2005 film, *Downfall*. Ganz brings us a many-faceted Hitler. By doing so, he shows us a human Hitler, not an alien wearing a man’s skin. In the past, it has been most effective to rationalize the horrors this man perpetrated on my people by setting him as a clown apart from us. Ganz frightens us by playing Hitler as a reflection of the darkest parts of our souls.



Given that context, it is possible to see Lincoln and Hitler as the yin and yang of our humanity. Each of these great actors – Bruno Ganz and Daniel Day-Lewis, have brought far more complex representations of the men they portrayed, and we are better off for it. Our understanding that Lincoln was a political animal who could manipulate others to serve his greater goal reflects how far we’ve come since Griffith’s one note presentations of him in 1915 and in 1930′s *Abraham Lincoln*.



Audiences of the 30′s and 40′s needed to be inspired by a gregarious but inspirational Lincoln (Raymond Massey) or a modest, brilliant Lincoln (Henry Fonda), because of the hard times wrought by a devastating Depression and looming war. In our times, with the dramatic changes wrought by instant worldwide communication and social media, we need to see our Lincoln as a complex man who dealt with his own set of political realities.




As I travel from the flat prairies surrounding Springfield, the road changes seemingly mile-by-mile. In places it’s brick. In others it’s concrete slabs. In other places many of these roads would be dirt, even today. Illinois was the first state that had a completely paved Route 66.




Driving the narrow pavement of 66, I have trouble finding the right soundtrack on satellite radio. Finally, I turn to my iPhone and Billie Holliday appears. Everything fits. Song after song flows out of the speakers beautifully synced to the pavement. It’s fitting that, on this day, when I’m traveling the path 66 followed from 1926 – 30, I would need something stretching back to the 30′s to make it right.





Nearing the Mississippi River, the hills grow, and by the time I cross, the woods close in. St. Louis and the Ozarks beckon. No river looms larger in our national fable. Huck Finn. Tom Sawyer. And, Joe in *Show Boat.*



I was first introduced to the 1936 version of this great musical during TCM’s outstanding series dealing with racial depictions in Hollywood, co-hosted by Donald Bogle. Paul Robeson owns every scene he’s in.



Mr. Robeson was larger than life. An All-American football player at Rutgers, he attended Columbia School of Law. His brilliant performances on stage and his powerful voice led to more work in the field. His politics led to less. He tried to use his position to further the causes he believed in and suffered for it.



The day I crossed the Mississippi River was the 115th anniversary of Paul Robeson’s birth.



From here, I headed into the Ozarks and the South.



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The last time I posted, I was heading into Missouri and the Ozarks. Although there are places that are more “Southern”, the Ozarks have one foot firmly planted there. You first notice it in the twang. And the hills and woods. Mostly, you notice it in the friendliness of the people.


This is where my trip has finally begun to take on the pace of 66. You stop for a cup of coffee and leave an hour later, after having heard the life story of the retired teacher who served it to you. And, their kids stories. And their grandkids stories.



Although I’m not there, yet, I feel as though I’m getting much closer to home. The twists and turns in the road remind me of late nights with Dad, moving on to the next town so we can get an early start with his customers in the morning. When he was on the road, everything was focused to serve the needs of his business.



He would always tell me what separated him from the rest. “These other guys, they just want to sit around and tell stories, go out drinking with their buddies. They get out here on the road, with no one there to watch them work, and they don’t. Pretty soon, their numbers fall off, and then they’re gone.”



Years ago, out of curiosity, I watched the Maysles’ film, *Salesman*. I think, if you’re a fireman, you’re probably going to want to see *Backdraft* to see how your business projects onto the screen. So it was with me.



The film was a reflection of the type of sales I had done, when I wasn’t working and living with my dad. I’m not religious, and I used that aspect of the film to distance myself from its subject. But it was recognizable. When the boss role plays with his sales force, quickly throwing out lines to his guys for every objection they offer, you know it’s not real. You can marvel at his verbal dexterity, but you know that, to pull if off successfully, it involves an ethic that ignores the prospect as a person and sees them simply as someone who needs to be cajoled into doing what he wants them to do so he can win. So he can have the nice house, the nice car, the nice bank account.



Yes, it was familiar to me. It was not what my dad did. As much as he tried over the years to teach me the truly great salesmen are not the glib ones, but the ones who build long-term partnerships with their customers, I didn’t get the message. I hated sales.



What I did get was the wanderlust. I’ve never outgrown that.






Missouri is diverse. It is a swing state politically, because of that diversity. It comes in four parts, as I remember it. The northern part belongs solidly in the Midwest. Kansas City, a town I lived in for a few years, is part Midwest, part western cattle town. The Ozarks are rooted in the South. Finally there’s St. Louis and its’ two big rivers – the Mississippi and Missouri.



Crossing the Mississippi, the transition is abrupt. Gone are the flat prairies of Illinois. Seemingly out of nowhere, a city emerges with an architectural skeleton rooted in its French past. Red brick abounds. Driving through, I see neighborhood after neighborhood that appear to be well-planned, with boulevards serving as connective tissue. All of it old. Someone once had a great idea. I hope someone does again, because this city should be a shining example. All of the elements are there except opportunity.



If you watch *Meet Me in St. Louis*, you get an impression of a city that never really existed physically. The city depicted in that film did exist spiritually. That’s what provided the impetus for its growth after decades of its position as the core of French America, and later the gateway to the West. But, the houses would have been red brick. And, that trolley that was clang clang clanging? Well, it was designed to take folks to the suburbs, and that’s where they went, causing one of the worst examples of suburbanization in the country.





Leaving the city, I stop at a Route 66 icon – Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. You know those Blizzard things Dairy Queen sells so many of? Well, they were invented here as a concoction called the Concrete, and there is no comparison. The Blizzard is like a bunch of candy or cookies crushed up in a routine frozen kind of vanilla-maybe-food. The Concrete is a sublime taste experience that artfully blends flavors in a delightful dessert that tastes like…frozen CUSTARD! I try their Sour Cherry Concrete, take a few pics, buy one of their bright yellow t-shirts proudly declaring they’ve been serving Route 66 since 1929, and push on.


I call ahead to Ramona at the wonderful old motor lodge, the Munger Moss, to tell her I’m running late.



“You just go on and take your time. I won’t hold you to your reservation.”



I mumble something about needing to keep to a schedule if I’m to get to Hollywood in time for the Festival.



She replies, “There’s a lot of pretty country between us you don’t want to miss! Devil’s Elbow is just beautiful.”



I thank her for her patience, and push on to to Lebanon, determined to meet Ramona, and keep her from having to stay up too late.





The Munger Moss started in the late 30′s as a barbecue joint near Ft. Leonard Wood. When Mr. Munger passed away, Mrs. Munger married Emmett Moss. Their barbecue became a Route 66 legend. During the war years, the place was bypassed when the Army cut down the nearby hill to give their trucks easier access.


The Hudson’s bought the place and moved it to its present location near other Route 66 places like the Green Gables and the Rock Court, which were already booming with Route 66 traffic. Starting with a design that had 14 cabins separated by garages, business gradually drove expansion.



Problem was, this was the war years and rationing was in effect. Using lumber that was acquired in the black market, construction went on. Mr. Hudson “stayed hid”, because “if the Feds couldn’t find the owner, they couldn’t stop the construction.”



Jessie Hudson told Ramona that once, she went to St. Louis to one of the big department stores and was escorted out because she asked to purchase a case of toilet paper. “Things like sugar were hard to come by. All meat was ordered through a salesman, and then brought in by the train. Depot would call…. come get your meat.”



“It was in 1957 that the four-lane was opened that by passed the city. Again fears that business would die loomed in the background. But the day came that the highway was opened. The highway department had not connected the road by the motel to the business loop yet. Mr. Hudson went down to the corner with plank to put across the ditch…. painted a sign that said Munger Moss with an arrow pointing down toward the motel. It was on a Saturday night, and he said they came around just like clockwork.. Munger Moss was not going to be by passed.. it would survive.”



Ramona and Bob bought the place in 1971, and have worked closely, as I would learn so many have over the years, to restore it and keep serving the Routers that travel from all over the world to spend time on America’s Main Street.



The next day, I’m driving towards that night’s stop – Tulsa. I pull over to the ruin that is all that remains of Plano, Missouri.





Calling ahead to my lodging in Tulsa, I tell them I might be a little late. She wants to know when. I say I have no idea, but I’ve clearly booked too much into each day.


Looking in my rearview mirror, I see this guy pull his pickup truck up behind me. He knocks on my window. With my best city-guy brusqueness, I roll down the window and blurt out, “How can I help you?”



“Well, I was thinkin’ I could help you!”



I get it now, the pace is slowing. The people are just lendin’ a hand, fella.



He introduces himself as the Mayor of Plano. He tells me all about his town. Then, he asks me to put a dollar in that second mailbox right there if I take a picture. Says they need it to keep the lights of Plano on. I ask him if I can take a picture of him, and he agrees. I get the feeling he’s done this before.



“I had a feller leave one dollar and a torn dollar in there once. He left a note sayin’ he took took two pictures. The first one turned out fine. The second one weren’t so good.”





A little further down the road, I pull over at Whitehall Mercantile. The old-timer there is telling me he’s a retired school teacher. When he went to graduate school, they asked him what he wanted to study. “I don’t know. Y’all are the teachers.” So, they taught him to teach.



He walks me around his store selling me all kinds of junk I wouldn’t normally buy. I wouldn’t budge on the 15-pound Route 66 sign, though. He tells me the Chinese couple that was through last week, they wouldn’t budge on it either. “Too heavy!”


He wastes no time telling me that the Mayor of Plano, he’s just full of it. “Why, I used to live in that old building when I was just a kid, and that guy, he moved into the little gas station across the street.”



I tear myself away, a few dollars poorer, with a heavier car. A very few miles later, I pull over at the Gay Parita Sinclair Station. The owner, Gary Turner, is sitting down drawing in a book, *Images of 66*, by David Wickline. It’s full of outstanding photography of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, along Route 66.





Without even asking me if I want a copy, Gary says, “Now let me tell you how to use this book. You’re gonna be travelin’ along 66, and you’re gonna meet a lot of people.”


“You mean like the Mayor of Plano?”



“That guy, I kinda disagree with him on some things. So, anyway, as you travel along, just the people that are really special, those are the only ones you want to sign your book. That way, when you look back at this book, you’ll see a signature in it, and you’ll always remember them. Because they were the special ones. You’ll never forget them.”



I tell Gary I’ve only got $35 on me until I can get to an ATM, but I can give him a credit card. “No, you’ll need that cash on up the road. When you get home, you just send me a check. Send it to Lena Turner. She’s the boss.”



He takes me outside and puts a CD on his little player. “I wrote that song. Sent it off to this guy to record it. He did, and then he claimed he wrote it. I don’t know why people in that business are like that. But, he made a mistake and sent me the masters. I wrote them songs because everybody that comes in here tells me that this is the trip they’ve dreamed of all their lives.”



Getting back in my car, I call my lodging in Tulsa and tell her I’ve got no chance getting there early. I’ve just spent two hours going three miles.


Edited by: mavfan4life on Apr 14, 2013 9:20 PM because random edits often leave hanging non-sequitirs that made sense in one context and make me look illiterate in another.

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As I turn my transport pod to the left with 66, past the restored Kan-O-Tex filling station, I’m no longer in the Ozarks in 2013. I’ve now seemingly slipped into *Bonnie and Clyde*, and it’s 1930.



Researching this trip, I saw Kansas as wheat fields stretching out hundreds of flat miles to the west. My plan to write about my dad’s love of true crime magazines, and how that influenced my love of gangsters, film noir, and tv shows like *The Untouchables* and *The Naked City*, are gone. All those Malick films watched for naught. This won’t be a discussion of *Badlands* and my favorite true crime film of all time, *In Cold Blood.*



This is where I talk about a couple of gangsters Dad actually knew. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow weren’t characters onscreen to Dad. He knew them and he didn’t like them. And, that rubbed off on me.



When he was a kid (he was about four years younger than Clyde), he delivered telegrams for Western Union in Dallas, on his bicycle. Clyde also worked there, and delivered them on his motorcycle. Bonnie was a waitress at what Dad described as a hamburger joint.



Dad was a no nonsense guy, even at a young age. Clyde was a “no-count” bum. A common criminal. Bonnie was little better. It irked Dad to see Hollywood glorify them as something they weren’t. They weren’t glamorous. They weren’t looking out for the little guy, or just robbin’ banks because they were robbin’ from the man that was robbin’ from the people. They were thieves, murderers, and petty criminals who did most of their robbin’ from the little guys who owned a small filling station or store. Putting aside historical revisionism, they got what they deserved.



Hollywood’s job is not to depict reality, though. It’s to entertain, and *Bonnie and Clyde* did exactly that. Passing through Galena and southeastern Kansas, it’s not hard to imagine them shooting their way out of that bank right there, hopping in their car, and speeding off on backroads. If you’ve got that image in your mind’s eye, you know Galena, Kansas. In the way you know any town through a car window heading west on Route 66.






In 13 short miles, I punch through Kansas, and cross into Oklahoma. Driving a few miles of the Route’s “Ribbon Road” between Miami and Afton, Oklahoma, memories flood over me. The pavement is only 9-feet wide, with very wide shoulders. You’d drive the center asphalt, and when a car approached, each of you would pull over and drive half-on asphalt and half-on the red dirt pavement.




I know Oklahoma so well. At least I thought I did. I spent a lot of time here as a kid. All these towns are familiar to me. Commerce, Miami, Claremore, Tulsa.This time, however, would prove to be the most meaningful to me. This time, I renewed old friendships and family ties, and I learned about iconic figures I knew too little about. And, I mourned losses.




Oklahoma. Where Route 66 got its soul.






If you listen to Will Rogers give a talk on the many recordings available at the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum in Claremore, or you listen to Woody Guthrie singing and talking on the Library of Congress Recordings, you’ll discover these two men were the voices of their people, the Okies, at a time when those people really needed it.



Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone so left-wing rising out of Oklahoma to lead cultural movements. Today’s Oklahoma is a land of monster trucks and guys in cowboy hats racing along the turnpike well above the speed limit, listening to pop stars masquerading as country music legends. To my thinking, listening to The Carter Family is much more in tune with the Oklahoma that was. (I know, the Carter Family was from back east, but still…). It’s not a stretch to say that Oklahoma was Ground Zero of the Great Depression.



Listen to Will Rogers or Woody Guthrie today, and they still sound like left-wing pinkos. But, Will Rogers served up his criticism in a folksy, charming way that people loved, then and now. I was talking to a docent in the museum, who would’ve spent hours talking to me about him.



At one point, she leaned over in hushed, conspiratorial tones and said, “Any time I listen to those guys on Fox News, and I get real mad, I just put on one of Will’s recordings, and I feel good again.”



We talked about his ranch in the hills above Santa Monica. She said her husband took her out there awhile back. When they crested the hill and saw people playing polo on his field there “tears just welled up in my eyes, and I wasn’t one bit ashamed”.



will-rogers-statue.jpg?w=189&h=300http://davekicksitonroute66totcmiv.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/will-rogers-statue.jpgTulsa is an oil town. Like Dallas, it wears its wealth on its sleeve. And, for Routers, it’s got the best collection of Art Deco available. It can be beautiful.



For me, Tulsa has much more personal meaning. Dad’s best friend was a guy named Ernest Moody, Jr. They met when as young men. Dad was selling watch parts to watch makers and Ernest was a watch maker. They both went on to become icons in the jewelry industry. Our families became family to each other.




When you’re a salesman’s son, your idea of a best friend is a little different. Rudy Hernandez was my best friend in Dallas. Bubby Loggins was my best friend in West Columbia, Texas. And Ernest Moody III was my best friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dad always called him Bubby, too. So, Bubby was my best friend in West Columbia and Tulsa, I guess. Never did get that Bubby thing.



I loved going to Tulsa and staying with them. Dad would drop Mom and me off and do 2 – 3 day circuits around northeastern Oklahoma. Mom and Mildred Moody would do what moms do. Shop. And, Ern and I would do what kids do. Swim. Play. Ride go karts down the street alongside the white fencing that ran around their property. Actually, Ernest would ride and I would crash.



And, I did love my Uncle Ernest. When Dad died, he became the rock I anchored to. He was always there for me. I often times wished he had been my father. He was a great business man, a great civic leader, and most important…he was a great father. My dad was a great business man.



Where Uncle Ernest encouraged, Dad cajoled. Dad had it rough when he was a kid, and he went to his grave thinking treating me rough was the best preparation he could give me for life.



That set up the tension in later years between Little Ernest and me. Uncle Ernest groomed him to run the family business. Gave him some authority and encouraged him. Dad pushed me to do it all on my own. He tried to make me sacrifice my life with my family the way he sacrificed his life with his.



Little Ernest went about it as he was groomed to do. I rebelled more and more and finally left the business. In the early 70′s, I graduated from high school a year early because I got to skip my senior year. Rather than doing something productive like go to Harvard, I stuck my thumb out and started traveling around the west. Ernest didn’t get it.



I hitchhiked through Tulsa on my way up 66 to see family in Chicago. I’ll never forget Ernest commenting that he didn’t have a clue how I would get any rides with hair down to my shoulders and wearing a top hat. “By the time I had gotten the car back on the freeway in the other direction, I looked in my rear view mirror, and you were gone.”



They say when someone you love passes away, they leave a little piece of themselves in your heart. It’s also true that, when someone you love passes away, they take a little piece of you with them.



Ernest Moody III suddenly passed away before I left Seattle on this trip.



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It’s a lonely place. Lines drawn on a map label it Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, or Colorado. If you had no idea where those lines lay, you’d find it hard to say which state you were in. The area holds the forgotten part of each state. No one travels to Lamar, Colorado for world-class skiing.




When you travel through the region on Route 66, a sense of loneliness pervades. Miles separate quiet towns where streets are mostly empty. Most of the old road has been replaced by Interstate 40. These days, stopping at filling stations, you slide your card into a pump, fill your tank, and move on with little human interaction. Every exit has the familiar McDonald’s or Dairy Queen.




66 travels frontage roads beside the interstate looming to your left or right. There are times, though, when the old road moves from sight. You slip into another state-of-mind as your car moves with the contours of the land, rocking the car up and down, from side to side, and hypnotizing you.



There is little to remind you of the devastation caused by the dust storms of the 1930′s. In those days, the loneliness was replaced by hundreds of thousands unified in desperation in a mostly fruitless migration to California. This will be the major story the Mother Road tells as I continue to drive west towards TCMFFIV.



Today, the story of the road is about the people living and working along it hoping to restore the glory days of the 50′s, when families were packing station wagons and heading to places like Disneyland, stopping at curio shops and caverns and Grand Canyons. They put their life savings into some dilapidated cafe or filling station, get it in tip top shape, adorn it with relics of the glory days – rusted signs, life-size Betty Boop figures and trinkets labeled Route 66, hoping to cash in on its rebirth.



Though they belong to this remote region, Texans share the characteristics of those in places like Fort Worth and Tyler and San Antonio. Unlike their neighbors in Oklahoma and New Mexico, who are proud and modest, Texans are proud and loud.




Sitting in a booth at The Big Texan Steak Ranch, I notice the five or six huge digital timers to my left, all set to 60. The Big Texan billboards stretch for hundreds of miles trumpeting their challenge – if you can eat your 72 oz. steak, baked potato, and salad in 60 minutes, it’s yours for free.




I ask my waitress how much it costs if you can’t finish it. “$72.”



“Really? I spent more than that on a 12 oz. steak in Chicago last week!”



“Honey, you ain’t in Chicago. This is Texas. You get what you pay for here.”



Oh, Texans. Oh, Texas.





“…enjoy the ride, and remember, it’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey getting there…”




If you’ve seen George Stevens’ classic Texas saga, *Giant*, you know what I’m talking about. Although many folks come to this film because it was James Dean’s last film, and others to see Elizabeth Taylor, the film really belongs to Rock Hudson. From the moment he steps off the train in Maryland, his Texas glows.



Although he seems to be a modest man, reluctant to speak of the size of his Texas ranch, Reata. If challenged on the foundations of his world view, his blood quickly boils. By god, that’s just the way it is, little lady. Everybody knows that!



The film hits on one great truth about Texans (and I can say this because I spent my first 30 years there). Texans allow the size of their state to delude them as to the size of their ideas. Too often, this can create or exacerbate problems. Look no further than the 17% (1.2 Million) of Texas children that will continue to go without proper health care because Rick Perry wants to pound his chest over Texas independence from Obamacare. Inexcusable and inhumane.



As Bick and his new bride arrive on their private rail car near Reata, the camera takes in the vast, flat land that engulfs all who live in it. The characters will spend the rest of the film failing to live up to this giant of a land. In the end, that proves to be the source of their humbling.



If you choose to take Texans on a different level, though, and laugh with them, they can be wonderful people. Even those that move to the area take on the goofy sense of humor evidenced so clearly in places like the Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan.







Dennis bought the MidPoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas a couple of years ago. He had been riding Route 66 with his family, on a vacation from his job at a wastewater treatment facility in Tennessee. The MidPoint lies 1139 miles from L.A. and 1139 miles from Chicago. Or, so they say.




Dennis saw the place was for sale and he jumped at the chance. “I’m living my dream. I figured I been working at the back end of people for so long, it was time to start working on the front end.” He bought this iconic place that served as the inspiration for Flo’s V8 Cafe in *Cars*, and has been serving up his “Ugly Crust Pie” ever since.



He and his staff joked about which of their famous pies I should try. Finally, after much debate, I chose the chocolate peanut butter cream pie over their famous coconut cream pie. A few minutes later, one of the ladies came out and said to me, “I know we’re famous for some of our pies, but, different people bake ‘em on different days. My daughter baked the chocolate peanut butter pie today, and, well…she might not be up to my level. Take a bite, and if it don’t set right, we’ll let you get something else.”



I tried it and it rocked. I guess if it had been up to her standards, well, I just mighta’ died right there and gone to heaven. Weren’t have been no reason to keep on livin’, right y’all?




The World Premiere Restoration of *Giant* will be presented on the big screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Saturday at 2 p.m. featuring a discussion with one of its stars, the great Jane Withers, intimidator of Shirley Temple, and a mighty fine plumber at different stages of her career. I can’t wait!!!!



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New Mexico. Land of Enchantment.



I may have mentioned I’m not a religious man. Spiritual? I can be moved. New Mexico moves me.



Moving off the Great Plains, the color changes to reds and tans. Mountains with flat tops. Still lonely, but I feel like there’s something just over that mountain. The time has come to explore.




I’ve been to New Mexico many times in the past. After high school, I moved to Durango, Colorado, and got a job in a pool hall called Seismo’s. I was underage, but I’d grown up working in family businesses that served customers, so I knew the drill.



I would go back to Dallas frequently via thumb, and most traffic ran through Albuquerque. Once, traveling with my buddy, Jerry, we wound up on the side of a road there and couldn’t catch a ride for hours. Nothing then would lead me to think “Wow! I love this town!”



Finally, a guy picked us up. He was headed to Ohio. He hadn’t stopped driving since he left L.A. He was nodding off.



In those days, I-40 hadn’t been completed, yet. For many, many miles, it was two-lane pavement with sharp drop-offs on each side as they expanded it. It seemed like you would drive for hours between those orange cones they put up to warn of the edges. Veer off slightly and you do significant damage to your car and yourself.



As I was saying, this guy is nodding off, and Jerry and I are getting freaked out. My glasses had broken, so I couldn’t really see anything. We start sizing up the situation. Is a sleepy, long range driver going to be better at riding between traffic cones than a near-sighted guy who’s fully alert, but blind? We opt for the latter, and start trying to convince this guy to let me drive. Finally, after a few near misses, he relents. Of course, we didn’t tell him I was almost blind, but…



I spent hours safely guiding us through the gauntlet, sweating buckets. I kept telling myself to keep the truck inside the orange tunnel. Finally, we made it through, the guy has caught some zzzz’s, and he takes back over. Early the next morning, he drops us at a cloverleaf in Oklahoma City, and we’re almost back to Big D.




This time, after leaving Albuquerque along spectacular Central Avenue, loaded with its many historic 66 sites, heading the pod over the mountains toward the legendary Sky City – Acoma Pueblo. I stop at an intersection and try to get my bearings, and an agent with the BIA pulls up beside me asks me if I’m trying to find I-40. When I tell him I’m headed to the pueblo, he says, “Follow me!” and speeds off.



He must be going 80, because he quickly leaves me in the dust. I want to get there, but I’m in it for the experience, not the expedience. After all, the point is to arrive in Hollywood safely in time for TCMFFIV.



Finally cresting the rim, Acoma Pueblo lies across a magical valley. Gregorian chants fill my transport pod. I approach with reverence.




This place is ancient. Occupied since 1150 A.D., it’s the oldest continuously occupied community in North America. There was a time when the place was only accessible by hand and foot holds carved into the rock the pueblo is built on. Two movie crews changed that significantly, according to my guide, Sparkles. Of course, that’s not her real name, but it’s against the rules of the pueblo to take notes, and that’s the only name she gave me I could actually remember. Her real name was much more beautiful, but…




The first road improvement was the actual building of the road for the movie *The Red Man*. That crew offered to build a dirt road to the top if the tribe would allow them to film there. Road built. I’m not sure exactly which film of that name would have been the one involved here. Perhaps the D.W. Griffith silent from 1908?




The other was supposedly the 1973 Henry Fonda film, *My Name is Nobody*. For that film, the exchange was supposed to be the paving of the road. My limited research indicates that film was made in France, Italy, and West Germany. But the tribe insists that crew paved their road, and I take their word for it.



Whoever built and paved the road, we all benefit from the opportunity to visit with these people. I buy some small pieces of their beautiful artwork, get back in the car, and head back to 66 and TCMFFIV.




Entering reality, I hear of horror having just occurred at Boston’s Marathon. Driving along, stunned, I reach the Continental Divide. A lone motorcycle rider sits at a picnic table. I ask him if he’s heard the news. He hasn’t. We both sit there, in this most beautiful of places, stunned, shaking our heads, saying nothing. I get back in my car. He gets back on his bike. We leave on our separate journeys.



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Dave -


I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed reading about your odyssey on Route 66 the past few weeks. I've enjoyed every mile of it.


Thanks for taking me along on your journey.


Looking forward to seeing you in a day or so.



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