POSTED ON MAY 14, 2008:
Are We Here Yet?
Make like a child and spend a little time in your own backyard
Get your kicks on 66.
I didn't know for months...what's now an embarrassing amount of time. Then one day, sandwiched between thoughts of United States' foreign policy and possible tofu recipes, it hit me: I live in Tulsa and Route 66 goes through this city. It could be anywhere.
"Babe, where's Route 66?" I queried my babe.
"You're on it."
"Then we live just a hook shot from Route 66? Is that what you're telling me?"
This question gave my girlfriend a golden opportunity to respond with a healthy dose of sarcasm, but our discussion on U.S. foreign policy had her in no mood.
"Yes, Isaac, we live very close to Route 66."
Today, as I drive down the historic road, looking at all the big buildings, I notice the signs and businesses advertising this fact. There are many. (If you want to hear more about Route 66 and its many landmarks, check out last week's Travel Story, "The Mother Road," in the May 8-14 issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly or online at urbantulsa.com.)
I thought about how many people I'd tell when I first learned the location. My family always seems rabid for new information about my new home. It's, hmmm, how do I say this without offending my family? It's curious how people outside of the Midwest have only a fleeting concept of this city. Questions like: "Well, what's the nearest airport to ya'll if I wanted to fly in? Is there a big city nearby?" turn to: "I didn't know you had big buildings there" with shared pictures or the occasional visit. My only response is, "Yes, the city is over twice as large as the city you live in." I'm no longer surprised by this progression.
Top Down, Screaming Out
Several months ago, back when I was still surprised, I thought of US 66 only as the street with TU stadium, Taco Bueno, Tally's and Taco Bell. I was aware of landmarks starting with letters other than T, but these were the most prominent in my mind. It's the lights.
For those of my generation and my parents' generation cruising up and down Route 66 with the top down was, what I can only assume, a sought after event.
My first exposure to a convertible automobile was secondhand. My best friend's uncle had taken my best friend on a drive through the countryside with the top down. My friend had swallowed an insect. He claimed it was a wasp or hornet, something with a stinger, but he had a way of exaggerating. Once in a heated argument over a board game my friend had made the wildest of claims: his convertible driving uncle was a professional Sorry! player and therefore he, as a nephew of a professional, knew all the rules and I, as a mere reader, could in no way question him using the actual written rules of the game. This, of course, was completely false, so my clever response to my friend was, "I'm sorry, man. No way you're getting away with that. Sorry!" I thought it funny at the time.
I digress. My friend had swallowed a bug, and as a result I was in no way interested in riding in a convertible. Ever. I couldn't imagine the sheer force of a bug hitting the back of my throat at 45 mph. Keeping my mouth closed never occurred to me. Either that or I didn't trust myself.
I came to my senses a couple years later. I am fine with such vehicles now. I have confronted my fear and came out a stronger person because of it.
Little Big Me
I don't know when I first became aware of Route 66, but I think it was in elementary school. I remember being interested in riding on the road. You know, taking in all the sights and sounds, albeit I hated being in the car more than 15 minutes. My parents disliked it even more than I did. Being showered with hundreds of "are we there yets" can turn even the cutest of children into a monster. I had no concept of the length of the road, or the time it would take to drive such a road. To me it represented endless opportunities.
Hell, if the teachers are telling me about this thing it must be important. Maybe the indoor playgrounds have better slides or the restaurants have thicker shakes. I don't know what I thought, but I do know I thought there must be something to it.
Photos similar to the one of the Blue Whale in Catoosa had me excited as a child. The open road with its many quirks: how could a child not be engaged?
Unfortunately, with the advent of the Interstate Highway Act more than 50 years ago, many of the one-of-a-kind landmarks that pockmarked the popular passage have dried up, much like the cross-country traffic along the legendary 2,448 mile route. Although the highway may not be what it once was, I still feel fortunate to be residing so close to history. What would Tulsa be like without Route 66?
If the adult me could somehow magically converse with the child version of myself and share this information, I'm sure little Isaac would be excited. "I'm going to live that close to Route 66 when I get older. That's cool." I'd pause and continue, "When did you start wearing glasses? Am I in the NBA?" I'd ask myself.
I don't think I would have the heart to tell me no, but maybe I could help the tiny me with a Sorry! board game rule challenge. Adult me is no professional, but I am snarky and that makes up for my lack of formal training.
If time permitted, and as long as we're dreaming and traveling through time, I would even take myself for a spin on US 66 back in the early 1950s in a convertible. Yes, tiny me would be apprehensive at first, but the rush coupled with a cap equipped with a mosquito net (for blocking even the most nocuous of insects) would cut that apprehension like warm butter. On our way around Tulsa, we'd stop off at the Meadow Gold for an ice cream or milkshake. Little Isaac would love a milkshake. So would I.
We'd talk about basketball, Tulsa, and our futures, all while enjoying our past.
I'd be delighted if you'd send comments or column suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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