Monday, June 6, 2022

Blessed are

 When the BBC news started playing audio of Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, I knew he wasn’t going to be talking about basketball. The NBA playoffs are not prime time news in Britain. Kerr was talking about gun violence—specifically, attacks that had just taken place in a Buffalo grocery store, a church in California, and a school in Texas. He was expressing the frustration that many people, in America and in its friends and allies abroad, feel about the seeming inability to do anything about what have become numbingly familiar massacres. 

 

Kerr blamed the intransigence of Congress, specifically Republicans in the Senate. The BBC reported that gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children in the United States--and then had to follow up with confirmation, because people were calling into the station incredulous. How could this be true, of a country not technically having a war on its soil?


I wanted to write that it isn’t as simple as Steve Kerr says. How gun violence is only one example of how the U.S. has become almost ungovernable, at least at the national level. But I didn’t write, because what I was feeling was worse than the frustration, anger, and bewilderment that Kerr and others were expressing. I was feeling numb, cynical, like this situation is never going to change. I felt like giving up. 

 

What feels worst is that it is my generation of Americans that has allowed this catastrophe to unfold. When we were growing up, there were no active shooter drills in schools. Mass shootings happened, but they were still exceptional, outrages. Yet we had the same Constitution and the same Second Amendment that had been around for 200 years—and we had an assault weapons ban. It is on our collective watch that this maximalist interpretation has been allowed to take over, and it is our generation's children who are being robbed of their psychological health, if not their lives.

 

Meanwhile, I kept getting e-mails from Greenwood Rising, the excellent new museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma that commemorates Tulsa’s historic black neighborhood. I’m on their mailing list because we paid an excellent visit to Greenwood Rising last year, on our Route 66 road trip. Readers of this blog will recall that 2021 was the centenary of a horrific massacre of black Tulsans, one of the worst mass killings in the history of a country that has seen so many. The e-mails were letting me know about Greenwood’s observance of the 101stanniversary.


And then, in the middle of that observance, Tulsa itself was the site of another mass shooting, this one in a hospital. T. remarked that there are so many of these (a mass shooting is defined as four or more victims) that they are reported in categories now. “Another school shooting.” “A church shooting.” Like they are a thing. (As I was writing this, and looked up “church shooting” to verify the one on the 16th of May in California, another one came up just hours before, in Ames, Iowa.)

 

My feelings were not changing from numbness and cynicism. I already knew what everyone was going to say, from a basketball coach to British reporters to my various friends online. Some blame “the Constitution” as if it were an actor in all this. Some attack those to the left of them for proposing solutions that won’t work. Some attack those to the right of them for not caring about dead children. Importantly, it’s all words and no actions.

 

What good can more words do?

 

I didn’t read many words that moved me, that broke through my desire just to turn away and pretend none of it was happening. But I did read some, a comment by a friend of a friend, someone who, from the words he used, I guess has an evangelical background. He summed up the left and right bickering and the resulting inaction, and then asked: Who is happy at this state of affairs, that Americans are so hopelessly divided and angry at each other that no action can be taken to stop horrors we all know are horrific? Who could be happy about this? Jesus or Satan?

 

Now, many people do not talk this way. If I were to say to you, “I see the hand of the Enemy in all this,” we might quickly get hung up on is there a literal, personal Satan walking around causing misery, and that is not really where I want to go. Instead, I go back to my feelings, and the many (strong!) feelings swirling around, and ask a different question. Is the best way handle this to tune in to and express my feelings about it, or to wait until I’m experiencing the “right” feelings? Are feelings, perhaps, just sometimes, overrated? 

 

Which brings me to a completely different set of events that's been going on in Britain and the Commonwealth this weekend: the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. 

 

If some of you don’t know what to make of my bringing up Satan, others will surely feel the same about the Queen. She, or her role (which I would argue are not the same thing) seem odd or anachronistic. In fact, I am going to argue that in spite of a wide range of political opinions about the monarchy, there is something about the Queen that is countercultural, even radical. There may be something to learn from someone who has been around so long, and seen so much. Someone who is an anachronism or, to put it another way, a link to a different time.

 

Put simply, the Queen in her official role is a stoic. There is probably nothing more unfashionable in the 21st century than stoicism. Think about the extent of emotions that people are constantly expected to express, from crime victims with microphones being shoved into their faces to seemingly everyone on social media. We may sympathize with the feelings or we may be angered by how wrong they are, but either way, we expect to emote all over the place. Nothing should ever be kept inside, whether it helps anybody else or not. And our own emotions are not enough; we are then supposed to ridicule the emotions of others, the ones that are wrong. Barack Obama’s tears were mocked from the political right. “Thoughts and prayers” are mocked from the left.

 

For various reasons my adult politics have tended more to the left than the right, certainly by U.S. standards; and yet I’ve frequently been irritated (and irritating) on that part of the spectrum. For my brothers and sisters too often seem to be unhappy whatever is happening. They’re unhappy when their opponents are in power, certainly, but they hardly seem happier when their representatives are. 


By the simplest definition, conservatives want to conserve things and progressives want progress, so perhaps it makes sense that conservatives would be happier with the world as it is. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, Republicans have claimed greater happiness than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey began asking in 1972. But this isn’t true only in the U.S. There are British and Commonwealth voters who want nothing to do with the Queen, but they even more strongly dislike elected politicians. There seems to be no one they do like. 

 

I sympathize with the votes of these unhappy people, but I wonder if they want to be happy. Those happy Republicans, I imagine the Democrats saying, are happy because of their privilege, because everything is stacked in their favor. There is so much wrong with the country; how can we be happy about it? Meanwhile the British and Commonwealth lefties can’t be happy celebrating a holiday weekend with their neighbors because it’s all about the Queen, and the Queen stands for privilege, and how can we be happy about that?

 

The funny thing about the Queen—and here’s the difference between her and her role—is that it is all about her, and yet it’s not about her at all. The Crown, like the Constitution in America, is something bigger than and separate from any one individual. It is what members of the military, officers of the peace, and civilians swear their allegiance to. Something bigger than you or me or even Elizabeth II, who has known fourteen presidents, whose first prime minister was Winston Churchill.

 

It is so hard, these days, to grapple with the concept that whether we like someone, how we feel about something, is not the most important thing and perhaps even gets in the way. The explosion of the internet, the divisiveness of Brexit or Trump, has brought tsunami after tsunami of feelings that are really quite awful, that I was not brought up ever to express. Being on the right (or is it the left?) side now means dancing on the grave of a prime minister, or wishing for the death of a president. I was not raised that way. When I was a child, even the word hate was not allowed in our house. If it appeared in a story that was being read aloud to us, it would be replaced by “dislike.” Some feelings were unacceptable, or certainly their expression out loud was.

 

Was that really so bad? Because the America I grew up in also didn’t have “school shootings.” Columbine hadn’t happened yet. There is nothing inevitable about the battle lines that are now drawn, about the warlike country Americans are living in. (Despite all these mass shootings, most of that gruesome statistic—gunfire being the leading cause of death in children—occurs away from the headlines, in neighborhoods that are violent for so many of their residents and not just children.)

 

For gun-rights advocates, gun ownership is an essential part of their sense of freedom—how they feel. “But they shouldn’t feel that way!” We can deplore those feelings, or we can recognize that it is for that reason that 90% of Americans, including most gun ownersdo support some measures like universal background checks and “red flag” laws. Because they see no reason that such laws would prevent them, personally, from owning guns. If we realize this, despite how we may feel, we can work on doing something instead of the complete failure of the federal legislature to enact measures most citizens want.


With a nod to the apolitical Queen, I challenge us to think of something we can do besides “defeat the opposing party.” Because let’s be honest: that hasn’t fixed things. I know, I know: if you don’t hate the people you disagree with, at the very least you cannot work with them.

 

How do you think the Queen felt when, as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, she shook the hand of a former commander in the Irish Republican Army, which had murdered her own cousin? No doubt she felt some emotion she did not express; but it wasn’t about her. She was serving something more important than any person, and more important than one country. Even the Queen could not, by herself, bring peace to Northern Ireland; but what she could, she did.

 

In a position alien to Americans, the monarch is head of both state and church, “Defender of the Faith.” By all accounts, the Queen’s Christian faith is sincerely important to her, but for the role that she plays her personal feelings are, again, not so relevant. As part of the public role of Christianity in this country, we have people like the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about forgiveness--yet another ridiculed foreign concept, along with its necessary companion, penitence. Such an old-fashioned word. Today people want accountability, which somehow excludes both forgiveness and penitence. If an artist, for example, has done something wrong or said something wrong—something on the side of hate!—we are never to enjoy their contributions again. People are unforgivable, and the way we punish them is to punish ourselves.

 

This is awkward for Christianity, which teaches that all have sinned, as well as for Judaism. In the Hebrew Bible it is plain that everyone’s accomplishments are in spite of the ways they fell short, and there is no suggestion that they are not accountable. Moses and David faced real and severe consequences for the things they did wrong—and those are the most revered and “right” figures in the entire tradition. Were King David’s sins “forgivable”? 


My own reading in the Hebrew Bible has recently brought me back to the Books of Kings. Occasionally they describe a king who, like David, "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord," or a wise ruler like the queen of Sheba. Most of the kings, though are reported to have done what was evil. And what made them most evil of all? In their day the people "made their sons and daughters to pass through the fire." Child sacrifice. What made the gods of the nations idols was not just that they were other gods; idolatry leads to the deaths of innocent children.


What is wisdom, what is duty, in a nation or a world where such violence is possible? None of us, even a head of state, has the power to change things alone. Perhaps change is best accomplished not at the level of a throne or a nation, but on streets and in communities. For the Jubilee, we knocked on our neighbors’ doors and chatted on the street. I know that there are other neighborhoods where this is not possible, where people are being killed on the street. If we have the privilege of that not happening in our neighborhood, then maybe we have the responsibility of doing something for those not so fortunate. 

 

How old-fashioned that sounds, too! But getting hung up on whether that’s the correct way to feel or not will just be paralyzing. I admire anybody—volunteers, donors, officers of the Queen’s peace—who are doing something to reach out to communities and make a positive change in some measure. Hosting a refugee. Passing a state or local law. Whatever action means for you. What we can do, we should.

 

“It may not seem like much," Madeleine L'Engle wrote in her work on the Beatitudes; "it is not much; but it is what is given at the present moment....When we are given the grace to be peacemakers even in these little, unimpressive ways, then we are children of God."

 

I still may not feel any better. But it’s not about me.


 

 

Friday, December 10, 2021

End of the trail

Dawn cracked over the Wigwam Motel. I heard a rooster crow. Still have no idea where that was coming from.


We were on Foothill Boulevard, Route 66 west of San Bernardino. Decades ago this was lined with fruit trees. Now a lot of it is modern sprawl, though there are still things to look out for.

Art Deco Standard Oil station, Rancho Cucamonga



Rancho Cucamonga is, first of all, a great name for a town. Picture it as it was in Route 66’s heyday: orange groves, vineyards, wineries dating back as far as the 1830s! Now there are a lot of gas stations, none prettier than the 1915 Richfield station, preserved as a museum by enthusiastic volunteers.



Photo by Route 66 IECA (Inland Empire, California)

The friendly volunteer here took our picture for the heritage association’s Facebook page. She showed us how every detail of the station has been restored—even the bell that rings when a customer drives (or in our case walks) up! “Are you going to the end of Route 66 today?” she asked. “It’s 90 degrees here but it’ll be nice in Santa Monica. Everybody will be going there today.”

 



Somewhere along Foothill Blvd., T. spotted a sign for the “first adobe house 1843.” I didn’t photograph anything quite that old, although the Sycamore Inn began as a stagecoach stop only five years later.

Magic Lamp Inn (1957)

If you take the time to drive this way, the sights come thick and fast. Upland has one of twelve Madonna of the Trail statues, this one identical to the one we saw on old Route 66 in Albuquerque. Jerry McClanahan writes amusingly of “those sturdy women who had to listen to months of ‘How much longer?’ and ‘When will we be there?’ from the backseat of the covered wagon.”


 There’s a market along the tree-lined boulevard through Claremont that’s been run for over a hundred years by the same family. La Verne has a classic building built in the mission style in 1928 (the restaurant and sign date back to 1966).

La Verne

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse, San Dimas

I was determined to stop in Azusa. This town, “A to Z in the U.S.A.,” was where my great-grandmother (Gi Gi) spent the last years of her life. I remember addressing many notes to her address in Azusa, thanking her for the $2 bills she liked to send. I was too young then to know or appreciate Gi Gi’s colorful life, including a stint running a motel in Las Vegas, Nevada in the ’60s! Azusa has a tile and stucco City Hall (1932) as well as the preserved marquee of what was the Foothill Drive-in Theatre.




Mayan Revival is another style of architecture that has almost disappeared from the country. Fortunately, Monrovia’s Aztec Hotel (1925) is still there.



We were headed for Pasadena and, since Route 66 passes right through Old Town, there was no excuse not to see my cousins Adam and Alma and their two daughters. We’d last seen these folks when we stayed with them in 2018—back when we were traveling around the world—and, what with COVID-19 canceling Thanksgiving and everything else last year, were overdue for a visit. Alma and Adam and the girls were eager not only to see us, but to find us the best lunch in town.

 




Much as there are three different eastern ends of Route 66 in Chicago, so there are three different westernmost points. The original Route finished in downtown Los Angeles, at 7thand Broadway Streets. We’d been to L.A. on that 2018 trip, so the only part of this (1926-36) alignment we took was south on Fair Oaks Avenue. There’s a 1915 corner drugstore there that’s still a working pharmacy, but alas, it was a Sunday and closed. So all I got a picture of was Pasadena’s giant “Fork in the Road.” 



From Pasadena, Route 66 into L.A. is the Arroyo Seco Parkway. This was the first freeway built west of the Mississippi River (1940), and for a freeway it’s quite attractive: lots of sweeping curves and overhanging concrete bridges with fetching designs. Modern freeways are built for higher speed limits so the Arroyo Seco probably has a frustrating volume of traffic now, but on a Sunday afternoon it was a decent drive. I guess “everybody” had already gone to the beach.


By Sunset Boulevard, my camera battery had died (first time on the trip!) and it wasn’t the kind of road it was easy to stop on. You have to take my word for it that we made it to Beverly Hills and its Art Moderne police station (I did not see Eddie Murphy there). “We’re the Beverly Hillbillies,” T. joked.


 

There’s an understated left turn (no light; thankfully traffic was light for L.A.) and the next thing you know, you’re on the final stretch of Route 66. “Santa Monica Boulevard đŸŽ”,” T. sang. I could see the Hollywood sign intermittently appear on the hillside, when buildings weren’t blocking it.

 

In Santa Monica, the post-1936 alignment turns left on Lincoln Boulevard and ends at the intersection with Olympic.



The reason for this ending was that Route 66 was an actively used U.S. highway, and the rule was that every highway had to connect with another (U.S. Highway 101A, in this case). You couldn’t just end a highway driving into the sea.

 

However, as Ian at 66 to Cali (the kiosk on Santa Monica Pier) later told us, most travelers coming down Route 66 through Santa Monica had never seen the Pacific Ocean before. So on getting their first glimpse of the ocean, they ignored the left turn and just kept on going down Santa Monica Blvd. 

Well. The first time I saw the Pacific, when I was fourteen, I'd never seen any ocean before. Today as navigator, I’d timed us to be there for sunset, and we were. 




So it is picturesque and appropriate that now-decommissioned Route 66 does, indeed, dead end on the coast, at Santa Monica Pier.



This is the sign that tourists (not all of whom, I suspect, have just driven thousands of miles on Route 66) take pictures with, but neither sign is original. In fact, according to Ian, historically there was no “finish” sign at the western end of the Route. The Route 66 kiosk has reproduced the one at Lincoln and Olympic, though, placing it on the more scenic pier; and he helpfully took our picture with it.


We had to celebrate, and luckily we had friends to do so with. Konn, whom I’ve known for thirty years, and Danny came to see us in London in 2019 (B.C.), and now met up with us in their city. 



And we didn’t have to return the car till the next afternoon, so we had the morning to ride the Ferris wheel and enjoy Santa Monica Beach.


Georgian Hotel and Palisades Park



Like the last time we were in California, I had conflicted feelings about the place. Sometimes the west coast feels as if it's just trying to do the opposite of whatever other states do, whether it makes sense or not. So many rules (smoking outside or vaccinations inside), yet such intolerance of homeless people, of whom California has an appalling number. In so many instances, public restrooms just forbidden. At least this one was open. 


 

So. Three beginnings, three endings, 3,443 miles (including side trips). And countless American stories all along the way. 



Reading through Jessica Dunham’s Route 66 Road Trip, researching this blog, I’m struck by historical details that I’d missed when we actually saw the places. The Armory in Chandler, Oklahoma was built to withstand tornado winds, and in 1958, Reverend Burton Z. “Lee Lee” Lewis was sworn into the Oklahoma National Guard there—the first African-American so to serve. 


In Flagstaff, Arizona, the Museum Club was the site of Tanya Tucker’s first gig.


 Meanwhile, Du Beau's Motel Inn, on pre-1934 Route 66 in downtown Flagstaff, was operated by the French-Canadian Albert Eugene Du Beau, who advertised in the Green Book this way: “Vacation & Recreation Without Humiliation.” 

Also welcoming to black travelers were the ubiquitous Fred Harvey railroad hotels. From the Amtrak station (a.k.a. the museum) in Gallup, New Mexico to the Santa Fe Depot and Hotel in downtown Amarillo, Texas, more Harvey Houses remain than I had thought. And then there’s the fact that Mary Colter, of whom I’d previously never heard, designed a gazillion buildings in the Southwest (including almost every structure at the Grand Canyon).

 

If we made this trip again, one thing I know is that it would be very different. Not because I’d purposely change how we did it, but because Route 66 is always changing. Inevitably, some places we went would be closed; some of the places that were closed might well be open again. And even if we stuck to the same alignments of the Route and the same stops all the way across the country, the trip would never be the same, because we would meet different people.

 

Will Rogers, after whom the highway is also called, famously said that he never met a man he didn't like. Who can say that today? Yet I don't think Rogers was wrong about this: "You would be surprised what there is to see in this great country within 200 miles of where any of us live. I don't care what state or what town."

 

I’ve written before that I wish the U.S. national anthem were “America The Beautiful,” written by Katharine Lee Bates with music by Samuel A. Ward. This is my new favorite version, recorded and with additional words by the great Native-Canadian-American artist, Buffy Sainte-Marie (all lyrics below). After our trip on Route 66 I feel more positive about America, and I hope you do too.

 



There were Choctaws in Alabama
Chippewas in St. Paul
Mississippi mud runs like a river in me
America, ooh, she's like a mother to me

 

O beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesty
Above the fruited plain

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea
From sea to shining sea

 

There were cliff towns in Colorado
Pyramids in Illinois
Trade routes up and down the Mississippi River to see
America, ooh, she's like a mother to me

 

O beautiful for vision clear
That sees beyond the years
Thy night time sky
Our hopes that fly
Undimmed by human tears

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
'Til selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

California Dreamin'

 First, I’ve made a correction to my last post. Albert Okura, who bought the town of Amboy, California and restored Roy’s CafĂ©, is a U.S. businessman. (He owns the Juan Pollo chain of restaurants, which explains why the Barstow Juan Pollo location is also called “Roy’s” with a sign to match.)

Amboy Road northbound

We were on our way back on the Amboy Road towards the final stretch of Route 66. There was a political sign, somewhere near Noels Knoll Road, that one wouldn’t associate with as “blue” a state as California. The landscape told the same story: this stretch of desert was in total contrast to the Pacific beaches and glittering cities of the coast. It’s worth remembering that similar variety, of both people and place, exists in every state.


For example: The town of Joshua Tree, where we’d spent the night, was crazy crowded. There’s one licensed restaurant and the wait there was over an hour. We had difficulty finding anywhere else to eat: there was a combined Indian and pizza place, never a good idea, that for reasons unexplained was doing takeout only. We didn’t want to stink up the motel room, so we ended up getting Subway sandwiches from the gas station. At breakfast restaurants were just as crowded; luckily, we were first in line at the takeout place. Lox bagels and lattes. We must be in California!



Back at Amboy, we turned left (west) and headed for the former site of Bagdad.


Through the 1960s, when Route 66 was in its heyday, Bagdad was a real town. There was a hotel, school, and churches, and even a Harvey House railroad hotel. Today, literally all that remains to mark the site of the town is this tree.


Most ghost towns along Route 66 have been allowed slowly to decompose, but in 1991 Bagdad was purposely razed to the ground. Now, what happened in ’91 to cause someone to want to destroy a place with a similarly spelled name to a city in Iraq? Just saying, there’s a Marine base squatted square across Route 66 some way west of here. (Bagdad might actually have been razed for a gas pipeline storage area, but there's not even any trace of that now.)

 

We continued to Ludlow, where there’s been a cafĂ© since the 1940s. We weren’t hungry, but stopped in anyway. 



One of the waitresses, who was wearing the same T-shirt as I’d bought in Tucumcari as a souvenir, asked T. if she’d been on some TV show. (Apparently T. resembles the basketball coach.) I then overheard the other waitress answer a customer who was looking for the Bagdad CafĂ©. Given that Bagdad is gone, the cafĂ© is actually in Newberry Springs; but what interested me was the waitress’s advice not to take I-40, but the frontage road/National Trails Highway. I had read that this was a nice drive, but in very rough condition.

“Is it drivable now?” I asked the waitress, and she said yes, it had been recently repaved! So there, it pays to sit and have a coffee at the Ludlow CafĂ©.

Ludlow was a 19th-century mining town.


We took off down 27 miles of the National Trails Highway, towards Newberry Springs.



The Bagdad CafĂ© was a film site for a cult movie that I’ve never seen. It was renamed for the movie (the original Bagdad CafĂ© having gone the way of Bagdad.) This cafĂ© is supposed to still be open and selling buffalo burgers. Sadly, it was not.




There appeared to be little more left of Daggett. Some of the buildings that do remain, though, date back to more than a century ago, when a lot of silver and borax was mined around here. Daggett is also where the Joad family faced a California inspection station in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

As mentioned earlier, a Marine Logistics Base was built just astride Route 66 and, due to the closure of its east gate for security reasons, the old Route is now completely inaccessible at this point. We were forced onto I-40, only to exit again as if we were visiting the base, before following Main Street into downtown Barstow.



Our original plan had been to stop in Barstow for the night. It’s been a major crossroads since the railroad days,


and we remembered a great night and day spent there ten years ago, between Yosemite National Park and Las Vegas. Memorable, not only because we got to wash our clothes, but because it was warm enough to take our clothes off and actually have showers, for the first time in days! But the laundry was done now, and we decided to press on farther so as to shorten the driving on our last day.





Barstow is a great downtown to look around, and of course we’d missed that before, traveling on the interstate and staying in the modern part of town. You won’t be surprised by now to learn that Barstow also has one of Fred Harvey’s railroad hotels.




I’d recognize Fred and the Harvey Girls anywhere, now that we’d stayed in La Posada in Winslow. The Harvey House, Casa del Desierto, is just north of Route 66, across the First Street Bridge.




This historic picture of the bridge is one of many delightful exhibits we saw in the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, which is free, and housed in Casa del Desierto. The staff were very friendly. Actually, this particular exhibit might have been in the Western America Railroad Museum, located in the same building. Both were worth visiting. Casa del Desierto itself, originally built in 1885, was rebuilt in 1913 after a fire by—you guessed it—Mary Colter. 

Amtrak still stops here.

It's beginning to look a lot like...


Four-lane Route 66 became I-15, and today, most traffic is on the interstate, rushing to or from Vegas. The Route west of Barstow is now peaceful two-lane. All that I glimpsed of the town of Hodge (pop. 431) was a false-front saloon. A vintage billboard advertising gas prices was a reminder of the old days.

A little farther on from Helendale is one of Route 66’s quirkiest roadside attractions, the Bottle Tree Ranch.



Elmer Long created this installation of “found object” art from a bottle collection he started with his father. Sadly, Long has since passed away, but the ranch is still open and free to visit during daylight hours. It made me reminisce about my own childhood collecting bottles.


And typing on typewriters


The next town, Oro Grande, has a big cement plant. At least there’s still industry, and life, in the area and its tiny downtown.



We didn’t stop long in Victorville, but the town has a role in film history. It Came From Outer Space was filmed here, and it’s also where Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane. A change from The Grapes of Wrath, anyway.




At this point in the afternoon, we finally had to join I-15. There was suddenly a ton of traffic, but it wasn’t the worst road to go slowly on, as we reached Cajon Summit (4,000 feet).


Only five years ago, the iconic Summit Inn was destroyed in the Blue Cut wildfire. As a reminder of another type of disaster to which California is prone, the Cajon Pass through which the interstate winds was formed by the movements of the San Andreas Fault. More recently in geological time, but still before the railroad or Route 66, the Mormon Trail passed through here.
View of the train


From this most scenic of traffic jams, we exited to take the former four-lane. Its westbound lanes are now two-lane Route 66. We could see Cajon Creek—or rather, we couldn’t; it was so dry I couldn’t even make out where the creek should be. This, also, was not a good sign for California.

 

Dusk was starting to fall and we were glad to reach our destination for the night. “I have a bit of song in my head,” T. said, “and it goes like this: ‘San BernardinođŸŽ”’” I waited for her to sing more, but that was all she remembered!

She might have been thinking of “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” by Bobby Troup (his wife, Cynthia, came up with the title on their own road trip across the country to Hollywood). Given the traffic always present in Los Angeles, which Route 66 drivers have to negotiate on the final day, San Bernardino is a natural overnight stop. Downtown had several vintage motels with neon signs, some lit up, as well as a Mexican restaurant run by the same family since 1937. 

 

But, I’m afraid we didn’t stop at any of these. No, for our penultimate night we’d decided to book—and this is why we had to push on, close to the Rialto city limits—one of the kitschiest locations on a road that has so many of them: the Wigwam Motel.



The “wigwams” (concrete tepees, actually) were built as part of a cross-country chain, but only two of the motels remain today. One is in Holbrook, Arizona, and we were booked at the other. This is a 1949 motor court, now kept in great condition and run by the award-winning Jack Patel and family (Indian Americans, not to be confused with American Indians!) I know, it's terrible, but I just loved staying here. You would not believe how roomy our place was inside.



Tomorrow was going to be busy. We rested up for our last day.