Bucket lists. Many adventurers, mostly men, make them. However, few people ever complete them. On the list there might be; ski the Alps, run with the bulls, visit the Vatican, or drive Route 66.
I love to drive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car, truck or boat. And I don’t care if it’s a quick hop to the grocery store or a day at the track. As long as I am in my Porsche Cayman S, I’m happy on the road, and the Mother Road journey was in my top five.
Route 66, which opened in 1926, began in Chicago, and ended 2400 miles later in Los Angeles. In between are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the U.S. You wind your way through small towns, big cities, picturesque scenery and hot deserts. But that’s only part of what lines either side of this historic highway.
First, let me back up for just a moment. Nancy, my wife of 50 years, succumbed to cancer in March of 2020. Tragically, six months later, a close friend, Linda Wiggins, passed away from the same horrible disease. I refused to let cancer derail my life, or shatter the life of Linda’s husband, Lynn. I shifted priorities and moved forward on the Route 66 plan, encouraging Lynn to join me. Two 75 year old men in a 14year old Porsche. What could go wrong? Fortunately, nothing, as I think our wives were looking out for us.
For several evenings, I sat down at the computer to find out more about this mostly abandoned roadway. I soon came across a website for Two Lane America. Two Lane is operated by Austin Cooper, a very engaging young man. Except for the summer of Covid, Austin has led four or five caravans a year along the entire route, starting in Chicago.
Each car is given a walkie talkie, whereby Austin relays information from the front of the pack such as traffic conditions, directions, plus potty, food and scenic upcoming stops. Austin also makes all of the hotel reservations, provides water and snacks along the way, and gives lunch and dinner restaurant suggestions at each day’s stopping points.
On June 6th of this year, Lynn and I stuffed our luggage into my Cayman S, and off we went to join the group in St. Louis. We decided not to trek to Chicago, as we had been there many times before, and why drive there only to back track to St. Louis. When we met up with the group, everyone wanted to know where we put our baggage, let alone my 6’4” body. Opening the front and rear hatches, they were amazed at the amount of space afforded to store items, plus comfortably seat my frame behind the steering wheel.
Whenever possible, Austin would have us on the original Route 66. Doing so felt as if time had reversed back to the 40’s or 50’s, where gas only cost 15 cents a gallon, coffee was a nickel, motels had magic finger beds for a quarter, and 10 cent Coke machines were at every gas station.
Today, many towns have picked up on the resurgence of people wanting to recreate that long drive through the west. Several motels and gas stations are now more of a museum, with the second or third generation of the original owners maintaining the property. These folks love to share the rich history of their establishment and how their parents or grandparents made it through those tough times.
We motored through a variety of locations. From the somber memorial of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, to the strange Cadillacmonoliths, to the majesty of the Grand Canyon. In Oklahoma, we also visited the childhood home of Mickey Mantle, where the shed beside the house still carries the scars of baseballs bounced off of it. In
Arizona, we stood on that famous corner, checked out the honeymoon suite of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard at the Oatman hotel, and drove through herds of long abandoned donkeys.
The only day that required effort was while crossing the Mojave Desert in 121-degree heat. One of our fellow travelers drove a custom 1966 Chevy Malibu with no AC. After a valiant effort, they took a shortcut to our next stop, and its refreshing air conditioning.
On the 13th day, we reached our destination in Los Angeles by Mel’s Diner, not the Santa Monica Pier. The pier is often thought of as where Route 66 culminates. It makes for a good story, and brings some extra visitors to the pier, but approximately ten blocks to the east is where it officially stops.
The day before our scheduled farewell dinner at Mel’s, Austin had promised us a surprise, and he delivered. If you recall the movie American Graffiti, directed by a then unknown George Lucas, there appeared a young lady that stole the show. In fact, she was nominated for a best supporting actress award. No, it was not Suzanne Somers, but Candy Clark. Candy played Debbie, the nerd’s girlfriend. Candy is a lovely lady, who graciously made the rounds to each table, chatting and posing for photos.
In a condensed version, that was our trip down Route 66. If you have the slightest itch to drive this by way, do it now. And to enhance your experience, do it with Two Lane America. Just think of the tales you can relate later to friends and grandkids.
Should you do the drive, rent the movie Cars afterward. The producers and artists for that film traveled Route 66, meeting the locals and walking down their main streets, gleaning inspiration for characters that would later appear in the movie.
Our adventures didn’t stop in L.A. Lynn and I continued on our own for an additional 3900 miles, up the coast of California, through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, and home. My Porsche performed beautifully. I can’t wait to start a new road trip, which won’t be long. Join me if you like to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where in early September a Porsche Fest will convene. Plus, it’s only 500 miles to get there. Piece of cake.
See you on the road, somewhere, soon. Jim