Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

A Two Thousand Mile Long Ghost Town

I've always loved Ghost Towns.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it's because there was life here.  Folks lived and died, laughed and loved, worked, ate and played in these spaces and now they are silent and crumbling do dust.  Growing up in Utah there were hundreds of old mining settlements from the mid 1800s that were great to explore.  I have a book, well worn with age and use, called "Ghost Towns of Utah" -- kind of a big reference manual of all the old settlements, what's left of them, how to find them etc.  I've been to many, and enjoyed poking and exploring.  By the time I got around to it, there was very little left -- things rot and decay in 100 years.  Even in Scotland, he old medieval castle ruins are ghost towns in a way, and hold the same fascination for me.  So after riding from Tucumcari to Oklahoma City on Thursday, I've realized that Route 66 is very much a linear 2,000 mile ghost town, and perhaps that's why I'm so enamored and fascinated with it.
The best part of this linear ghost town is that unlike the medieval castle ruins and even the mining towns of Utah, because this was abandoned roughly 35 years ago, there is still lots of ruins left, and not all of them have crumbled to dust.  However it's clear they are getting there, so as the years go by, less and less will be left -- so I'm really glad I'm doing this now. 

I loaded up the bike in Tucumcari at the lovely restored Blue Swallow Motel -- they had painted the inside of my garage with the characters from Cars -- a movie near and dear to my heart and that always makes me cry.  I had "Mater" and "Filmore" to keep the bike company.
Since this clearly wasn't a Holiday Inn Express with a free breakfast buffet, I had to eat, so I motored down the road to -- gulp -- a McDonalds.  I wanted something quick and easy so I could hit the road and see what's between Tucumcari and Oklahoma City.  At my slow pace I knew I'd be on the road for a while.  Next door to Micky D's was a classic roadside tourist curio shop made to look like a tee pee.  It had just opened, and I kinda wanted to go in - but the parking lot was filled with Honda Gold Wings -- big bikes that old men drive as a rule, and are essentially half a Honda Civic.  They are so quiet too -- unlike Harley's with their copyrighted sound.  No one ever asks you to start up a Gold Wing to hear it.  I'm reminded of the BMW TV commercial where the guy who drives a BMW is talking to the guy who drives a Prius -- and the BMW guy says "what sound does your car make?"  and the Prius guy goes "whoooooooosh". 
So as I'm coming out of McDonalds I see the tribe of old guys and their wives on the Gold Wings come out of the TeePee and I'm just laughing and praying that they don't get hit gong out onto traffic.  These guys were a menace to themselves and their passengers, and it was quite comical to watch them try to maneuver out of the parking lot and down the highway.

I ambled East out of Tucumcari, ignoring the sign pointing me to I-40 and kept to the one marked "Historic US-66"  The first town after Tucumcari was San Jon.  The stretch of old road between there and Tucumcari wandered quite a ways from the freeway, and coming into San Jon it was neat to see how they engineered it to expand to a four lane divided stretch through town.  It maybe was warranted back in the day -- but clearly it didn't now.  I could put out a lawn chair and sunbathe if I wanted to.
Right after St. John the Old Road became part of I-40 once again, so back on the freeway I went, crossing into Texas shortly after.  The first exit after the state line was marked Glenrio.  I had wanted to come here for a long time -- wondering what I'd find.  Like the other states, they have marked "Historic 66" on segments and noted them on exit signs.  This stretch is isolated, but well worth the side trip to the state-line.  I have a framed B&W print from "LIfe" magazine of this stretch hanging in my office. If you are driving East, this was once the "First Motel In Texas", if driving West, the sign said "Last Motel in Texas".  This, and a couple of other auto related buildings is all that's left of Glenrio -- where they had again made it a four lane.  Where the pavement changes color is the state line.  It was both very cool to be standing there -- seeing this after seeing older images, and sad too -- wishing I had been around to see it in its heyday and sad that era has passed.  It was here that I realizedthat Route 66 itself is a ghost town -- a two thousand mile linear ghost town.
The plains of the Texas panhandle aren't exactly scenic -- flat, sagebrush, and nothing on the horizon to speak of except grain elevators for the next small town up the road.  Much the same way travelers have always done, looking down the road for signs of the next town, I rode along the highway looking at the grain elevator or tall sign that marked the next small town. Texas has done a good job of obliterating the Old Road by using it as the Interstate, but at the same time has marked the "Business Loop" for each town as "Historic 66" and so it makes for a somewhat fast ride while still getting to see what matters. 

Adrian is the midpoint on Route 66 -- half way between Chicago and LA.  At some point the town marked the midway point with a sign, but the original sign is long gone and I couldn't find anything but a few more abandoned gas stations and motels, marking what once was probably a memorable spot for travelers working their way to a new life in the West, or returning home to the East.
It was approaching lunch time according to my stomach -- but it was 200pm according to the clock as Texas is in Central time.  Riding into Amarillo, TX I stopped off at the Harley dealership to look for a shirt (only my second one on this trip!), and I asked the girl behind the counter where I should eat.  She suggested "Cracker Barrel."  Good Lord no!  Rule #1 is don't eat at chains unless you have to -- especially the neanderthalish Cracker Barrel.  Fortunately I wandered town on the old road and found "Smoky Joes".  It's an "only in the south" kinda place -- semi-open air, slamming screen door, and a waitress with a southern accent who sat down next to me to chat before I even ordered.  When she found out I was riding from Seattle, she said, "funny Jimmy just left to go to Seattle on his bike last week" and proceeded to tell me what she'd heard from her friend Jimmy as if he were my friend too.  Bikers and biker chicks are that way.   I also found out too that "sweet tea" is southern, but I wasn't southern enough in Texas yet.  The burger had to be the best one on the trip so far, and the way too friendly southern hospitality made it all that much better.  The bar tender also rides and so he and I chatted bikes for a bit, and they both yelled to "stop back on your way home".  If I head back that way I will.  Needless to say I was very glad to ignore the girl at the dealership.
Next down up the Mother Road was McClean, TX.  The old abandoned movie theater hasn't played a movie in decades I'm sure, and reminded me of "The Last Picture Show", and I sort of expected that Cloris Leachman would walk out any moment.  I was surprised as well to find an abandoned station with a gas pump still intact.  Lord knows I want one of these -- it would look great in my garage or living room.  They sell for thousands on E-Bay, why no one has "preserved" one of these is beyond me -- but I'm also glad they didn't.  The road kept working east towards the Oklahoma border, and in Alanreed I found a nicely preserved Texaco, that someone lovingly keeps up for the sheer joy of having a preserved relic of the old highway -- reminding them and fellow roadies of what it is we are all chasing.
The last town on the Mother Road heading East in Texas is Shamrock.  Its where another one of the Route 66 icons is, and one I'd been looking forward too ever since leaving Tucumcari this morning.  It's the "U-Drop In", a glorious art deco combined gas station and restaurant.   It sits at the cross roads of US-66 and US-83, a major North/South route through the plains of the midwest.  The folks in Shamrock have restored this building to it's grandeur, complete with outlining in green neon.  Fellow roadies will recognize it -- as will lovers of the movie Cars as the basis for "Ramon's" custom paint shop in the town of Radiator Springs.  Motoring up to it made me smile.  And while I love the derelict relics at the other end of the state, I also love the restored beauty of the U-Drop-In.  Both make me smile, but only one makes me cry as well.

"'Miss Sally can I have this cruise?'  Sh-boom is a dream...."

One of the last towns in Texas was Bushland -- and I was glad it didn't have a sign indicating Route 66 so I didn't have to set foot in it (granted Bushland could be the whole damn state I suppose.) I crossed into Oklahoma shortly after that -- where some Broadway show-queen in the transportation department has branded all the signs with "Oklahoma OK!" or "The land we live in is grand".   I had to laugh.   I had to laugh again because one of the first towns was Clinton.  How ironic after leaving Bushland!   However, OK, has not done an OK job of marking up the old highway -- at least as well as the previous states have.  It was more difficult to find sections of the road -- and so it was getting later and later, and I still had a long ways to Oklahoma City for the night, so I gave up and sat on the freeway through the cooler rolling hills of Oklahoma.  Arriving in the City i decided, after looking at the map I didn't want to ride 5 hard days back West to Seattle.  I was only two or three days from Chicago -- why not finish Route 66 -- I can say I've done the whole damn song from Chicago to LA (in reverse order).  So I'll be doing that -- taking a day to rest in OKC today, wash the bugs of the bike and out of my brain, and arrange a flight and shipping the bike home from Chicago on Tuesday.  Yeah, the pure roadie in me kind feels like I'm bailing out -- but I'm not.  It's no different than when Tony and I shipped the bikes to Florida for the Corner to Corner ride.  And I'll have gotten my kicks on the entire Route 66 by the time I'm done, plus after Bushland and Clinton -- Illinois could be considered "Obamaland".  My friend Rich says "there's a book in here somewhere".  Maybe so.

(More pics from the road in my FaceBook album:

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