My father CJ and I have always talked about one day going for a ride on Route 66, but regular life and other commitments have always made this more of a conversation-piece dream than reality. My wife Dionna knows how much this trip means to me; I have talked about it for several years.
At first I contemplated shipping Dad's car to Los Angeles and then riding home. It would've meant leaving Route 66 in Oklahoma City and driving Interstate 40 to North Carolina.
I wanted to not only do the trip but the scope increased until it included the entire Chicago-to- LA trip... and doing this in Dad's 1940 Ford coupe.
I decided it would be best to actually drive from the beginning (Adams Street in Chicago) to the end (Santa Monica Pier in Southern California), then having the car shipped back. I had finally talked myself into trying and getting Dad to do it. After several months of scouring over specialized Route 66 maps, trip guides, etc., and then comparing Internet reviews we were ready for the trip this spring. Dad and I were a bit anxious about taking his coupe and hoping it would make the trip. Although he has put more than 20,000 miles on the car since he restored it, we were sure that it had never been pushed like this.
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Dad just turned 75 this year and he and my mother just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It was by chance the trip happened on the same year as the 50th but ended up being a nice addition to the year.
On Thursday, May 5,I drove down from Marion. We packed up his coupe and we left Gastonia for Chicago late that same afternoon. And 755 miles later, we were actually ready to start the trip.
We arrived on Adams Street in downtown Chicago on Saturday morning and took our "starting line" pictures. We then headed a couple blocks over to Lou Mitchell's for the traditional first-day breakfast. Lou's is a Chicago staple that had been around longer than the Mother Road herself. We ate, negotiated 66 out of Chicago and were on our way.
We completed the journey by stepping on the Santa Monica Pier on Friday, May 13.
In between, we tried to stay at hotels that were part of Route 66: They included the family-owned Munger Moss in Lebanon, Mo., Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, N.M, The El Rancho in Gallup, N.M., and The Wigwam Hotel in Rialto, Calif. They all had the type of neon-emblazoned outdoor signs we remember from days gone by.
We did not eat at any chain-type restaurants; instead we frequented restaurants we already knew about from our planning, or ones advised by the locals. Besides Lou Mitchell's in Chicago, we ate at, The Rock House, in Stroud, Okla. (owner Dawn Welch inspired "Sally the Porsche" in the movie "Cars"), The Road Kill Café in Seilgman, Ariz. and of course the Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas, which is exactly 1,139 miles between Chicago and LA.
Along the way we experienced many old bridges, gas stations, and parts of the roadway that were barely passable.
One of the most rewarding was an old 9-foot-wide section in Oklahoma that was slow going: Much had been replaced with gravel or dirt.
We came to appreciate the "Route 66" shields painted on the roads along the way. We saw a lot of the old roadside attractions that attempted to lure travelers back in the highway's heyday. Some of these sadly are gone or either in disrepair.
Others have been refurbished or have been saved and are part of a restoration to try and save pieces of "America's Main Street." These included the large statues -such as Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog or the Meteor Man at the Launching Pad Cafe, etc. - all placed near the roadside to lure travelers to stop in.
The experience with my father can never be replaced. Our family has always been close, but to be able to actually spend that much quality time with my father was an experience I will cherish forever.
Whether we were standing side by side at the Grand Canyon or sharing a good laugh as we headed down a long stretch of road out in the Mojave Desert, we were simply enjoying the open road as we thumped along the highway.
We marveled at the small bathrooms in the old hotels, and at the signs on the old hotels advertising "100% refrigerated air." We met many people along the route -locals running the establishments as well as other travelers enjoying the same adventure we were experiencing.
Some stick out, like the group of Australians who had rented 20 cars for a St Louis-to-Vegas stretch, or the two couples - also from Australia - who bought cars for a partial leg of the trip.
We enjoyed laughing with and comparing notes as we switched leads over the several days we saw them. It amazed me at how many buses and tour groups would stop at these roadside attractions and the mixture of languages let me know the worldwide interest of these people trying to get a small piece of lost Americana.
I must admit it was additional fun to be making the trip in a 1940 Ford coupe.
Not only was it a blast to drive, it drew crowds at every stop. The car was a hit with busloads of tourists who would generally gather around and take pictures, using our car as the perfect complement to the old gas stations and backdrops offered up along the way.
As much as I enjoyed the trip I do not recommend it for everyone. You must want to appreciate what the journey has to offer. I have travelled around the world with my company but nothing beats rolling down the windows and getting out on the road and off the highway to truly share a life changing experience.