Any doubts about the emotional power of Route 66 are cast to the wind when you read the road letters of my friend Ilse who is motoring west from the Great North Woods to a photo conference in Albuquerque, NM. Her words are butterflies, the modest car she calls Isabella is her net.
Ilse is 86 years old.
She has been to 140 countries. She is traveling Route 66 alone. (For details read the previous two posts on this site.) I asked her to stay in touch with us. Here is an essential take-away from her note of Thursday, Sept. 25—Ilse’s fifth day on the road. By then she had made it through Commerce, Ok., the birth place of Mickey Mantle.
“I realize I have to skip a few things, eight days to do it all is too short. But I love this road and stories she tells me—so I take my time and listen. Not ‘have been there—have done it’ no, I want to live it, be a page of the book.”
She gets it. This is exactly what happened to me when I traveled Route 66 in 1991. It was a time where I was moving too fast in my life. I, too was alone. Over my 12- day trip I learned how to become a better listener. I saw humility in dozens of small towns. I basked in warm neon sunsets and promising blue mornings.
A road so narrow can open so many minds.
Here’s edited versions of her two most recent letters from the road:
RT 66 9/25/14:
“On my map it always says ‘Scavenger Hunt’..then asks a question and one has to figure out something. Now YOU do: I stay in a “charming Route 66 Motel,” (as the book says), which I looked up last night–and I sure “found it” and….have a companion tonight..who could this be?? (tell you later!). I drive along the road who tells of cowboys, settlers, Indians, bootleggers and more!
“Breakfast in my room: from my care package yesterday; yogurt and a muffin, and my own energy chocolate drink. When I gave my key back, the first long conversation of this day with the owner: ‘You should go to our museum!. They have a nice collection, I worked on the switchboard at the telephone company, and they gave it to me long after I retired. They now have it in the museum. They had the motel since the seventies.’ After more stories I finally left with a big hug from her…of course it was too early for the museum.”
This seems to be a recurring theme for Ilse.
The early bird gets the worm, but not the museum.
“My first place to visit today were the fantastic caverns near Springfield, Mo. because a car drives through it. There are only four of them in the world: America, Slovakia, France and the fourth I forgot. (See! she didn’t even bottle to Google it.) A long time ago 12 women discovered it. It is huge and many singers and bands performed here (I would guess Ozark country-folk singers.) It might be the last cave I will see, don’t think I could walk them anymore.
“Remembered the Salt Caves in Poland (Ilse was born in the Black Forest of Germany and came to the United States in 1962) where we had to climb so many steps, and Nerja/Spain where we listened to classical music but walking through it for an hour.
“I drove around Springfield, so much traffic (Ilse does not like traffic) and I enjoyed the country road: rolling and winding, mostly empty, only for a while there were some farmers who were transporting their cows, who were holding me up a bit–they drove slowly on the small road, probably protecting their cows that they were not too much shaken and giving whipped cream instead of milk! It was so pastoral—-the many oak trees, the horses, the meadows.
“Yesterday was in and out of the car to take pictures here and there–today was even hotter than yesterday. Think of the people who came here in their wagons while I just turn on the air conditioner to feel more comfortable.
“So I lived into the day and was shocked when I realized it was Thursday already.
“I found this out in a hurry. A big sign: ‘This is the last Historic byways Route 66” by the border; then took it a while, till I found a little brown sign of Oklahoma. Followed it to Commerce, where I stopped for a milkshake, again in a converted Marathon station…and didn’t come out til almost an hour or more. Everywhere they want you to sign the guest book, telling that people from all over the world are visiting and they found out I came from Germany. He brought out a book from a photographer in Hamburg who had made some photos of the station, him and his mother. There were some cookies with the 66 sign on it, then the stories started, he has made the cutter, told me about the family, explained the Marathon sign, the civil war battles around here, President Truman and Bonny Clyde lived here, how they shot the policeman, so many more stories that time went by, of course I had the cookie and a big milk shake while listening, but now I HAVE to leave…
“Following the sign, did not come far after Miami (Ok., which has a nine foot wide section of the original “Ribbon Road”) and ended up on a dusty road, asked a farmer if I’m ‘right’, go on, after three miles it gets better…But somehow the direction seemed wrong, I took the next paved road to where the Interstate was, of course there was no entrance but a bridge over it, then just drove along a side road, the next village will come.
‘There were three old timers (remember Ilse is 86) sitting by the table in the gas station. Instead of asking the young girl on the cashier machine, I asked them. Two just informed me ‘so and so tollway’ til the third one said, ‘You just confuse the girl Take this road, make a cloverleaf over the bridge and stay on HW 60 and HW69, they are HW 66-drive safely girl.’ I followed him and came exactly out by the Buffalo Ranch (opened in 1958 which featured the world’s largest western wear store) where the charming Motel Route 66 (in Afton, Ok.) was.
“Rooms “with names” were available.
“I choose John Wayne–and now ‘Gute Nacht!”
RT 66 9/26/14
“Since I was so tired last night, I didn’t go out for dinner, instead right to bed; slept til about ten and then wrote my log. It was close to one a.m. until I went to sleep again, John Wayne watching me all the time from all the walls!
“Now I am hungry! I have chicken-fried steak, eggs, biscuits and gravy and the coffee tastes good. Right now it’s 6:30 a.m. and the sun is still “down”–only making pink clouds. The Buffalo Ranch still blinking colorful lights….
“The landscape has changed, flat and many herds of cows and bulls grazing in the morning fog, and even a chicken running over the road. A reminder of my youth! I drove along some ghost (abandoned) stations and motels, too dark to photograph. In Vanita, Ok. I saw this broken sign EAT and stopped, had the best breakfast (again?) ate half and the waitress packed for me too. Clanton’s Cafe owned by the same family since 1927! The best hash browns–I was ready for the road again.
“In Claremore (Ok.) spent a long time at the Will Rogers Museum. Highlight of the day, but really not enough time. Very nice displays and I remembered the cattle drive in Montana and me unsuccessfully trying to rope a wooden horse. Amazing how many tricks Rogers had! Along the road, near a little pond was the concrete blue whale. I think maybe a forerunner of the fancy art slides of the Dells. He has a big smile and a baseball cap on top.”
As does my friend Ilse. She is living in the moment as the moments come to her.
Reply, Reply All or Forward | More