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Ilse in Albuquerque on her Route 66 road trip. (Used with permission.)

I wonder what my roadie friend Ilse would say about  Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s piece in Atlantic magazine where he wrote that he only wanted to live 75 years.

Ilse is 86 years old and just finished her solo Route 66 trip from Chicago to a photo conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Ilse is too busy to mope around and think about dying young.

Dr. Emanuel wrote, “The fact is that by 75, creativity, originality and producitivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us….People can continue to be productive past 75–to write and publish, to draw, carve and sculpt and compose. But there is not getting around the definition, few of us can be exceptions.”

Dr. Emanuel is the brother and health adviser to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A few months before Rahm was elected mayor I had a beer with him at the Matchbox in Chicago. He was no sunburst of energy himself and he’s way younger than 75.

Here’s an edited version of Ilse’s last two installments from the Mother Road. Look! She know how to type, construct sentences and crack  jokes. I’d say she should  take Dr. Emanuel along on her next road trip. “Ilse and Ezeikel“–it has a ring to it. He should just leave his Smiths playlist at home.

RT 66 9/27/14:

“Good morning, it’s five o’clock, but I was too tired last night to go on. I almost cannot absorb what I all seem experience, remember and feel…and it goes on for 8 days!

“Along the way were many ghost towns, picturesque stations, abandoned motels, mom and pop diners with broken neon signs. Then I took on a hitchhiker! He must have slipped in, when I was photographing. There was a big grasshopper and I wanted a picture of him, but he hopped away before I could. When I was driving on, I felt him crawling along my pants–he was faster out, then in!

“There is a town named Pampa (Tx.) and Pampa it is (in German there is a saying that if you find yourself in Pampa, you are in the middle of nowhere.) There is nothing but red earth as far as you can see, twice the wind was blowing the sand over the streets and I had to turn on the lights. I could just imagine the dust storms of the past and understood ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ even better…

“So I went on and off and on interstate travel with thoughts of the German Autobahn with its unlimited speed limit (75 MPH allowed here), I opened the window, let the wind blow through my hair and imagined the Corvette of once upon a time. Not for long though, because all my papers and maps were blowing too!

The Big Texan Steak Ranch

The Big Texan Steak Ranch

“I stopped at the information station near Amarillo. A very nice girl gave me good advice, suggestion and help. I asked, “What about the cowboy who is inviting for the 72 ounce steak? All along the highways, like Wall Drug in the Dakotas.”

There apparently was a former ranch, who was side tracked when the interstate was built, so they made this honky tonk place with (in my opinion) tourists in mind (The Big Texan Ranch.) There is a long story about the guy who ‘ate the steak and all the trimmings in just one hour.’ Well, after she told me, ‘They even pick you up and bring you home,’ I had to see this for myself! First she gave me a coupon for the motel and then showed me the downtown area where the Route 66 history still lives and gave me a map of places I wanted to go.

“Is this Texas style? Room rate $36, plus tax with a King-size bed!

“At 7 p.m. I was picked up by a cowboy in a long, black limousine and driven to a place of really good food. They give you the tingling, lighting up thing (restaurant pager),  you wait and they get you to your table. I was told my waiting time would be about 20 minutes, so I walked around, listened to the one man band (he had all kinds of instruments including a washboard, guitar, harmonica and more) and watched kids in the shooting gallery. When I leaned on a saddle, a boy said to me, ‘You don’t do it right, see you have to swing over!’ I laughed and told him, ‘I cannot do it anymore kid, now I have to sit like the ladies of the long gone times,” and that gave some laughs.

“My food was excellent! I ordered 2 appetizers: smoked ribs and mountain oysters and a glass of Texas Red Amber Ale. At 9:30 p.m. the limousine brought me back to the hotel, and that’s the end of the story.”

RT 66 9/29/14:

“Last day on the road! My $29 bed was so good that I did not wake up until 8:10 a.m. After breakfast, drove and stopped and photographed slowly through Tucumcari (N.M.). Then I took the frontage road, following the Route 66 signs. There were many cattle guards and the landscape  has changed from the endless grass pampas of Texas to more mesas in New Mexico. The road had many dips and sometimes just gravel, but many flowers and even cactus alongside. On my right a railroad track with the longest line of freight trains and four engines waiting. Then I changed again to a long stretch of  interstate. Isabella (her car) liked it–she was like a racehorse and we made some time.

“Along the way I took some pictures, but I feel maybe I never took the time to MAKE the pictures. Soon I arrived in Santa Rosa, where the marker tells you that the explorer Espejo passed through here in 1583.”

Ilse's last portrait of her Route 66 trip (Used by permission)

Ilse’s last portrait of her Route 66 trip (Used by permission)

“I did make a stop at the famous stop for scuba diving in the desert, the Blue Hole. It is in the middle of town and I watched some swimmers jump in and some divers going down in the clear, wonderful blue water. A diver explained to me that it is fed by an underground river and that it is 80 feet deep, has a diameter of 60 feet, an outflow of about 3,000 gallons of water per minute and the water temp is 61 degrees at the top and bottom! The Blue Hole is such an amazing color blue, and I thought, sometimes the skies have the same color of this–almost turquoise blue, especially here in New Mexico.

“I drove until I could take the old 66 again near a once-upon-a-time Longhorn Ranch and drove on into my end station: Albuquerque  at Moriarty. My last stop before was  Clines Corner Cafe. Even though it said ‘Here since 1923’ it is nowadays a Subway, with a big souvenir store, where everything calls ‘Please buy me,’  I played deaf.

“Black clouds were hanging over the mesas and hills, soon the first drops came, but only for a short time a hefty rain shower just so that I had a fresh washed car to drive into a sunny town again. I followed the sign here and it must still be like the old times at night. Many neon signs, the old somehow revived, small hotels and inviting diners, looks a big funky, thought, here I would not like to be going alone at night….

The old, somehow revived. Beautiful.

Ilse at the Blue Whale roadside landmark in Caloosa, Oklahoma

Ilse at the Blue Whale roadside landmark in Catoosa, Oklahoma

She wrote, “To find the hotel, would have been easier to come in on the I-40, even at rush hour. After asking twice I found the Marriott and was greeted by photo friends right in the hall. I cannot believe, that only a week ago, I followed the blue and red foot steps in Pontiac (Il.)–and soon much lies in between!

“I had a great, sometimes a bit emotional, very rewarding trip, and thanked Isabella, too, that she was leading me safely to my destination. I will write the last letter when I am home in 14-20 days from now. (She is not driving home on Route 66) I had two great slide shows tonight, especially the Nature International, but I skipped the reception because I wanted to end the trip with you (her notes went out to other people besides me.)

 “Anyway, America’s ‘Main Street’ was a history book with many pictures and chapters for me and I am thankful I could still do it as the ‘Grandmother of the Mother Road’ as Dave calls me.

“Many greetings!”

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