Large portions of I-40, across the southern U.S., run alongside and are crisscrossed by old Route (pronounced ROOT not rout, as my mother emphatically reminded me before I left) 66 of “I got my kicks on Route 66” fame. While following Route 66 all the way across would have taken too long for our timeline, and have been somewhat depressing, it is possible to dip off I-40 at intervals onto Route 66 and get a taste of what it might have been like traveling along that now historic highway.
Having been trying to wrap my mind around change spanning eons in Death Valley, on Route 66 I was struck quite strongly how quickly we, as humans, build idols, worship at their feet, and discard them for the next greatest thing. Most of the times we dipped onto Route 66, we either traveled through lovely scenery or along largely abandoned former business districts (the depressing part – it occurs to me now that it might not make sense to feel depressed about this, as it clearly represents human progress on some level, but I tend to over-identify with the stories I hear, or imagine I’m hearing). Motel after motel after gas station after restaurant, closed, boarded up, rusting, or just falling down. Signs faded by the seasons, dust settling over it all. These strips are not ghost towns. The occasional new, well-maintained, and open farm store or building store or Family Dollar store attested to current use of this now country highway by actual people who actually live here, but anything involving travel or tourism has traveled elsewhere.
Desperate to fill up with gas (or was it food?), we took off of I-40, only to accidentally discover the exception (isn’t there always an exception?), the U Drop Inn, described on the postcard I bought there as follows: “The U Drop Inn, located at the Crossroads of America, U.S. Highway 83 and Historic Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas, is a Route 66 icon. It has been featured in a major motion picture, and is known the world over. It was completed in 1936.” To be fair, I also knew of this “icon”, having found reference to it while exploring an on-line discussion of what to look for along Route 66. But to actually find anyplace on the historic Route, one must actually travel the Route, or know where to dip onto it, and I’d lost track of all that. So, this really did feel like a “Eureka!” moment, delightful and delicious. It became more so as we explored.
Greeting us on the outside were Art Deco architecture, old pumps with the price set at 34.9 (cents) per gallon, an exhibit dedicated to a local DJ, Bill Mack (the Midnight Cowboy), who wound up hanging with country & blues greats and writing songs for them, and (I found this delightful) a bank of Tesla hookups alongside. Inside, we were greeted enthusiastically, as were each of the few stragglers like ourselves who entered, by Martha, the 60 something docent of this small museum and souvenir shop keeping alive the spirit of Route 66. Allan explored the attached café, complete with manikin waitress, and saw the booth where Elvis once ate. I went crazy over the BEST Route 66 souvenirs – they actually had some classy stuff, and Martha was fanatical about wrapping them for our trip so they wouldn’t get broken. I learned that “Cars” was the major motion picture in which the U Drop Inn was featured (or, to be more specific, a graphic rendering of it) and saw the old Post Office from town, the whole of which was inside this small gas station museum. The Post Office consisted of a bank of maybe 50 post boxes, with a window attached to one side and a kind of bulletin board (gotta have somewhere to post those wanted posters) wrapping around the other side. The whole affair is as deep as a post office box. As Martha explained, when one person would get tired of being Post Master of the town, the whole façade would be wrapped around someone else’s front porch, aligned with their front window, and they would take over for a spell! If you’re ever in Shamrock, Texas, please “drop Inn” and say hi to Martha for me. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in several trips to Texas.
A note about another fun “Route 66” experience: this occurred on I-40 in McLean, Texas where we stopped in desperation at a rest stop to use the bathroom. Granted, this rest stop was also designated a tornado shelter, so I can see why it might have been fortified, but it was the biggest, cleanest, fanciest roadside bathroom I have ever used. It also contained its own Route 66 museum and the wall of the women’s bathroom was decked out with a great tile mosaic mural honoring Route 66 (Allan didn’t notice if there was a similar mural in the Gents). My only complaint, after talking with Martha at the U Drop Inn, is that the “66” in the mural is not in the original format, in which the top branches of the 66 do not “wrap around,” but take a less curved trajectory. I will have Allan post pictures of the two, so you too will be “in the know”.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson