Friday, April 12, 2013

Route 66, Post Number 1

Ok, I am finally getting around to writing about my trip to Chicago. I am going to split it up over a few different posts, of whatever length I feel like, at whatever rate I choose. I get roughly 20 uninterrupted minutes a day to write these days, if I am lucky. Bear with me.

 It has now been a month and a half since I left Los Angeles, and I have yet to offer the city the valediction I produced for Strasbourg (of course, given that I spread that particular farewell over the better part of three months or near-daily posting, you can hardly blame me). I don’t think anyone who knows me would be surprised to learn that I failed to fall in love with Los Angeles, even as it gave me a couple of daughters, a host of new friends and the means to fulfill one or two boyhood dreams. On the other hand, everyone I knew who lived there assured me that they came to love the city – it just took them five or six years. Los Angeles does not give her favours away easily, and I had only three years to charm her.

If I never got to know Los Angeles the right way, then I could at least leave it the right way. Given that Chicago was my final destination, the right way could only be via Route 66, asphalt muse of troubadors of Americana and Dust Bowl nostalgists for decades.

The reason people go the other way: Beach volleyball the morning we left, ice skating the evening we arrived. 
My companions on the road were to be the same trio that stood idly by my side as I recklessly married Amynah lo those many years ago (thus putting me on a path that lead to me moving from Los Angeles to Chicago in the first place). Like the Avengers, each heeded my call and left the comforts of their hearth and home, abandoning uncomprehending children and understanding wives to assemble in Los Angeles (making me Nick Fury, I guess?). We gave ourselves one week in February to drive 2,451miles (3,945 kilometers), from the mellow warmth of So-Cal into the late-winter charms of the Windy City.
We began our journey Sunday morning at the traditional “end” of Route 66, the Santa Monica Pier, scene of a million cinematic first dates, breakups, criminal escapes, gun fights, and dance parties. We gazed idly over the Pacific, noted the Santa Monica police SUV with a surfboard mounted on its roof (in case some enterprising thief tried to steal someone’s good vibes or something?).
We shoved off set course for the east: through Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywoods West- and Regular, through Silver Lake and into the belly of downtown, up to Pasadena, and then through the sprawl of the northeastern suburbs – Acadia, Monrovia, Temple City et al. At some point we joined the Interstate, hopping on and off where the old 66 re-asserted itself (it was at this point of the day that we put on “Call Me Maybe” for the first of what would prove to be many times. There is video. I will post it, pending permission).

It was on one of these stretches that we encountered Elmer Long and his “Bottle Tree Ranch.” It’s hard for words to describe what Elmer created out in the middle of the Mojave, but I’ll try: a shaded oasis of iron and glass, welded trees displaying a glittering foliage of bottles and cast-off power-line fuses, each topped with pawn-shop oddities and antiques salvages from junk yards and the surrounding desert over the course of decades.
Elmer graciously talked to the four of us for twenty or so minutes, telling us about how, as a child, he and his father would go searching for treasure in the desert. Over the years he piled up an enormous trove of glass, metal, old guns, typewriters and California Highway Patrol motorcycle helmets. One day, the inspiration struck to turn it into an art installation, and so the Ranch was born. There were easily a few hundred “trees” up already – some bearing bottles more than a century old -  and Elmer said he had thousands more to put up. It would have been easy to have spent hours there, and Elmer certainly seemed amenable to chatting, but the road was calling.

 To be continued....

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