You can’t just use it and trash it. You can’t hide what once was. it’ll be there, and it’ll look dead forever unless you keep it alive. This is Route 66; the epitome of what America was and what America sometimes does, sometimes.
What they did instead of keeping the legend alive was build faster and wider roads next to it, a couple of miles to the south or north; and pretending at times that it never really existed. But it’s there, and so are the derelict, rusty memories of the Reagan years. Parts of the original paved legend have survived, but they don’t carry freeloaders on their way to freedom; instead they act as tiny marketing anchors attracting cheap revenue. Tourist traps that will lure explorative city-boys into buying yet another “Best Cheeseburger On Route 66”; which of course, hardly ever matches what promised.
As a touring musician I’ve travelled across America more times that I could have ever imagined. I’ve gone east to west and back, south to north and back. What sets off as one of the most legendary road trips in the world – the American Coast-To-Coast – becomes, through repetition, nothing but exactly that: repetition. An odd blend of boredom and dust; a sticky mix of gasoline and sweat; a seemingly useless time machine that keeps you locked into a repetitive now that seems to be taking you nowhere.
If you’ll ever find yourself in the wonderful position of performing a show in Wichita Falls on a Thursday night and having to make Vegas by Saturday, you’ll feel the anticipatory burden of these dreaded twenty hours of straight road.
Here is what you do. You take Route 287 heading west towards the tip of the panhandle, pass Goodnight and into Amarillo; home of the 72 oz. steak. That’s where you get onto interstate Forty. Pass Cadillac Ranch on your left and stop for gas and food once into New Mexico; there’s a good truck stop somewhere near Santa Rosa. Forty is your road, it’ll take you all the way into Arizona, but before that it’s Albuquerque, Grants, the New Mexico edge of Rocky Mountains and strip of land between the Navajo and Zuni reserves. Next up is Gallup, and Window Rock. You’re crossing the Great Continental Divide, a hydrological line that runs all the way from Alaska to the Tierra Del Fuego. Every drop of rain that falls east of it goes into the Atlantic; and what falls to the west of it, obviously goes into the Pacific.
Once into Arizona it’s one endless strip, a black road cutting through the yellowish, windy desert. Past the petrified forest, past Winslow, and the stunning Flagstaff mountains and forests. That’s just north of Sedona; but you never have the time to stop and explore the red Rockies, not on this round, you’ve got to keep on riding; you’ve got to keep the wheels turning. Remember to bring water, and think gas: you can’t let an empty tank surprise you around here. This is not the East Coast.
Stop for the night west of the forests. Find a good truck stop with plenty of light and you’re safe for the night. Be careful If you feel like taking moonlight stroll into the desert, The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is pretty aggressive and deadly venomous. It’s asleep at night and easy to step onto. It has two dark diagonal lines on each side of its face running from its eyes to its jaws. It has diamond-shaped patterns along its back. The tail has black and white rattles just above the rattles.
Wake up to the sound of idling diesel engines, grab a couple of large coffees and hit the road. When you approach the western part of the state you’ll have The Grand Canyon just to north of you, maybe next time. Keep on driving on Forty and into Kingman. Stop for In-n-Out once you get there, it’s just off the ramp, and it’s the first sign of California getting closer. That’s where you leave Forty and take Route 93 north, and that’s an easy shot. It’s all pretty much uphill, straight, and it’ll surround you with beautiful scenery. Once into the Lake Mead area you ride onto the Hoover Dam and across the Colorado River. That’s Nevada on the other shore. It’s another 40 miles to Vegas, to the strip. You’re almost there. There’s a low-key casino Joint right there on the right, past the Hoover Dam; the vibe is trashy but there’s a good Neil Diamond cover band with a regular afternoon gig and they have a fantastic buffet for $29.99. They have but a few blackjack tables and the poker is nothing to write home about. You’re better off just eating there and move along. Keep on driving, past the residential “cities” of Boulder City and Henderson. Pass Paradise. Get into town. Find the venue. Park the van. Get out, smoke a cigarette. Take a minute. You did it.