Part of the upcoming trip includes 450 miles on old Route 66. Like many people into traveling the United States, I am fascinated with Route 66. Steinbeck called it “The Mother Road,” and it was used by everyone from people escaping the Dust Bowl to members of a little known rock band called The Eagles. Motels and restaurants sprung up along it, thrived for a few decades, and fell into memory with the coming of the interstates in the 60s and 70s. The story is the same with countless US highways all over the United States–why is US 66 singled out? Maybe because it was the road from the plain Midwest to the land of dreams and sunshine known as Los Angeles. My take is that Route 66 has become a symbol of our search for a simpler time that probably wasn’t so simple. Maybe we feel rushed in our fast paced, “Driving 80 down the interstate clutching a commuter cup” lives and dream of when things moved slower and existence was less frantic. This is something else I am going to be exploring when writing and researching my book about the desert–the why.
Route 66 is a fascinating road, but there are other lost highways I am going to be documenting. The West is speckled with ghost towns falling to ruin along a number of secondary roads more pothole than asphalt or cement. At one point these towns thrived; people made millions of dollars in them back when “millions of dollars” was a big deal. Hotels and saloons and churches were built, people invested their time and dreams and fortunes certain their town was going to be another Denver or St. Louis. For a number of reasons that never happened; the dreams died and most of the people left. I look at those crumbling towns and imagine all the hopes and aspirations and am utterly fascinated by it.
And I’m equally fascinated by the people who stayed behind.
Why do people stay in these regions after the mines closed and the dreams moved on? Why do they stay in places where there is little work and the climate is brutal in the summer? When keeps you in a town where you’re a long way from a place to get sushi or a fancy coffee drink or see a first run movie? Why do people remain in these places most of us would consider a barren land?
I ask myself that question all the time, and I am going to do my best to answer it with this book.