The Faded Glory of Route 66

Posted on
Oct 4, 2017
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Posted in: Uncategorized

My immigrant parents, while bestowing upon me the gift of worldliness, with their accents and many passports and the ease with which they code-switched, yelling at one another in English, German, Italian, and Russian, left a glaring omission in my childhood: there was no Americana.

It was not that America itself was absent from my formative years – indeed, it couldn’t be. I was an American, and my home was here. But my parents’ version of this country always had a European slant: my father telling me to go to Katz’s delicatessen, my mother’s knowledge of strange pieces of American pop culture that somehow had made their way across the pond. There was always something missing, some element of the heartland that wasn’t present.

Westward expansion fascinated me, but did not run in my veins.

When my husband first mentioned that we visit part of Route 66 while we were in New Mexico, I was confused. I couldn’t remember if it was real, like The Enchantment Under The Sea dance that I keep thinking is part of historical record and not simply a plot point from Back to the Future.

Later in our trip, at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albequerque.

But that road exists – like Marty McFly it may have faded at bit over the course of its adventures, but it never fully disappeared. It is not what it once was. Then again, none of us are. Roads, at least, can be repaired.

 

When I first saw this iconic strip of land, one that had been immortalized again and again in song and film, it was under repair, choked with traffic. The businesses along it had signs from the road’s heyday that now expressed disapproval of an impending rapid transit system.

 

There were nods to the people who lived here before a belt of asphalt ran through it.

 

There were signs that hearkened to the atomic age, which shaped New Mexico’s past.

 

Later, as the sun set and the sky grew dark, I went to a diner with the most handsome man in the world, and he regaled me with stories that I don’t remember under neon lights.

I think we were talking about Back to the Future. We are almost always talking about Back to the Future.

 

Later, I tried to take a photo of the two of us and failed.

 

Twice.

Some of us are Americans, but we feel excluded from our country’s history for a variety of reasons. I’m lucky enough and privileged enough that I can try and reclaim it. I interject myself into settings that are foreign to my family, and I make them part of my history. It’s a gift. There, on Route 66, with him and those damn eyes of his, I unwrapped it slowly.


Also published on Medium.

Leave a Comment

  • This is lovely. Also, the photos remind me of a roadtrip I did across the US about 7 years ago, except you two definitely look like you had less arguments than me and my (unsurprisingly, now ex) boyfriend did. We would have been on the Greyhound through this bit of the country. That shit’s make or break. Anyway, one of the things I found about seeing these “iconic” parts of America was that I felt like I knew and had seen them depicted in so many films before I got there, yet the reality was always so different wherever I went – it was exactly as you put it, familiar, but faded.

  • I drove through when I was there last week too, and it was interesting. All the construction sort of ruined it for me, but I’ve been through other parts of Old Route 66, like in Arizona, that were still mostly intact. It’s an interesting part of our history, for sure.

  • Ruth Frank

    Many years ago on a road trip to New Orleans we spent the night in Tucumcari, New Mexico (along the old Route 66). I think we only stopped because I liked to say the name over and over. Your photos are beautiful.

  • Katie Bell

    I haven’t explored Route 66 in New Mexico despite driving a large part of it. I do love the kitschy all-Americaness of Route 66 though from my explorations of the Mother Road in Arizona. And I always love Diners.

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