Got My Fix – If Not My Kicks – On Route 66
This past Super Bowl weekend, I traveled to the edge of the frontier in the company of a talented and enthusiastic group of photographers. The challenge, among others, was to photograph the perceived "nothing" the lies along a portion of historic Route 66, the 20th Century "Mother Road" of American dreams.
The Industrial Age lives at Tom's Welding in Barstow
Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles, was officially proclaimed in 1929, during the Industrial Age. When the road's official status as a U.S. highway ended, the U.S. had was firmly entrenched in Age of Technology. Model T's had given way to T-Birds. From east to west, Route 66 was supplanted by the four lanes of Interstate 40.
Route 66 didn't entirely disappear. The route that led people out of the Great Depression, though buried or bypassed, still flows here and there on narrow rivers of concrete and asphalt. Chunks of the route can still be followed in reverse, from the Santa Monica Pier, through Los Angeles and Pasadena, to climbs up between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, into the Mojave Desert.
Bike chain ring and chain, Newberry Springs
Taking off from the high desert city of Victorville, Route 66 points north and then east, to reach the quintessential railroad/gas stop town of Barstow. That's where our group met on a sunny Friday afternoon. We came from California, from Maryland and New York, from Washington, from as far away as Malaysia. After introductions were exchanged, and we enjoyed an entertaining and informative talk from Ken Rockwell, we headed out to visit Tom's Welding and Machine shop, where the Industrial Age still lives.
Truck cables, Barstow
Barstow is a nexus for the rail lines that head east to Las Vegas and Chicago and New York, emanating from the great ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The trains carry the t.v. sets and cars and bicycles and toys and furniture and everything else that comes from China and Taiwan and Vietnam and Thailand. Here is where the Interstate highways meet and cross, the I-15 and I-40, and here Highway 58 departs for the west. Eighty years ago, the Depression-era Okies took Highway 58 from Barstow to look for work in the Great Central Valley.
Irrigation device, Barstow
Barstow has a few nice restaurants and some pleasant hotels, new car lots, the Route 66 Museum, the beautifully restored train depot, and lots of friendly people. Barstow, though, and communities like Newberry Springs, Yermo and Amboy are frontier towns. Just beyond their borders the natural world holds sway, the natural world of mountains and sand dunes and cinder cones, of frigid winter nights and hot summer days.
Out along Route 66, out beyond Barstow, there are people who came to the desert a long time ago. Maybe they were teachers, or short order cooks, or they worked for the railroad, or out on the salt flats. They fell in love with the desert, or felt an affinity, consciously or not, for the land beyond the frontier.
A legal alien
Underwater salt piller south of Amboy
Sunset at Roy's Motel and Cafe
The teacher, the cook, the railroad worker are still out there, on or beyond the frontier, in another world than the one from which they came. Our group plugged into their world for a few days, recording it on our cameras not just as it was, but as we thought it was or wanted it or imagined it to be. We photographed a world of lost and forgotten and overlooked dreams. And in so doing, we plugged more deeply into who we are. Then it was time to return to our own world, tucked safely behind the frontier, to the land of our own dreams.
Last Light at Roys
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