California Kicks on Route 66
Route 66, the Mother Road, the Mainstreet of America, an overflow of Okies sailing on the literary waters of Steinbeck's river of immigrants. Whatever. Accordng to the Route 66 song, "It winds from Chicago to L.A....more than 2,000 miles all the way." Somewhere along the long and winding road of history it took the off-ramp at high speed, with the pop culture pedal to the metal and ended up as an iconic piece of American asphalt folklore that attracts an international fan base from Norway to Japan.
The mating of Route 66 and the automobile gave birth to an entire spectrum of roadside culture that included meeting the motoring public's need for roadside diners and cafes, gas stations, neon motels for lodging, drive-in theaters that doubled as teen passion pits, and drive-in fast food joints loaded with rock and roller skating carhop karma. Historically, it was also the setting for Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," and subsequently the film of the same name. Both book and film were considered socialist radicalism at the time, however, the book won the Pulitzer Prize and the film walked away with the Academy Award. Three cheers for socialism in the Thirties! Back in the tie-dyed, Altered States of Sixties America, as a purple-hazed, double-dazed punk all of 16 or 17, I lived in Haight Ashbury. On occassion I would visit the midwest where I was born, plaid and proud in Michigan -- the state shaped like a hand. I would leave the street scene behnd, hit the road, grab my backpack, old weathered canvas, beat and stained with "road dirt," and head down the coast to L.A., then east out of Southern California thumbing on Route 66, hopping rides as a stranger in a strange land of strangers' cars and trucks who didn't mind a young vagrant in the front seat or cab with them. As I headed east, I would pass right through the unseen westbound ghosts of Steinbeck's Tom Joad. Today, most of the old road is gone, decommissioned, and vaporized in the name of progress. There are, however, some remarkable stretches that have suvived the interstate transformation beckoning to the asphalt adventurer with the ferver of an aging truckstop hooker hailing a customer. For the time being, forget the hooker, it's time to buckle up and hit the road to get your Kush kicks on Route 66.
First Stops: Needles, Daggett, Calico, CaliforniaEntering California from Arizona, the first sign of civilization you'll come to is the town of Needles. Don't let the name frighten you, it's not a hypodermic haven of Tompkins Square junkies transplanted from New York City. Needles can boast ten continuous miles of historic Route 66 that runs through town like an IV pumping nostalgia to feed your asphalt addiction. It's a motherlode of Mother Road motel glitz and naughty night-time neon, not to mention the historic Harvey House built in 1906. You can also get your Fifites rock and roll kicks on Route 66, not to mention a wild west shoot out or two. Now, that's entertainment! Just before Barstow, you'll come to the town of Daggett. It's a time warp adventure back to the future of the Fabulous Fifties at Peggy Sues 50's Diner that is an original roadside diner built in 1954 and has a rebel without a cause menu featuring, The Marlon Brando Cheeseburger, Mickey Mouse Club Sandwich, and a James Dean Burger. Next, you can take the Bill and Ted excellent adventure just five miles up the road, to get your rip roarin wild west fix at the ghost town of Calico, that has very real shops, restaurants, camping and outdoor recreational opportunities. But the most fun, and what you really came for, are the daily shoot outs with a drunken lady outlaw who shoots a hungover sheriff, and all gracefully re-enacted on the dusty streets of Calico to the theme song of "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly!"
Barstow and San BernardinoNext stop...Barstow! If there is one asphalt kickin'town in California for Route 66, it's gotta be Barstow. You can get a '66 kicks fix at the Harvey House Route 66 Mother Road Museum. The Museum displays a collection of historic photographs and artifacts related to Route 66 and the Mojave Desert Communities. To continue your westward journey, from Barstow, I-40 morphs into I-15 and that will take you into the San Barnardino National Forest and then, into San Berdoo! The original home of McDonalds and one of the largest car cruises on this side of the Solar System. The best way to celebrate Route 66's automotive roots is with one hell of an asphalt kickin Route 66 Classic Car Rendezvous. It all happens every September in San Bernardino and is the nations largest automotive Route 66 cruise that revs it up for four solid days. Over a half a million people descend on the town for the cruise to enjoy live music and of course, over 2,000 pre-1974 Motor City Mo'sheens! Tired of Super 8's or pitching your own tent? How about calling it a night in a Wigwam? The California Wigwam Motel was built within the city limits of San Bernardino in 1949. This location would mark the final of seven Wigwam Motels that were constructed. The motel's village-style arrangement of nineteen 30-foot-tall tepees are made from wood framing, concrete and stucco, and each one is equipped with an outdoor barbecue grill.
And Finally... Santa MonicaThe road meanders through the congestion of the expanded environs of L.A. including San Bernardino and Pasadena before "dead ending" at beach party central in Santa Monica perched on the Pacific Ocean shore waiting for Scooby Do and the gang to surf the wild waves. Santa Monica is home to numerous museums and art galleries including murals and tons of three dimensional works of art to please the proletarian street art afficianado. On art center with the gravity pull of Jupiter is the Bergamot Station, a cultural center located in a renovated industrial building and today houses 35 art galleries. There is the South Bay Bicycle Trail that goes along the beach oceanside for over 20 miles, a farmers market and of course, the Santa Manica Pier with aquarium, arcades and amusement park. It even includes a solar powered ferris wheel! So get your Kush kicks and your Route 66 fix in Southern California from the desert in the east to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean on the coast. If you look hard enough as you travel the route, that stranger with his thumb out just east of Barstow, just may be the ghost of Tom Joad, so slow down, and give him a lift. John Steinbeck will thank you for it.
Mike Marino has made his "roadhead" bones and enjoy's nothing better than a greasy, unfolded map on the seat of the car...a bag of beef jerky and smoked fish and a cream soda to wash it all down as the highway and the steel belts play a meloldy of asphalt. Originally a product of the Motor City, Mike has lived in on the streets and on the beach in Hawaii, as well as in Haight Ashbury and the North Beach neighborhoods in San Francisco. Mike is also founder of the Experimental Theater Workshop, The Spare Change Artists Project, and the Dung Zen Sustainable Living Project. He is primarily though a freelance magazine writer of pop culture, car culture, travel and history for numerous publications and he enjoys Hawaiian shirts, classic cars, Ed Wood Movies, fuzzy dice and hula dashboard ornaments as well as a good Hemmingway cigar, Corona beer, hiking and backpacking and rummaging through flea markets and auto junkyards. email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org