Thursday, December 11, 2008

Middle Aged Crazy, Convertibles, and Route 66

From Route 66

All my life, I've been fascinated with the legend of Route 66.

There was the popular TV show when I was an impressionable kid, aptly and simply titled "Route 66". In this show, two guys travel the country in a sharp Corvette convertible, to a sharp theme song. There is the other song, notably by Manhattan Transfer and Harry Connick, Jr., "If you ever....plan to motor west...". Lucy, Rick, Fred and Ethel kinda-sorta took Route 66 (at least part of it) on their epic trip to California. More recently, the movie "Cars" (one of my favourites) paid homage to the great "Mother Road".

Although I lived in California, I never DROVE there. I had a company car in Dallas which I turned in (Buick Skylark, burgandy/tan interior), and a company car which I picked up in LA (Chevrolet Caprice Estate Wagon--I was an "Assistant Associate Junior Executive" (Dagwood Bumstead's official title), so I got hand-me-down company cars...). So, as much as I've been to California, I've always FLOWN.

I'm bad about cars and shoes. Shoes, just call me Imelda. I have to stay out of DSW Shoe Warehouse like a drunk has to stay out of Spec's.

My (partial) list of cars (includes some, but not all, of the company cars; I can't remember them all): 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer 1966 Chevelle SS 396 1974 Vega 1975 Nova LN 1978 Chevrolet Malibu 1979 Ford Fairmont 1982 Toyota Celica 1980 Buick Skylark 1980 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham 1980 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate Wagon 1983 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1984 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1985 Chevrolet Caprice Classic 1987 Volvo 1987 Ford Taurus 1989 Lincoln Town Car 1990 Dodge Dynasty 1993, 1994, 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier 1996, 1997 Dodge Neon 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan

I've always been car-crazy. My Aunt Shorty used to tool around in a Cadillac Convertible deVille. One of our neighbors growing up had a red Mustang convertible. In 1975, when I was a senior in high school, my cousin Jim's wife Marshall (whom I still think is one of the most gorgeous women I've ever personally seen) drove up at a family gathering in a 1975 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, powder blue, white leather interior, with her hair tied in a scarf a la Audrey Hepburn. I thought she was a movie star. Speaking of Audrey Hepburn, she drives a convertible in Roman Holiday and is gorgeous as ever... My brother in law, Phil, had a Miata convertible that he loved knocking around in. I thought that thing was GREAT. He sold it to his brother, drat the luck.

In any event, I have always been fascinated with the West, Route 66, and cars, especially convertibles, although I never owned one. I love travel, always have.


Fast forward to 2007. I was living in Malvern, Arkansas, doing the elder-care thing with Mother and Dad. I was running Compensation Managers (which was pretty easy to do). I was bored, depressed, and fat. On February 11, 2007, I turned 50 years old and pretty much had the standard American Male Middle Age Crisis. I was casting around for something (anything!) to break the monotony. Bored, lonely, depressed, fat. I had about $3,500 in a savings account, just little bits and pieces I'd saved. Figured I'd use it in an emergency. Well, if Fat-n-Fifty, bored, lonely and depressed isn't an emergency, what is? ;-)

So, what to do about it? I could have a helluva trip to Europe on $3,500, but then the money would be gone and I would be home and nothing would change. I was surfing the internet and got to thinking about convertibles. I'd just always figured them to be out of my league financially, and of course impractical as well. But the internets is an amazing thing. You can find all sorts of websites featuring all sorts of things., for example. for another. So I typed in "Convertible" and "$3,500" just to laugh at what jumped up---and was very surprised to learn that I could get a --not too old, not too worn-- convertible for LESS than the money I had available.

After considerable shopping (and not telling a soul), I settled on a black 1997 Chrysler Sebring jxi, gray leather interior. I called the lady up, she was most anxious to sell, and I agreed to come look at it. One thing: it was in Corona, California (Los Angeles). So what? I had some free Southwest tickets, so why not? Worst that could happen, I get there, don't like the car, and fly back home having had a weekend in SoCal. SoI told everyone I was taking Friday and Monday off. I declined to say where I was going.


At 6:00 am, I departed Little Rock Adams Field for Ontario Int'l Airport; she met me in the car. As soon as I drove it, I was shocked: it drove amazingly well. I loved it immediately. The previous owner (long story about not much: the lady owned a mechanic shop; the guy had a lot of work done and then didn't pay; he signed the car title over to her and she was selling) had taken the radio, so she and I drove to a stereo shop where I had a new Pioneer stereo put in.

I paid her cash and she signed the title and there I sat in Corona, California, at 1:00 in the afternoon PST, under a gorgeous Southern California sunny sky, in my brand-new-used 1997 convertible (License plate: "40 Oz"; the prior owner had been a young african-american gentleman, and I think he liked the 40 ounce beers ;-), thinking, "My GOD, what the HELL have I done!??!"

God not deigning to answer that question (knowing full well what I had done), I took the car to the nearest Jiffy Lube and had the oil changed while I sat at Denny's and had lunch. I then located a Wal-Mart, bought a flat of "Sam's Choice" water, a new Rubbermaid ice chest (gray, to match) that just exactly fit the right rear seat; ice; sunscreen; a floppy hat with a tie underneath, tasty snax and a Rand McNally atlas.

Thus equipped, I mapped my route from Corona to Palm Springs (more about my love affair with Palm Springs in another post), and set out for one of my favourite places on earth. Traveling through San Bernardino, I arrived in Palm Springs, top down, tunes blasting, feeling great. Sat by the pool taking in the ambiance and several--ok, many-- lovely views and lovely martinis, got to bed relatively early. Here is my photo of Palm Canyon Drive, taken standing up in the driver's seat:

From Route 66

The next day, I got up, got ready, and went out to the car. Looked at the tires; while they weren't bad, I decided a visit to Sam's in Palm Desert was a good idea. 2 hrs and 4 new Michelins later, I was on the road.

I took the I-10 to Phoenix; that's not strictly "Route 66" but it's the route I decided upon. Crossing the desert, car made it great. 108 degrees in the desert; top up (sun was shining brightly and I'm not THAT stupid), a/c blasting, radio blasting. I actually had the a/c on LESS than the top setting (good old Chrysler AirTemp Air Conditioning, baby).

From Route 66

Cruising along in the desert, I was struck by the austere beauty of the region. Some of the sand looked like it had lain undisturbed from the beginning of time. There was a strong sense of "purple mountains' majesty" as the mountains rose from the sand on either side of the interstate.

From Route 66

Arriving in Phoenix, I was struck (as I always am) by the lack of vegetation in a large, modern, beautiful American city. Every place I've ever lived has had vegetation all over the place; Houston, my current home, is basically where the Piney Woods of East Texas merge with the Coastal Plains grasslands. There's enough vegetation here for the entire STATE of Arizona.

From Route 66

Left Phoenix, headed north on IH 17. It was 115 degrees when I left Phoenix. You climb and climb and climb and then climb some more. 40 oz made it just fine. I was having a grand time, snapping pictures WHILE driving (we will not discuss motoring safety; I am an insurance professional!). Verde Valley was one of my favourite stops.

From Route 66

By the time I got to Sedona (another one of my favourite spots on the planet), it was 60 degrees and I had the top down as the stars were coming out. I had this very loose plan about returning. As an Aquarian, I don't like things just TOO planned out. My Virgo cousin is the exact opposite; any deviation disturbs him greatly. Me, I like to wing it.

From Route 66

So my vague plan was to stop at Flagstaff, Arizona for the night ("Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona..."; I was actually on IH 40 now, the freeway which replaced the "real" Route 66). What I failed to take into consideration was that (a) it was the height of the tourist season, and (b) Flagstaff is the jumping-off place for people touring the GRAND CANYON. Yikes. Every hotel was full, without exception. The restaurants were full of "typical Americans"---white (I saw no blacks at all), fat, and towing a passel of fat white kids with them.

So, I drove on, finally stopping at the Super 8 motel in Winslow, Arizona. I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see; unfortunately, there was no girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me. So, I ate at Denny's (there are millions and millions of Denny's in the west; kind of like McDonald's or Jack in the Box here, they are literally everywhere you look) and went to bed. Next morning, still no sign of the girl, my Lord, in the flat-bed Ford, so I left Winslow and headed east.

Passing across the Painted Desert, again I could not possibly describe the beauty. It was just plain fabulous. I nearly broke my neck and shutter-finger, along with just about wrecking the car, snapping my head right and left and taking pictures. Top down motoring, baby!

From Route 66

At the border of Arizona and New Mexico is the magical place called Window Rock. While the actual "Window Rock" is off the freeway, the range of which it's a part is cut out FOR the freeway. Beautiful. It's also the tribal capital of the Navajo tribe and their sacred ground. A word about the Native Americans: I have in my mind the commercial from the 70's featuring the chief with the single tear running down his cheek. Yeah, well, the modern image is a huge truck stop featuring !!!!INDIAN SOUVENIRS!!!! There are thousands of them. Every gas station. I guess everybody's got to make a living somehow...

From Route 66

Crossing into New Mexico, there was a distinct difference in the desert: LOTS more vegetation. Still just clumps of grass, but it RAINS there. Got to see Gallup, New Mexico. Nothing special, but I've heard about it all my life and it was fun to go there. Made it to Albuquerque and couldn't help but remember another American Icon: Bugs Bunny ("I KNEW I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!"). Well, Bugs, I felt the same way, as the freeway system there is not exactly easy to figure out. I made it though, and when I came out of Albuquerque's valley on the other side of the mountains, suddenly things looked more familiar: it began to be the rolling grasslands of the Great Plains.

From Route 66

I've lived in Texas and Oklahoma and this was starting to look a LOT more familiar.

From Route 66


From Route 66

Crossing into Texas, I had a strange mix of emotions:
  • Relief, because I was at least back in Texas and the trip was going to be ok. I figure, if 40 oz had made it this far (and it had done beautifully, averaging 24 mpg, a/c flawless, water temp gauge straight in the middle of "normal", transmission shifting smoothly, top operating flawlessly), it would get me home.
  • Sadness, because the trip was more than 50% over.
  • Strangeness, because while I was in Texas, all right, I was in the PANHANDLE, with which I have limited experience. My part of Texas is the Dallas/Houston/San Antonio triangle, with Corpus Christi, the Hill Country, and East Texas thrown in. This might be Texas, but it was a long way from anything with which I was familiar.
  • And, finally, Gladness because suddenly, instead of Native Americans and fat white people, there was the more familiar mix of white, black, and hispanic. I stopped at Whataburger (good ol Whataburger!!!! Not Denny's!!!) and the young lady who waited on me was black. Her manager (about 5 minutes older than her) was hispanic. The gal working the window was white. Ahhhh, home at last!
Left Amarillo by sunset (not morning) and headed for Oklahoma City, top down. Thunderheads were brewing (until then the weather was flawless), lighting all up in the 40,000 foot clouds. It never rained on me. I was flying along with the top down, and truly, up there in the clean panhandle air, with no city lights and about 12% humidity, THE STARS AT NIGHT ARE BIG AND BRIGHT, DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS. Millions of stars, the big thunderheads in the background, with lightning. It was breathtaking.

Stopped at a rest area in Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Styled up in my convertible (darkness helped 40 oz's looks a great deal). There was an African-American family in their minivan, top piled with luggage, who stopped at the same time I did. The Dad looked longingly at 40 oz, and said, "Man, I sure do like your car." I thanked him and we got into a conversation (as often happens with me). The family was from CORONA, CALIFORNIA (from whence I had just come). They were headed for PINE BLUFF, ARKANSAS (45 miles from Malvern, where I was going). We laughed about the coincidence, I let his 8 year old son sit behind the wheel with the top down pretending to drive (I remember doing that as an 8 year old), and we were all on our way.

Once I arrived in Oklahoma City, in my mind I was "home". I had spent a LOT of time in the City; knew it well; had stayed in the same mom-and-pop hotel for years and years.

Got up the next morning and drove the 6 hours home to Malvern, top down all the way.

So, that was my Great Middle-Aged Adventure, featuring completely unplanned, spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff trips, convertibles, glacial martinis, Palm Springs, Route 66, deserts, moutains, Indians, new friends, and all the associated memories. It was one of the great adventures of my life. 40 oz and I have parted company; I have a newer convertible now, but I'll never forget her.

It was the cheapest $3,500 I ever spent.

From Route 66

(If you want to see ALL the pictures, they're HERE).

If you ever
plan to motor west,
travel my way, take the highway that's the best!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Now you go through St. Looie,
Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty!
You'll see
Gallup, New Mexico!
Flagstaff, Arizona, (don't forget Winona!) Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino!
If you'll give into this timely tip,
when you make that California trip---
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks....on Route 66!!!


  1. Love the picture of the mattress on top of the SUV.

  2. Malvie thank you for a wonderful and exciting read. You are making me want to see if I can get my wife on a Route 66 road trip. Thank you very much Malvie(Nick)!