Taxi 66

Aug. 8th, 2010 01:18 pm
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They got in on the main city rank, now re-opened at a third the original size. "Can we stop at a bottle-o first?" one asked.

"Right-oh!" I replied. "But where are we going?"

"Formule 1"

"You beauty!" I thought to myself. The Formule 1 motel is one of those cheapo deals out on the highway. $59 a night for a basic room and the dining room is a vending machine.

But it's a nice long fare.

We went through Braddon, stopping at the Bottle-O there. That's the trade name, and it's a good one. Well-stocked grog shop, free parking outside, off-licence to print money, it is.

One of the two young men went inside and I hit the "Pause" button on the meter. It was going to be a good fare and people who stay at cheap motels are reaching into their own pockets to count the pennies. I look after them.

The guy in the back seat, a fairly chunky sort of fella, caught sight of the "Route 66" keyring I have bluetacked to the dashboard. It's one I bought at the Route 66 museum in Chandler, OK last year, and I keep it there for daydreaming purposes. That half day spent exploring the old road between Tulsa and Oklahoma City was a very happy one!

"I'm going to ride Route 66 next year with my father," he said. "We'll pick up the Harleys in Detroit, ride them to LA, and ship them home."

Wow! What a trip! This chap immediately had my attention.

His mate got back in, with a six pack of Jim Beams to help the night ahead go down, and we set off on Canberra's own Mother Road. Northbourne Avenue.

We talked Route 66 and the USA all the way. The food, the cars, the motels, the people. I mentioned that I'm planning my own father-son trip along Route 66 next year. From the other side of the generation gap. Myself, my son and my daughter.

I had lusted after a rental Mustang, but looking at the reviews it sounds like it wouldn't be as much fun for the third person, sitting in the cramped back seat, peering out through a couple of tiny side windows. I'd be doing a lot of the driving, but some of the time it would be me in the back seat, and I wanted to enjoy the experience.

So we'll likely hire something with a bit of size and a bit of style. A Chrysler 300C would be ideal. Lots of room for people and baggage, space for extras, a bunch of buttons to press and an image that is unmistakably All-American.

Not as much fun as a Harley, to be sure, but I'm not a Harley kind of guy. I wished my passengers the best for the trip, put my foot down and whipped off in a cloud of dust for the airport, where I watched the planes climb into the night sky and sent my thoughts with them.

Earlier that day, a package from Amazon had arrived, containing a DVD: Route 66: Producer's Picks.

Not a lot to do with Route 66 as such, but for the feeling of driving through Sixties America in a classy car, there's nothing to beat it. The black and white scenes, the corny live-to-camera adverts, the unforgettable theme music, the guest appearances of later stars, the thought-provoking plots, and above all the lifestyle, it's a pleasure to watch.

I've got a bunch of maps and guidebooks, any number of websites, and all my dreams to keep me going until next year.

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Starved for Route 66 material, I browsed Amazon, and of course there was lots!

Here's a novel, based around the old road, which I threw in, along with a guidebook for my big trip next year.

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

A poignant trip along a very elderly Route 66. Ella has more medical problems than a medium sized city, and husband John's memory is very random access indeed. It's not quite the lame leading the blind, but both need each other as they head off down the Mother Road.

Luckily, they own a much-loved RV, a Leisure Seeker with two big captain's chairs up front and a tiny house in back. Bed, table, kitchen and dinky bathroom. A self-contained home to replace the one they left behind in Detroit, but every now and then they lash out on a room in a roadside establishment. The Lincoln Motel in Chandler, where I've had a Route 66 experience. A Radisson in California, where Ella exclaims that she doesn't want to buy the place, just sleep there for a night.

There's the highway, sometimes loved, sometimes buried under their more modern four or six lane, sometimes ignored in favour of a convenient Interstate. The hokey diners, the tourist traps, the faded remnants. And here and there the narrow old road, weeds poking up through the gaps in the slabs, sometimes taking a second life as a service road, sometimes missing pieces like John's memory.

The children, left behind, to John's occasional consternation, but adults now themselves, married and children of their own, understandably concerned at their fragile parents taking off like this. There are occasional sad and funny phone conversations, but really, what can they do about their wayward folks? Call out the police?

The relationship is old and comfortable, beginning to fray on the practical points, but still as loving as ever. Ella is the voice of the novel, and to my mind she sounds exactly like TexasWren in her clear good spirits, her straightforward approach to life's joys and challenges, her down-to-earth observations of people and places along the way.

There are surprises aplenty. Courage, confusion, tenderness and turmoil at every bend in the road. The old campervan chugs along, the captain at the helm, still licensed and solid, even if his memory is somewhere back in the Sixties. The airconditioning is fading, the floor is cluttered with rubbish, the exhaust leaks, the tape player chews tapes, but it keeps going on, so long as there's road ahead and love inside.

I hated to see this novel end. Like all journey books, it's a pleasure to travel along, enjoying the scenery, the sun rising over the desert, the clutter of small towns, the glory of rivers, the tackiness of the tourist parks. But there's Santa Monica coming ever closer, and the pages thinning out like Ellas's silver hair.

There's an ending that is kind of satisfying, kind of sad. Disneyland was never like this.

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It's Easter. 0300 on Easter Saturday. Normally, this time of a Saturday morning I'd be thinking about my last fare of a busy night, gassing the cab up, washing it, vacuuming it out and getting home to bed.

But I figured, Good Friday, it'll be a quiet evening, why should I spend it sitting on random cab ranks to find out I've been working for five bucks an hour?

So I made dinner for the family - salmon with antipasto, egg noodles and a thick tomato sauce. A bit worried about mixing pasta and antipasto, but it worked out okay and nobody went hungry.

We went through a bottle of wine. A sweetish wine which DD liked, but Kerri didn't, so she had some Pepsi Max before taking herself off to listen to an audiobook, while DD, DS and I finished off the bottle. And then hunted around for any other readily available alcohol, short of opening a warm bottle of shiraz or something.

I updated DS on the upcoming travels. He's an easy-going spirit and if he's happy just trundling along day to day - which he usually is - then things tend to pass him by. "What, you're travelling around the world next week? Why didn't I know about this? Who's going to cook dinner?"

"I get dibs on Mum's car!" DD crowed. A step up from the jaunty yellow Getz she drives. It's a fun car to rollick around town in, but short on comforts like cruise control and seats with decent padding.

Tweety the yellow Getz.
Sylvester the silver Mazda 2 DS drives.
And Greg the Golf. Kerri's car - I rarely need to drive anywhere.

I listed the itinerary. Basically, DD wants lollies bought at every exotic stop along the way, especially Turkish Delight from Turkey. She tells me I can buy a few kilos of whatever weirdness we find in Kyoto. I might make more of a token effort this time around and make up for the deficit with a big bag of Ghirardelli squares in San Francisco. After all, I've got to lug all this stuff around.

And then we got to talking about travels past and future. DD and I went RTW on points last July. We had a ball in every First lounge we could find, usually boarding the onward flight sozzled on good booze, all the better to fall asleep in our comfy Economy chairs.

Two weeks and seven great cities and we basically walked our feet off in every one of them. Had a tonne of fun. We giggled and remembered some of the highlights. One day I've got to write about the Most Expensive Brownie in the World, just as an excuse to blog about Paris.

This upcoming trip is more leisurely. Five wonderful cities and a four day roadtrip spread over three weeks, Kerri and I.

Boston and New England in August, still sketching in details, though I've made a few key bookings.

Next April will be the big Route 66 roadtrip. My day driver, his wife, DD and me, two friends. Three weeks, San Francisco to Washington DC and return, one direction being a trip along all of Route 66, likely in loose convoy.

DS expressed interest, especially when I mentioned the cheap, abundant and largely carnivorous food.

I'm accumulating Route 66 material at an alarming rate. Guides, maps, songs, videos, novels... In Chicago I'll have two days and a car, so I'm hoping to get some time to do a little bit of the Chicago end, down to Wilmington, perhaps, where there is a ginormous thing.

Mmmmm. Half the fun of a trip is in the planning.

Once we'd polished off the ready alcohol, we cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher and snored off to sleep.

Today I'll start getting out my bags and assembling the things I need to take. Thursday arvo and my day driver, revelling in a whole rich day of the cab to himself, will pick up Kerri and I for the short fare to Canberra International Airport.

Only five more sleeps!
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Roadtrip music

Isn't that the dream? The everyday world is behind you, there's a long road ahead, rising and curving to a far destination. Days and night stretch out, diners, service stations, motels, bridges, toilet blocks and a growing litter of wrappers and empty bottles in the back seat.

Hit the play button and let's get this show on the road!

Hit the road

  • On the Road Again – Willie Nelson. On the road again, just can't wait to get back on the road again, going places that I've never been, seeing things that I may never see again. Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway, we're the best of friends, insisting that the world keep turning our way.

  • Holiday Road – Lindsey Buckingham. National Lampoon's American Vacation. Oh boy. This is the theme to the Griswald family adventure in the American Queen Family Truckster. Watch the movie, do the exact opposite, you'll be sweet.

  • America – Simon and Garfunkel. Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike / They've all gone to look for America... Isn't that what we're about? Looking for America on the roads, on the roadside, from the scenic viewpoints, in the diners. Everywhere.

  • Get your Kicks (on Route 66) – Nat King Cole. There are a million versions of this song, but no Route 66 roadtrip would be worth it without at least one. Just the listing of cities along the route gets the mind racing over the map.

  • On the Road Again – Canned Heat. One of my very favourite road songs. Willie Nelson is all very well, but this is a different road the Heat are talking about, one that's buzzing and bopping. Get your motor running, pump the gas and blast off for adventure!

  • Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf. Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes our way. Yup!

  • Route 66 – David Campbell. Another version, a few gears up from Nat King Cole and his mellow cruising. Campbell is non-stop. Even when he's spelling it out. S-T-O-P, he says at a million miles an hour.


  • Let's Go to San Francisco – The Flower Pot Men. Forget the end of Route 66 at Santa Monica. I don't particularly like LA. But head on up the coast highway with those amazing views and hit out San Francisco, that delightful, whimsical, colourful, magnificent city by the bay. You want to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and keep going north? The chance is there.

  • San Francisco Bay Blues – Eric Clapton. Clapton the Amazing. Just sit me on a vantage point overlooking that fabulous bay, whether it's sitting on the dock of the bay or on a cable car halfway to the stars, Alcatraz moored out in the blue water, and I'm supremely happy.

  • New York, New York – Frank Sinatra. If we're going to buy an old NYC hack, then we've got to think on New York. What a fabulous place it is in those bustling streets at the bottom of ranges of skyscrapers. Hustle on the corners, cheer on the Yankees, look out from the Empire State Building. There's a bazillion songs, movies and books written about New York, and if America is to be found, here's a great place to begin looking for it!

  • Chicago – Frank Sinatra. Route 66 begins in Chicago. Let's anchor our trip here, look around that toddlin' town, see if we can find America in the brash heart of the nation. Set our wheels on the starting point and hit the gas!

  • Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison. OK, we aren't going to Kansas City, but hey, Kansas City, here we come! It's a state of mind, it's the land of princesses for the wandering kings of the road, it's a drink on a street corner, it's a journey just thinking on it. Besides, I loved Kansas City!

  • San Francisco – Nancy Sinatra. San Francisco, open your golden gate! Look. You can't have too many songs about San Francisco. End of story.

  • I Left my Heart in San Francisco – Tony Bennett. This is the ultimate romanticising of that bayside burg. And you know what? It's all true. Union Park, there's Tony's heart standing on a corner, cable cars rattling past, palm trees whispering above. It's here. Just leave your heart at the door, sir.

  • San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in your Hair) – Scott Mckenzie. There's no great songs about LA. But albums full of anthems for this quirky city full of gentle people. The people make the city. It's true. They have the most mellow, laid-back lifestyle, bookshops and cafes, hills and sun, parks and frisbees, bay windows and lagoons. This is California. This is a place to love and be happy.

  • Graceland – Paul Simon. No, we're not hitting Memphis, not without a long diversion way down through Missouri. But this is all about going somewhere. A pilgrimage through songs and memories, ghosts and empty sockets. But let's just bop along, falling, flying, tumbling, bouncing into Graceland. Looking for love, looking for America in every roadside attraction, every Big Blue Whale, every hokey motel, every tourist trap with a slushie and rack of hats.

In the zone

  • Runnin' Down a Dream – Tom Petty

  • King of the Road – David Campbell. I love David Campbell's upbeat cover of this classic song. We might not be jumping the rattler, but we'll be kings of the road, just for a week or so. Wave at the kids, grab a burger, straighten your paper crown and jingle the souvenir key ring jewels. Nobody telling us what to do, we're kings!

  • Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads. We know where we're going, but we don't know where we've been. We're somewhere in the middle, just belting along. Maybe Paradise ahead, here we go, here we go!

  • Mustang Sally – The Commitments. Maybe we won't drive an old Yellow Cab. Maybe we'll drive a Mustang down Route 66. That's the dream. All you want to do is ride around, Sally. Ride, Sally, Ride!

  • Truckin' – The Grateful Dead. It's all the same. Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on! Arrows of neon and flashing marquees on the main street. Chicago, New York, Detroit, it's all the same street. What a long strange trip it's been!

  • America the Beautiful – Barbra Streisand. We may not find America on the road amongst the eighteen-wheelers and Winnebagos, but we can find her soul in a song. Purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain, from sea to shining sea! Listen to the emotion in her voice. she loves this place, its lands, its peoples, its ideals. Here it is.



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