Thu, Jun

The Spirit of 66

RETHINKING LA - A young couple from Barcelona rented a car in Chicago and set out on a self-guided tour of America’s historic Route 66, a journey that would take them along the “Mother Road” where they planned to visit the old filling stations, eat at the homey diners, stay at the rustic motels, shop at the dusty Museums, and collect Route 66 experiences.

Ramon and Cristi were still in Illinois when they stopped at Staunton, a small town of 5,000 people that is host to Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, a classic roadside attraction that offers Route 66 tourists a collection of rabbits, both furry and VW, as well as Route 66 memorabilia galore.

The young couple wandered in, soaked up the Route 66 charm, made a $5 purchase with a $20 bill, and were given $5 in change. They were shorted $10 by the shopkeeper.

Tourists getting shortchanged is hardly news these days, but this took place on Route 66, America’s Main Street.

Rich Henry, the proprietor of Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, reports it wasn’t until the young couple had left that he realized his mistake. “They didn’t say anything,” he wrote when he appealed to the Route 66 mailing group for help, “I wish they would have.”

Rich put out the word to his network and urged everybody on Route 66 to keep on the lookout for “a young Spanish couple in a white vehicle” and then he pleaded “please give them a $10 bill and I will reimburse you ASAP for it.”

Within hours he started getting responses. From Amsterdam, “I cannot help from Holland but have to say that this is spoken like a true gentleman.” From Webb City, Oklahoma, population 300, “We thought we found your couple, they did not speak English nor did they understand why I was trying to give them money. Turns out “Raul and Laura” were driving a red Chevy, we’re still looking!”

Ramon and Cristi continued on their journey and travelled through Missouri and into the southeast tip of Kansas where they stopped in the small town of Galena, population 3287, at an old service station run by “Four Women on the Route.”  Out in front of the station is an old tow truck named “Tow Tater” that served as the inspiration for the character “Tow Mater” in the movie Cars.

Melba Rigg was on duty as the young couple from Barcelona pulled into the parking lot and she was ready when they came inside, first making sure it was Ramon and Cristi and then presenting them with a $10 bill. “It was so cool...they looked me like I was a nut...’this lady is giving us free money’...when I told them why, they took a few minutes and then they understood, they were so nice...I told them we were a big family!”

Rich Henry got the word from Melba that his debt had been paid and he wrote “What a nice ending and I feel better for it.” Yoda, another Route 66 mailing group member, chimed in, adding “What a great end to this story! Route 66 is not just tarmac, it’s a living, breathing network of people stretching over 2448 miles!”

Well, they were both right and they were both wrong. It was great but it wasn’t the end, not by a long stretch of Route 66.

Ramon and Cristi continued on their journey where they encountered Route 66 strangers who treated them as old friends. Passing through Afton, Oklahoma, population 1073, they met Laura Kane of the Route 66 Afton Station who reports “They couldn’t understand why everywhere they went, people were offering them $10. They indicated that the folks on Route 66 must be the nicest and most honest people in the world.”

The folks in Phelan, California kept on the lookout in anticipation of their Spanish guests, this time with a microphone in hand instead of a $10 bill. In the words of James M Conkle, editor of the Route 66 Pulse, (http://www.route66pulse.com/) “This story is really what Route 66 is all about.”

By now, Ramon and Cristi have probably made it to California, winding through Highland Park and China Town, meandering down Sunset Boulevard and then turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard for the drive to the Pacific Ocean.

The folks in East Hollywood (http://Route66Hollywood.com) were watching for them, in fact Linoleum City actually had the red carpet out, but in all that traffic, there’s a good chance the tourists from Spain probably slipped by and made their way to the end of Route 66.

Except that’s not possible because Route 66 never ends, it’s the place where great adventures start and it’s the journey where great friendships are made. Most importantly, to generations of people from all over the world, Route 66 will always the road of new beginnings.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:           [email protected] .) –cw

Tags: Route 66, Mother Road, Barcelona, Chicago, East Hollywood

Vol 9 Issue 69
Pub: Aug 30, 2011