Route 66: Ghost Road Of Okies

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At the end of Route 66, at the end of our ride back into the history of the great migrant route, Okie Paul remembered Marcy, Simpson, and Beale. He didn’t know their names, he didn’t know the years of their trip or the purpose of those who came after, but he knew about the road, knew that, like him, they had traveled it and survived. Like all of the Okies we interviewed who followed Route 66 during the Depression, Okie Paul seems to epitomize what California writer Gerald Haslam ( Okies: Selected Stories ) describes as that quality that is “tough, able, complex.” “Perfection,” Haslam says, “is not an Okie characteristic, but a blues-like ability to accept adversity with grace and grit is. And they have not forgotten how to laugh at themselves.”

Nor have they forgotten the travails of forty years ago, these keen historians; and their memories are the final heritage of the road. Today, in place of the old color and life are the familiar plastic and glass and concrete rest stops and off-ramp clusters of service stations and motels and quick-food restaurants. No more homemade apple pies, real milk shakes, real coffee; no more place to skinny-dip in the Colorado on a hot afternoon, farms with fruit stands run by the youngest kid in the family, advertisements reading “Chew Mail Pouch” on the sides of barns; no more Burma Shave rhymes, Giant Snake farms, Teepee motels, and “rooms for rent.” Route 66, the Osage Trail, the Wire Road, the mail route, the emigrant road, the Main Street of America, has vanished almost without a trace. The mother road is a ghost road.