Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Route 66 re-visited

Back in the late spring of 2002, Peter and I took a road trip from Oakland to Chicago and then back west along as much of Route 66 as was reasonable. Much of that ride has been previously related, including the little remembrance below. A recent comment on one of my Flickr photos leads me to post this story here.

On my first trip west in 1950, with two friends, we threw a rod just outside the roadside town of Adrian in the Texas panhandle; a curious little oasis of a town consisting of a very small cluster of trees and houses on one side of the highway and a couple of stores and a gas station with restaurant on the other. We chunk-a-chunked the car into the Adrian repair shop and had to wait a couple of days for the parts delivery and repair.

One night, after leaving the local restaurant, five cowboys in their pickup truck cornered us on the dark road leading to our rooming house. They explained that they were cowpunchers who had spent the past month on the range and this was their weekend to howl and they didn't like "City boys" and they wanted to "See who could whup." My two friends panicked a bit; one ran immediately and the other pulled a knife from his pocket and flashed it before he scooted off. The biggest cowboy laughed at that and pulled a rifle from the truck. As he held up the gun, I saw that he wore red fingernail polish.

I held my ground and one of them slammed me in the chest, demanding that I call my friends back so that we could all square off in a fair fight: two of the big ones against my taller friends and the young and shorter one against me. I told the cowboys to play it cool. "Play it cool--what's that?" the red fingernails asked. Somehow, I got them to back off and they climbed back into the truck. As I headed to the rooming house -- no streetlights in that dark night -- my friends came toward me with some men from the house. I hushed them up and told them to drop back out of sight. We went back to the house where my friends shared one room and I had another.

From my upper room, I watched for some time as the pickup truck drove back and forth, as if they couldn't make up their minds whether to drop the matter or not. At one point, they parked the truck nearby and stalked the house. Crouched in my dark room at the open window, I could hear them debating how to get in the house and find "the City Boys." But they obviously did not want trouble from the other men in the house so their resolve seemed to weaken as the booze they were drinking led their thoughts elsewhere.

I slept late the next morning and when I saw my friends, one of them had bought a .22 rifle. I told him he was a lunatic and took it away from him. If any of those cowboys saw him with it he could end up a dead man. Eventually the car engine was repaired and we continued on our way to California.

So, 52 years later, there came up the Route 66 turn off sign for Adrian. I took the dusty old road toward the little patch of buildings and felt a slight tightening in my chest, a curious apprehension that made me drive slowly I think it was a sense of both fear and loss. But I don't know why.

Peter was asleep as I drove around those few drab streets. Adrian wasn't a ghost town; it was a corpse. Some of the weathered old homes were occupied, but I can't imagine why. On the business side of the the road, there was one spiffy little diner/souvenir shop in operation. I was its only customer so far that day.

When I got back in the van, Peter woke up. Adrian seems to me like a dream from which I still haven't woken up. Peter couldn't understand why I would waste time driving around those bumpy little streets, and I couldn't either, but I drove off Adrian with an unknowing sadness. Which I still feel, and still don't understand as I write this.

At any rate, I found again that I really like the road. I do believe I could live very happily with a reasonable pension and a Winnebago.


At August 24, 2005 5:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps sadness from lost youth and the adventure you shared with friends? Perhaps you looked for Adrian to have progressed, as you have? And instead of going forward, it seems to have been dying a long, slow death..

At August 24, 2005 8:25 AM, Blogger BJMe said...

Your comments strike a chord. I don't think much about mortality, but maybe the two Adrian experiences connect youth and aging into the inescapable realization that all life is also a long, slow death. Fortunately, I enjoy mine, but the highway has passed Adrian by a long time ago and I feel an empathy with that.


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