Heading down Route 66

grandcanyonbybrucestambaugh
The Grand Canyon, one of the many destinations made more accessible by U.S. Route 66.

By Bruce Stambaugh

U.S. Route 66 is legendary. Built in 1926, the highway that connected Chicago with Los Angeles helped to open up the western United States, especially after World War II.

Officially tabbed “The Will Rogers Highway,” the concreted, two-lane road became so popular that it quickly took on another moniker, “the Mother Road.” The highway enabled many Americans to access locales they had only heard of or dreamed about.

Many took to the famous road to visit historic sites, national parks, or tickle their toes in the southern California surf. Hundreds of service oriented businesses, restaurants, gas stations, motels and the like, grew once sleepy towns into expanding cities.

After Bobby Troup took a trip from Pennsylvania to the west coast on the road, he penned a now iconic song about his experience. “Route 66” is still a familiar song.

Today tourists from around the world travel as much of the original route that remains, too. They want to relive what life was like before the road was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985. The establishment of the Interstate Highway System spelled doom for the romanticized route and the cities and businesses through which U.S. 66 traversed. Radiator Springs, the fictional town in the movie “Cars,” is used as an example of how the Interstate Highway System affected so many small towns across the southwest.

I have traveled on only a few sections of the famous route. My late father, however, had a very personal and memorable connection to U.S. 66. It was the road he and two other sailors drove home following their discharge from the Navy at the close of World War II.

I remember Dad telling me about a restaurant owner in Texas who helped them out. As they drove east along U.S. 66, Dad and his traveling companions kept seeing billboards for a restaurant that advertised serving “the largest steak in Texas.”

Of course the trio decided to check out the claim. Still dressed in their Navy whites, they had little money. Glad for their service to country, business owners often gave them discounts or even free food at places where they stopped.

This restaurateur was no exception. Never one to be bashful, my father approached the restaurant’s owner, and told him they had seen his many billboards along the road. Dad point blank asked him if his largest steak claim was true.

Impressed with their enthusiasm and their military service, the owner gave all three men a free steak dinner. Dad said it was indeed the largest steak he had ever eaten.

So why am I telling you all this about a road that doesn’t exist anymore? I blatantly used this nostalgia to make a simple, metaphoric point. I’m beginning my own journey on 66. I’ll soon be that age. Our birthdays are important after all. We only have them once a year.

Since I was a kid, I have wistfully declared that I would live to be 100. I had no way of knowing that of course. It was just my way of saying I enjoy life, and want to live it as vibrantly, as long, as well, and as purposefully as possible.

I feel very fortunate indeed to have completed nearly two-thirds of the way to that century mark along life’s bumpy highway. I don’t know if I’ll reach that lofty milestone or not, but I am going to give it my all trying. I still have a lot of living to do.

This year I’ll travel down my own personal Route 66. For in the masterful words of the beloved American poet Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before I sleep.”

cathedralrockbybrucestambaugh
Cathedral Rock from Oak Creek Crossing, Sedona, AZ.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Back to the 60s, if only for an evening

60s nostalgia by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife, Neva, and I had been asked to host the dessert portion of a progressive supper for our church’s small youth group. Given her gift of hospitality, Neva quickly accepted the offer.

The group had been to two other homes before arriving at our place for the 1960s themed desserts. Neva made finger Jell-O, Rice Krispies bars and pistachio cake baked in an authentic bunt pan. We added some 60s era candies that I found in a local store, and had Kool Aid to drink.
1960s Desserts by Bruce Stambaugh
We wanted to get the kids in the 60s tempo as best we could by making the house look cool, you know. Neva loves to decorate, and she did a groovy job this time. In fact, I don’t know where she came up with all the 60s stuff she displayed.

Peace signs drawn on paper plates dangled from the dining room light fixture. Party balloons, secured in a paper bag festooned with smiley faces, and a smiley face Pez dispenser adorned the dining room table.

Memorabilia by Bruce StambaughI found a magazine completely dedicated to Bobby Kennedy that I had sequestered. I also brought out an old black and white 8 x 10 photo that my late father had framed for me. It was a shot of a fellow Plain Dealer intern and myself dressed as hippies. That’s a 1969 story for another time.

Neva hung a few clothes we had saved from the 60s, including a lacy dress and a checkered sports jacket. I also resurrected my senior year high school letter jacket. It still looked like new, while I don’t. But I can still fit into it.

Neva also exhibited a variety of purses she had from the 60s along with a few pieces of china. She also found an old dress pattern in its original package.
Beatles albums by Bruce Stambaugh
The center of attention in the living room was a treasure trove timeline of 60s items. Included were some Archie and the Gang comic books, popular children’s books from the era, a Winnie the Pooh bear, and of course a small collection of Beatles record albums. It was a shame we no longer had a record player on which to play them.

The real treat came when the 10 teenagers arrived. Most were dressed in cool clothing from the 60s obtained at thrift stores. Psychedelic T-shirts and paisley dresses and shirts were suddenly back in vogue, if only for the evening. One savvy dude somehow found a brown checked suit that perfectly fit him.

We briefly explained the reason for the dessert offerings, and the food was quickly consumed. Other Baby Boomer adults also attended to help share their growing up experiences.
Mic by Bruce Stambaugh
It was during that time that the real spirit of the turbulent 60s was revealed. The kids seemed spellbound by the personal stories. And well they should. The 1960s were a tumultuous, passionate time of change, drama and societal conflict. Reliving those long forgotten moments seemed to energize everyone in attendance.

Of course, one of the adults, no names mentioned, went a little long. Nevertheless, the kids courteously listened to what was said, and their attire certainly helped everyone feel in the mood.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention my skinny knit tie, white shirt, white socks, mohair sweater, and rolled up blue jeans that I wore. Other than the hippie outfit, it may have been the only other time in my life that I was considered cool. Or were they just being kind?

Peace, baby!

High school jackets by Bruce Stambaugh
My high school letter jacket and my late father's state championship baseball jacket. Dad coached the team.