A 2448 Mile Memory
One of mankind's favorite pastimes is holding on to the past. Things and places that are familiar take us back to a time when we feel our lives were simpler and happy. We go back to our hometown or pull that old cedar chest out of the attic to reminisce and for a moment we are back in whatever time of our lives we hold dear. Route 66 is the biggest of these old cedar chests and the only one that you can drive through.
Route 66 is a cedar chest filled with the memories and mementos of entire generations of an entire nation. But sadly, despite its size and notoriety, the memories contained in here are little less impressive than those in your own attic at home. I truly wanted to be impressed. I hoped to be transplanted back to a time that I hadn't lived myself but had seen photos of and heard stories about all my life from those who had. Friends and relatives who had lived through the decades of the 1920s up through the 1960s speak so fondly of roadside motels and drive-in diners that I desired a glimpse of this era for myself. There are small sparks along the way where for a split second you almost get a taste of this bygone moment in history, but like history itself, these glimpses are fleeting. What I came away with was more sadness than nostalgia.
Like the one in Grandma's house, that giant cedar chest out west is filled with shadows. Keepsakes and heirlooms fallen into disrepair, faded pictures of people and places who once were, incomplete pieces of things only held onto to remind us of the whole. I stand sideways and squint at a gas station in an attempt to go back in time and see it the way my parents did. Just as it begins to come into focus I am distracted by the building across the street and the link to the past is gone.
Many of the keepsakes don't appear to be keepsakes at all. Some look like a person who never laid eyes on the real thing attempted to make a copy from a photograph. Others have the feel that someone with no talent or training decided to revive a Van Gogh with a fresh coat of paint and in the process covered up the painting's soul. It is weird to see a place suffering simultaneously from both neglect and overly enthusiastic attempts at renovation. Neither capturing the spirit of this historic phenomena or giving it the tribute it deserves.
But I have spoken with others who love this road trip still. They speak of Route 66 the way they do about an old friend, gone but not forgotten. I wonder if they are seeing it through those proverbial rose-colored glasses. Which of course they are. And that is okay. It is like you show a drawing your four year old son did of your family to a friend. They may be polite and complimentary, but they know they have an identical one at home on the refrigerator their daughter drew which is infinitely better than this one. I think this may be the secret to Route 66.
This is their cedar chest, not mine. They pull out that old, fraying bit of stained cloth from the pile and see a colorful quilt holding a laughing baby. They hold up a dented, rusty tin can and are with a group of childhood friends playing a made up game I will never understand. They stare at a dingy, crumbling ruin of an inn and watch a young family setting off on their first vacation.
This is their cedar chest and these are their memories. And no one is qualified to critique another person's memories.