Kyle left on his bus in the early morning on July 25th. I had a whole extra day to myself to explore San Francisco. I didn’t. I sat in a bar all day and drank. I took a trolley back to my hotel and slept until 5 a.m. the next morning. I was taking Amtrak back home to Philly. . . but I wasn’t ready to leave. Not yet. Not this way. I know I had to come back. And I did. . . I have.
Today Kyle and I did something we hadn’t done on our whole trip together. TIt was a milestone, and it happened on the last day of our trip. I met Kyle in front of my hotel in The Tenderloin… and we actually spent the day exploring the city together. We were finally able to do what we intended all along.
Kyle wanted to continue the trip north on the Pacific Coast Highway, where gas prices started at $5.15 a gallon—in 2001. We eventually got off the road that caused me constant panic attacks, and then rolled into John Steinbeck’s home town. Nothing was open and the town was pretty deserted. We finally hit San Francisco, California, parking the van under the Days Inn in the Tenderloin. I checked into the hotel—Kyle rented a room in a hostel. Kyle and I would never share a hotel room together again.
There was very little sleep in Las Vegas. Even when Kyle and I we’re asleep we could hear the electrical bings and whizzes of the slot machines. It’s almost as if they created a psychic echo that permeated everyone’s minds within a thirty-mile radius. We left just before the clock turned 6:00 a.m. Kyle was behind the wheel, and since we weren’t on Route 66, I didn’t care how we got to L.A., as long as we got there. Taking Interstate 15, I slept until the stop-and-start of the van in Pasadena traffic woke me up.
Since we were so close, Kyle and I both decided we had to see the Grand Canyon. We wren’t giving up on Route 66, but this was a side trip that we had to do. After, we headed back to Flagstaff, Arizona, to pick up 66. We pulled off in Kingman, Arizona, to grab some dinner at Denny’s, not wanting to spend any more time looking around for a place that already seemed to have nothing but chain restaurants. It was here, under the high ceilings of Denny’s, peopled by truck drivers and motorists, where we did head off The Mother Road to see what the big deal was about Vegas.
Most of our driving was on the service roads paralleling Interstate 40. Kyle and I knew where we were landing today—Holbrook, Arizona, home to the Wigwam Motel, one of only 7 Wigwam Villages in the United States. Holbrook’s teepees are known as #6. We made a few turn-offs into Indian souvenir stands, but I was more in a hurry to get to the motel than spend our time on the road, and Kyle just wanted to get the hell off the road.
When you suffer from anxiety, and don’t know it, your panic attacks can come at any time, and when when the root of that anxiety is depression, parts of the lonely Mother Road do little to comfort you.
Our distance today was pre-planned—287 miles from Amarillo, Texas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This part of the trip started a fire under both Kyle and I to get to the west coast as quick as possible. Albuquerque’s fire also burned me.
Kyle and I arrived 45 minutes too early for the opening of The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, so I walked around taking photos while Kyle typed in his journal. The museum was O.K.—more of a museum to motor travel on the Mother Road than a museum about Rt. 66. It was underwhelming compared to what awaited us in Shamrock, Texas.
Oklahoma was infusing itself into me. The air, the scent of clay-filled dirt and pecans ready to be picked, circulated in my lungs and warmth of the people everywhere we went was welcoming. Even though the sky was overcast, I was still feeling the rays of yesterday’s sun. Our first pull-over was into the driveway of one of 66’s most famous icons—the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma.