It would be true to say that we didn’t plan this trip (west to east Route 66) as well as some might. My father for instance; accommodation, drive instructions and time for the tourist sights a year in advance. Us? Well we changed our minds from France to USA about three months ago. If we hadn’t be would have arrived in Paris on the 13th November. Yes, the day of the terrorist attacks, though we probably would have driven directly south to our house.
So having decided Route 66 we did do a quick look online and found out November wasn’t an ideal time. Surely we were going to be too far south, in the desert, for weather to be a problem? Wasn’t that why we were doing this route rather than the northern one through the mountains? Brian in the 66 stand on the Pier suggested the EZ66 guide.
Starting in Santa Monica in 25 degrees Celsius I felt vindicated. What was the fuss?
Day two to Winslow Arizona. Yes, we stood on the corner and took it easy … but before that there was the clutching of the guide book on the terrifying but beautiful Oatman Hwy switchbacks. Did I mention that it was snowing? That we had done an ice and snow covered “dirt option”?
So why isn’t there snow in the westerns I recall as a kid? I guess because they were all back in LA in winter…
That night at La Posada we took it very easy (after standing on the corner of course Eagles and Jackson Browne fans), alongside photos of the movie stars. Next two days through Gallup and then Santa Fe in a similar vein—the Ronald Reagan suite at El Rancho no less. I recognised the stars though not the movies. Last night James Dean was painted on the side of our motel, in a small section of 1950’s memorabilia—sadly with lots of dead gas stations and diners, The Blue Swallow there as a reminder of the past.
Which is what Route 66 is. A wonderful trip through nostalgia.
For me there are two quintessential westerns to be nostalgic about (that is ones I enjoyed and would watch again now, as opposed to anything with John Wayne in it that I suspect has not passed the test of time). Both are set in Texas which is where I am now sitting, in Amarillo, in one of dozens of hotels, motels and food chains along the Interstate freeway.
The first movie is Giant; Elizabeth Taylor as a city girl from Kentucky, marrying Rock Hudson and acres in Texas, and falling over James Dean and giving him oil but not the love he wants. Taylor is divine, though the movie does go on a bit. I remember the oil wells as being a bit of a blight on the scenery, but then again there did seem to be not much more than, well, dust and tumbleweed.
Saw plenty of dust and tumbleweed today. Another dirt option, but after that day of snow? Brilliant sunshine and it hit twenty degrees Celsius today! Instead of oil wells (I guess they are still there) there were miles of windmills. North of Melbourne (Australia) where we write there has been campaigns preventing even one—here there are hundreds. Texas doing it bigger and better—including sustainable energy.
My other favourite western is The Big Country with Gregory Peck, a gentleman ex-Admiral from the big city who arrives in Texas to get married to ranch heiress Carroll Baker, to the disgust of chief ranch hand Charlton Heston. Peck is as always the smart character—disappears with a compass to get a feel of the land and buy a lump of it for his fiancée, from Jean Simmons—in the short term this sets up a furore as the ranch-owner and Heston set out to search for him when he doesn’t need to be found, and in the long-term, a feud erupts with Burl Ives and Chuck Connors. Yes, Peck and Simmons end up together as do Heston and Baker, and there is the best fist fight ever filmed between Peck and Heston; at night, alone, goes forever, and Peck makes his point: What was the point?
My point? The film like its name highlights that it is a big country, and though neither of the films I have described have the gun fights typical of the traditional western, it is clearly, well, the wild west.
I’m not sure things have changed.
We are driving and the blue lights come on in the car behind. Possibly four miles earlier.
We stop the car and I am yelling don’t get out (I watch American crime shows), the voice on the loud speaker says sir get back into your car.
Sir gets back in.
The sheriff comes to my window. Speeding in the town back some. Can’t read our number plate (courtesy of the dirt option). I hand over the paper work. I am too old for smiling sweetly to work in anyway, but nervously dropping things, being female and an Aussie accent may have helped decrease his anxiety. I hoped so. I was anxious enough for both of us. But I wasn’t the one with the gun.
‘Shit,’ said the Kansas guys we met up with that night. ‘Around here you stay in the car with hand son the wheel else you get shot.’
‘In the future sir,’ says our very polite professional sheriff (who looked like he could have been in the Blues Brothers movie, you know, where about 300 cops chase them across the country, and the sheriff is amply proportioned and really, really, doesn’t like Jake and Elwood), ‘don’t ever get out of the car when you are pulled over. It’ll get you shot.’
Yes. We still are in the Wild West, and I am looking for my horse. And a large Margarita.