ED KEATING – ROUTE 66
“It’s not the destination—it’s the journey.” Cavalier and twentieth century, whoever said that should think again. Used to be, down South in the U.S., you’d be risking your freedom, maybe your life, just walking from one town to the next—risking getting picked up for a crime you didn’t commit, or for vagrancy, summarily convicted and forced into a labor camp to work off your debt to the company man who paid your fine—for being black and in the wrong place. Or if you were a hippie, you’d avoid Georgia altogether, keep the dope in the spare tire, the windows down, and your hair up in your hat. But of course there’s that American thing, the road trip. I left Connecticut in the fall of 1977 and zigzagged my way to California. With a bottle under the seat and a list of friends in my head to stay with for a night or two, I set out on this non-victory lap, first stop, Washington, D.C. Then west (avoiding Virginia, my car wearing expired VA plates registered to a fictitious address in Arlington), to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and on down to Galveston. I made it to Los Angeles in one piece but not before getting drunk enough on Route 66 in Flagstaff to lose my car and my things for a day. And not before an epiphany on the side of the road a quarter mile into California, entering the land of milk and honey expecting a magical moment that never materialized, but instead receiving an more enlightening message and the real truth that the whole premise of my trip was flawed. I had brought all my difficulties with me and that there was no escape. There was no ‘California,’ really, no Route 66 even. It was just me in my own existential dilemma, geography be damned.
Things did change for me in California and perhaps the road did have a say in that—the overwhelmingly big sky, the hot and dry Mohave, the high and cool fir-tipped Arizona plateau. The openness and the emptiness, the time to contemplate and consider, and reconsider. And then the people, common ordinary folks dealing with life’s difficulties much better than I. How can you pass through such harshness and such beauty, such facts, without being changed in some fundamental way? And then, more than thirty years later, my task to go back and retrace my steps as best I could. Commissioned by the New York Times in 2000 for a major magazine piece on America’s Highway, Route 66, , the Mother Road. And then again, on my own time over the course of several trips and many thousands of miles I have attempted to recapture that experience by focusing on those who never made it through, those whose trips and dreams were cut short, those who lost their cars on vicious drunks and are still looking.
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