It was right around the turn of the last century. The Fort Worth Star Telegram had an article about Route 66, a brief article that sparked our attention. Our family was young, lots of energy with more time than money. With a love for mid-century and Americana, we broke out the map to look for reliable and cheap places to stay on or near the Route, also known as in-laws and uncles. After a few phone calls to secure our reservations, we plotted our course and headed north towards Tulsa, Oklahoma, from North Texas.
This was our first introduction to Route 66. Traveling pre-internet and iPhones, we relied heavily on the article and a map that was purchased in a Tulsa mall’s bookstore. With our limited reference materials, we located the iconic Blue Whale for the mandatory photo and had lunch at the almost forgotten original Metro Diner near 11th Street and Harvard Ave. in Tulsa. After staying the night with the mother-in-law, we hit the road west, for some reason driving mostly on the interstate.
I flew across western Oklahoma like I was being chased by a tornado. Again, in our defense, if a stop was not discussed in the article I did not know we were missing it. We really did not slow down until we crossed over the Texas line. In Shamrock, the Conoco Station was not renovated and still waiting to become a movie star. Yet it sat at the crossroads with a certain status, a certain character that comes only with age. Today this polished up deco gem is presented with pride, balancing old and new, vintage plumbing and a Tesla charging station.
The rest of that trip was a collection of stops at leaning water towers and steakhouses that have not changed much in the past twenty years. We stopped for lunch in Adrian, Texas, at the Midpoint Cafe. The article mentioned the cafe and again the article was our only itinerary. I remember I had a “blue plate” special, but without camera phones I don’t have a picture of it. Funny, we would not have wasted a roll of film on food. Since our first stop at the Midpoint, the cafe has gone through three owners. Little has changed and it is still a welcoming establishment with great pie. We did get our map stamped with some Midpoint Ink on that first visit.
In Tucumcari, New Mexico, The Blue Swallow was taking shape with renewed TLC. The rest of the town would soon follow with a number of motels coming back to life. Tucumcari has always seemed romantic with enough of it’s structures in the perfect state of decay. This decay emits a romance that I want to embrace and possess. Without intervention, soon each will be reduced by nature and vandals into unidentifiable rubble. Each time I take the first I-40 exit from the east and make my way down the long main street passing the questionable hotels and closed Kmart making my way up into the “revitalized” part of town, I can’t help but smile and feel glad to be here.
We turned south at Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and made our way towards family and free room and board. We had only skimmed the surface of Route 66 but found a spark that would ignite an obsession for years to come. I was young and in a hurry, scared that life would pass me by and instead I passed by a number of Route 66 icons on that first trip. I have since been back with knowledge and better planning and still miss out on things. The Route changes, the roadside stops change, some of the changes are good, some not so good. Cafes and motels are bought and sold. Menus stay the same but somehow change. Buildings will get polished up but this newness can tarnish character, at least in my opinion. We missed a lot on that first trip but we did get to see, what I feel was, the right amount of decay.