Get Your Kicks on Route 66
“You sure about this, Zak?”
“A little late for second-guessing, Cal.”
The ’55 Chevy was packed to the gills, and the wheels were already rolling out of the driveway of Zak’s parents’ home within a stone's throw of Lake Micigan in Evanston, Illinois.
“It’s just such a big step.”
“No kidding, Cal, but you’ve had like 50,000 hours to think about it. There’s no turning back, partner. California here here we come!”
And so the sky blue Bel Air convertible, tagged with a sign on the back reading “California or Bust!”, headed for East Adams Street in Chicago and its long westward trek along Route 66.
“You packed all the snacks?”
“Everything on your list, Zak.”
“Cokes in the cooler?”
“Jesus Christ, Cal, I give you a few simple tasks and you screw it up. How am I going to go 2,000 miles without red licorice?”
“Poor baby. I bet someone between here and L.A. sells red licorice.”
“Not like the nice, soft chewy stuff at Kandi’s Candy.”
“Oh my God, I’ve got two more days of this.”
“Do you really think we have a chance, Zak?”
“As good as anyone trying to break into the business.”
“I don’t know, Zak, I’m not sure your cousin living next door to one of the cameramen for the Jack Benny show is what I’d call well-connected.”
“My cousin says his neighbor is a really good guy. He’ll take us to one of their rehearsals and introduce us to the man himself. I’ll show Benny some of my jokes, and my cousin will tell him what a funny guy you are. Before you know it, I’ll be writing skits that you’ll be performing!”
“I don’t know if it will be that easy.”
“And my cousin has a lot of other contacts. He just changed the oil on Phil Silvers’ car, and his wife goes to the same church Walter Brennan’s wife goes to. We’ll have more irons in the fire than you can shake a stick at.”
“Shake a stick at irons in a fire?”
“Look, Cal, we’ve got to stay positive. We’ll get introduced, and then we’ll blow their socks off with our talent.”
“Changed the oil on Phil Silvers’ car? That’s pretty cool.”
“Stop the car!”
Zak slammed on the brakes, and the car skidded to a halt on the shoulder of the road.
“What the hell, Cal?! What is it?”
Cal peered out the window and pointed to a tall, cylindrical object.
“I saw it in the AAA travel guide.”
“The world’s biggest catsup bottle…the Brook Catsup Bottle, Collinsville, Illinois. And there it is, and we’re seein’ it, man!”
“Oh, my God, you about gave me a heart attack for some freaking catsup bottle?!”
“Not just any catsup bottle, Zak, biggest in the world. Let’s get some pics.”
“You sure you got me in the picture with the catsup bottle?”
“Jesus Christ, Cal, the damn thing is like 800 feet high. Yeah, I got you and the bottle, but you’re going to look like a freaking ant in front of it.”
“But you’ll be able to tell it’s me, right?”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Why would you possibly care if you show up in front of a picture of a catsup bottle?”
“Biggest in the world, Zak.”
“There’s a Standard station, Cal. We better fill up. There may not be another station for a while.”
“Thirty cents a gallon! I guess they know when they’ve got us.”
“Then can you drive for a while? I’m getting sleepy.”
“No problem, Zak, but are you sure we’re on the right road?”
“Oh my God, Cal, how many times do I have to tell you? It’s Route 66 the whole way. Not even you could get lost.”
“Just making sure. My cousin Chucky says if you ever do feel like you’re lost, just get behind a big truck. Those guys always know where they’re going.”
“Oh, my God.”
Wheelin’ down the open road, top down, released from the bonds of society with the wind blowing in his hair, Cal was piloting Zak’s “Blue Bomber” as they cruised through Missouri. He was so wrapped up in his happy thoughts that he almost missed the sign- “One Mile- Meramac Caverns and Jesse James Hideout”. Jesse James hideout! This was even better than the world’s biggest catsup bottle, but Cal worried that Zak might not be suitably impressed and would object to another unnecessary stop. He approached the subject cautiously.
Zak was sleeping like a baby. This presented Cal with an interesting dilemma- wake Zak, ask about stopping to see Jesse James’ hideout and likely be refused, or stealthily maneuver the Blue Bomber over to the historic sight, leave Zak alone in the car with the top down, sneak off to the gift shop to snare a couple of souvenirs, flag down a nice person to take a photo of him, and continue on their journey with Zak being none the wiser. Commitment to the quest and concern for his friend, or a chance to see Jesse James’ hideout?
Cal pulled up to the gift shop as the parking lot lights went on. He left the car in a well-lit spot hoping to lessen the chances his good friend would be ridiculed, harassed, or mugged.
Sometimes fate can be cruel. Our travelers had paid no attention to such incidentals as weather reports. The first raindrops gently pulled Zak out of a deep sleep; the flash of lightning and a loud clap of thunder nearly caused him to hop out of the car. The rain came down in buckets.
“Cal! Where the hell are you?!”
Cal had their only set of car keys so Zak couldn’t put the top up. He was helpless against the torrential rain and in one final, futile, desperate, pathetic gesture, he threw his body over their snack bag.
“Are you mad at me?”
“How the hell could you do that to me?! I’m soaked! And my car! The water was six inched deep in here!”
“Yeah, it must have been quite a downpour. I was in a cave so I didn’t even know it was raining.”
It was a source of nearly constant annoyance for Zak that Cal kept flipping through the AAA travel guide. Zak, with some degree of justification, was of the mindset that if they started in Chicago on Route 66 and ended in Los Angeles on Route 66, they would be in no need of a roadmap. But Cal wanted to see where they were, the progress being made, and of course, the scintillating details of upcoming noteworthy sites.
“Would you have any interest in seeing the Bucktooth Tow Truck when we get to Galena, Kansas?”
“Shut up, Cal.”
“God, I love these signs, Cal.”
Your shaving brush…
Has had its day…
So why not…
Shave the modern way…
“There’s a phone booth. I’ll just be a minute.”
“I knew you’d miss her, Zak.”
‘I just want to make sure she’s ok.”
Good friends have that extra sense, developed over time and nurtured by concern.
“You ok, Zak?”
“You don’t look so ok.”
“She’s…well…she was crying. Besides all this, her stupid dog is missing. If I were still there, I’d be out looking with her right now. If I…”
Cal understood. Sometimes friends don’t say anything.
Cal was deep into his AAA Travel Guide.
“Judging by your reaction to the big catsup bottle, and the unfortunate incident at Jesse James’ hideout, I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to stop to catch the world’s largest totem pole when we get to Foyil.”
“That would be correct.”
“We should try to absorb some of the history and culture on our trip, Zak.”
“You absorb, I’ll drive.”
“Fine. No wonder you’re such an uncouth slob. Zak, are you sure about us getting to see Jack Benny?”
The pause was discomforting.
“Yeah…I don’t see why not.”
Cal was not reassured and wandered off into that unsettling world of second-guessing.
“I don’t think I can make it to Oklahoma City before we eat, Cal. Anything coming up before that? A Dairy Queen would be nice.”
“Oh, are you asking me to check my handy-dandy AAA Travel Guide?”
“I deserve it. Go ahead, gloat.”
“Let’s see…we’re coming up on Stroud.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Twenty-five hundred people. There should be a place to eat. I’d rather hit a small-town diner, you know, to enhance the experience of the trip a little.”
“That was pretty good, Cal, The Rock Café, hamburger, fries, and a chocolate malt. I’m ready to go another ten hours.”
“I love diners like that.”
“Yeah, and the way you were after that waitress I’m just glad I got you out of there.”
“She was a cutie, and you have to like that touch of a Southern accent.”
“Just don’t be saying ‘howdy’ to me and hittin’ me with a couple of y’alls.”
“Damn, Cal, this guy ahead of us is slow, and every time there aren’t any cars coming, we’ve got the damn yellow line.”
“Passing makes me nervous.”
“You’re telling me? Looks like we have a go. Hang on!”
Zak pulled the Blue Bomber out into the passing lane and gunned it. A degree of concern, if not outright worry, always kicked in whenever they were speeding head-on toward another vehicle in the same lane. Once clear, Zak quickly steered the car back into his lane to complete the pass.
“Jesus Christ, Zak, that was a little close.”
“Yeah…it’s a little hard to judge these things. The guy coming at us must have really been haulin’ ass.”
“Maybe a little more discretion than valor next time.”
A little close? Zak's somewhat risky move had just scared the bejeesus out of the family in the oncoming station wagon.
“Your Dad will get over it, Cal.”
“He says this is the dumbest thing he’s ever heard of. He blames you.”
“Yeah, he was disappointed I won’t be joining him in the business. He says building houses may not be glamorous, but it’s solid. That’s the word he always uses for good, honest hard work- solid. He built a nice life for all of us on it.”
Zak didn’t respond. His mind was on the search for that darn dog running through the backyards of homes back in Evanston.
“Damn, Cal, I can’t get any radio stations again.”
“No problem, partner, I will sing you a nice song.”
This would be close to the one-hundredth time Zak was subjected to the off-key, mercilessly loud, rendition of the iconic tune.
“California, here we come…da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da…”
“Please stop, Cal. Please.”
“Tucumcari! I love that name. I wonder how they came up with that for a name, Cal.”
“Well, I might be able to tell you. Let me go to my trusty AAA Travel Guide.”
“I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Got it! This thing is amazing. They say it’s from the Comanche word for ambush. That reminds me, do you know what they called their bathrooms?”
“The pee-pee tee-pee.”
“Please stop, Cal. Please.”
“You know, Zak, I always thought you’d marry that girl someday.”
“Me too. Still might.”
“You think so? Two thousand miles apart? A lot can happen, Zak.”
“I guess. I could meet someone out there.”
“Or, she could meet someone back there.”
Zak gave that one some thought.
“This looks good, Zak, the Blue Swallow Motel, pool, TV, radio, telephone, complimentary coffee.”
“Damn, I didn’t bring a swimsuit.”
“Just wear two pair of boxers, one on backwards . I did that once…but I was five then.”
“I’m not going to go swimming in a motel pool in my underwear, Cal.”
“Suit yourself. Hey, I made a pun! No swimming suit…suit yourself…get it?”
“Oh, my God. I knew I shouldn’t have brought you along.”
“Do you want to stop for breakfast right away, or should we drive for a while?”
“I suppose we should put some miles behind us first, Zak.”
“I think those ladies at the pool were laughing at me. They must have known I was in my boxers.”
“I thought you were worried about swimming in your undies. And your nonstop cannonball exhibition sure got a lot of attention. I think your wet clingy boxers were turning some of the old dolls on.”
“Shut up, Cal.”
“I think my little brother Joey has a game tonight, Zak. He’s their leading scorer. He’ll be upset that I’m not there.”
Zak was slow to respond. He knew how close Cal was to his brother, and he feared the prospect of Cal rethinking the entire adventure.
“That’s too bad. I know he looks up to you.”
“You should see him handle the ball.”
“He’s had a good teacher.”
Silence from both of them. So many things left behind.
“You want to hear some more of my jokes, Cal?”
“Ok, so three guys walk into a bar. One is a priest, one is…”
“Oh, my God.”
“I think you just ran a red light, Zak.”
“No way. Why would you think that?”
“Well, I think the guy in the car behind us with the flashing red lights thinks you did.”
Zak wasn’t accustomed to stoplights hanging overhead at intersections, but that’s how they did it in Albuquerque. It isn’t just ignorance of the law that fails as an excuse; it’s also where they put it.
“Seriously? You want me to pay half your ticket, Zak?”
“Hey, we are on this trip together…partner.”
“ Yes, thank you, sir, and can you get the windshield? We’re a bug-killing machine. And do have a pay phone inside?”
“Yes, we do.”
“And a key to the bathroom…”
“The kid inside will get it for you.”
The frequency of the phone calls did not go unnoticed.
“Ok, you’re not impressed with things like a giant catsup bottle or the world’s biggest totem pole, but you’ve got to like this nature stuff.”
The red hues of the desert and the formations in the Petrified Forest cast a stunning backdrop for the Blue Bomber as it sailed down Route 66.
“For sure, Cal. This is pretty cool stuff. I might even want a few pics of this.”
“And according to my road trip bible here, when we get to Winslow, we’ll be within twenty miles of that big crater.”
“What big crater?”
“Jesus Christ, the giant meteor crater that every kid beyond the 3rd grade knows about.”
“I didn’t hear about it. Did it just happen?”
“Oh, my God.”
Same old tune, a little tweaking of the lyrics.
“California, here we are, da-da-da…”
“Yes, siree! We made it!”
The land of promise, the birthplace of dreams, Zak and Cal had arrived at the doorstep.
“Four or five more hours to go. There’s no stopping us now!”
“You’re sure your cousin can put us up at his place?”
“For sure…well, at least for a night or two.”
“How was your call?”
“Good, Zak, everyone is fine, and I got to wish Joey good luck on his game. My Dad sounded a little down. He says he sure could use me, but he told me he just wants the best for me.”
“It will be ok, Cal. Once we get settled and start working, the past won’t bother us so much.”
“I hope so.”
Zak was hoping the same.
“Hey, we got a real ghost town coming up when we get to Calico. It would be pretty cool to see that.”
“Cal, I’d rather take you back to Missouri to see the big catsup bottle than look at a bunch of old, empty, rundown buildings.”
“How are you going to be a writer if you have no intellectual curiosity?”
“Pull into that gas station, Cal. I see a phone booth.”
“Everything ok, Zak?”
“I…I guess so.”
“Not so good. Cal, I was…”
An uneasy silence filled the car as they viewed the San Gabriel mountains on the horizon As the Peanuts character Linus has taught us, the anticipation sometimes far exceeds the actual event.
“The end of the road, Cal, the Santa Monica Pier.”
“I see… Zak, remember when we were pulling out of your parents’ driveway, and I asked if you were sure about this?”
A hint of a smile appeared on Zak’s face.
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, would it upset you if I asked you the same question now?”
Now a big smile.
“No, Cal, it wouldn’t bother me at all. I miss her, Cal.”
“I know you do, and I miss everything.”
“To be honest, Cal, you’re not that funny.”
“And your jokes aren’t that great, Zak. I just never wanted to offend you.”
“Cal, do you think it’s legal to make a U-Turn here?”
“I don’t know why not.”
Zak executed a quick U-Turn.
“Well, it was a nice dream while it lasted, and a pretty good trip.”
“The trip’s only half over, Zak!”
“You’re right, Our glasses are at least half-full.”
“ Zak, shouldn’t you call your cousin?”
“Uh…I sort of don’t need to.”
“He didn’t know we were coming. It was going to be a surprise.”
“Oh, my God, Zak.”
“All’s well that ends well.”
“I guess. Let’s get rollin’.”
“We’ll catch it all this time, Cal! The big crater, the biggest Tee-Pee in the world, your stupid catsup bottle again…and pictures, lots of pictures!”
“And lunch at the Rock Café with the cute waitress!”
And now…a duet.
“Evanston, here we come, right back where we started from…da-da-da, da-da-da,