66 birthday magic

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I started writing this entry last Saturday, November 11.

As it was the second Saturday in November, we headed down to the south side of Oklahoma City to Uncle Dan and Aunt Connie's house for an early Thanksgiving celebration with Mom's side of the family. Good food, a chance for everyone to get to see the baby, and some time to slump on a comfortable sofa, watching the Nebraska-Texas A&M game through closed eyelids.

Since it was the old road's 80th birthday, I had hoped to drive some Route 66 on the way down, but we got off to our usual slow start and had to stick to the turnpike to get to Aunt Connie's in time for lunch.

On the way home, close to dark, we decided to drive some of the old road anyway. The 10-year-old boy immediately began agitating for a dinner stop at the Rock Cafe. We drove the segment from I-35 east of Edmond to I-44 east of Wellston. I had seen some billboards which left me with the impression that Pops, a new landmark on the highway west of Arcadia was already open. (It's not -- opening is set for summer 2007.)

Everyone was getting hungry, so we jumped on the turnpike at Wellston and got off at Stroud.

(A note to the good people of Stroud: Those ridiculously bright "acorn" lights may look lovely and quaint during the day, but at night the glare from them actually hides your Main Street buildings from view. Much of the energy of the acorn lights is wasted, shining up into the sky or into the eyes of oncoming drivers, rather than onto the street where it's needed. Consider at least replacing the bulbs with something lower wattage, or better yet, replace the fixtures with full-cutoff IESNA-compliant lamps that will give you the historic appearance you want, without the glare. Here's an entry from my archives about good and bad streetlighting.)

As we walked from the parking lot into the cafe, I spied a familiar-looking orange VW van. "That looks like Fillmore," I said to the kids, referring to the hippie van from the movie Cars, voiced by George Carlin.

The Rock's owner, Dawn Welch, came by the table to say hello. We told Dawn about seeing Cars at the film festival and hearing Michael Wallis speak.

(As I was watching Cars, listening to Sally the Porsche give an impassioned speech about taking care of and taking pride in their bypassed and beleaguered town, I remembered the poster on the wall behind the east end of the counter at the Rock Cafe, a snapshot of a white board from some sort of brainstorming session on how to make Stroud a better place. Art imitates life.)

Dawn pointed out the gray-headed fellow with the bushy beard who was sitting at the counter. As I had guessed, it was Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, owner of that VW van. Waldmire and his van were the inspiration for the character Fillmore. Waldmire travels the road much of the year. Dawn says he never calls ahead; he just shows up. He creates beautifully intricate pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors of landmarks and birds-eye-views along the old highway, filled with tiny, neatly-lettered descriptive text. (Here's a webpage with a picture of Bob Waldmire and several examples of his work.)

After a while we introduced ourselves. Bob went out to his van and brought back a couple of cartoons he had drawn, depicting a meeting between Fillmore and his own van, and he signed one for each of the kids, and also gave them his calling card -- a postcard drawing of his van, announcing that "The Unofficial Old Route 66 Mobile Information Center (piloted by R. Waldmire)" is "coming soon to your town!"

With some prompting from Mom, my 10-year-old told Bob about some difficulty he was having painting a watercolor of an owl for art class at school. Bob went back out to the van, brought back his watercolors, and told my son about some of his watercolor techniques. Bob also gave him a card with his drawing of a great horned owl (showing how he used pencil along with inkpen to create the delicate texture of the owl's chest feathers), a watercolor cartoon showing the Cozy Dog couple as bikers riding down 66, and a watercolor he did for TNT Engineering, Inc., in Kingman, Arizona, depicting a VW bug and two VW buses (both split window and bay window) in front of a stunning desert landscape. (Here are two in-progress photos of a mural Bob is doing on TNT's building in Kingman.) He also gave us a copy of his Route 66 Scenes map of Oklahoma.

While we were talking with Bob, Emily Priddy, Route 66 activist and Red Fork Hippie Chick, came into the Rock Cafe. (She was wearing a very cool jean jacket with a big 66 shield on the back, with big shiny sequins outlining the numbers like the reflective discs you see on some old highway signs.) Emily was helping with the Mother Road 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon, which had begun Saturday morning at 7 in Arcadia. Emily was helping to pace a friend who was in the race, and then would be manning the aid station at Kellyville. (She has a detailed account of her weekend on her blog: "I don’t know whether that was the most amazing weekend of my entire life, but if it wasn’t, it didn’t miss it by much.") Emily got some photos of the whole family with Bob (which I'll post later). When I went to pay for our dinner, I learned that she'd perpetrated another random act of kindness. What a sweetheart!

We said so long to Bob as we left the cafe -- we'd see him in Clinton next June if not sooner.

I decided to drive the old road the rest of the way to Tulsa. We watched with amazement as the ultramarathoners made their way along the other side of the highway. Emily had told us they were only expecting 30 runners to make it to Kellyville, 84 miles into the run, but it was apparent that many more were still in the race. The last runner we passed was at 9:40 p.m., near the Creek County Speedway, probably about 85 miles in. That's an average speed of 5.8 miles per hour, including rest stops, sustained for 14.67 hours.

It was a magical evening, a perfect way to mark the start of the Mother Road's ninth decade, on her birthday and mine.

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Jan Thomas said:

What a wonderful day for you and your family! A side note - I just got back from a trip to Mountainair, New Mexico ( a tiny little town dead center in the state). The little house we stayed in had that New Mexico map. As I was looking at it on the wall, I was wishing that I knew where to get one! Your blog has answered that question. I am ordering 2 tomorrow! Thanks Michael.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 14, 2006 11:51 PM.

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