Route 66 and Highway 101: The intersection at the epicenter of our mythical past.
From Tom Joad to Kyle Rittenhouse
Finding the present time nearly unbearable, with the innocent verdict for Kyle Rittenhouse, I was receptive to seeing this photo on the Internet recently.
Route 66 and Highway 101 were the inspirational, legendary highways of the early and mid-20th Century when I was young. Their intersection marks the epicenter of a mythical time.
Route 66 was the highway of the Joads and the Easy Riders; Hwy 101 brought Brando, Lee Marvin, and their biker gangs to a confrontation in Hollister once (The Wild Ones).
Real men then had an inner virtue, that the square world couldn’t or wouldn’t see. They were NOT vigilantes.
Route 66 was the Main Street of America and ran from Chicago to Santa Monica. Hiway 101 ran down Calif, changing names from Redwood Hiway in Marin, to Bayshore Fwy in Silicon Valley, to Ventura Hiway, to Santa Ana Fwy in LA.
I stood at this intersection on a Friday night in Nov 1967, 54 years ago this month, after hitching from Oklahoma City to LA, then north on 101 to SF.
Somewhere around Santa Barbara that night I was picked up by a middle-aged gentleman who, finding out I was in the merchant marine, suggested we go into business together. I would bring back merchandise from Ireland, and he would open a gift shop in SB to sell Irish imports.
He was well-spoken and drove a Benz and I think he was on the level, but I had no desire to settle down. He said he also had a daughter going to Stanford and I should I look her up when I got back in the Bay Area. I never did. The open road and the open sea were all I wanted then. (As I joined Lee Marvin and Jack London to sing “I Was Born Under a Wandrin’ Star.”)
And that reminds me of another opportunity that I passed on back then. My parents had a good friend, a former neighbor from Minn, who somehow got the Pepsi franchise for the entire Pacific region after WW2. By 1967, he was very rich, and had a showcase home at the foot of Diamond Head in Honolulu.
When I was on Oahu once, he invited me for lunch at his home. As I was leaving later in the day, he called me aside and said, “Cambodia”. Like Benjamin in The Graduate, I said “Cambodia, sir?” He looked me in the eye and told me to go to Cambodia then (‘67), and within five years I would be RICH. (There is a scene like that in The Death of a Salesman.) Again, the idea of being tied down, overseeing my plantation in spotless white linen suits, and having weekend trips to local opium dens, did not appeal to me.
But my host was sure on the money, as long as I left Cambodia with my winnings within five years. Because the next year (1973) Nixon and Kissinger began ‘secretly’ bombing Cambodia and the country was taken over by the Khmer Rouge who started a campaign of genocide in ‘the killing fields.’
Timing is everything. And sometimes now, approaching 80 and recovering from several heart attacks, I think I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single Friday night at that intersection when Woody and Cisco and the chimes of freedom rang clean and clear…
© 2021 Thomas Mahon