Route 66 is magical. I don’t mean super powers magical, though maybe it is that too. But I mean that it’s a magical place. Sometimes it’s white magic, sometimes black. Route 66 is a mirror too. But it can show you parts of yourself that you’ve never known to exist. If you let it. It can be life-changing. The first time I did it, I only did Oklahoma City to LA. This time I did the whole thing. Well, up to this point.
The Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California. Fifty miles from the end of Route 66.
It’s morning and my bag is still missing. I left it in Needles, across the Mojave. We called last night to try to find it, but no luck.
I wanted to get to Needles in such a bad way. But I also wanted to complete 66. However, driving through LA is not my idea of a beautiful Saturday morning spent. Ah to be with those you love under the lifting smog. No thank you.
But completing 66 had a higher meaning than a long long drive through the city. It could be anywhere. It could be a 50 mile stretch through Missouri or New Mexico. But it wasn’t. It was a 50 mile stretch through the suburbs of LA to Santa Monica.
And here we go. Today, by the way, is Nikki’s birthday. June 24. The bag’s importance isn’t measured in toothpaste or shirts. It’s measured in a single present for her. A book of poetry, handwritten in a Japanese bound book. It’s very literally priceless. The bag has to be found.
Traffic was light, but it was a Saturday morning. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t take three hours to drive 50 miles. It did. It just means that it didn’t take 6 hours to drive 50 miles. I was, at least, thankful for that.
The drive itself was uneventful. Except for one WWYD sticker. What Would Yoda Do? It was on a new green VW Beetle. I nearly hit it. My only near-accident on the trip. I locked up the breaks and slid and slid and slid. It wasn’t as close or as bad as it sounded. But still freaked me out a bit.
I don’t like LA.
And I won’t bore you with the directions through the city. We did see Beverly Hills though. I hate LA.
Parking near the Santa Monica Pier was pretty easy. And free today. My mind, even though the drive into LA was simply on finding my bag, giving Nikki the book. Everything else was periphery.
We parked and walked the pier down to it’s end. Compared to the east coast piers, the Jersey shores and into Maryland, this was nothing. But there isn’t much like this on the west coast (which isn’t such a bad thing).
On the way back from the tip of the pier, Nikki and I spotted a photobooth. Sure, it was $4 for four crappy colored pictures on a strip of cheap photopaper. Sure, it took seven minutes to develop. But it’s tradition. We’re at the shore. Must find photobooth!
The pictures actually turned out well. The happy look on my mug is real, I assure you. My mind was still all muddles with the bag situation.
A quick walk on the beach later and we were in the car, headed east on LA’s finest interstates. During this drive, Nikki called the Motel again. An Indian man answered. The same one from last night. He told her that no bag was found. He was really apologetic. We said that we’d be in Needles around 2pm and that we’d like to talk to the housekeeper. Not that she stole it, of course, but just to see if she remembers anything.
The drive, even at 80mph seemed too slow.
We left LA and shadowed Route 66. The interstate has replaced 66 for the traveler who has somewhere he needs to be. And we did. How I’d love to jump off the interstate and drive 50mph through the Mojave! But there was a mission.
In writing this, it just occurred to me that I’ve made little to no fanfare over the completion of Route 66. And that’s how it felt to me then too. For me, maybe Route 66 was complete when I hit the Wigwam in San Bernardino. Or maybe it was complete when I hit Oklahoma City. Or maybe it will never really be complete. I’ll travel it’s entirety every several years for the rest of my life and it will never really actually be complete.
We called the motel again. “Is it possible that it’s behind the door?” No. He personally checked.
Maybe an hour later, we called again. “Did anyone stay in that room last night?” Yes.
Maybe they stole it. A horrible thing to think.
It seemed that everything was lost. My bag, Nikki’s present. Just gone. Months of work. Gone. There was a finality in this. Maybe this is how I’ll remember the trip. Can you imagine that? Two an a half weeks on Route 66 and all I have to show for it is a missing present, worth nothing to everyone else but me and, hopefully, her.
We called again, just to make sure.
The brown sands of the Mojave were broken up by exit signs (yes, unnumbered) for places that the old Route 66 spun its way though.
And then something hit me. Originally, I had wanted to stay in the Super 8 motel in Needles. No real reason, just a random motel. We attempted to stay there, but it was either gone or turned into an America’s Best Motel or something like that. I still had the number for Super 8 on my computer. Was that the number we dialed?
I had the receipt from the Motel 6 (it’s all 6′s and 8′s!) in my pocket and pulled it out. “Nikki, is this the same number that you called?” She read it. It was not.
Call it. A different voice answered the phone.
“Hello, we stayed there two nights ago in room 109. We left a bag there…. oh you did?! Oh wonderful!!”
The bag was found! It was somehow muddled up in the bed sheets. I don’t know how and I don’t care how. All that matters was that it was found.
We got to Needles in what seemed like seconds. I ran into the lobby and grabbed the bag, thanking them profusely. (We also called the other motel so that they would not think that the housekeeper stole it.)
And now to Flagstaff. Even though the mood was up, the drive to Flagstaff was long. Everyone was asleep and I was doing 85, watching old Route 66 twist up the sides of hills to the right and left of me as the interstate hacked its way through mountains.
We pulled into Flagstaff around 7pm, setting up our camp in a different campsite from KOA, on the west side of town.
With the tents up, we drove to Macy’s Cafe for internet and, well, Macy’s.
When we were in Santa Fe, Nikki found a black beaded necklace that she adored. But she didn’t want to spend the money on it. While she was trying on skirts, Boo and I had become sneaky like thieves. Somehow, without Nikki knowing, even though she continually popped her head and skirt out of the dressing room to show us the new find, we managed to buy it and slip it into Boo’s bag, where it has lived ever since.
Nikki and I walked outside of Macy’s Cafe. She knew that I had an irreplaceable gift for her, but I’m sure she knew I had something else as well. I pulled it out of my pocket, having retrieved it from Boo’s bag and said a simple, “happy birthday.”
It was a beautiful night in Flagstaff. So beautiful. Why are we even leaving this place?
But it was also late. Macy’s closes at 10 and we had to be back here, at Macy’s at 7 for breakfast.
When being on the road, it’s so important to have a home. And what better home than Macy’s Cafe?
That night, I gave Nikki the book. Under the glow of the small flashlight in our tent, I turned the pages, showing her each poem as little tears swelled in our eyes. These poems told the story of the last two and a half years and especially of our meeting and the first few months. Everything rushed back to those times in a cold two story house on Water Street in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. This is what the trip was about. This is the very embodiment of traveling. And this is the mirror of Route 66. The magic.
For me, Route 66 isn’t a road, but an experience. Not a place or even a long string of places, but a chance to see how to really live. To learn again to slow down, think, feel, believe again. It’s revolution and rejuvenation.
For me, the spirit of Route 66 is embodied in Flagstaff, Arizona. And Flagstaff is embodied in Macy’s Cafe. And there I sat, the next morning, over vegan waffles and a packed house of strangers that didn’t seem so distant or different from me. Nikki sat across the table as I typed the final words in this journal. She has accompanied me, by my side, thought the entirety of this trip and how fitting I found it to see her when I looked up from my writing, eating a chocolate cupcake that I bought as a late birthday cake.
Route 66 is here in Flagstaff. Physically, only a block away. And we were here. Needing to move on, knowing we would return, and carrying a piece of Macy’s Cafe, Flagstaff and Route 66 back home with us. We would leave Route 66, its spirit and its beauty on a table for two in Macy’s Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The music: Never Stopped
Although we will still be on the road for several more days, for me, the writer, the journey is at and end, and so is this journal.
Thank you for reading. It means so much to me.