The license plates on the cars in the car park of the Oklahoma City Holiday Inn this morning said it all. There were cars from New York, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and more. The road is open to all. The last few days we have awakened to news of more violence around the world. Deplorable acts on innocent people have left hearts aching on all continents. Discrimination is unacceptable. The road does not discriminate, the road says otherwise. The open roads around the world call to travelers of all ages and stages in search of that ever elusive ‘something’ that only the road provides. These last few days we’ve had the privilege of being part of that wonderful diversity on the open road.
After leaving Arkansas, we headed north through the winding roads and mountain towns of the Ozarks before crossing the border into Missouri. We picked Joplin as a lunch stop in order to contribute to a community that went through a disaster and came through the other side. And then we went to Kansas. Without watching for the state lines on our iPhones or catching a glimpse of the ‘Welcome to…’ sign there are times when one state blurs directly into the next. Although the landscapes do change, it’s not at the very instance where one state ends and the other begins. Just another lesson the road teaches; blurred lines are important and what unites us all is much more important than that that divides us. Being thrilled to finally have reached the land of Dorothy, Toto and Auntie Em, I was fixated on how the light hit the horizon and the ever-changing hues of the scenery before me. Sadly, I didn’t notice the state trooper behind me with his flashing lights. First ticket on the road trip received…welcome to the open road!
Aside from the ticket and the tumultuous rainstorm that followed, the drive through the picturesque landscape of Kansas was beautiful. Getting to see where so much of our grains grow and are kept was eye opening. Pasture after pasture of green covered flat lands floated alongside the two-lane highway as we drove. Cattle and horses grazed happily unaffected by the cars and trucks flying past. Day turned into night and by the next light we were on our way to the land of the waving wheat where surreys with fringes on top rang clear as day through my head. Again, the landscape changed shortly after crossing state lines but never at the exact moment. Whether we picked the Loves Travel Stop on one side in Kansas or the other in Oklahoma, we would never have known the difference from the views on either side-more lessons from the road.
As the luscious green of Kansas faded to the oranges and browns of Oklahoma, we were now further south yet still in the middle. Again, I could completely see the appeal and once again recalled the story of the two men (one from the center and one from the coast of the country). There truly was land for as far as the eye could see. The horizon was a sea of blue sky and green grass in Kansas and only changing color slightly in Oklahoma. This is so different to that of the one I see in Long Beach where blue sky meets blue ocean and the breaking point is that of white caps of waves far off in the distance. Whichever one makes you feel comforted, trapped or concerned about falling into oblivion is for only you to decide. Daily life in the middle may be different than that of the coast, but the big picture is once again, the same. Life is both happening and being lived in both locations teaching us once again that there’s beauty in both the land and the water.
Cattle and horses turned to oil-rigs, bales of hay and wind farms as we drove through Oklahoma. We shared the road with cars and trucks of all sizes and from all states (so far we’ve counted thirty-two). Many of these trucks carried raw materials created right here, in the middle and such a heartland for the entire country. In Oklahoma City we paid our respects at the city’s memorial. Nine rows of empty chairs (signifying the nine floors of the building) lay beside a reflecting pool. The survivor tree stands tall watching over all while the gates on either side display two times, one just prior to the attack and the other after. Somber, quiet, reflection, reverence, thanks, courage and bravery are not only displayed beautifully throughout the memorial but felt by the many who enter daily to pay respects and perhaps find peace after the fact.
Leaving Oklahoma City found us jumping again onto 40 West which turns into part of the historical Route 66. Here, once again we rode over tire tracks of countless before us who set out on a similar journey. I’m sure the road shared much of her knowledge and wisdom with them as she has with us; without that, Route 66 wouldn’t be as special as it is, right? So many told us to be sure to find roadside attractions and take in the ‘kitsch’ provided along the way. Riding Route 66 has been a special part of the journey. In some ways although we’re driving forward (following the route on these tiny computers we can hold in our hands) it’s as if we’re heading back in time riding along with those heading west for the first time. And if you have time along the way people said, why not visit the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City…so we did! Showcasing the allure of Route 66, the museum walks you from Chicago to California through the ever-changing landscapes, decades, and technology that go along with this journey. From convertible driving travelers, to native settlers to rural agricultural life, walking through the museum is like jumping into time travel and feeling as if you’re joining the ranks of those who came before you. There’s the farm museum with tractor parts galore, the old town museum showcasing rodeo fame and the Route 66 museum where you literally walk from one end of the road to the other within minutes. We certainly ‘got our kicks’ in this kitsch heaven!
Continuing west, the browns and oranges of Oklahoma become the deep mustards, maroons and tans of Texas. Although not the likes of the metropolis of Austin, Houston or Dallas, the northern panhandle of Texas gets it’s fair share of travelers headed west on Route 66. Amarillo shares the kitsch of history and helps visitors interact with travelers from decades past on similar journeys. Cadillac Ranch is one of the most visited sites on the famed route headed through Amarillo. Cars that appear as if they plummeted to earth and wedged themselves into the land are in the middle of ranch land surrounded by absolutely nothing. This roadside attraction pops up out of nowhere as cars lurch to an abrupt halt. We came prepared, picking up some spray paint at a Home Depot in Oklahoma this morning. When the world tells you it’s actually legal to ‘tag’ a car, why not participate? Covered in graffiti of all colours, giant cars greet visitors welcoming new artwork at every turn. We were not alone. As we shared our spray paint with onlookers, we joined in yet another experience with travelers of Route 66.
Headed further west, we’ll continue on Route 66 to New Mexico. It’s been a true privilege to share the journey and continue to learn the lessons of the mother road. Road trips are teachers providing lessons where one never thought to look. Driving through this stretch of Americana as the country music blared through the radio we were the every man. Nothing mattered-not race, religion, wealth, status, gender, ethnicity nor anything else. We were welcomed at truck stops the same locals, travelers and truckers. We were welcomed at rest stops the same as anyone else. And when we waved to the truckers and RV drivers as they passed by…they too waved right back. When Australians took to twitter after the siege in Sydney they tried to show the world that discrimination has no place and that an individual does not speak for an entire community. The road shares that sentiment. No matter where you come from or where you’re going, the road welcomes you with open arms. Safe and happy travels…see you out there!