My sister Filbert has been driving west on Route 66. It’s a journey that I’ve been following with some vicarious interest via Facebook/Instagram as I pursue my comparatively routine journey of grad school classes and post-wrap production business.

When the Curmudgeonly Lion and I drove west we paralleled Route 66 for much of the way. Even from the highways it was easy to see the allure of the route across America’s heartlands and through the southwest. There’s a lot of this country. I think perhaps that in this day and age of high speed cars and superhighways, the roadtrip is the nearest equivalent that we have to a pilgrimage: a journey taken as much for the journey itself as for the destination. Route 66 seemed like the classic American pilgrimage.

I was surprised, therefore, to see pictures of how derelict portions of the route actually is. There were, of course, the old motels and filling stations: neon mid century and rusting deco, untouched by progress if not forgotten by time. In some places the road is a scenic highway. In others, it is barely a dirt track- a ghost of a road strangled off the bloodline of American tourism by bigger brighter bypass roads.

Is this the American Dream that we call Route 66? Is this the road immortalized in song? Is this the legendary highway- now more legends than highway? I have this vague sense that the cultural idea that is Route 66 has somehow been undermined by neglect and indifference. Have we been sustaining ourselves on the idea of Route 66 alone without any need to keep the actual creature alive?

There is a similar hollowness here in Los Angeles. In some places there is a feeling that one is living among the bones of a creature that died a long time ago and never decayed. Grand bridges cross dry rivers- their ornate lanterns never lit, their wide promenade sidewalks crumbling from the heavy industrial traffic. Long avenues of established palm trees planted for the parades of a long forgotten Olympic games now lead the way to nowhere through neighborhoods too dangerous to want to go to anyway. The old city once lived here. The present city is a new creature calling itself by the same name: undying in a way, but not exactly alive.

I have to wonder whether other people feel this hollowness. Is it the result of some human weakness in our social fabric? Is it an element of our identity that we’ve always had? Is this the hollowness that inspires us to strive for our dreams in order to fill it or is this emptiness proof that we have stopped dreaming?

Perhaps it is both.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on September 3, 2015.

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