Saturday, April 30, 2011

US Route 6; "Creating the Mythology"

I was sitting at a luncheon table with award-winning author/filmmaker, Steven Beschloss this afternoon at the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) conference in New York City earlier today.  We were discussing our various writing projects.  His - a new book; Adrift - Charting our Course Back to a Great Nation, is coming out in July.  Mine, of course, is my Route 6 trip and this blog.  I mentioned that I was basically UN-political, pointing to my very purple shirt with pride.  "I'll be driving through blue states and red states and this is the blended color I hope to see," I laughed.  Steven grinned and quipped - "You're creating a mythology around Route 6, the same as has been done with Route 66."

That's an interesting take on my humble project.  As I see it,  I'm just driving along one long road and writing about what I see, what I eat, who I meet and where I sleep. If a mythology creeps up around it, that's for others to interpret.  I'll be cruising along US Route 6, but, with all contacts I've established along the way,  I certainly won't be adrift.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yes, There is a Number To Call If You Spot An Entangled Whale While Cruising on US Route 6

Who knew there'd be such an organization?  PCCSMAERT, otherwise known as the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team is a real-deal response team. 

From Cape Cod Today: 

Members of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team freed a right whale entangled in ropes on Friday, April 22. The entangled whale was spotted by researchers yesterday during an aerial survey, according to Tanya Grady, the Director of Communications for PCCS.

The whale was spotted in Cape Cod Bay surrounded by several other whales. It had rope through its mouth that was trailing over 40 feet [of line] behind its tail. According to Grady, an entanglement of this nature is potentially life-threatening to the whale over time. Members of the response team worked at freeing the animal for several hours. They were eventually able to use large buoys and make a single cut freeing the whale from the rope.

Boaters (or Route 6 drivers) who see an entangled whale in the waters off Southern New England, should call (800-900-3622).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DOT Historian, Richard Weingroff, Weighs in On Route 6 History

A bit of Route 6 background from Department of Transportation historian, Richard Weingroff:

When U.S. 6 achieved transcontinental status in 1937, it was the longest U.S. route at 3,652 miles. It was not, however, paved the entire distance. When paving was completed in 1952, the news received national attention. On September 21, 1952, The New York Times noted that paving had been completed a week earlier in 100-degree heat in Utah. A planned 2-day celebration would "mark completion of thirty-three and one-half miles of arrow-straight asphalt pavement running from a point just beyond Hinckley, about six miles west of here, to Skull Rock Pass in the Little Drum Mountains."
As Business Week pointed out in its issue of October 11, 1952, the paving was much needed:
It was designated a transcontinental highway in 1937. Technically, it was. You could get from Provincetown to Long Beach on it if you chose to try. But from Delta, about 80 mi. east of the Utah-Nevada border, to Ely, some 80 mi. west of the border, you ran into trouble. Much of this stretch of road was nothing but a wagon trail-rutted, filled with dust. It was one of the worst chunks of federal road in the country.
The celebration in Delta was a sign of hope for the communities along this stretch of U.S. 6:
What this means, citizens hope, is that their restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are in for some comparatively roaring business.
The ceremony was appropriately joyous:
They staged parades, ate barbecued beef, listened to speeches on how the area was scheduled for vast economic growth. In a final burst of enthusiasm, they closed off four blocks of U.S. 6 and ran a 1,500-man square dance.
Culmination of the two-day shindig came when Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (R., Utah) and Sen. Pat McCarran (D., Nev.) rode down U.S. 6 in, respectively, an 1898 Columbus-Firestone and a 1902 Oldsmobile. Driving for Watkins was Gov. J. Bracken Lee of Utah; driving for McCarran was Gov. Charles Russell of Nevada. The dignitaries chugged into Delta, disembarked, and cut a foot-wide ribbon stretched across the road. This symbolized the opening of U.S. 6.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Route 6 in the New Yorker Magazine; Dave Hanson's Shouts and Murmurs Piece

From this week's New Yorker Magazine (May 2nd), in the Shouts and Murmurs essay by humorist Dave Hanson , Route 6 is mentioned in the faux Kindle App instructions to find the home of poet Dylan Thomas (who lived in London, died in New York and probably had no association with the route): 

Type in “Dylan Thomas”:

Do not go gentle when you make that right
For you must merge, merge into the flood of rushing lights
Route 6 goes for miles, and you must push into the night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Rare Find at the New York City Auto Show; Antique Iowa Highway Patrol

I suppose a patrol car like this must have cruised US Route 6 circa 1950-something.  (Or - 60-something?).  Even in Manhattan, on a stormy April Saturday in 2011, I find myself exposed to reminders of my chosen cross-country route.  No signs indicated that this Iowa Patrol car cased Route 6 in particular, but I'm pretty sure this vehicle existed prior to the construction of the Interstate and therefore it would be a pretty good guess that it covered "Highway 6." 

If anyone out there (Dave, Rex?) can "steer" me in right direction, I'd love to know!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trains, Boats and Automobiles; A Brief History of Transportation in the USA

I'll keep it REALLY short;

1. Water. Colonists arrived by boat, and merchant ships brought  people and goods to and from  Europe.  Steamers ships were the first "commuter taxis" on the East Coast, ferrying folks from Boston to New York via rivers and seas.  In fact, waterways were of such importance to commerce, the explorers Lewis and Clark were commissioned to find an inland passage from Ocean to Ocean in 1804.
      The Route 6 Connection: The Mayflower first landed on what is now the Eastern Terminus of Route 6; Provincetown, MA, before heading to the more protected harbor of Plymouth. Shipbuilding was a major industry along the shoreline towns of Route 6, and profits from whaling made New Bedford, MA a wealthy city.

2. Railroad. Trains rendered most "commuter" steam ships obsolete - at least in the country's Eastern Corridor.  In the early 1800's, rails replaced canals in the hauling of coal and lumber.
      The Route 6 Connection: The first commercially successful rail transport in America, the Delaware & Hudson Gravity Railroad, which began operations on October 9, 1829, ran from Carbondale to Honesdale; both Pennsylvania Route 6 towns.

3. Automobiles.  Cars meant freedom.  Americans were no longer constrained by water routes or rails.  By the 1920's, rudimentary highways covered the United States, and by 1937, US Route 6 became the longest Federal Highway in the country.  Gas stations, restaurants and motels popped up along the way to serve 
 a continuous stream of cars and trucks.  But when the Interstate Thruway system was devised and built in the 1950's and '60's, small towns along former 2-lane highways were effectively cut off from the world.
        The Route 6 Connection: By the 1960's, the hundreds (if not thousands) of cars that passed through small  Route 6 towns seemingly vanished overnight - opting to speed to destinations via I80 or I70.  I've made it my mission to bring some attention back to these Route 6 communities.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

That's the Smell of Annie Oakley, Baby....Indiana Perfumery on US Route 6

Annie Oakley is not the first name that jumps to mind when thinking about perfume.

Channel, perhaps, or Dior....but Oakley?  Sure - she was gorgeous.  And talented; with a gun, on a horse, as a Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show star and Peerless Lady Wing-Shot.  But did she smell good, too?

I hope to find out in Ligonier, home base for the Annie Oakley Perfumery.  The only perfumery in the state of Indiana.  How did the owners settle on the name?  What does Eau De Sharpshooter smell like?

Logonier, IN is on US Route 6.  I'll be there in a month or so.......

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Perusing Pennsylvania and Iowa US Route 6 Guidebooks

I spent the good part of this morning reading two US 6 State guidebooks; one, already published, titled Pennsylvania's Scenic Route 6 by John Hope and the other, unpublished (but should be published), The Long and Lonesome Highway, Iowa's Route 6 by David Darby. Both books are wonderful guides through two very different regions of the United States.  Pennsylvania, lush, hilly and rich in lumber and coal, offers Victorian charm, tidy downtowns and unparalleled river, mountain and valley views.  Iowa is flat and wide, a topography that couldn't be more different from that of the woodsy Eastern United States.  Yet, there are gems to be found in each little Iowa town; water towers, murals, soda shops, antique cars and the best darn Butterscotch Pie you'll ever find anywhere (why do I suddenly sound like a Twin Peaks character?).

Though US Route 6 was an integral shipping and transportation  route prior to the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950's, there is a paucity of printed material about this transcontinental highway.  Two guidebooks - two states out of 14! - and one isn't even published yet.

Pennsylvania and Iowa are important segments of US Route 6, but there's so much more to the Grand Army of the Republic Highway and I aim to fill in the blanks where I can.  Far be it for me to reinvent the wheel.  Hope and Darby have done most of the work in their respective states.  But my mission is to cover US 6 coast to coast.  I'll be heading out on May 20.  Sign up and follow me!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pete Seeger's "A Thousand Little Initiatives" on US Route 6

These are tough economic times for our country, but it's not the first time and it won't be the last.  About 8 years ago, I had the good fortune to interview Pete Seeger, born in 1920 and with intimate knowledge about the Great Depression, for a boating magazine.  The topic was the part he played in the cleanup of the Hudson River.  I told him I just needed thirty minutes.  He invited me to his home - set on a wooded hillside overlooking that mighty Hudson - and at 8am, we sat at his kitchen table where I listened and wrote and listened and wrote until I looked up and it was 2pm. He spoke about getting the Sloop Clearwater built and about all the people who came down to the "stinking sewer that was the Hudson," recognizing the need to clean the river up when the ship docked in each town.   Six hours had gone by in an instant.  Pete apologized for not offering me lunch.   Shortly after the interview began, Seeger stated that he had little hope for the human race; that he didn't think there'd BE a human race in 100 years.  But by the end of the six hours, something made him change his mind.  He considered all the causes he is (still) asked to support, the "thousands of little initiatives" out there in America, and believed that with all these initiatives and all this energy and hope - why, there might be a chance for us yet.

As I research my way through Route 6 cities and towns, I understand what Seeger was telling me.  Small towns are in decline, businesses and corporations move out leaving unemployment in their wake.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fires wreak havoc.  And yet, there's this strength out there, people helping neighbors, recreating downtowns, preserving what's important.  A thousand little initiatives on Route 6.

And, just so you know, I'll be traversing and then crossing the Hudson River - so breathtaking it inspired a whole school of art.  Stay on Route 6 and you'll see it, too. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset on US Route 6

I just witnessed the first real Spring sunset of the year here in Connecticut.  A ball of fire, low in the sky, segmented by the still-bare limbs of just-budding trees, clouds cast in pinks and purples; it was indescribably moving.  Sunrises and sunsets move me, what can I say?  They captivate me and give me chills.  I'm a sucker for them.  And one of the blessings of crossing our continent is the opportunity to see the sun rise and set over a myriad of landscapes.  The Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast.  The feminine humps of the Allegheny Mountain Range in PA.  The Great Lakes in Ohio. The farm fields of the midwest and serrated peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The deserts of Nevada and California and finally the Pacific Ocean.

I am looking forward to six weeks worth of morning and evening celestial shows. I know there will be rainy days and nights.  But those dreary grey wet hours make those sun-streaked moments all the more spectacular.

I hope to bring you a daily dose of Route 6 sunrises and sunsets.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Route 6, IOWA

Here in the East, we may have a "corny" notion of cornfed Iowa.  "It's so boring, there's nothing out there to do but watch the corn grow," said one city slicker (not me).  This is the self-same slicker who gets all sanctimonious about eating strictly organic "farm to table" cuisine and exhorts others to eliminate stress by "stopping to smell the roses."  I say - what's the difference between stopping to smell the roses and watching the corn grow?  Plus, where do you think a bunch of those "farm to table" farms are located?

I also know that stereotyping runs both ways.  And I'm out to prove that not all people from the Northeastern US are elitist snobs. Although I must admit,  I had some pre-suppositions about the midwest myself.

Readers, Iowa is surprising me, though I really shouldn't be TOO surprised.  Before planning my Route 6 itinerary,  I vaguely recognized the state's importance in the world of national politics.   For decades the Iowa Caucus has been the first electoral event in the country during each United States Presidential Campaign.  Members of the press swarm there every four years, not to watch the corn grow, but to interview a very politically astute population.

And I've had the Iowa Writer's Workshop - the Holy Grail for aspiring poets and writers - on my own radar for years.  Many Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning authors have graduated from this University of Iowa's Graduate School Department, set in an unexpectedly metropolitan Iowa City.

But I've been most impressed by Real Estate agent Rex Brandstatter - an enthusiastic booster, cheerleader, and one-man-tourist bureau for Coralville, a suburb of Iowa City.  His can-do positive personality shines through his multiple emails to me, and I can't wait to see what Iowa City and Coralville have on tap.

I'll be in Iowa only a few days, so I won't have time  to sit and watch the corn grow.  As much as I'd like to.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Expressing Passion Along US Route 6

The more I reach out to Route 6 communities and personalities, the more intriguing things get.  Aside from the anticipated "you're not spending nearly enough time here," missives (and my sincere answer, "I wish I could, but time constraints....."), I've received some poignant and enlightening letters.  Jim McQuiston, a historian and author from Western PA wrote,

"If I am only one of many, your email box must be full every day. The implications of what your are doing for the pride and even a potential "healing" within these small communities, is no doubt far beyond what you can imagine or probably originally intended."

 I have to say, Jim, my eyes misted up.

And from Debbie Koop right outside of Denver, CO in Lakewood: 

"I want you to know about the Westernaires, a non-profit organization for over 1,000 dedicated young people, ages 9 to 19, from Jefferson County, Colorado. We encourage self-respect, responsibility and leadership through horsemanship and family participation. For over sixty years, Westernaires has proudly trained young people to use their talents and skills in the best traditions of the West.  On any Saturday (year around) at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds where they practice, you can see teams of dedicated youth working on their drills.If you are going to be passing by this summer, we also have practices in the evenings all week long.  The view of the sunset over the mountains while watching horses dancing with flags is just amazing!" 

Yes, Debbie, I do intend to watch your Westernaires practice; what a way to witness a Rocky Mountain sunset!  

As a writer, I shy away from being the center of the action.  My job is to report on the action.  And, as my plans unfold, I realize that not everything on this Route 6 blog will revolve around conspicuous consumption.  I'm looking forward to discovering the ways in which a diverse people express their passions (in beneficial, kind and productive ways) and give back, entertain or teach others;  gaining the upper hand in Monster Truck competitions, owning the coolest art/gallery cafe, running Dune Tours on one of the Easternmost beaches in the USA, being a well-trained chef in a 100 year old family restaurant, or at age 15, flying your flag while riding a trusty steed in the setting summer sun.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Keeping it Real on US Route 6

When did authentic turn into "branded."   When did bartenders become "mixologists" and annual crops become "sustainable agriculture?" Who invented the first "gastropub" and why has it proliferated?

Part of the reason I'm taking Route 6 through the heartland of America is to find authentic farmers and authentic bartenders.  Authentic, plainspoken men and women of the Plains.   Outdoorsy, unpretentious gals and guys out West.  Not everything has to be superlative, awesome, "viral."  Often, "keeping it real" is just right.  I'm hoping to discover the real people of US Route 6.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Monster Trucks on PA Route 6

The back page of New York Magazine consists of The Approval Matrix - a grid indicating what editors consider "highbrow, lowbrow, brilliant or despicable" each week.

Though I won't be utilizing a grid in my posts, I can tell already that my daily Route 6 jaunts will encompass sites and experiences that would fit into each of the four quadrants; highbrow brilliant, lowbrow brilliant, highbrow despicable and lowbrow despicable.

Yesterday, I learned of a Monster Truck field and gravity-defying event - called the Cornfield 500 - held on a Route 6 farm in Pennsylvania.  I'll give it "lowbrow brilliant" for the clever repurposing of fallow land (and the rolicking crowd it draws). Adding delightful deep-fried silliness to the deal; the owners of the Cornfield 500 were recently featured on  CMT's "My Big Redneck Wedding." I'm looking forward to meeting them and perhaps taking a ride. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chain Hotels and Other Fallbacks Along US Route 6

Not every Route 6 town is graced with extraordinary, fancy, individually-owned hotels, inns or B&B's - though finding those along the way is among my several quests. Whenever possible, I'll overnight or at least peek into these establishments, but there will be nights when - gasp -  I'll have to resort to staying in Chain Hotels.  This is especially true in Utah, where Route 6 manages to miss every single National Park (an enormous feat, since Utah is riddled with them), but cuts through huge swaths of BLM land. I'll pass on the run-down, seemingly filthy roadside motels (curb-appeal counts!), and unpainted sagging flop houses, thanks. (I don't mind flea market accouterments.  Just keep the fleas out of it.). In many small towns Out West, it seems, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western will be my chosen home away from home.

That said, there are B&B's with genuinely warm, grandmotherly owners, off-the-map inns with creatively themed rooms, lodging both homespun and architecturally interesting.  And I can't wait to be a pampered guest.

I'll report back on the best places to stay along Route 6........

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Museums on Route 6 Tell the Story of Each Community

In Connecticut, they are home to  "men of letters" or, more appropriately, "of words" - Mark Twain and Noah Webster.  In Colorado,  an homage to Mountaineering.  In the stark and arid land north of Los Angeles, a tribute to the Film Industry.  To what do  I refer?  Museums.  I love museums - the quirkier the better.  (Once a friend of mine proclaimed - "Mal, if there's a Museum of Wheat you'll find it!").

The kind of museum that a community supports tells a lot about that community.  Does the town lift businessmen or civil servants on pedestals? Did a certain industry or singular event put the city on the map? When I walk into a history museum or historic site or old home, I hear echos from the past and witness the things upon which locals place great importance.  And then I stop into a local restaurant or dive, start asking questions and hear another dimension to the story.

Until May 20, my blog posts will merely preview what I'm hoping and/or expecting to find on Rt. 6.  When I set out, I'll provide unadulterated first-hand accounts of my experiences  good, bad and "pass." I'm not the kind of writer who reserves judgement (and, after all, as opposed to newspaper writing which must be balanced,  judgement is what blogging is all about), and I'm very wary of hype.

As I've written before, I am not easily impressed.  But my sense of wonder is unbounded. If something is awesome, let me know it's out there.  Then, I'll see for myself.  And then I'll tell my readers.......

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Duplexes and Pairs - Cross Country Route 6 Terminology

"Duplexes with." "Aligns with." "Pairs with." Merges, piggy-backs.....  You'll read these phrases a lot during my travels on US Route 6.  Never meant to be a transcontinental route, US Route 6 nevertheless became one as roadways were improved and the original Provincetown, MA to Brewster, NY Route extended westward to Long Beach, California, beginning in 1926 and fully completed in 1937; though the stretch from Delta, Utah to Ely, Nevada was a rough and tumble dirt path that could hardly be called a federal road and was not paved until 1952.  In other words, Route 6 was created from already existing state roads.

So it should surprise no one that though I'll (you'll) be following Route 6 across the USA, I'll also be riding on other highways as well.

Is Route 6 a two-lane highway?  In many places it is.  In others, it "duplexes with" interstates (most notably in Colorado on I70) and other major US routes.  In some places the current Route 6 stays on these thruways while the older 6 alignment cuts through small downtowns.  As I refuse to stay on interstates longer than I have to, I will take the "Business 6" whenever I can.

Sounds confusing?  It really isn't.  As long as you "Stay on Route 6."

Monday, April 4, 2011

"The Father of the Modern Skyscraper" on Route 6


Architect Louis Sullivan has been called the Father of Modernism, the Father of the American Skyscraper, the "Spiritual Leader of the Prairie School."  He was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and a "starchitect" in his day.  Route 6 town, Grinnell, Iowa,  home to the highly rated Grinnell College (the first college established in  the West - in 1846), is also home to a Louis Sullivan "Jewelbox" design Merchants' National Bank building.

While most of the building is stark and boxy the ornate medallion over the front entrance looks like a clue in the Davinci Code or something Richard Dryfus would cook up to attract alien spaceships.  And what's up with the church-like stained glass?  There is an explanation, and I aim to discover it and pass it along to you when I hit Grinnell sometime early June.  Stay tuned....

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Why We Travel" A Paul Theroux Essay in the New York Times; How It Pertains to US Route 6

Sunday's NY Times Travel Section (which, as a subscriber, I get delivered on Saturday) asks - or posits - "Why We Travel."  Written by war-zone reporter, Paul Theroux, the piece waxes romantic about traveling to places where you might, just might, get your head blown off.  "But if the traveler manages to breeze past such unpleasantness....he or she can return home to report; 'I was there.  I saw it all.'" Theroux goes on to explain, "In my experience these maligned countries are often the most fulfilling. I am not saying they are fun."  For that, he advises, "bake in the sun in Waikiki with a mai tai in your fist."

For me, when it comes to travel, there is a middle-road between war-torn countries and palm-dappled resorts; and that is literally the "middle road." If you are not the sort who likes to jump in the car at dawn and watch the world unfold before you as the tops of mountains, trees and water towers glow yellow  with the rising sun, if you are not the sort who is curious about that great little history museum or destination restaurant in an otherwise dead and dusty downtown, if you are not the sort who is beckoned by the promise of farm-fresh food in unlikely places, then you'll never understand the romance of the two-lane highway.  

Not quite work and not quite rest, the open road in the United States of America is a voyage of discovery; whether of your roots, our history or just the best damn cherry tart in the country.  And there's no better - or longer - open road than US Route 6.  The voyage begins on May 20th.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Answering the Burning Questions on US Route 6

Years ago, I wrote this about travel writing for magazines: 

The life of a magazine writer is a patchwork of mundane and thrilling, solitary and sociable. It requires Rube Goldberg ingenuity to schedule interviews and meticulous travel planning that one hopes, as a believer in spontaneity, will go awry. It involves demystifying the mysterious and transforming work-a-day into evocative. It also generates some big surprises. 

One of the surprises, pre-trip, is the number of emails I'm receiving and the enthusiasm with which small towns plan to welcome me.  Probably not so surprisingly, there seems to be an inverse relationship between a town's population and it's level of interest.  Representatives from Fleming, Colorado - with a population of 431 and not much more than a water tower - have asked me to stop by for a chat and "token." The Gretna, Nebraska (pop. 2,800) newspaper - The Breeze - would like to interview me.  I've had dozens of these invitations, and I'm happy to comply. 

I'm not crossing our country in any official capacity.  I'm not raising money for anything, I'm not campaigning for anything, I'm not on any type of crusade.  I'm taking no stance on issues (social, environmental, financial) that loom large these days.  I do not intend to open up a contentious debate. I am, in every sense of the word - if only for the purposes of this cross-country trip - nonpartisan. 

But I do plan to answer some burning questions. Why do several tiny communities in the midwest consider themselves "progressive?"  What kind of person would buy an old abandoned bank in the middle of nowhere and turn it into a destination restaurant?  Where is the oldest continuously operating soda fountain in the world? 

My objective is to write about what's out there on one single long but never lonely road. US Route 6.  The Grand Army of the Republic Highway.  This is my quest, this is my self-imposed assignment.