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Book review: “Drive the Broadway of America” January 27, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Highways, Maps.
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It’s not about Route 66. It’s not a book in the traditional sense. But Jeff Jensen’s “Drive the Broadway of America” (self-published, 223 pages, $30, including shipping) should greatly please Route 66ers and entice roadies to new two-lane adventures.

Jensen’s book, subtitled “The U.S. 80 and the Bankhead Highways Across the American Southwest,” is the product of years of meticulous research of a road also known as the Dixie Overland Highway, Old Spanish Trail, Lee Highway and the Ocean to Ocean Highway.

Jensen’s U.S. 80 book covers only the states of California, Arizona and New Mexico. So those wishing for a more comprehensive, coast-to-coast volume will have to wait. But there are enough material and attractions to keep roadies busy for weeks.

“Broadway of America” is a book in an Adobe Acrobat form on a CD. Jensen has declined for now to have the book in print form because it would be too cost prohibitive, especially in color. However, its format does allow a user to print it.

If 223 pages sound daunting for a three-state travelogue, one should realize that Jensen liberally sprinkles maps, color photos and side stories throughout its pages. Also, about a third of the book is devoted to west-to-east directions, in addition to the traditional east-to-west.

Jensen’s book provides helpful guides to older U.S. 80 alignments, including those that are so degraded or primitive that it would be difficult for even four-wheel drive vehicles to traverse. (One old alignment is not recommended for exploration because it’s heavily traveled by illegal aliens and drug smugglers.)

The book is sliced into a series of “tours” so travelers can experience U.S. 80 in bits and pieces. He also includes “bail points,” where travelers can return to the interstate or a major highway.

U.S. 80 goes from isolated areas where you may be the only traveler for miles around, to congested urban settings in Phoenix, Tucson and San Diego. The book lists “must stops, ” including the 1929 Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Ariz.; the Shady Dell in Bisbee, Ariz., featuring old Airstream trailers available for a night’s stay and an operating Valentine diner; a 1916 arch bridge near Quatay, Calif.; and the Desert View Watchtower near Boulder Park, Calif.

Jensen points out vintage motels and buildings along the way, and side trips that probably shouldn’t be missed, such as the famed Saguaro National Park near Phoenix.

What’s enticing about the book is that you almost feel as if you’re traveling with Jensen. Here’s a description of the highway winding through the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico:

“Indeed, a quick whiff might bring one the smell of freshly mowed hay, perhaps scallions, or if you’re really unlucky, fresh fertilizer. Small pecan groves dot the landscape and keep you company as you pass through the small towns of Berino (or more properly, Berino Siding) Vado (once known as Herron, Earlham, Center Valley and finally Vado around 1920 or so), and Mesquite prior to entering Mesilla Park and the south side of Las Cruces.”

Or this one, on New Mexico Highway 418 west of Deming:

“The smell of onions in bloom was heavy in the air when I passed through in 2006, while the next time around the faint smell of alfalfa wafted through my open window. Regardless, the pastoral fields and mountain backdrop make for a relaxing scene.”

The book begins in an easygoing pace, then the old road seemingly becomes more fascinating as one moves west. I found myself being seduced by the charms of U.S. 80 and wanted to experience it myself.

I hope that Jensen can eventually find a publisher for this book; more people need to know about this highway.

Highly recommended.

Ghosts in the motel January 26, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Ghosts and Mysteries, Motels.
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There were some suggestions in the past that the historic Hotel Brunswick on Route 66 in Kingman, Ariz., was haunted. Debe Branning of Examiner.com has more specific stories about those ghostly incidents:

A previous innkeeper told the MVD Ghostchasers crew about some of the difficulties he encountered with the Brunswick ghosts after he purchased the hotel. Early on, members of his family came down to breakfast and found they had yellow marks on their necks.   They all had a good laugh about it — and the marks easily washed off.  […]

Guests have felt someone tugging on their feet or legs in the middle of the night. Women have witnessed a small child in their rooms looking for someone to play with. The previous owner told us that he often found old pennies and coins lined up in stacks along the hallways and near the bar.  He felt it was the spirits way of assuring him that prosperous times were on the way.
Recently, the new owner has had a few ghostly encounters of his own. He opened the door to the cellar and glanced down to the bottom of the stairs. He saw an outline of what looked like a man heading up the steps. He stood frozen as the spirit whisked through him and caused goose bumps to rise on his skin. He glanced again to see another ghostly outline heading his way, but quickly retreated back and firmly closed the cellar door.
As I’ve said before, I think it’s very curious marketing to be so upfront about these alleged ghost stories. But the Brunswick has been thriving for years, so who knows?

Rock ‘n’ roll landmarks on Route 66 January 26, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, History, Music, Road trips.
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I just finished Chris Epting‘s 2007 book, “Led Zeppelin Crashed Here,” subtitled “The Rock and Roll Landmarks of North America.”

It’s the most comprehensive book I’ve read that lists famous rock history sites, venues of noteworthy concerts, where rock musicians died, their burial sites, locations of famous album covers, and rock-inspired museums. Epting’s book will inspire a lot of pilgrimages and side trips.

The book even has a separate chapter on jazz and blues sites, 100 classic road-trip songs (yes, “Route 66″ is included) and albums, 30 great American music stores, and the author’s 25 greatest concerts.

For famous rock places, Sunset Boulevard in the Los Angeles area has dozens of them. But here are the ones particular to the Route 66 corridor (be aware that many of these buildings have been converted to other uses and are often nondescript):

  • The Doors’ office at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Calif.
  • The Extension, 8500 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, a hangout for the Doors.
  • Monaco Liquor, 8513 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, where members of the Doors bought booze during rehearsal breaks.
  • The Palms, 8572 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, another bar where Jim Morrison hung out.
  • Turkey Joint West, 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, Calif., a tavern where Jim Morrison made his first singing appearance.
  • Standin’ on a Corner Park, Kinsley Avenue and Second Street, Winslow, Ariz., which pays tribute to Jackson Browne’s song “Take It Easy,” a hit for the Eagles.
  • The Tropicana, 8585 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, a hotel where Morrison, Tom Waits and other rock stars stayed.
  • Doug Weston’s Troubadour, 9041 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, where Elton John performed his first U.S. show.
  • The Starwood, 8151 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, where bands such as Van Halen, Devo and AC/DC performed during the 1970s and ’80s early in their careers.
  • Glen Helen Regional Park, San Bernardino, Calif., the site of the two US Festivals.
  • Gold Star Recording Studios, 6252 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Calif., where the Beach Boys recorded its famed “Pet Sounds” album.
  • Irv’s Burgers, 8289 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, on the cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Livin’ in the USA” album.
  • Holiday Inn (now a Comfort Inn), Room 124, 3080 S. Route 157, Edwardsville, Ill., where Jackson Browne recorded two songs for his classic “Runnin’ on Empty” album.
  • Dee Dee Ramone and Johnny Ramone’s grave sites, at Hollywood Forever, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Calif.

I can’t help but feel there are sites on Route 66 in the midsection that were missed, but can’t think of any. Anyone?

Mother Road matchmaker January 25, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People, Road trips.
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The Daily Mirror in London reports today that Paul McCartney plans to marry new American girlfriend Nancy Shevell.

Shevell’s divorce from her husband recently became final after she separated in 2007. The newspaper reports that McCartney’s daughter Stella has given the green light for the former Beatle to marry.

And apparently the Mother Road was a key to cementing the relationship:

Last August they drove across America in a 1989 Ford Bronco, following the old Route 66, the legendary route to the West, staying in motels and hotels on the way.

The friend said: “The road trip was when they realised quite how much they loved each other. They’ve both got loads of money but they were at their happiest just driving together in an old car staying in motels.

“Paul is basically a very down-to-earth guy and he was blown away to discover that Nancy is also very chilled and relaxed.

“Now everything is in place for Paul and Nancy to make their lives together – with the approval of both of their families.”

For more about McCartney and Shevell’s trip on Route 66 last summer, go here and here.

For McCartney’s sake, I would hope this marriage goes a lot better than the last one.

“In Sight It Must Be Right” January 25, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Restaurants.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert waxes ecstatic about the Steak ‘n Shake restaurant chain and his memories of the restaurant growing up in Urbana, Ill.

Ebert’s whole blog entry is worth reading (as are the comments and his replies). But here is a choice excerpt, of which many roadies will concur:

If I were on Death Row, my last meal would be from Steak ‘n Shake. If I were to take President Obama and his family to dinner and the choice were up to me, it would be Steak ‘n Shake — and they would be delighted. If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in America, I would reply, “Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or the Chili 3-Ways?”

A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak ‘n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins. These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be. These convictions are fixed at an early age. I do not expect to convert you.

Yes, Steak ‘n Shake is a “fast food” chain — just about the first, I think, except probably for White Castle. Certainly it is the best. How many hamburger chains bring you a glass of water and silverware, and serve you on china?

And this recollection of when Ebert appeared on David Letterman’s show years ago:

My Steak ‘n Shake fetish is not unique. On an early visit to the Letterman Show, during a commercial break, I said to David:

“I hear you’re from Indianapolis, home of the head office of Steak ‘n Shake.”

“In Sight, It Must be Right,” he said. Our eyes locked in unspoken communion.

“Four Ways to Enjoy,” I said.

“Car, table, counter, or TakHomaSak,” he replied.

“Specializing in Selected Foods…”

“… with a Desire to Please the Most Discriminating.”

“Thanks for Your Liberal Patronage …”

David didn’t blink an eye or miss a beat. We had both obviously memorized the original menu. “… signed, A. H. (Gus) Belt, founder,” he said, and we shared a nod of great satisfaction. Augustus H. Belt founded Steak ‘n Shake in 1934, and after three changes in ownership over the years, it still preserves the original logos, mottoes, typography, design, approach, philosophy and, most crucially, recipes. The founder built well.

My memories of Steak and Shake largely match Ebert’s, except that my parents to took me to the restaurants in Decatur, Ill., not Urbana. (However, I have often enjoyed myself at Ebert’s favorite Steak ‘n Shake on Green Street in Urbana.) And, in my adulthood, I kept going to Steak ‘n Shakes after rock concerts in St. Louis.

My wife doesn’t get the attraction to Steak ‘n Shakes, mostly because she grew up in southern Illinois, where the restaurants are scarce.

Alas, the original Steak ‘n Shake in Bloomington, Ill., was razed about a decade ago. The land on which it sat, an island between the northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. 51, suffered from horrendous drainage problems, no doubt contributing to that restaurant’s demise. Still, it seems horribly wrong that the owners let Restaurant No. 1 go.

The best place to check out a Steak ‘n Shake is the one at St. Louis Street and National Avenue in  Springfield, Mo. Not only is this Steak ‘n Shake on Route 66, but it was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

A blast from “The Daily Show” past January 24, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Television.
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This segment was just uploaded to the archives of the Comedy Channel’s “The Daily Show” — a younger, thinner Jon Stewart in 1999 giving his usual irreverent take on the news.

This time, Stewart was poking fun at Route 66, after President Clinton signed legislation that created the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.

Nearly 10 years later, the program will likely be renewed in the coming weeks. So Stewart will have new material, in addition to a new president.

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