Gunnar Johnson wrote a post about the sublimely mundane nature of much of his cross-country travels. It’s certainly true that the bulk of road trip travel is mundane. It’s the occasional rare finds you come upon that make road tripping priceless. Gunner seems to have a keen eye for the bazaar as well as the mundane. Look his blog over. It made me realize I need to get out more.
It occurred to me how Gunnar’s definition of mundane compares to interstate highway travel. On that endless ribbon of asphalt called the Interstate, everything is perfectly predictable, and boring. The Interstate it seems was built to bypass anything and everything interesting, informative or controversial. You can travel mindlessly for hours never seeing a thing of interest. Drive off at any exit to find the same fast food eateries, convenience stores and hotels you would find at any other exit on the Interstate.
Traveling on the back roads of America, by contrast, can offer up an occasional surprise. Maybe a ghost sign on the side of an old abandoned building, or a classy family-run business complete with local residents that actually talk to each other, and to you if you are a willing participant.
Once while having lunch in Fossati’s Delicatessen in Victoria Texas, some of the locals struck up a conversation with my wife and I. When I told them we were road tripping through the area and interested in visiting historic properties, they told us about places in Victoria we would have never discovered on our own. Finally, before leaving the restaurant I asked for directions to Memorial Square. An elderly couple said we would never find it on our own and insisted we follow them over to the park. When we got there, they told us the history of the park, wished us good day, and went on their way.
Usually, when eating along the Interstate, the only conversation I encounter involves Super-sizing my meal.
Sadly, few of us opt to navigate the road less traveled. During a recent side trip on Route 66 in Oklahoma, I found plenty of interest. Sadly though, I also discovered that many of the mom and pop motels and old carnival style road side attractions are falling victim to decay and abandonment. Or, worse yet, in urban areas they’re being torn down to make way for more fast food restaurants and other boring franchised business establishments.
Both Preservation Oklahoma and The National Trust for Historic Preservation have named Route 66 Motels to their most endangered places list. Unfortunately, city governments are often focused on developing new business no matter what the cost to the culture and heritage of the community. An article in the Urban Tulsa Weekly described one faction of the City Council as the “build anything I want anywhere I want” crowd. I’m not an expert on Tulsa, but there seems to be a riff in the city between those who would rather tear down everything old and build new, and the other camp that would like to preserve some of the character and culture of Tulsa. This post on The State of Fort Worth Preservation by Kevin Buchanan suggests that the build anything I want anywhere I want mentality is far from unique to Tulsa Oklahoma. More likely, this is a national phenomena.
During my recent side trip on Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66 I also found signs of hope. In Stroud Oklahoma the Rock Cafe, which was opened in 1939, is still operated as a Mon and Pop business. Locals own the business and provide local employment. Further down the road in Arcadia I found POPS. Not a historic property, POPS is brand new and pleasingly unique. You have to admire these folks for doing something different and taking the business risk that goes along with it.
What can the individual do to help save these mundane road side destinations? Get involved if that’s the sort of person you are. And, of course, we can all vote with our dollars. Public awareness and the efforts of individuals and preservation organizations are the best chance these mundane and eclectic road side destinations have for surviving for future generations to discover and enjoy.