The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 8, 1997 · Page 18
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 18

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Wednesday, October 8, 1997
Page 18
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1997 ROUTE 66 THE SALINA JOURNAL Route 66 may find new life in focus on culture Interstate highways robbed Route 66 of its people, but they're starting to come back By TED ANTHONY Ttie Associated Press ; SELIGMAN, Ariz. — They shine in the barber's eyes as he talks — memories of an era he lived through and watched ebb. , He walks his streets, and the echoes are everywhere: echoes of a town that claimed his lifetime loyalty. Of travelers long departed, cars long obsolete, and an important, exciting road that led people to important, exciting adventures. ., Two decades have passed since the echoes replaced reality — 2 p.m., Sept. 22,1978, the day that wiped the grin from Angel Delgadillo's face. He rose from the barber chair he inherited from his daddy, walked outside, pursed his lips and watched everything slip away. ; That day, Interstate 40 opened a mile away to carry cars back and forth at 70 mph. In an instant, the 9,000 automobiles .that passed through town each hour vanished and the legendary U.S. Route 66, Seligman's life force and main street for three generations, became a relic. "I stood out there, looked either way and saw nothing. We, the people of these towns, had been forgotten. It's sad when the world forgets you," Delgadillo says. "Our home," he says, "was history." Trapped in a landscape shaped by and for the road, Seligman joined the list of death-row towns condemned by the very brand of progress that originally energized them — a new, faster highway system. Businesses closed. People left. Buildings decayed. Then something curious happened. Today the barber waits in his shop and, once again, the cars pull off. Americans and Germans, Japanese and Scandinavians, they come with cameras and money just to see people like him — him, Angel Delgadillo, 70, who cuts hair and carries the torch of another age. He encourages this interest. Because for him — for all of those who still populate the towns and not-quite-towns along the 2,400-mile expanse that once was Route 66 — it offers a narrow chance at a future. Today, the "Mother Road," a cauldron of American memories real and wished, lives again. Today, people are looking at communities like Seligman for more than just food, phone, gas and lodging. Today, Angel Delgadillo's grin has returned. When the Journey Itself mattered Not so long ago, journey mattered as much as destination. And between 1926 and the 1960s, Route 66 was the ultimate road trip through the essence of pioneer spirit — the American frontier. Those lands — the Midwest and Southwest — were the regions that inspired Disneyland and its two-thirds-scale American experience. And 66 in its heyday was an equivalent of Disney's "Peo- pleMover," except the landscape it traversed was real life. It meandered through Adventureland's undulating hills, mountains and desert- land so novel to touring easterners. Through Frontierland, with its promise of unfettered access to all parts of the once-wild West. And most of all through our Main Streets — the patch towns that grew from Western settlements and, decades later, formed the dots connected by 66, the first federal highway to link the Mississippi River to California's boomtown shores. It began in Chicago, dipped south to Texas, then snaked through the Southwest to Los Angeles and the Pacific. It carried cars through major towns like Oklahoma City, Amarillo and Albuquerque, but its heart was the in-be. tweens — dusty places like Tucumcari, N.M., Barstow, Calif., Seligman. Nineteenth-century Americans may have pioneered this frontier, but in this century 66 helped populate it. This highway had something its horse- trail predecessors lacked: From the day 66 opened in 1926 — parts paved, others simply dirt-and-gravel roads elevated into mass use — it and the American obsession with the automobile evolved together. Driving was still an adventure. Windows were left open. Automatic gas pumps, automatic tellers and drive-thru speakers had not supplanted human contact. And what better vacation than to pack the family and head west to picture- postcard places like the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood? "You were actually living instead of being projected through space in some" enclosed, air-conditioned vehicle," says Terri Ryburn-LaMonte, who teaches a course on Route 66 at Illinois State Unl- 1 versity. When Depression and dust storms,,L filled Oklahoma with scarred fields and destitute farmers, Okies packed belongings and drove west on 66 looking for* fruit-picking work in California. Ship-:-. pers turned to trucks to augment trains. And, since 66 was assembled from local; roads, it acted as a regional highway that streamlined a vast patchwork of commerce and transit. •. "• > What grew from this combination of . local and national travelers was an individualistic landscape of motels, restau-' rants and gas stations, built by entrepreneurs who believed drivers passing at-35, maybe 45 mph would be enticed by colorful signage, pull off and participate in whatever good or service was for sale. The road, in effect, was an advertisement for itself. And the towns along it • were happy to reap the economic bene* fits. See ROUTE, Page C5 Forgotten motels Small motels struggle to survive on the back roads By TED ANTHONY T/ii' Associated Press TUCUMCARI, N.M. — Frail but determined, she sits each evening behind the counter she has warmed since Eisenhower was president. She watches them approach, travelers weary from the drive. And she watches, hours later, as they return to the open road. Lillian Redman, 88, sole proprietor of the tiny Blue Swallow Motel ("100 percent Refrigerated Air") along old U.S. 66 in this dusty New Mexico strip town, is a holdout — and proud to be one. There is no guest she doesn't talk with, no story of the road that she doesn't want to hear. "My life has really been blessed with all the people I've met," she says, sitting in her wheelchair in the motel office one balmy night. Yards away, cars roll past. "Everybody is going somewhere, and everybody has something to say." Off the interstate highways, past the islands of TraveLodges, Days Inns and Super 8s, places like the Blue Swallow endure as beacons of another era — places where a clean room with few amenities can be had for less than $30. Or, in Redman's case, less than $15 — $10 if you don't want color TV. Since the 1920s, the third decade of the automobile's existence, the independent motel has supplanted the hotel as a lure for travelers who want nothing more than a quiet, safe place to sleep, a place to meet people or a place to get away from them. But as the Interstate Highway System becomes ever more the norm of the American landscape and corporate standardization spreads chain lodges across the land, proprietors like Redman are an increasingly rare breed. Boring, predictable chains "There's something to be said for the chains and what they've offered and what they've done," says John Margolies, who has studied roadside America for three decades. "Yes, they have made the landscape more boring. But they've also made the traveling landscape a lot more comfortable j and predictable for motorists." They've also forced many independents to struggle for continued existence. "This has been a dead place for a long time," says Marjud Paakkanen, a Finn who owns the six-room Route 66 Motel in Needles, Calif., about a mile from the nearest interstate exit at the edge of California's Mojave Desert. She keeps it clean and keeps riff-raff out, but it's not enough. "This motel has a lot of potential," Paakkanen says, "but what it boils down to is that Mama-and- Papa businesses in this country are dead, dead, dead. You need big business to do anything. All I want to do is get out of here." If such places do thrive, it is often either as — in the case of the Blue Swallow — a nostalgia haven, or as the only alternative far from interstate exits. "I think we're seeking increased comfort and security in motels. We may think we're adventuring, but we're doing it in comfort and safety," says John A. Jakle, co-author of "The Motel in America." Unique is what it's all about Those independents that do endure, while perhaps not exhibiting the top-notch corporate sparkle and comfort of a Macintosh Inn or a Motel 6, offer travelers other amenities — homemade coffee, individualistic rooms and, most importantly of all, more personal service. "Unique is the operative word — it's what roadside is all about," says Ken Smith, co-author of "Roadside America," an irreverent guidebook to America's highways. "America is good for that. We tend to put on display things that many other countries would probably shy away from." So there is the Blue Swallow, where Redman sells penny candy and soda from her own refrigerator, and gives every guest a charming note welcoming them to the world of travel camaraderie. There is the Oh! Shaw Motel, along Route 30 in Lancaster County, Pa,, where babies gurgle during check-in and the rooms offer the feel of being sewn up in Pennsylvania Dutch coziness. And there is the El Vado Motel in Albuquerque, where Shiraz "Sam" Kassem makes sure each log-ceilinged room and attached car garage are maintained immaculately. Across the patchwork of roads that comprised Route 66 until it was officially decommissioned in 1985 in favor of several interstates, many such motels are closing; those that aren't are finding nostalgia for old-time road experiences to be a lifesaver. "The thruway comes by, and they say, 'My God — what do we do? People aren't going to come through on our bumpy road anymore." says Leon A. Danco, head of the Center for Family Business in Cleveland, Ohio. "You can't just sit there," he says. "I don't want to see a monolithic economic structure where you have big business, big unions, big problems. So these businesses have to change, to evolve. If you're relevant, you win. If you're irrelevant, you lose." 'People like to be remembered' In Tucumcari, a small town fa- • mous for its 34 motels, Redman's is by far the most famous. She entertains visitors from all over the world who come looking for an authentic Route 66 experience. Room 3 of the Blue Swallow is a tiny affair, seven paces across and painted pink, with a Bible open to Chronicles sitting on a worn desk between two sealed plastic cups. Inside is an ancient color television, a mat rug and a lumpy bed topped with a weathered green bedspread. The vinyl chair is ripped. The two light bulbs are bare. But the sheets are immaculate. The room is clean. And the proprietor, who received it as an engagement gift in 1958 and has made it her life, makes it all worthwhile. She is thinking of selling now; she is too fragile to offer the best service she can, she says. But she has no regrets about holding out for so long. The human contact has sustained her. "People like to be remembered as a person," Lillian Redman says. "A woman came in the other night and said, 'Remember me?" I said, 'Hi, Mrs. Crowder.' And she said, 'You remembered." " "That's what makes this whole thing worthwhile." •* '« I ATTENTION EMPLOYERS! Take advantage of this opportunity to meet future employees on a casual basis. Employment EXPO 4 97 Saturday,October 25th 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Salina's Central Mall EXPO '97 will feature: Promotions and Special Events for everyone Recruit potential interns for your company Interview for full-time, part-time or entry level positions EXPO announced on mall marquee Seminars on dealing with conflict, On-the-Job Communication, Interviewing Skills and Completing Job Applications • Resume Critiques There's no charge for you to participate, but space is limited Please call Steve Gieber or Phyllis Anderson at (913) 827-9383. We need to hear from you by October 16. Many employers have been very successful at this EXPO. As many as 700 people have attended the Employment EXPO. One employer reports hiring as many as 50 people that he first met at the EXPO. Don't miss your chance to meet future employees! Fostering Health & Wellness JVleet Don. Someone you've helped through United Way. Don suffered severe burns in his accident. As a result, he needed 26 units of blood during his surgeries. "It's nice to know that there's blood to be used to help people like me," said Don. "I'm sure there are others every day that need blood to save their life." Your gift to United Way also makes sure that people in need receive medical care, rehabilitation services, and counseling for mental health and chemical dependency. Together, we're building a better community. Salina Area United Way P.O. Box 355 / Salina, KS / (785) 827-1312 w A public service announcement of the Salina Journal Salina Journal In a random survey of 300 USD #305 adult residents, telephone polls and mail-in surveys were used to find out how Salmans learn of information concerning the Salina public schools. Here's whafryou said... ;e of Information Newspaper Friends/ Family Students/Children Radio Television Teachers PTA meetings Percentage polled by phone 64% 29% 26% 12% 10% 10% 4% Percentage polled by mail 92% 60% 58% 57% 30% 62% 27%

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