I planned a quick 3-night trip to the American Southwest to drive a last bit of Route 66 that I had missed on previous trips across the country. It would mean flying to Los Angeles, renting a car, and driving across the Mojave Desert on Route 66 to Needles, CA, swinging north for a night in Las Vegas, and driving back to LA the following day for the flight back home.
It was November 2004, fifteen years ago. This was my first trip to the region since my cross-country trip with my wife, Teresa, in July 2000. I was excited because I had been very recently promoted into my first management position. The job was effective the day after my return from my trip west. But I was also anxious. I felt like I was ready for management, but I was still battling through the grief of losing my wife earlier that year in April to a sudden heart attack. It had been a difficult year. This was my first trip without her.
With my parents taking care of my almost one-year old daughter, Melody, I flew west. I was by myself, and had rented a convertible for the drive across the Mojave Desert. I arrived at Ontario International Airport towards evening, and I grabbed dinner at In-N-Out Burger and crashed for the night. The next morning had a chill in the air, but I had the top down, anyway. It was a gorgeous autumn Southern California day.
Heading east out of Barstow, CA, on Route 66, the first chunk of the old road paralleled the interstate, so the sounds of 18-wheelers were fairly prominent. The road itself was in bad shape, with a patchwork surface, so the car, a well-used Chrysler, which so far seemed to float down smooth roads, felt like it was bouncing to a rhythmic pattern down Route 66.
The road eventually smoothed out and drifted southeasterly away from Interstate 40, near the village of Ludlow. I was really out in the desert at this point, and there were no other cars on the road. I knew I might be the only living person for miles around. It brought me such peace as I looked around at the beauty of the desert, mountains off in the distance, the sound of a train echoing across the valley in front of me…
I stopped the car right in the middle of the road, got out, and stood on the double yellow line. I could see for several miles in every direction. I slowly turned in a circle to take in the moment, experiencing the beauty of the American Southwest, inhaling the fresh desert air, and embracing my aloneness. The tears came as I sat back down in the car, and I thanked God for that moment, for my family and friends, for my career and the opportunities ahead, for my health, for my wonderful little daughter, and for the happy memories of my life with my wife.
I drove, continuing east on the old road just past the little town of Goffs, CA. After seven years, I had completed all of Route 66 (from Chicago to LA) at this intersection, the same spot I had reached from the opposite direction with my wife just four years prior. Then I headed north on US 95 to Las Vegas.
(The Rest of the Story… After driving to Las Vegas and back to LA, my flight from Ontario was delayed by mechanical issues, and then arrived in Atlanta late, so I missed my connection to Baltimore. I tried to get another flight, but the airline insisted I wasn’t getting home that night. However, I was able to get a flight to Richmond, VA, where I rented a car and drove two hours to my home, arriving at 2am. I didn’t have my house key, or any of my luggage, which had been flown on to Baltimore without me, so I snoozed in the rental car for a few hours, and then rushed to the office just before dawn. I greeted my new employees with a box of donuts, unshaven face, and in wrinkled clothing that I had been wearing for more than 24 hours. And that was my first day of what is now 15 years of management.)