21 Roadtrip Tales for ‘22 (Part 1)

1) I Would Drive 6,000 Miles: I admit, I didn’t picture ourselves driving to and fro from California to visit relatives after I had moved to Ohio in the early 2010s, but that just goes to show. The decision, mainly driven to airline reliability concerns, turned out to be a blessing too – Mother Nature and modern technology would’ve certainly caused us numerous headaches for us both on the way out and back had we flown (a cold blizzard-like system through the Midwest on the way out and then crew tracking issues on Southwest, our preferred airline, on the way back.)

And while it is the slowest of our travel options to the West Coast, it certainly has the most feel of freedom. We used that to our advantage on the way back to avoid weather trouble (more on that later) and there’s nothing like playing tag with the so-called “Main Street of America” (Route 66) while hearing your music request (appropriately, Depeche Mode’s rollicking cover “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” from your hometown radio station (CD 92.9) during their annual “Andyman” charity event, where a monetary donation gets you your song request on the air.

2) RDA of Cheese: A trip on and around a storied road of Route 66 gives you a quick idea of regional food specialties. But in reality, your diet should be prepared for a heavy dose of cheese – whether it be fudge in Uranus, Missouri (the best fudge comes from Uranus…haha, get it?) or all manner of chintzy Native American-themed businesses strewn throughout the route, or modestly-sized shops that take up forty miles of billboards to advertise that they have every living product under the sun (and are family-friendly to boot.) The American Southwest isn’t the only home to this nudge-you-in-the-gut-humorous way of advertising (much of US 101 through Redwood country in California has plenty of this too) but Route 66 is perhaps the most extended stretch in this country.

3) You Dropped A Bomb On Me: Little did I know the history of The Gap Band, or for that matter, the city of Tulsa when the Wilson Brothers were well into their string of awesome 1980s R&B hits like “You Dropped A Bomb On Me”, “Party Train” and “Oops Upside Your Head.”

With this blogpost meant to be short snippets, I’m not going to go into a huge summary of this Oklahoma city’s troubled history. Suffice it to say, the Gap (standing for Greenwood, Archer & Pine, the streets leading into the city’s historic Black Wall Street) Band’s song mentioned above has made people think about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre when the place was literally bombed to ashes by violent White residents (in an ABC News interview, lead singer Charlie Wilson stated the song isn’t a direct reference, but he’s glad people have become aware of this dark chapter of history through their music.)

Tulsa was a mere stopover on our trip to California, but there seems to be more here than one might think. Downtown was abuzz with activity on the night of our stay from the Tulsa Oilers (minor league hockey) game, and the Tulsa Arts District was alit with Christmas spirit.

In the summer, the Drillers (minor league baseball) and the sports teams of Tulsa University offer more options to visit in other seasons. Our sampling of local cuisine in the previously mentioned Arts District proved to be fruitful, with scrumptious fare at both (Lone Wolf – Asian Fusion and Bahn Mi) and Chimera Cafe (vegan and regular breakfast fare similar to places like 4th and State and Dough Mama.)

Chimera Cafe | Address: 212 N Main St, Tulsa, OK 74103 | Website: https://www.chimeratulsa.com| IG: chimeratulsa

Lone Wolf Bahn Mi | Address: 203 E Archer St, Tulsa, OK 74103 | Website: https://lonewolftulsa.com| IG: lone-wolf_downtown

4. Every Creeping Thing That Creepeth – Religious signs (most espousing a Christian perspective) and symbols are unsurprisingly prominent along this nation’s roads. It’s something that leaves me nonplussed nowadays – I have grown into my spirituality, which has become far more personal versus something guided by organized churches.

Perhaps part of this has been the groupthink that no group, including religious ones, has been unable to escape. After reading a story of the potential “Tripledemic” (COVID, influenza, and RSV) I thought back to the Book of Genesis, where God theoretically gave man dominion “over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

Yet, like the Martian invaders in H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, it is the tiniest of creeping things which a fair number of religious folks dismiss as a threat. Maybe that’s not a surprise – things like bacteria and viruses were unknown back when Bible books were written (in fact, viruses weren’t discovered until just before the turn of the 20th century.”). People are trained to think of the biggest and baddest of the animal and marine kingdoms, or even other humans, as the biggest threats to their existence. But when it comes down to it, it’s the tiniest of God’s life forms that fells the greatest numbers of humans. Infection and sepsis were as much of not more of a threat versus the weapons of war until very recently; before that, all manner of humans were subject to pandemics, plagues, and other maladies due to lack of proper sanitation.

“Jesus’s Blood is the ultimate immunity!” they say, or something similar, and to them, three deaths by illegal immigrants are intolerable compared to 300,000 deaths from any virus, COVID or otherwise. Considering that by their beliefs that humans have been given access to Tree of Knowledge and the ability to extract maximum protection from these tiniest of creepers, this kind of disconnect will never stop amazing me until I depart this world.

5) Merrie Melodies Come To Life – On the way to California, Route 66 and I-40 provided us clear sailing, providing us wonderful weather and clear views of the spectacular geography of the American Southwest, as well as some fascinating weather-related sights (such as freezing fog and valley clouds.

Our weather luck was less so on the way back, where heavy snow and ice on I-40 near Flagstaff made us dip southward to US 60 from Phoenix to Socorro, NM. And it turned out to be a wonderful detour indeed, with much of the land heading into and surrounding Phoenix resembling a Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon in real life – as if to hammer home the point, a real life coyote darted in front of us as we cleared the greater Phoenix metro.

A Merrie time through the Sonoran Desert just outside of Phoenix, AZ

Windy roads and rain clouds gave us numerous rainbows and spectacular mesa views later on as we made our way on this lesser known cousin of US 66. The fading evening light treated us to another spectacular sight – the high scrub plains of western New Mexico, encircled by the peaks of the Cibola National Forest and the Very Large Array, a series of 27 long-range radio telescopes that actively search out signs of life in this vast universe of ours.

The Very Large Array in New Mexico (photo from onlyinyourstate.com)

Yes, The Mother Road is near and dear to us, but we think we need to drop by its slightly longer cousin to the south next time around.

6) Taking That Left Turn at Albuquerque – New Mexico in general is a place we’d love to spend more time in. It was a stopover on our trip to Ohio over a decade ago, and things have changed a tiny bit since then – the Monterey Motel, which we stayed in a decade ago, seems to be under new management, and the Pueblo Cultural Center, where we grabbed a Native American styled breakfast last time, wasn’t open early enough to work with our travel plans.

Still, that hardly stopped our exploration, as we simply jumped on to new experiences. Open for fifty years now, I have a gut feeling Frontier Restaurant isn’t the best restaurant in town, nor is it the best in New Mexican styled cuisine, which focuses heavily on the plentiful Hatch Chilies which can be found nowadays pictured on state license plates.

What this downtown-located eatery has is affordable prices, quick service, and a boatload of atmosphere on its walls and environs. In that way, it’s a bit like what Schmidt’s is in Columbus to German cuisine.

Speaking of Hatch Chilies, they might be the best thing about New Mexico-area bagels. If the bagel or schmear (or both) have the chilies, go for it. This was the case for Albuquerque’s Kaufman’s (opened by two ex-New Yorkers looking for a product close to what they grew up with) and Santa Fe’s BoulTawn’s (opened by bagel shop owners on the West Coast in ritzy Alamo, CA). The former also offers up some unique local soda pop while the latter adds an art gallery with its food and drink offerings, again with some unique New Mexico-area specialties such as Piñon nuts.

Lastly, we had a reminder about how supportive the craft beer brewing community can really be. One of the many outpourings of support related to the cancer fight of former head brewer/my brother-in-law Patrick Gangwer during his time at Three Tigers Brewing in Granville was a special release by Santa Fe’s Rowley Farmhouse Ales, based on a recipe that Gangwer had developed earlier in his career. We were only more than happy to stop by Rowley during our return travels to sample their beers first hand.

Even if there wasn’t that relationship beforehand, Rowley’s beer offerings are really quite good from their IPAs to their barrel-aged sours. Food has a bit of New Mexican flair, but has options available for those with vegan or gluten-free restrictions. Other taps are available but as we found out with a somewhat disappointing Odell Brewing sample, stick to Rowley’s offerings first and venture to outside taps later, if you still have room in your stomach. And the service and conversation couldn’t have been anymore nicer and friendlier either.

BoulTawn’s Bagelry Cafe & Gallery | Address: 226 N Guadalupe St, Santa Fe, NM 87501 | Website: https://www.boultawns.com/menu| IG: boultawns

Frontier Restaurant | Address: 2400 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 | Website: http://www.frontierrestaurant.com| IG: frontierrestaurantabq

Kaufman’s Coffee and Bagels| Address: 2500 Central Ave SW Suite B900, Albuquerque, NM 87104 | Website: https://www.kaufmanscoffeebagels.com | IG: bagels505

Rowley Farmhouse Ales |Address: 1405 Maclovia St, Santa Fe, NM 87505 | Website: https://rowleyfarmhouse.com/food | IG: rowleyfarmhouse

7) Random 7s Reminiscing: Our visit to Chattanooga, TN and Cherokee, NC threw a whole new light on both all the Oklahoma license plates as well as the casinos we passed on this trip. Past atrocities cannot be reversed, but recognition of such (with the idea that it won’t happen again) should be paramount. This trend to not teaching the past to “shield” innocent youth in some elementary schools is laughable given the utter lack of that courtesy given in the past…Unofficial license plate count trip sightings: 48 states (save for HI & RI) plus several Canadian provinces (AB, BC, MB, NB, ON & SK)…Gas prices seemed relatively reasonable throughout, even in California where I expected much higher…Other eateries of note: Pancho Villa Taqueria in Kingman, AZ offers up solid Tex-Mex fare, while Flagstaff’s Fat Olives has a Guy Fieri visit and some really good Neapolitan-style pies (for Columbus folks, think Harvest Pizzeria) to recommend it…Bookending our trip, Wichita, KS mini-chain Two Brothers BBQ offers up low and slow cooked meat favorites smoked on-site; their juicy brisket as part of their one-meat combo is probably your best bet for a first dive. Meanwhile, Sarah’s on Central in Eureka, MO, occupies that vast American breakfast and brunch fare world which has been operating since 2016, with lots of macarons in their baking cabinets. We enjoyed our lunch, especially their take on Chicken and Waffles.

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