Last night in Victorville was fun, as I discovered Ricky’s – the one and only gay bar in the whole High Desert Region. This morning before leaving town, I went to the car wash. I’m supposed to return the car tomorrow at LAX, and pick up another one to take to San Francisco. I’m hoping I will impress them that I took such good care of the Jeep Compass all the way from Chicago, that they’ll let me take it back home!
Now I’m ready to finish the final leg of Route 66. I hop onto I-15, heading due south towards San Bernardino. As the San Gabriel Mountains stared right in front of me, I popped in a Jimi Hendrix CD – as the “purple haze” of psychedelia compared with the purple haze of the mountains.But I’m not on the Interstate for long. As soon as we reach the mountains, I exit onto El Cajon Boulevard – where Route 66 cuts through the San Bernardino National Forest, zigzagging the valleys between each mountain with the Interstate only a few feet above. The Route 66 books said this would be the last “rural” part of the drive, as I step into a calm and serene environment before hitting the Greater Los Angeles Metro area. At one point, I even discover a new town – Devore Heights, which prides itself on its pastoral presence with horseback riding lessons aplenty. But I don’t really have time for that right now. After all, I did that back in Arizona.
My first stop in San Bernardino is to visit the first McDonald’s restaurant. It’s almost 12:00, so maybe a good time to grab lunch. As I drive towards it, I fantasize about ordering my food at the counter – but instead singing that UC Men’s Octet classic, “McDonald’s Girl” which has lyrics that go: I’ll have an order of fries, a quarter pounder with cheese, I love the look in your eyes, will you go out with me please? I am in love with a McDonald’s Girl – she is an angel in a polyester uniform. Of course, I’ve never had the guts to do that when I go to McDonald’s. Maybe I’ll do it at this one!It’s all a moot point – because when I get to the first McDonald’s, it’s not a restaurant. Just a museum. Now some of you may be reading this, and wonder: “wait a moment. The first McDonald’s was not in California; it was in Des Plaines, Illinois – just outside of Chicago.” My brother-in-law grew up in Des Plaines, and I’m sure he’s muttering this right now.
Well, here’s the whole story. McDonald’s was first founded by two brothers named Richard and Maurice McDonald, who opened up a San Bernardino restaurant in 1937. Ray Kroc was so impressed by what they had to offer, that he convinced them to let him open his franchise of restaurants named McDonalds – which he did in 1955, the first one being in Des Plaines.
In 1961, Kroc bought out the brothers for $2.7 million – but was unaware the deal did not include the original McDonald’s in San Bernardino. Furious, Kroc vowed never to talk to the McDonald brothers again – and also to never give them credit for this international phenomenon. That’s why we hear a lot about Ray Kroc today (who “founded” McDonald’s), but we rarely hear about the McDonald brothers.So I didn’t have lunch yet, but that’s okay. I got to head due west on Route 66, and make a stop in Glendora at Donut Man. My friend Jim gave me the address, and told me I absolutely had to stop there and order their strawberry donuts. West of San Bernardino, Route 66 follows Foothill Boulevard – as we zoom through the suburbs of Rialto, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Claremont, San Dimas, etc. I’ve got Sheryl Crow in the car playing, which gets me into the mood that I’m heading towards L.A. – with the giant car washes that line the road. Sure, I could be taking the Interstate – which would mean no red lights. But traffic is going smoothly, as I maintain a decent 40 mph speed – traveling from suburb to suburb. After an hour, I stop in Glendora to pick up some donuts. Nowhere really to have lunch here, so I keep heading west.
Now it’s 2:30 p.m., as I drive into Pasadena. Still haven’t had lunch yet, but I don’t care. Traffic has been going smoothly, and I’ve got the Sheryl Crow CD on repeat in my car. I’ve already played “all I wanna do is have some fun, before the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard” twice now, and loving every minute of it. My friend Dave Dayen, who blogs at Firedoglake and lives near Santa Monica, has texted me – and says he’d be free to meet me at 4:30 p.m. Surely, I could finish this road trip in two hours. I’m not even hungry … as I am simply giddy with excitement that my Route 66 road trip is almost over.Route 66 follows the Pasadena Freeway into town, as I get my first brief taste of L.A. traffic. But I exit the Freeway just past Dodgers Stadium, and onto Sunset Boulevard. I’m now so excited, that I don’t have music on anymore. I just admire my surroundings, as the car heads downhill – and I get a beautiful view of the Hollywood Hills with the famous Hollywood landmark sign in the distance.
Route 66 follows Sunset Boulevard, until we hit Santa Monica Boulevard – which it will follow all the way until we hit the Pacific Ocean. I get a giddy sense of excitement, as I head due west on Santa Monica Boulevard – and I just can’t help myself. Whenever the car is stopped at a red light, I update my Facebook status on my phone to announce where I am. First, West Hollywood. Then, Beverly Hills. And finally, Santa Monica. Of course, I’m mindful of staying focused on the road. Would be terrible to get into a car accident – when the road trip is almost over.The last 10 blocks in Santa Monica are an unmitigated traffic jam – as cars crawl (if at all) towards the ocean. Are the Gods playing a trick on me, with my road trip almost over? No, it’s just a beautiful day – and everyone is going to the beach. Holy Shit, it’s 4:30 p.m. already – I’m going to be late. So I call Dave, and leave a voice-mail. He calls me back, when I’m at 2nd Street & Santa Monica Boulevard – and I just found a garage to (FINALLY!) get out of my car. He suggests we meet at a bar, and I tell him to text me the location. I tell him that first, I must go to the end of Route 66 to signify my terminus. It’s there that the photo featured at the top of this blog post was taken. I was so giddy to finally have arrived!
Of course, Dave had suggested a bar at Lincoln & Grant – which is not exactly walking distance from where I am. But dammit, I just parked my car after going through the worst traffic nightmare of my life. I am *NOT* driving there, so I walk – not realizing that we’re talking almost two miles. And I’m walking in my cowboy boots, my cowboy hat, my bolo tie – and it’s 85 degrees. And I’m wearing a bright red shirt. I trod along the streets of Santa Monica in my Western garb, as amused onlookers take pictures of me as I race down the street. When I finally arrive to meet Dave, the bar’s jukebox is – co-incidentally – playing Johnny Cash. We sit down, and have a couple beers.Dave is going to a barbecue later, and I want to check out Santa Monica Pier before sundown – so he gives me a ride back towards the general area. As I walk out onto the Pier, I have this giddy sense of excitement that I’ve arrived after a long journey. I’m not shy to tell strangers that I’ve just driven the entirety of Route 66 all the way from Chicago, and many offer to take my picture in front of landmarks. Near the end of the Pier, I come across the “last gift-shop” on Route 66. It’s a very touristy souvenir store, but they have a “blow-out” sale of jackets for $35 – with a sewed badge that says: “Santa Monica: Route 66 – the End of 2,448 miles.” Well, why not? I think I deserve it … so I buy the jacket and put it on, as I watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
Words cannot describe how exhilirated I feel about having completed Route 66 – the Mother Road. Over at my Facebook page, my friend Ronda writes: “I’m glad you had fun, but I’m sorry it’s over, I enjoyed reading your saga.” Not to worry, my vacation adventures are not over. Tomorrow, I spend the day in Los Angeles – where I will walk precincts for Debra Bowen, an amazing candidate for Congress running in a special election. And on Monday, I head back north to my home in San Francisco. My plan is to do Highway One along the Pacific Coast, but I’m not sure yet how much of that will be doable. There were terrible mudslides in Big Sur, and some of the road is still inaccessible. But not to worry … I’ll see how much of the great Scenic Highway I can still do before going home!