Whose America Do We Take Back?

 Route 66 traverses my American life.  My father bought a canvas radiator water bag for the blue and white 1955 Chevy wagon. We packed fried chicken, buttered white bread, hard-boiled eggs and Oreo cookies in a basket, and left California behind to see the USA in our Chevrolet eastbound on Route 66. When school returned each September, the iconic “What I did Last Summer” essays by classmates told tales about live lions, snake pits, dancing Indians, and buffalo burgers all experienced along the Mother
Viewing Route 66's past from today. C. Coimbra photo

Road– as coined by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath.”   

Weekly television characters, Tod and Buz, cruised the 2448 mile trail from Chicago to LA in their convertible Corvette to a jazzy tune by Nelson Riddle. This, my friends was America as I knew it.    

Now, I’m not so insensitive as to ignore the fact that north and south of Route 66 other American citizens lived in horrific conditions—many without the right to vote.  Nonetheless, this is America as I knew it.    

I’ve rolled up and down  Route 66’s replacement, Interstate 40, so many times that the quaint 66 sign is like the rugged rock mesas that line the new road to the point of ho-hum.  Typically, spouse and I pull off at the least expensive corporate motels that allow pets, eat iceberg lettuce salads at Denny’s, feel lucky when we can get a green burrito at a Del Taco, and fill up the car at Pilot and Love’s.  America, Century 21.     

Tonight, after chicken fried steak with fries at Calico’s in Kingman, Az., spouse and I took a walk along historic Highway 66 and revisited Century 20 America and remnants of Century 19 America.     

Wandering past Hotel Brunswick and Hotel Beale, the grand 1906 3-story hotel that was Kingman’s glory, a woman, who  

The bar still lives. C. Coimbra photo

reminded me of someone I once knew, who probably used the needle to keep her spirits high, slipped from the darkened bar, took a long drag from her filtered cigarette, tossed it on to the old highway, and slid back into the darkness of a smoke-filled aging dive.    

“Let’s go get a drink?” I encouraged spouse.  I smelled stories without end.    

Wisely, he said no.    

We walked on. Like a Disney diorama, the western sunset splattered magenta hues against the stony, mineral-laden hills.  Few vehicles sped past the empty car dealerships, the vacant antique malls, barren restaurants and cocktail lounges.     

Thinking out loud I asked spouse, “So when those tea-bag people scream ‘I want my America back,’ is this what they mean?”  Do they want back the small family businesses along a now neglected byway, from the enterprise savvy four lane behemoth that exterminated these livelihoods?  Okay, I’m off point.  I’m just sayin’.    

A white 1992 Ford pickup, piloted by a pudgy, unshaven man, with crinkled blue eyes cruised slowly pass the deserted buildings and the cocktail lounge with a Coors Light sign stretched from the rotting overhang. When he stopped at the red light, I gasped at his back window.  In white shoe polish, the entire window read, “WAKE UP America!!! The CommunistObama (sic) Regime will destroy America!! STOP Obama DEAD before America is destroyed!! Take America back NOW!!!”    

For once I was speechless.  My arm hairs rose in shock and I couldn’t quit staring at the shoe-polish sign.    

The next building was a relic of a car dealership.  The black and white tile showroom displayed a few  

Signs of the time. C. Coimbra photo

 muscle cars.  A pair of computer printed signs taped to the showroom window echoed this absolute hate.    

I’m missing something.  Where is this violent, obviously hate-fed rhetoric coming from? We’ve had our share of goofy presidents and television broadcasted the assassination of our 35th president. So, why am I surprised and shocked?    

This bullying talk, gun brandishing, and self-righteousness stomp scares me.  It’s intimidating.  So I continue wondering what it means to take “my” America back.  Whose America?  I’m fine with “my” America.  I welcome debate, different opinions and beliefs.  But hate and fear mongering is not a part of “my” America.  I’ve written before that my direct ancestors marched with our first president, so patriotism drives my DNA.     

Like the Indian and pioneer paths that became wagon trails, that transitioned into “The Main Street of America,” and then replaced by an interstate highway system–creating ghost towns in its wake–we, as a nation, must render this bad road of hate to the dust of centuries past.    

Looking For America on Route 66. Self portrait by C. Coimbra

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