This article first appeared in the October 13, 1997 edition of the San Bernardino, California Sun newspaper.
. I drove my 1966 Pontiac GTO from my home in Sandy, Utah to attend the 8th Annual Route 66 Rendezvous. Beginning in 1997, I attended the Rendezvous for six straight years in three different cars - 66 GTO, 66 Chevy Impala hardtop and 66 Chevy Impala convertible (I still have this car).
Journey on Route 66 serves as rite of passage
At age 12, on July 30, 1957, I arrived in San Bernardino with my mother and two older brothers. We had left the corn fields of Iowa to enter a strange land of blazing sun, surfing, little rain, mountains at our back door and big cities.
Our 1949 Dodge caught up with Route 66 in Springfield, Mo., and followed the Burma Shave and “last chance for gas” signs on this now famous highway right into Southern California. Along the way, we made many stops at roadside attractions.
We spent the night in Will Rogers’ hometown of Claremore, Okla., and paused for the “biggest this” and the “biggest that” in Texas. We skipped the side tour to Roswell, N.M (we didn’t know it was going to get its 15 minutes of fame), but had lessons in geology at the petrified National Forest and astronomy at Meteor Crater. After taking a side trip to the Grand Canyon, we finally hit the sweltering heat of the California desert.
When we rolled into San Bernardino on that afternoon in late July, we began watching for someplace to spend the night. Conveniently, we happened to rent a motel on Route 66 (Mount Vernon Avenue). After registering, we ventured forth to find something to eat. Not knowing the layout of our new hometown, we drove around in what must have appeared to be a random cruise. However, the gods controlling American icons knew better. Destiny directed us to eat our first meal in San Bernardino at the original McDonald’s hamburger stand on E street and to spend our first night cradled in the protective arms of the Mother Road.
I left San Bernardino after 10 years to seek my fortune. Only occasionally have I returned to visit, and then, only for a few days at a time. Other members of my family and friends left sooner, later or not at all.
About 20 years ago, I began to realize that for me, moving to San Bernardino was not simply a change in scenery. I realized that, at age 12, entering a world so different from what I was accustomed to, and becoming a part of the rock ‘n roll, surfer, hot rod, tract home, student revolution, anti-war, congested city, smog-filled culture that California has often been identified with, had actually been my own personal rite of passage into adulthood
Forty years have passed since I first went swimming in Perris Hill pool, attended my first classes at Highland Junior High and stole an orange from a grove on Base Line. After other(although shorter) trips on the most famous auto enthusiasts’ highway and many more visits to the Golden Arches in just about every state and a few foreign countries, returning to Route 66 and eating a McDonald’s hamburger in San Bernardino makes me feel like the prodigal son.