An Ode to the Mother Road

Hello readers!

I bet you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to over the last several weeks. Well, I’ve been a little bit of everywhere, if you want the honest truth. Sometimes, we all just have to refill the old well – both the spiritual well and the writing well. As for my husband and me, one of our favorite ways to do that is with a road trip. Usually, it’s just a short jaunt to somewhere close, like Solvang or Santa Barbra. Maybe if we have some extra time, we’ll do Big Bear or Yosemite. For this road trip, well… we went a little grander in scale.

Both of us have had long-time dreams to do Route 66. Not just a state or two. We wanted to do the whole dang thing. I had wanted to try it ever since I first read the Grapes of Wrath (which was much longer ago than I will admit here!) My husband’s parents went several years ago, and he had always wanted to follow in their footsteps.

So, with 66 sparkles in both of our eyes, my husband and I decided it was time! We grabbed our camping gear, flew into the Midwest, rented a car, and started the long haul back to California on the same old trail that thousands upon thousands of others have taken since the 1920s.

For a history buff like me, it was quite an experience. It is an experience that is hard to put into words, really, even for a writer! It’s more of a feeling. You can feel so much when you drive that old road – in both the good parts and the bad. I will be writing a great deal about this trip in the weeks and months to come. But for now, I will leave you with this poem I wrote to try and capture that feeling – the feeling of driving the entirety of old Route 66 (where, yes, we did indeed get many kicks).

I hope you enjoy it!


 It was when I read about the family Joad

That I first learned of the old Mother Road

The grand old route across the whole nation

But most who took it weren’t on vacation

Not in the 30s, it was more of a must

Because their farms had turned to dust

Families like the Joads gave it their all

“California or bust,” we don’t want to fall

The route found pavement and fun in later days

With neon and pump stations, wigwam hotel stays

Family diners were packed to the gills

Where families and children got their thrills

Route 66, the road stretched to the skies

How I longed to see it with my own eyes

I made a promise to myself as a child

One day I will drive the whole stretch in the wild

I wanted to bask in those neon lights

I wanted to see all the incredible sights

I would go all the way, the whole thing I would do

It would be like a time portal I could just drive through

A portal indeed to a different time

Although it’s hard to see underneath the grime

The pump stations are silent and coated with rust

The road is cracked and surrounded by dust

Weeds sprout through the pavement on that old highway

On modern maps, you can’t really find the way

The cafes are quiet, there’s no one around

The motels are decrepit, the bridges closed down

The old neon lights have all gone dark

Picnic tables are empty all through the park

No laughing children, no cars, no trail mark

The shops are closed, main street has no spark

But it’s not really gone, I’m here to say

The old route’s spirit lingers, it won’t go away

And for those who are willing to look up close

There are gems buried deep on that old mother road

A town where burros run wild and free

You can pet them and feed them for a one-dollar fee

Quirky cafes with the best food around

Cadillacs and slug bugs stuck out of the ground

Giant things loom across the whole way

With good people who remind you how to laugh and play

The old Burma shave ads that still make you smile

And old-fashioned cars that drove many a mile

I felt a new energy on that road

I somehow felt I could really unload

I yearn for it now as I sit here alone

A grand old road that made me feel more at home

I’ll never forget my time on that trail

What an adventure, I’ll weave many a tale

Of all the gems thrown into the mix

On the old mother road – Route 66

M.B. Henry


California Route 66

If you ever plan to motor west, you may not be able to take the highway that’s the best. So, I took many pictures for you! Take a photographic journey on the Mother Road by clicking here. 

110 Comments on “An Ode to the Mother Road

  1. I look forward to your posts about this. I have it on my list to drive as well, though towing a travel trailer requires a bit of planning to make sure the road is drivable! I hoped you stopped in Winslow, AZ – they seem to pay homage in a big way there 🙂

    • We did drive through Winslow! They do pay excellent homage 🙂 If you go with a trailer, I would definitely get a guide book. We had one and we were very glad we did, as it informed us which parts of the road were “not advisable” anymore. As we were in a little car, we only had to skip about ten percent of the actual route, but a trailer might make a difference there.

    • Thank you! I can’t wait to write and post – I sure stumbled on lots of interesting things to share

  2. We’ve all heard the song “get your kicks on route 66” but I only heard of Grapes of Wrath recently. Watched an interesting doco about 4 aussie lads who cycled the route after doing more research on it. So the visual was them cycling the route and camping along the way. While we heard the history and stories of that shocking time.
    Will look forward to hearing more, I can imagine it would inspire 🙂

    • I did notice that there was a bike trail along a big portion of the route! I bet that would be very interesting to do it by bike. It was definitely inspiring, I’m so glad we were able to do it! If you haven’t read Grapes of Wrath yet – I highly recommend it. It just might claim the spot for my favorite book of all time. In the top 3 for sure.

      • those guys raved endlessly about it … it was their only reason for being there! They took time off work just for that trip and the camera was added just before they left.

      • So awesome – as fun as it was by car, I bet it was unbelievable by bicycle!

      • they met some real interesting characters along the way and some shared their story about that era 🙂

      • Oh goodness we sure did too! That is one thing that road will never lack, very interesting characters! 🙂

  3. MB,
    So glad to read about your adventure ( excellent poem). Your photos are so intriguing, especially in the Illinois area – as I’m not so familiar with that portion. You have two pics of the big man that has been adapted to so many themes. I need to learn his origin. Here abouts he was used to sell tires. He obviously originally held some long thing in his hands (one faces up, the other down). If you come across a reference, let me know.

    • Yes – I think he was referred to as “the Muffler Man” and I heard a mention or two of his being used all along the route to advertise a certain repair shop or brand. I can’t remember all the details, but every time we saw one, we always stopped for a photo. You are absolutely correct too – the one holding the hot dog actually used to be holding an ax! 🙂 He used to be more of a Paul Bunyan muffler man, but they changed it to a hot dog in later years.

    • Yes -SUCH an adventure! We had a wonderful time. I will definitely be posting more coming up 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

    • Thanks so much – you can view some of the photos now in my photo gallery if you’d like, there’s a link just below the poem! 🙂 I hope to put more up in the coming days as well. So glad you stopped by for a read

  4. Excellent! As Fraggle says – well jealous! Something I’ve been wondering about ever since a band I was in used to cover the old Bobby Troup number. Of course, you need to put your lines to music… Loved the photos too!

    • That’s so cool you were in a band! I’m in a choir myself but I’ve never been in a band. I’m so glad you liked the poem, I don’t know if I have the head for putting music to it, that requires so much more talent than I have!

    • Thanks so much! Yes – it was so much fun, so much fun that I wouldn’t shun doing it all again someday! 🙂

  5. A lovely poem, MB, and great photos. I enjoyed them all. I’ve done bits and pieces of Route 66 over the years and share your feelings for it. Always good for a trip back into history. My first time on it was in the 60s. I am looking forward to your tales. –Curt

    • Thanks so much! 🙂 I’m really glad you liked it. I have of course enjoyed visiting your blog and all the fantastic pics since I’ve been back

  6. Great poem, M.B., and welcome back. I am glad you and your husband were able to fulfill one of your dreams. I look forward to learning more about it.

    • Thanks so much 🙂 So glad you liked it. I’m looking forward to sharing all kinds of things about it in the very near future!

  7. I’ve been on portions of the road, but I’ve made up for what I’ve missed by keeping Asleep at the Wheel’s version of the song on my roadtrip play list. I’ve done the Blues Highway (Route 61 in Mississippi), but only realized recently that one of the longest north/south roads in the country (83) begins in El Paso and goes all the way to the Canadian border. I’m more than ready for a road trip, but since I can’t do that just now, I’ll look forward to reading your reports!

    • Ooooh sounds like the 83 might be a fun little road trip as well! Although actually it wouldn’t be so little haha. Glad you liked the post – and yes, I will be sharing a lot about the 66 in future posts! 🙂

  8. This sounds like such a wonderful, fantastic adventure — I’m so glad you finally had the opportunity to take the plunge! And what a lovely poem it inspired, too. Maybe my favorite homage yet to the fabled Route 66! 🙂

  9. This is a beautiful poem to honor route 66. I am certain you will keep these memories for life! I have to admit, there were tears when I read about all the silence now, and lights “gone dark.” It reminded me of a song: Black top road. Faded yellow line. It can take you back to the place but it can’t take you back in time…” I look forward to your next story or poem. The pictures are AWESOME!

    • It is kind of sad to see sometimes – but as 66 is experiencing a bit of a revival, I hope it won’t be long before those neons are full bright again.

    • Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was a very incredible adventure 🙂

  10. Oh I love this poem! It’s cheery and descriptive – despite that negative aspect in the middle. And I did wonder where you went. Can’t wait to read about your new adventure!

  11. We all need to stop and step away and sometimes the best thing to do is take a trip. You and your husband did the smart thing. You got away and you spent time doing something you always wanted to do. That’s how you charge your battery.

    Good for you. Excellent post.

    • You are absolutely right! I think it’s more important than ever, in this crazy, fast-paced modern world, to step away and have a breather! We had a marvelous time while we were at it. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  12. The old Burma shave ads that still make you smile

    I read somewhere that Burma shave took down their signs after Lady Bird launched her Beautify American campaign. The irony is, Burma shave was the only signs that people wanted to see.

    • Those signs are hilarious. They were cracking both of us up. I knew a lot of them came down in the 60s, but I hadn’t researched yet to learn the why behind it – so thanks for sharing that! 🙂

  13. I love that you guys did this, M.B.! How wonderful. And your poem inspires me to start thinking about and researching the ruins, forgotten roads, and easy-to-miss historical landmarks in our country.

    • Inspiring others is the best part of writing, so you’ve made my day saying so 🙂 There are so many forgotten stories buried across this country, I’m always glad to hear of those willing to roll up their sleeves and excavate! 🙂

  14. That’s a super poem! I look forward to more history of Route 66, especially revealing the full story behind the United States Camel Corp and the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. I just know a few facts but would love to know more.

    • Ah the Camel Corps! Definitely an interesting story. I must admit that the details of that are a little vague for me too, I’d have to look into it more 🙂

  15. It was sad to read about crumbling motels and empty picnic tables, but wonderful to hear there are still quirky diners and oversized attractions (is that the right word?). Welcome back, and glad to hear the trip had restorative powers. 🙂

    • Oversized Attractions is definitely the best way to describe it 🙂 Yes, parts of it were sad. Especially in the small towns – to see all those beautiful brick buildings boarded up and shuttered, it was a bit sad. However, I do think the 66 is starting to experience a bit of a revival, so I’m hoping some of those towns will live to see another day!

  16. How fun! Can’t wait to read more about it. Might even spark a similar adventure of my own with the kiddos!

    • Yay! Glad you enjoyed the social media trip! 🙂 I’ll definitely be posting more soon, it will be fun to relive it 🙂

  17. This is a wonderful poem! I loved it all the way to the end! That must have been a really fun trip for you being a history buff.

    • Oh my goodness, was it ever a trip. Stay tuned for LOTS of posts about the gems across that old road, which, I think is experiencing a bit of a revival! I’m so glad you liked the poem, and thanks so much for sharing it!

  18. Pingback: Back in the Radio Era | Roth Poetry

  19. There is something so exciting about a road trip on Route 66. We have been on it at in various states. My great grandparents are buried in Tucumcari on Route 66 in New Mexico – it was a boom town when they lived there. Tulsa was fun too! Wonderfully written poetry – brava!!

  20. I’ve always thought about a drive across country and 66 would be the way to go. As a younger person I watched the TV program and read the Grapes of Wrath when older…still a long time ago too. But work and other commitments always got in the way. Maybe once work has ended. I’ve clicked to follow and will look forward to your posts.

    • If you do ever take the trip, let me know I’d be happy to provide tips! 🙂 It is a remarkable adventure, I do think you would enjoy it. Thanks for following along on this adventure and on future ones! 🙂

  21. It’s a great poem. I am sure you had a gala time on your vacations. Did you compose this poem while traversing the beautiful roads?

    • I would say the idea came to me during the trip, but I didn’t sit down and write it out until we got back 🙂 So glad you liked it.

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