Four Years

Four years ago today, I posted my first post on this website. I was about to embark on a journey from San Francisco, California, to Dallas, Texas, along the famed Route 66, America’s Mother Road.

It wasn’t the first time I’d driven the road, but it was a momentous one. I crossed onto the old roads in West LA, drove to Barstow, and – for the first time in a few years – felt truly free. I smelled the diesel and dust of the road, a warm wind blowing west from the desert smelled like sand and heat.

My first long stop was at Roy’s Diner, a formerly bustling gas station, diner, and motel. During the 60s and early 70s, streamliner caravans would stop here for a last refuel before heading towards Los Angeles, and those driving east prepared for 500 miles (ca. 805 km) of desert.

Roy’s was amazing. I met the (new) owners and we spent an hour walking the old motel rooms, the communal shower and toilet building (it was clean), climbed the radio tower to look out over the desert, and I got to take the old police cruiser for an imaginary spin, sitting in the driver’s seat and going “vroom vroom” for lack of an actual engine in that thing.

When Route 40 opened in 1972, Amboy – the town Roy’s Diner is in and essentially comprises most of it – went silent. One by one, slowly, people left and businesses closed. By 1979 it was dead. Numerous owners came and went, buying the whole town for as much as $700k at one time. In 1995, it went into foreclosure, and saw attempted sales on eBay, in newspapers, and in person. No one wanted the place until, in 2005, a local preservationist purchased it. 

Albert Okura, owner of a fried chicken chain, put his money into reopening the café and gas station, and even held a 2013 Kickstarter to rebuild the neon signage. It failed.

In 2010 none of the old charm was gone. Closing my eyes I could still smell the diesel, hear the streamliners and steel guitars, the laughter coming from the cafe and see ragged hippies, 15 cents in hand, amble towards the showers and toilets for the last water before hitting the beach in LA or San Francisco.

It’s been four years. I’ve since moved to Dallas and from there to Frankfurt, Germany. I still dream of the starry nights in the desert, the ghosts coming to visit in the shadows of a burning campfire 150 miles (ca. 241 km) from any civilization. I yearn to lean back once more and stare into the night sky, watching the stars move beyond the horizon where a warm, red, glow, heralds a new day.