Etched in the Mother Road are the stories of the fascinating women of Route 66 who paved their own path along the 2400 mile stretch of road during its broken history. Women of the past and the present, each of them blazing their own trail along America’s first freeway.
What started as a way to connect the nation’s east and west coasts in the mid-1920s became a cultural phenomenon and survives to this day. The broken pieces of a bygone era mix with romantic notions and ideals of a new generation of women with a global reach.
When I set forth to carve my own path along Route 66, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a network of dreamers, good people, trying to hold onto the things that unify this country more than what divides it. They are the women who work tirelessly to welcome tourists to America’s neon glory days.
The women of Route 66 have spent decades working alongside men, who get most of the credit, for building the nation’s infrastructure. Architect Mary Colter literally made her mark, fusing her love of Spanish Mission design with Native American building techniques. Her buildings are testimony to her ingenuity dotting the landscape from the Grand Canyon to the Painted Desert Inn in Arizona.
During the Great Depression, photographer Dorothea Lange gave a face to the women struggling to survive from California to New Mexico. Yet, along with these notable creative spirits, whose work not only survives but thrives across time, there are hundreds of others doing what they love without accolades.
In Williams, Arizona, Anna Dick, like many women of a certain vintage, returned home to take care of aging parents. She wound up staying. She’s the heart, soul and culinary wizard at Anna’s Canyon Cafe (137 W. Railroad Avenue, Williams), a small eatery under a haunted brothel, The Red Garter Inn. The menu’s basically Southwest Mex, serving up the best, kick-ass omelette with Anna’s special salsa. I could’ve bathed in it’s saucy goodness. Her card said she also serves Chinese food. I didn’t ask but understood she was ready to accommodate most requests with a welcoming smile.
In Texas, I got a good ole Lone Star welcome at just about every spot along my journey. I found new besties in the biggest state of the union with the biggest hearts to boot.
My intro happened deep in the heart of Texas at the geographic halfway point between Santa Monica and Chicago. It’s where I met the triumvirate of Brenda, Carrie and Mom Sandi of the MidPoint Café (305 W. Historic Route 66) in Adrian. These women live in such a small town that the closest they get to an out-of-towner is when the mailman delivers a flyer from Cost Plus World Market. They landed in the Lone Star state after training and racing thoroughbreds in Michigan. So, sisters Brenda and Carrie bought the tiny eatery and gift shop when it came up for sale in 2018. It’s truly their happy place, allowing them to meet and greet people from 84 countries in their corner of the world.
No trip along the Mother Road would be complete without a meet and greet at Dora Meroney’s Texas Ivy Antiques (3511 SW 6th Ave) in Amarillo. Dora’s in love with Route 66 and its romantic past. Her shop is stuffed to the gills with 50s era kitsch and 66 memorabilia but it’s also stuffed with her passion. Dora knows when Baby Boomers get too frayed around the collar to give a damn about leaving their sofas, Route 66 may become another dusty road in a long line of America’s past. So she does her best each year to promote and support the annual Route 66 Festival.
Shamrock, Texas was full of food, antiques and memories like the iconic U-Drop Inn featured in the Disney movie Cars and the retro buildings that make you say, “God, I miss those days.” But there were also the women of Shamrock from the helpful tourism staff at the U-Drop Inn who snapped my Polaroid moment to the newly widowed antique shop maven, ready to don her wings and set forth on a cruise to tomorrow.
I sat a spell at the only backwater eatery off the beaten path where the ladies of The Roost (117 E. Railroad Ave., Shamrock) served up a chunk of cobbler and a fresh pot of coffee. They tossed in some good conversation about a film crew skulking around town on a shoot. Christy White is a former teacher who’s now feeding people’s souls and The Roost is worth scoping out.
Do you sense a food theme to my memories? After all, isn’t all good conversation centered around great food, great coffee and great friends? I’ll always remember the women of Route 66 who made my journey all the more enjoyable and certainly more memorable. Each of them shared their stories and sprinkled joy across my solo road trip, making it truly the journey of a lifetime.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Filmmaker Katrina Parks will be making her mark as a woman of Route 66 with an upcoming documentary on all of us who have ventured the open road. Visit her website of the Women of Route 66.
Lisa Fantino is the author of the best-selling Italy travel memoir,“Amalfi Blue, Lost & Found in the South of Italy” and “Shrouded in Pompei.” Her upcoming mystery novel, “Fractured,” is due out soon.