Last Saturday, a group of Route 66 roadies that had attended the Gasconade Bridge Rally stopped by Afton Station in northeast Oklahoma to pay their respects to a well-known icon of the Mother Road, Laurel Kane. Laurel passed away in January (which I wrote about here) and her family planned a big celebration of her life on April 30. Since it was close to the day of the memorial and so many of her friends were nearby because of the aforementioned festivities in Missouri, an impromptu meetup occurred. It was bittersweet to set foot back inside that old service station again; the loss was tempered by the stories told by those of us that knew her. It was a nice, low-key gathering.
Today, the family celebration occurred. I found myself in the position of having to choose between two things: attending the celebration of Laurel’s life in Afton, or attending a Tulsa Route 66 event I’d been invited to participate in. I had agreed to participate without realizing it was on the same day, at the same time, as Laurel’s memorial an hour away. I knew that she would be pleased to see so much activity designed to bring new interest to the road in Tulsa, but it was extremely important that I be in Afton, too. I thought long and hard about what to do. I eventually decided to do both: celebrate the memory of my friend AND share my Route 66 memories with others, doing my part to keep the renaissance going. I left Tulsa early so that I could be in Afton right at the start of the gathering.
When I arrived at Afton Station, many people were already there. I greeted those that I knew and introduced myself to those I did not. I hadn’t seen Laurel’s daughter since the wedding (if you didn’t know, Laurel performed our wedding last October at the Cain’s Ballroom.) I walked through the shop and into the Packard showroom to find a collection of tables ready for guests, as well as a beautiful cake right in the middle. It was clear from the food stations being set up that a great many folks had RSVP’d. The stories were already starting, and people were in good spirits. Alas, after about fifteen minutes, I had to go. I felt guilty for leaving so quickly.
By the time I arrived in Tulsa, the Tulsa Young Professionals’ Street Cred Event had been going for about an hour. I drove down 11th Street to my destination, an old shop at 11th and Lewis that once sat in the shadow of the Meadow Gold sign (before it was removed and rebuilt a few miles away). The external lanes of the road were closed off and made into bike lanes, providing an example of what Route 66 could look like as a revitalized transportation corridor. The recently-passed Vision 2025 tax extension will accomplish part of that by revamping a Tulsa Bus route to provide more consistent service to the road. Loads of people were walking in the sunshine and biking along the lanes as I drove past. Food trucks were busy and many businesses had taken advantage of their roadside location to show people that Route 66 was alive in well in T-Town.
Samantha was manning my booth in the vendor building while I was in Afton, and my Mom had joined her. I was one of only four vendors in the small space, and I had an entire room to myself. That allowed me to showcase all eight states on the route. Next door, a pop-up museum featured historical photographs and artifacts from the route. I met and talked with a great many people today, most of which were out walking or biking the temporary transportation lanes. It was heartening to see so many people that had no real connection to 66 eager to learn about the history and the future of the road. It was also a treat to hear stories from older folks from road trips past and their memories of taking 66 to California or Chicago.
It was a mixed day of joy and grief. I said farewell to a friend that represented the route today & said hello to many that may represent the road tomorrow. I hope they were inspired by the renewed interest in the Will Rogers Highway to make part of it their own. Incredulously to me, several people were surprised to hear the Blue Whale in Catoosa was still open and accessible! If they can be convinced it’s a good idea to take the fifteen minute drive to see Blue, perhaps they’ll drive a little further and fall in love with the road like I did.