Yesterday, the 7th of April, I turned 42 years old. It was a good day with good food and good company. I don’t think I’m in any danger of having a mid-life crisis (I did, after all, have a quarter-life crisis that led to my trip overseas!) but I did spend some time reflecting on past few birthdays. It amazes me to really look and see how much Route 66 has become a huge part of my day-to-day life.

It was on my birthday in 2014, the first one I spent with Samantha, that I explored Kansas Route 66 for the first time. We saw the Cars on the Route in Galena, the Rainbow Bridge in Baxter Springs, and parts of Northeast Oklahoma I’d missed on my first trip up the previous summer. The Conoco Hole in the Wall Station, for example. It was also our first time at the Blue Whale together.

Baxter Springs in 2014

A year after that, my birthday was also spent on the old highway, this time visiting with Laurel Kane in Afton, Oklahoma. I toured Afton Station and got to know the regulars there: Ron Jones, Betty Wheatley, and Ron McCoy. Laurel wrote about my visit and would also officiate my wedding later that same year. It’s crazy to look at her post now and see a photo of Dries, who I must’ve just missed meeting. He’s now a friend.

Afton Station in 2015

In 2018, I spent my birthday on Route 66 again…but this time on foot. Sam and I joined a few friends and Tulsa teachers marching to Oklahoma City to demand lower classroom sizes and better resources for their kids. We walked from Stroud to Chandler that day with a lunch stop in Davenport. I don’t think my feet have ever hurt that bad – but it was nothing compared to the scores of teachers that were walking the whole way.

Celebrating the completion of our frosty walk at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, 2018

2020 was much different, of course. It had only been a few weeks since Mom had died so unexpectedly; we were all reeling. Compounding that loss was the fact that the entire world had shut down due to COVID. Samantha had arranged for a large HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign in the yard, a delightful surprise when my spirits were so tattered. She also presented me with a birthday card she had found tucked away at Mom’s house while we were frantically clearing it out. It was one more expression of love from the woman that made me the man I’d become. I can’t think of it even now without getting a little weepy.

My 40th birthday in 2021 was still a bit muted…but another great surprise waited for me on Route 66. The marquee at the Circle Cinema was turned into the largest birthday card I’d ever received! We were able to get dinner at The Spudder (my favorite steak in Tulsa) and I got to see some close friends for the first time since the Pandemic really hit. It was a special day.

Tulsa’s Circle Cinema in 2021

April 7, 2022 was yet another Route 66 celebration, this time with the grand opening of a new exhibit at the Tulsa Historical Society, one with a few of my own artifacts on display among the various collections.

This year, I spent the week before my birthday in Albuquerque, New Mexico meeting with my counterparts from the other State Associations and planning collaborations for the upcoming centennial of the highway. I drove out there and back, stopping to visit with friends and roadies along the way. The entire road has become an extended family.

When I got back to Tulsa, a local radio station reached out to see if I’d be a guest on their new podcast series. The day that worked best was Friday, April 7th. So we met at the Route 66 Historical Village and talked about the road that had embedded itself into my world for a bit. Even the chocolate pie that Sam bakes for me every year had a nice little roadside attraction touch!

Route 66 has become a through-line in my last decade, that is for certain. But if you noticed throughout all of these memories…so has Samantha. I couldn’t have made it through everything the last decade brought my way without her love and support. She is the greatest gift, one I strive not to take for granted each day.

I wonder what the next ten years will bring?

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