Sunday, June 04, 2017

Should we really be Nostalgic for Route 66?

Along the current Interstate 44 between St. Louis and Joplin, Missouri, there are various signs of nostalgia for old Route 66. I'm amused by some of the memorabilia, but in fact, the road itself and the accommodations, restaurants, and other amenities are in fact much nicer than they were back then. I'm happy to be staying in a nice chain motel, not the kind of crummy tourist court I recall from childhood trips! I'll appreciate the complimentary breakfast and I have no problem with the predictability of the chain restaurants -- not every restaurant or diner served great, hygienic, well-prepared food, and you never knew which was which.

As we drive this route today, we saw quite a few signs, especially at a rest stop along the way:

A copy of the Green-Book
from the Washington Post
I'm especially not nostalgic for one very sinister element of 1960s and earlier society: the bigotry that the "hospitality" industry could freely express before the Civil Rights act of 1964. The lovely retro diners and old-style motor courts that invoke such tender feelings now were often off-limits if your skin was the wrong color. It's easy to forget such things when you allow nostalgia to be your main emotion.

The Washington Post currently has an article about "The Negro Motorist Green-Book," which informed black tourists of which places would welcome, or at least tolerate, them, and which ones were highly threatening. Especially dangerous were "sundown towns" where African Americans were not permitted to stay after dark. The article: "‘Life or death for black travelers’: How fear led to ‘The Negro Motorist Green-Book’" by DeNeen L. Brown.

“Sundown towns were throughout the country; they were everywhere. Even on Route 66. When you have that reality, you need a guide. You need something to tell you where you could stay that was safe,” said Candacy Taylor, a Harvard fellow quoted by the Post article. The article documented many of the restrictions on black travelers that the Green-Book, published from the 1930s to the 60s, helped to avoid.

Here's the St.Louis arch which we zoomed past as we crossed the Mississippi River around noon today.


Vagabonde said...

Going through your past posts to get up to date. I’ll comment as I read them, so it will be disjointed - Such beautiful food! I’d love to eat at one of your meals and taste Len’s bread. I saw you said that in 1964 the population in Istanbul was 1,000,000 and now it is 14,000,000! My goodness! When we went there to stay with my grandma in 1946 I wonder how many people lived there? I saw your picture of an old electric blender. I have one like it, from Sears, quite old. I have just been using it to make smoothies as I had one wisdom tooth pulled this week and could not chew that much. Loved your bird pictures in Peru and in the Amazon Basin. The Graham Greene Book you read “The Ministry of Fear” sounds interesting. I have been reading several books on WWII lately. Right now in the middle of “The War: A Memoir” by Marguerite Duras. It is distressing how she keeps going to the Gare d’Orsay in Paris (in 1944 or 45 I think) to see if her husband is coming back from Dachau (where he was a political prisoner.) I see you read an Eric Ambler book. I started in the early 60s, while in San Francisco, by reading “A coffin for Dimitrios” which I loved and then read many of his books. I even called our parakeet Dimitrios after the book. I bet the book is somewhere around here – I’ll find it and reread it, it is very good. You had corned beef and cabbage for St. Pat’s Day? I have a package in the fridge to make this week, as it is pretty soft food. Should make it tomorrow. I also have an old cookbook by Paula Wolfert – did not know she has the dreaded Alzheimer. The problem around here is to find good lamb. Saw all your good food for Passover. Went to a wonderful Passover meal in California and still remember it with pleasure. I am not religious but enjoy the religious celebration food. I also had great meals with my Moslem friends for their l’Eid-al-Fitr. Well I better stop – Jim is calling. Will come back for the rest. I am stopping at your Happy Passover post of April 11 – will return when possible.

Jens Zorn said...

When in the navy 1949-1953 my preferred transportation between San Diego and home (Bloomington, Indiana) was hitchhiking, mostly on US 66. Faster and much cheaper than bus or train, overall. Being white, and in uniform, there was never a problem in getting a ride in those days. And I met some very interesting people!

Jeanie said...

This is fascinating, Mae. I guess I hadn't really thought about all those elements of segregation and Rt. 66 but it did go south and into some dicey territory at the time. A sad but valuable reminder.

I do love the rest area sign, the floors and all. I have a love hate relationship with the design of that period but it does bring back a certain amount of nostalgia!