'Miles to Go' takes a different look at Route 66

Part travelogue, part quest, ‘Miles to Go’ takes a different look at Route 66

“Miles to Go” by Brennen Matthews.

Brennen Matthews’ book “Miles to Go” offers a refreshing take on Route 66. An overriding reason for that freshness is that the book seems to reflect a phrase often attributed to Aristotle – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Taken as a whole, “Miles to Go” is greater than the sum of its many diverse, comfortably interlocking parts.

The book’s subtitle, “An African Family in Search of America Along Route 66,” informs the reader that the book is part travelogue and part quest as experienced by Matthews, his wife Kate and their 8-year-old son Thembi.

It’s also part descriptions of changing landscapes, of fabled over-sized roadside attractions like a blue whale and a steer, of history of the legendary road stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles, of encounters with nature, and of chats with ordinary, friendly folks – tourists, motel owners, cafe wait staff – the family meets in small-town America.

Some conversations are reduced to mundane ordering of food or drink, as when the family stops at a cafe in the picturesque northeastern Oklahoma town of Claremore.

Kate asks the waitress if the cafe has cappucchino. No.

How about caffé latte? Sorry.

“Please say you have espresso,” Kate implores.

“No, we only have regular coffee. None of the fancy stuff.”

Kate settles for a cup of Joe.

That exchange quickly refocuses to another subject. While waiting for their drinks, Matthews notices a picture on the walls of a local man who became a famous folksy stage performer and Hollywood actor. His name was Will Rogers.

Rogers was born into a Cherokee family in nearby Oologah and grew up in Claremore. He died in a plane crash in 1935.

Years later, the U.S. 66 Highway Association nicknamed the road the Will Rogers Highway. Today it is perhaps more widely known as the Mother Road or as America’s Main Street.

These moments are like sketches that segue from one to another to another.

“I made it very clear when I started writing. I do not want to do a travel book, not a guide and not another love letter to Route 66. I was keen on focusing on a North American travelogue and meet the people you would meet when you get out of the car,” Matthews said in a phone interview from Toronto, Canada, where he and his family live.

The family is originally from Kenya in east Africa.

In the “Miles to Go” prologue, Matthews writes that after living through a harsh Canadian winter and a spring thaw, the family was seeking the best path to sunny, warm California. He further explains the book’s deeper sources – about “how the most famous road in America has influenced so many lives and futures. It is a tale of living life and taking chances, of being given the gift of a quest and of taking on America full tilt. But mostly it is the story of a family from Africa taking to America and consuming it completely.”

The book is based on the family’s trip in late summer of 2016. It was their first time on Route 66. They’ve since taken nine more trips on the highway.

Of course, the family stopped in the Land of Enchantment:

⋄ Tucumcari. The Blue Swallow Motel, “the pride of the animated town,” contrasted with the ruins of the Paradise Inn Motel, a “cheerless, long-left-behind locale” on the town’s outskirts.

⋄ Santa Fe. La Fonda on the Plaza “is, in every sense, the pure essence of southwestern hospitality.” Santa Fe was part of Route 66’s original alignment.

⋄ Albuquerque. “Alive with people, commerce and music … Old Town is jam-packed with old world allure and appeal. … There was a welcoming air in Old Town and less of a push to purchase than in Santa Fe.”

⋄ Grants. At the New Mexico Mining Museum, Thembi impressed a museum volunteer, a retired miner, with his knowledge of rocks.

⋄ Thoreau. “… a nondescript town, except that it is home to the Roy T. Herman’s Garage and Service Station, described as one of the oldest remaining gas stations on Route 66 in New Mexico.”

⋄ Gallup. “… a myriad of roadside motels and jewelry stores and pawnshops on the left-hand side of the road and railroad tracks on the right.”

That first trip on 66 inspired them to start Route Magazine in February 2018. Matthews is its editor and his wife the deputy editor. The magazine’s main subjects are road trips and roadside America, including old Route 66.

Home » Entertainment » Arts » Part travelogue, part quest, ‘Miles to Go’ takes a different look at Route 66

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