Get Your Kicks on Route 66!
When I was 9 years old, my family made the classic American pilgrimage to California via Route 66, the Mother Road. This amazing highway, prior to interstates and freeways, was the link from Illinois all the way across our nation to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. It was high adventure to travel this route. Virtually all of it was two lanes and there were plenty of stops in every town along the way.
Each town had its own personality and unique features. We entered the road in Oklahoma after leaving our Little Rock, Arkansas home and drove our trusty 1953 Buick all the way. When crossing the desert, we carried a goatskin water bag across the grille on the front of our car to use if the radiator overheated. That was a common occurrence back then, like flat tires and fouled spark plugs.
I remember stopping to see the Indian teepees in New Mexico, going to the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, taking photos with 20-foot tall cavemen statues, and sitting for tourist photos on stuffed longhorn cattle and horses surrounded by cactus plants. This was high adventure in 1956.
We were on a trek to be among the first to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, a remote farming community of orange orchards. The nation’s first theme park had just opened the year before. This was the premiere family adventure of my entire youth.
To be among the first to ever visit that magical place was beyond most people’s dreams. Needless to say, it exceeded even my best expectations. But Disneyland wasn’t what I remember most from the trip.
What I remember most vividly was the trip itself. Riding across wide-open plains, across deserts, through landscapes that looked just like the cowboy movies I’d been watching back home. Dad told jokes, we sang songs, and ate Mom’s cookies.
In Albuquerque, we blew a head gasket and spent two extra days there while some generous local mechanic rescued us. Cars were relatively easy to work on back then. A wrench, screwdriver, hammer, electrical tape, and something to measure with, that would pretty much handle most repairs. Life was simpler, cars were simpler, and our country was less populated.
The same trip today is a vastly different experience. Four-lane and twelve-lane interstate highways allow you to whisk along rapidly, oblivious to your surroundings. Roadside stops all have the same brand names: McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Arby’s, Starbucks, etc. Many towns don’t require that you exit the freeway at all. You can breeze on through. In the cars, our sound systems, internet connections, and video games for the kids keep everyone occupied.
I love progress and I believe in constant advancement, so I welcome the innovations and improvements. But I do miss the charm and direct connections of the Mother Road experience.
Repair shops have evolved along the same lines in many cases. Technology rules the shop; looks, labels, and layouts are pretty much universal; and national brands are to be found in every town. That’s good… as long as we remember how important the personal experience needs to be.
I remember the mechanic in Albuquerque. His shop was more of a barn than a garage, and he had greasy hands, a rag in his pocket, and a pencil behind his ear. There were some auto-relics in the yard around his shop for parts. He was a no-nonsense, good old boy and a dedicated mechanic.
We trusted him, and thank heaven, he was worthy of our trust. Because of him, our auto problem didn’t become a life problem. He guided us to an affordable motel within walking distance and went right to work getting our car back on the road.
Today you can still find him or his equivalent in cities and towns across the country, but the culture that created him isn’t the same. There are fewer like him overall.
I’m not saying we could go back to the 1950s in how we run our shops, but we do need to remember that our job is to fix the customer first, then the car. If their transmission is down, they have a transportation problem and maybe more, but it isn’t the tranny they care about. They want someone they can trust to help them get back on the road and on with their lives.
What makes America wonderful is the people who live here. Those from all the diverse cultures that produced this fine mix of people. No matter what your origins were, America is a place where you can embrace the common trait of caring about other people, coming together to solve problems, sharing stories and laughter, and helping people get on with their lives.
I got my kicks on Route 66 and I’m happy to say that the feelings we had along that trip are the same feelings I find when I tell stories, share a meal at Expo, or when I drop in on an ATRA-Member shop in Conway, Arkansas just to say “Hi.”
Let’s all remember that it’s us that make up this industry and it’s the us in USA that makes it great.
Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is a strategic advisor to ATRA and a long-time contributor to GEARS Magazine. As a professional speaker and business advisor, he helps people see the deeper meaning in their business and find quicker, more lasting ways to make business and personal problems go away. Contact him at email@example.com and visit his web site, Cathcart.com, for free videos, articles, and resources.