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StreetWise story recalls Route 66 trip of 50 years ago

Wed, May 15, 2013

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Remembering the edition of the StreetWise magazine which dealt with Route 66, I am reminded of a past experience of my life back in May-June of 1956. I was 10 years old. My mother, my older brother, and my two younger sisters were leaving Arcola, Illinois (about 35 miles south of Champaign) to go to Chicago to meet Grandma Carroll (my mother’s mother) who lived in Los Angeles and flew into Chicago to meet us returning from a round-the-world trip. My father, a U.S. Army officer, was then in Korea. We traveled along Route 66 most of the way to Los Angeles, taking a more southernly route when we got further west in New Mexico and Arizona.

During the road trip there was not very much of interest. We stayed at various motels along the way throughout Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. I spent much time looking at the scenery and reading. I recall reading a condensed version of Moby Dick for children. I recall passing a heard of bison (buffalo) in Oklahoma. I recall that my grandmother pointed out that she saw a car with an Alaska license plate!

During the summer we stayed at a rented house in Los Angeles with my grandmother before she moved into a new apartment before we left. We did some very nice things such as going to the beach, to Disneyland, to Marineland (a museum of marine life), a big public fireworks display at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and a big reunion of our large extended family.

In August my father was transferred from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to Tokyo, the capital of Japan. In September we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco to sail to Japan to meet my father. We were initiated when we crossed the International Date Line. At this time a practical joke was played on us. We were told that on a certain date the ship would be stopped and rowboats would be put out in the ocean so we could go swimming. That was the date that was skipped when we lost a day crossing the International Date Line.

For most of the trip the weather was peaceful. But just toward the end, the sea was rough when we went through the edge of Typhoon Harriet. The same typhoon hit Tokyo after we landed but it mainly brought a lot of rain; later there was an earthquake in Tokyo shortly after we arrived, but luckily it was only a minor one. Coincidentally, I saw the movie Moby Dick at the post theatre.

We returned from Japan in May 1958. This time there were two more people. My father was there, and another sister of mine who was born in Japan. The ship took the northern route as it docked in Seattle. The weather was chilly and rainy much of the way. After we docked in Seattle, it was a long trip until we would reach the place my father would be stationed (San Marcos, Texas, around 30 miles south of Austin). Along the way we were again able to see my grandmother and other relatives in California. Incidentally, my grandmother got over to Japan to see us in February of 1957 through her job as a travel agent.

Fifty years later, I made a return trip to Japan during January and February before my retirement from full-time work in 2006. When I lived in Japan from September 1956 through May 1958, I was only in and near Tokyo. My return trip included Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. It was interesting to see how Tokyo had gone from modern to ultra-modern, now having skyscrapers, because modern architecture is more quake-resistant. Kyoto, the Florence of Asia, is the only major city in Japan not attacked by Allied bombers during World War II and is still Japan’s center of culture. Hiroshima, after being hit by the atom bomb, has made a marvelous recovery and one would never know that the city had been hit except for the Atom Bomb Dome which has been preserved as a reminder. The Atom Bomb Dome is at the edge of the Peace Park. The Peace Park is very beautiful and the beauty was enhanced the day I went there by a fall of snow which stuck to trees and bushes.

By James Metzgar,
StreetWIse Vendor

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