Of course, the famous, oft-covered song – written by Bobby Troup in 1946 – is not about Interstate 35. (Which doesn’t rhyme with “kicks.”) We’ll get to I-35 in a little while. But first, a not-so-quick detour about “Route 66,” the old Chicago-to-Los Angeles road through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Commissioned in 1926, it was officially considered “replaced” by the Interstate Highway System (primarily 55, 44 and 40) in 1985. Even so, Route 66 remains the most romanticized roadway in the United States. If you are over 40 and grew up in the Midwest, odds are pretty good you remember a drive (or two) through Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Tucumcari, Flagstaff, Barstow, etc., when all or some of it was still Route 66.
My family had made the St. Louis-LA round trip at least five times before I was in high school, and it made me reflect on the childhood in California that I didn’t end up having _ and the one in Missouri that I did. Born in Los Angeles, I moved to the Show-Me State at age 4 when my dad (originally from the St. Louis area) got a job back there.
Going on the drive from St. Louis to LA was, for me, akin to being Dorothy on the yellow brick road, with the Pacific Ocean serving as Emerald City. There was no “Wicked Witch”, though, because absolutely nothing seemed bad about California. I always was seriously over-excited by arriving in Needles, even though that’s still hours of desert away from the beach. I always was not as very excited about the drive back to Missouri.
One trip, when I was about 6, I took my special box, which held a lot of my special stuff. Including the new Jot the Dot Fan Club membership card I’d recently received in the mail after sending Jot a note, written on card that had a picture of a Missouri bridge on it.
I know … how can I possibly remember this? Because I really, really sweated over exactly what to write to a major cartoon celebrity like Jot, whom I somehow believed was actually going to read it. When I got a membership card to his fan club, I felt certain Jot had, indeed, been moved by my note about his show.
Actually, they really weren’t “shows” … they were brief cartoons in which Jot the Dot was always learning a morality lesson and often being made to feel guilty even when he didn’t really do anything wrong. Think of it as a far-cheaper and not-nearly-as-funny precursor of “Veggie Tales.”
(Jot was conceived by a woman who graduated from Baylor and the cartoons were produced by Southern Baptists, facts that seem rather amusing to me now.)
In my box along with the Jot membership card were any colorful brochures that had caught my eye at the hotels we’d stayed at on the trip, and other precious possessions _ such as random playing cards, acorns, rubber bands, eraser stubs and small, smooth rocks _ the immense value of which adults can’t grasp.
Alas, it was mistaken for a box of junk by my mother when she was cleaning out the back of the station wagon during one stop for gas that I’d slept through. After an initial wave of grief, I felt I could recover, eventually, and replace the loss of everything _ except the Jot membership card. How could I possibly have explained to Jot that I needed another one?
Anyway, that’s a very winding tale about Route 66 (or what remained of it in the late 1960s-’70s.) Interstate 35 is another story. It is not much romanticized, if at all.
And it was never a road of my childhood. But it’s been one of the principle highways of my adult life the last 13 years. This past weekend, it took me from Kansas City to Des Moines for a wedding, and the week before from a vacation in south Texas back to KC.
And it has been “Basketball Highway.” I-35 has taken me to college or WNBA games in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Ames, KC, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Norman, Stillwater (via 412 and 177) Dallas/Fort Worth, Waco, Austin and San Antonio. I-35 runs from Minnesota to Texas, from the frozen to the fried. Technically, it doesn’t fully connect the Canadian and Mexican borders … but it almost does. It’s the dissecting highway of the midsection of America.
The first time I drove down to Dallas and passed through the Turner Falls/Arbuckle Mountains area of Oklahoma, I honestly thought for a second I’d been whisked into another dimension. I was not very keen about Oklahoma geography and had never heard of this wondrous place. Has anyone else been as stunned by the initial sight of it?
See, most of the drive from KC to Big D, you’re going through prairie, which in itself can be beautiful. It amazes me how much some of that area probably looks no different now than it must have to the first non-native settlers to arrive there (minus the telephone lines, of course). There are the wheat fields (Knute Rockne’s plane crashed into one near Bazaar, Kan., in 1931, and he’s memorialized now at a travel stop along the Kansas Turnpike), the grazing hills, the flat red clay … then, somehow, nature also sneaks in this ancient mountain range. Sure, they’re now small, eroded “mountains” but I’ll never get over the surprise.
I-35 is the main connector highway in Big 12 country, the path that takes you right through the three cities – KC, Dallas, OKC – that have hosted the Jumbo Dozen’s basketball tournaments. I-35 cities also have been host to the Women’s Final Four in 1985 and ’87 (Austin), 1995 (Minneapolis), 1998 (KC) and 2002 (San Antonio). The Alamo City will be the site of the event again next season.
In fact, the upcoming “Road to San Antonio” just might have some team never really getting off I-35 the entire NCAA Tournament. Because Minneapolis, Ames, Norman and Austin are early-round sites, and Kansas City is host to a regional.
(Who knows? Before then, we might even see an I-35 series in the WNBA’s Western Conference finals, if the Silver Stars face the Lynx. Oh, stop laughing. I’m just saying it could happen. Don’t hold your breath.)
One of the potential sizzling rivalries developing in women’s college hoops is linked by about a 100-mile stretch of I-35 between Austin and Waco. Both Texas towns have seen champions in the sport, with Texas winning the 1986 NCAA title and Baylor the 2005 crown.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who took the program from irrelevance to prominence, and Texas’ Gail Goestenkors, trying to re-institute the Longhorns’ days of dominance, are about a year apart in age. I’ve chatted with both recently, and as promised will have upcoming blog entries about their teams and outlook for the 2009-10 season.
Mulkey is a native Southerner, Goestenkors a native Northerner; both are two of the most recognizable personalities among female coaches. (As is the woman further north on I-35, Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale, whose program just made its second trip to the Final Four. And who strikes me as the one most likely to also have written a letter to Jot the Dot.)
Perhaps this whole blog post was a reach, a long-winded connection of the “dots” (groan) in my life between old Route 66 and the still-vibrant I-35. But I’ve amazingly restrained myself (well, until now) from getting into I-70, the connector between Mizzou, Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado. Some folks call I-70 the most boring highway in the universe. Of course, I don’t see it that way. There are some great ponds, lots of cows, the Flint Hills, tumbleweed …
OK, we’ll do I-70 another time.