Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009--Get Your Bucks On Route 66

If nothing else, recent history has taught us that clever people have figured out how to make money from almost everything.

One of my favorite schemes is for corporations to take out life insurance policies on their employees naming themselves as the beneficiaries. When the worker dies, the company collects the insurance. Of course they fail to tell their employees about this otherwise they might suspect that when working conditions seem dangerous or might contribute to ill health, that it is intentional.

Or am I being too cynical?

All right then, how about banks taking the mortgages on our houses and, rather than holding them for the 30 years it will take us to pay them off, gathering them into bundles called derivatives and then slicing them into thousands of pieces which they in turn sell off as if they were stocks or commodities?

No, you say, the friendly neighborhood bank would never do such a thing to its loyal customers. Turning mortgages into financial instruments. Inconceivable. And even if the banks were inclined to be that greedy, playing with our life savings and financial futures in this tawdry way, our government-of-the-people would step in and through various regulations never allow such a thing to happen.

OK, I’m overstating things to make a point.

How about, then, something much more complicated to commodify? Take Route 66 for example. It’s easy to pick on corporations and businesses that after all are in business primarily to make money. But that legendary highway that opened in 1926 and stretched through hundreds of small towns as it wended its way between Chicago and Los Angeles?

Well, according to the linked article in the New York Times, though most of it has become a ghost road replaced by the interstate highway system—the soulless I-20s and I-40s of the world—portions of it still survive. It even has organizations such as the World Monument Fund trying to preserve its last remnants, and folks out in Santa Monica, where it didn’t end, are trying to make a quick buck off its legendary status by claiming that it did terminate there at its famous pier.

It actually ran out of gas at the untouristy Seventh Street in downtown LA, but legend has it there was an end-of-the-road sign in Santa Monica. Not at the pier but in town at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue. But it appears that that sign was more likely a prop for a road movie being shot there than any actual extension of the nation’s Main Street, as it was frequently called.

But, with that sign in mind, to justify designating a new end of the trail, Chamber of Commerce folks unveiled a sign a week or so ago proclaiming a new “official” terminus. This one conveniently closer to the pier and its trinket shops and fast food joints.

If only the Okies had known about this. Fleeing the drought that had turned their Oklahoma farms into a giant dust bowl, they could have pushed on further and before seeking work on the farms and in the factories of California, they could have checked out Santa Monica and snacked on Cokes and chili dogs.

James Conkle, chairman of the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, summed things up. About the newest extension of the road, he rationalized, “It’s a myth but a myth added to all the other myths of Route 66.”

So now we also have to add some new lyrics to Nat King Cole’s hit song about getting your kicks on Route 66:

It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six.

Now you go through Saint Looey
Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.

And Taco Bell is swell
Pizza Hut as well

Here on the Pier
In Santa Monica USA!


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