Spare Parts: Jamais vu

By Ernie Cooper

Have you ever planned a road trip that was supposed to change your life? You know, a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list kind of trip with all the bells and whistles? Mine is a Route 66 Mother Road dream. I know; it’s hardly unique and it’s a dream that probably burns a little dimmer every day as the familiar features of America’s Main Street are fading fast.

For starters, it’s a long day’s ride just to get to Chicago from western Pennsylvania, where Historic US-66 starts and then you need time by the handfuls to get from there to the route’s terminus at the Pacific Ocean. I don’t have time by the handfuls, but have often dreamed about what it would be like on 66 if I did.

Waking up to see the world’s biggest rocking chair, trading posts with miniature license plates and eating diner food seem to be the things that leisure time is made for. How could you ever get tired of that? A trip on Route 66 would be the experience of a lifetime that one would remember forever. Or maybe not.

Last Christmas, my sister and I had the chance to go visit our aunt who we hadn’t seen in about 20 years. Though born in our western Pennsylvania hometown, she’s lived much of her life in the Illinois/Missouri area. It was a whirlwind car trip and we were only gone 2 1/2 days including 1,600 miles of driving, visitation and sleep. It was nothing unusual for our family.

Prior to the journey I was plotting out the trip and realized we would be very close to parts of Historic Route 66 at various points of the drive. A Route 66 photo op was secondary to visiting our aunt, but we figured we’d check into it after we’d completed our visit successfully.

During our visit, we realized this was at least the fourth time I’d been to visit my aunt in this general location. Once was on another overnighter with my dad when I was 16 and the other two times I was literally a kid of eight or 10 years old so I didn’t remember too much about it. As we said our goodbyes, I asked my cousin if she knew of any Route 66 sites in town, since I’d discovered it went right through the center of her town. She suggested a couple and we sought out a few more on our own.

As we started to visit and click off a few selfies, I began to wonder if I’d succumbed to early onset Alzheimer’s on the road that is “paved with memories!” I’d never made the connection, so to speak, that I’d already been to this stretch of Route 66 three other times and it had yet to change my life. I didn’t even remember it! Not in the epic road-trip way, anyhow. I remembered visiting Meramec Caverns back on a previous visit. We’d seen it advertised on barns for hundreds of miles before getting there. I must have driven my parents crazy! The caverns were hyped at that time as Jesse James’ hideout. I guess that had made a bigger impression on me when I was eight than any visible gas pump did!

Sis and I stopped in at the Mule Trading Post. It was adjacent to I-44 on an old, dead-end stretch of the Mother Road. Outside, there’s a giant Hillbilly sign that’s only been there a few years, but I’d seen it before too. My sister agreed. Research showed that it had been moved in the last decade from just down the road at another trading post. A couple of early-model Corvairs sat on display in the parking lot. Inside, there were the anticipated Route 66 souvenirs; in fact, I picked up a set of Route 66 coasters that the cashier explained to me were made from the same material as the countertops at Casey’s stores. I like that kind of insider information. There were also radio-controlled cars, drones and samurai swords. Things change, I guess.

We did see the world’s biggest rocking chair, but it was in Casey, Illinois, no longer on Route 66. It seems Casey has a monopoly on “world’s largest” items including pencil, mailbox, golf tee, knitting needle, teeter-totter and wind chime along with the rocking chair. There may be more by the time you read this. They seem like an industrious group. In case you’re wondering, the chair in Casey is 56 1/2 feet tall, besting the previous world’s largest rocker in Fanning, Missouri, by 14’ 6”. My cousin’s husband George took this news pretty hard.

So, the moral of the story is that many things will change your life, but none more than the people you meet along the way. If you’ve been there before and don’t remember it, you can still have fun going back. I’m told the French call the experience of being there before but not really remembering it “Jamais vu,” the opposite of déjà vu. If I ever forget again that I’ve been to the same part of Route 66 four times in my life, I’ll just look at my coasters, my postcard, my pictures and my penknife. Then I’ll probably say, “That was fun. Let’s go back again.”

It’s good to have dreams.

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