Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Mafia and Auto Theft: 1930s to 1950s -- Gabriel Vigorito, "Blah Blah"

Taken FromWill Oursler, "Hot Car King, The American Weekly, January 9, 1955, 7ff.

Underworld intimates called him Blah Blah because he liked to brag about his home, his wife, his kid. And his income, said to be 800,000 a year.
Behind this international hot car network -- according to the story ultimately pieced together -- was the twisted genius of the man called Blah Blah. Product of Brooklyn street gangs, an associate of Joe Adonis in prohibition rackets, Blah Blah began his automotive career by providing cars for robberies. Later he developed the use of hearses as getaway cars.
Accepted in Mafia councils as its automotive representative, he decided in the early 1930s to expand. Mafia leaders spread the word across America: play ball with Blah Blah. Dozens of garages, parking lots, even automotive agencies in several American cities were made available to Vigorito and his aides. But the main reason for Blah Blah's success was his anonymity within the gang itself. His role was only known to a few top lieutenants. They in turn knew only a handful of underlings to whom they transmitted orders. All the way down to the punk kids hired to steal the cars, this secrecy was maintained.
In 1948, European, South American and Central American markets were hungry for cars from the States. Blah Blah and his network set out to meet the international demand.
Already delivering a hundred cars a week on a national scale, he added a hundred a month for export, to be sold at fantastically high prices and through seemingly legitimate "fronts" to reputable shipping agents for resale abroad.
The ring was now a huge, invisible industry. Youths were brought in and trained in stealing cars. They were told what models to steal and in what neighborhoods. They were given the exact location of "drops."
Each operation was specialized. A payoff man gave the kid his $50 at some pre-designated place. Another man switched license plates on the car that "drop point." Still another drove the car to a die-out garage. Here more experts went to work, using specially developed techniques to change serial and engine numbers. The car was given a complete spray-gun paint job -- by an expert.
Locks were removed and replaced by new locks and keys. The interior was vacuumed, pockets and trunks emptied, tires changed or shifted around, every possible identification changed or eliminated.
Other experts provided "paper" -- proper certifications and registration, obtained from licensing bureaus in a number of states by ring operatives providing false dates, names, and addresses.
Changed and unrecognizable, bearing legitimate ownership certificates, the stolen cars poured out of this underworld assembly line in a steady low. They were sold through underworld car lots, black markets, and even legitimate outlets, both in the U.S. and abroad. For a $5000 model, the ring got 16,000 overseas. For a $2000 car, Blah Blah asked and received $7,500.
The FBI ultimately assigned one of its top undercover men to find the boss of the Mafia syndicates car ring. Calling himself Eddie Jones, this man visited four American cities. He talked with hundreds of auto salesmen, garage men, mechanics. His story was that he wanted some particular, hard to get model -- at a good price.
There was no trace of the thieves -- or their boss. AT last the man called Eddie played a long shot -- parking lots. Some of these might be outlets. His hunch paid off. One afternoon in a parking lot in New York City he observed a well-known hoodlum talking with a man Eddie recognized as a top salesmen in a Manhattan auto agency. The following day he called the saelmen with a proposition. He had clients in California, he stated, who wanted three Caddys.
The next day Eddie met the salesmen in an outlying part of the city. He found there Cadillacs lined up at the curb. Eddie said the cars weren’t quite right. The salesmen said he could get the others. There were several additional meetings.
G-men followed these cars and found out where they were kept. They learned that most of the cars had been parked near suburban railroad stations by commuters.
Three weeks later Eddie spotted the Manhattan salesmen talking to a man he recognized as a former Murder, Inc. hoodlum. This time he followed the hood, who ultimately led him to the hole-in-the-wall bar and grill on a backwash Brooklyn street.
Inside, Eddie recognized the bartender as a former strong arm man for "lucky" Luciano. He recognized another mafia mobster at one of the tables. The undercover man made the place a hangout. He talked in his interest in cars. He made friends with the hoodlum lieutenants of the "Big I am ."
Eventually he met Vigorito himself. Blah Blah joked and laughed and showed Eddie pictures of his wife and kids.
Other undercover men worked their way into the confidence of the ring's underlings nad in the fall of 1953 the agents began setting up a big deal. It would involve hundreds of cars for shipment overseas. The agents insisted on closing the deal with the top man. And one afternoon Blah Blah, his aides and these new-found customers met in the back room.
Balh Balh arrested and charged, but the syndicate would take care of everything. When the Mafia bosses saw that 43 witnesses were ready to testify against Blah Blah, they realized that too much would be disclosed if the case went to court. So Blah Blah walked humbly into the court, pleaded guilty and begged the court's mercy.
On February 19, 1954, he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5000, hardly an afternoon's pay for a big man like Blah Blah,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toby Halicki and the Original "Gone in 60 Seconds" -- a remarkable independent film

The two "Gone in Sixty Seconds" films of the post-1970s era celebrated both the professional thief and the high performance, elegantly styled automobile. And while the story was appropriately centered in car-culture dominated southern California, it was written by an unlikely outsider originally from Dunkirk, New York (located on Lake Erie not terribly far from Buffalo), H.B. "Toby" Halicki (1940-1989). Halicki, with no formal education in film or practical experience in the industry, conceived, wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the version that was released in 1974. From a rough and tumble Polish-American family, Toby began his work life as a tow truck driver before migrating to California, where he succeeded in a number of businesses, including automotive recycling, body shop repairs, and real estate. It comes as no surprise then, when in an early scene in the film, Halicki handles a tow truck pulling a car like an expert driver behind the wheel of a sports car. Halicki put tougher a remarkable low budget independent film, relying on friends, family, everyday police, firemen, and pedestrians to play supporting roles. And quite modestly, Halicki lists the star of the film as the 1973 Mustang Mach I named Eleanor.
Halicki plays the part of Maindrain Pace, a respected insurance investigator and owner of Chase Research by day. At night and in and around parking lots, streets, the chop shop, and dealerships, however, Pace is the head of a highly organized car theft ring. Yet despite what one might think of his illegal activities, Pace is a criminal with principles, for he will not steal any car that is not insured (ironic given his day job!). AS the film opens, the work of a chop shop is detailed, as valuable and tagged parts, along with the VIN identification sticker, is transferred from a wrecked red Dodge Challenger to one stolen from an airport parking lot. A bit later, with an order from an Argentine General to steal 48 cars in four days, Pace and his associates quickly get to work. Here the film illustrates the many ways in which a professional thief can steal a car without making a mark on it. Mistakes are not made by members of this outfit; Pace tells one of his associates that "The amateurs are in jail. Professionals never are caught." The only professionals who are in jail are those who were sloppy. Each associate is given a specially equipped briefcase, containing tools, magnetic license plates, and anything else that one might need to quickly and cleanly "boost" a car. And a number of these devices are shown in action -- the slim Jim, door button pry bar, and separate ignition switch. Newer additions to thecase include a walkie-talkie and a compact key cutter. A number of car culture notables from the era play minor roles in the film -- Parnelli Jones, J.C. Agajanian, and Tony Bettenhausen -- and given the fact that there was no script he flow of the film is rather remarkable, culminating with a 34 minute car chase and a jump that left Halicki with 10 crushed vertebrae and a limp. Among the cars stolen were a : 1924 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (Eileen); 1970 Jaguar E-type (Claudia); 1959 Rolls-Royce Phantom V (Rosie); 1972 Ferarri Daytona 365 GTB 4 (Sharon); 1973 Jensen Interceptor (Betty); 1971 Citroen SM (Patti); 1962 Ferrari 340 America (Judy); 1971 Chevrolet Vega (Christy); and a 1967 Lamborghini (Tracy). As to the why of the Vega, I have no answer! And despite the low budget, absence of professional actors, and organizational methods that children have exceeded when making home movies, Halicki succeeded in ways perhaps that the 2000 sequel fell short. And while it may be argued that Halicki was far more interested in making a chase movie than one illustrating the nature of auto theft, perhaps the most enduring message is one that features a battered Eleanor at the conclusion of the film still running. Detroit iron was tough back then!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cars from Coronado, IV -- a Special Sunday Treat!

Every party needs atleast one Model T -- the car that changed the world!

Ludwig Erhard, the architect of the German post-WWII miracle, would be proud of this M-B from the 1950s!

A rare 1954 MG ZA

a 1940 Lincoln Zephyr -- Edsel's baby!

A late (?) 1920s Auburn.

Hi folks, after lunch today I took a quick trip to the Coronado Library to get a few DVDs. As it turned out, about two blocks from where I live, a group was having a patio luncheon. And the carsthey parked on the side of the road were pretty incredible! So here are a few of these beautiful and noteworthy cars.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cars from Coronado, CA, III

Could there be a California without the ubiquitous VW Combi?
This one has a Brown sticker onthe rear window. The seem to be plenty of eastern elites lurking in my neighborhood.

Detroit iron can be found as well. Sort of a sorry-ass Camero.

A tired M-B 560SL. But these cars are a great value in today's market place!

OK folks, every time I turn around I find a nice car sticking out from a parking space. But to foster a bit more variety, I will soon shift my focus to nearby La Jolla, and will do a series from there as well. My semester starts shortly and then a more academic slant will surely follow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Janet Evanovich's Motor Mouth: Auto (and Truck Carrier) Theft and Disabling GPS?

Janet Evanovich, Motor Mouth. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. pp.30-31.

Mouth Mouth is Janet Evanovich's entertaining but forgettable story of sex (what do you expect!), cheating on the NASCAR circuit, theft, and the detection of a microchip that is at the heart of a high tech traction control system. After a race is lost under suspicious circumstances, the central character in the novel, Barnaby, a woman mechanic who loves pink and was once the lover to driver Hooker, decides that something was not right with the sinning car and perpetrates a "boost" of a hauler with two cars -- and incidentally a dead body packed in ice. But a GPS system has to be disabled, and Barnaby does that rather simply:
"Yeah, right. I could almost live with that. See if you can disable the GPS. I'm going to try to rip some of this shrink-wrap off the outside so we're not so recognizable."
I was able to squeeze my arm far enough to reach a ball of aluminum foil sitting on the kitchenette counter. I ripped a couple of chunks off the roll, swung out of the hauler, and climbed onto the back to the cab. The antenna had been placed in the usual location between the exhaust pipes. I wrapped the antenna in aluminum foil and jumped off. Turns out it's pretty easy to screw up a GPS system.
Is that all there is to disabling a GPS system? Find the antenna and wrap it in foil? Can you do this with OnStar?

Syllabus, HST 378, The Automobile and American Life, Spring 2011, University of San Diego

Automobile and American Life

Class Meeting: TTH 2:30-3:45 p.m., KPJ 214

Instructor: John A. Heitmann, visiting Knapp Chair in the Humanities, USD, Professor of History, University of Dayton

Office: 283 KPJ (x 4601).

Office Hours: 11-noon, 1:15-2;15 p.m. TTH or by appointment
Home page/Blog –

Texts: John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life.
Jack Keroauc, On the Road.
Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
Lee Iacocca, An Autobiography

Grades: The final grade for this course will be based upon Quizzes (10-20% depending on frequency) one Mid-Term Exam, (30%), Critical Book Reviews (30%), and Final Exam (30%). The grade scale is as follows: A 94 to 100; A- 90 to 93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80 - 83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73. A similar pattern applies to lower grades. Letter grades are assigned a mid-point numerical grade. Additionally, attendance can influence your final grade: if you miss more than 3 classes, one letter grade will be deducted from your grade; if you miss more than 6 classes, a two letter grade reduction will take place. Grades may be influenced by such factors as trends over the time of the course; for example, how you finish is far more important than how you start. Policies for exams strictly follows History Department Guidelines, and make-ups will only be offered with a valid, documented excuse.

Critical Book Reviews: Three critical reviews of assigned books serve as integral assignments in this course. Each review should be 3-5 pages in length, typed, double spaced. One should aim to critically summarize the book, aiming sure to discuss the authors content, themes, and perspectives, and then also provide an introspective response to the book that incorporates one’s own evaluation of the work’s authenticity and value.

Attendance at lectures is crucial if you are to expect a good grade in the course, and I want you to be at every class if that is at all possible. On many occasions material presented is not covered in the readings, and so many of the ideas discussed central to the development of modern science are complex and often confusing. Your attitude and what you bring in to the classroom can make the difference between a mediocre offering and a most positive educational experience.

Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and offenses will be punished accordingly. A first offense will result in a failing grade for the exam or paper in question; a second offense will result in a failing grade for the course. .

In-Class Films are not shown for relaxation or passive learning. Clips of historically important films will be shown each week. As a guide to understanding film in an historical perspective, you may wish to consult John E. O'Conner's Image as Artifact: The Historical Analysis of Film and Television. A film's historical significance lies in the story of its production, the content of its finished product, and the reception of the film both upon its release and in later years. Critical is the concept of context: considering the time, place and circumstances in which a film is both produced and experienced. You may also wish to consult Robert Brent Toplin's History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past (1996) and Reel History: In the Defense of Hollywood (2002).

Course Purpose: It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this course we will explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition that we will study, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate. It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.


The week of:

Week 1/January 24 Introduction; What our cars tell us about ourselves. The car in everyday life: the automobile age and its contradictions. Automotive Pioneers
Reading: Heitmann, Introduction, Chapter 1.
Films: “Wild Wheels”; “The Secret Life of the Car; “Horatio’s Drive”

Week 2/January 31 Putting America on the Road; Henry Ford and the Model T
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 2.
Film: “Automobile Parade;” “Gussle’s Day of Rest”

Week 3/February 7 The Rise of General Motors; Advertising, Styling, Design and the Art of the Automobile
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
Film: “Master Hands;” “Roger & Me;” “Automobile Advertising 1910-1940.”

Week 4/ February 14 Review of Kerouac book is due; On the Road
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4.
Films: “Grapes of Wrath;” “Route 66;" “Detour.”

Week 5/ February 21 Religion, Courtship and Sex
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 5.
Films: “Thelma and Louise”; “Motorcycle Diaries”

Week 6/ February 15 The Interwar Years: The Great Depression, Aerodynamics, and Cars of the Olympian Age
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
Films: “The Crowd Roars;” “Burn Em’Up Barnes.”

Week 7/February 28 World War II: Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 7
Film: “Jitterbugs.”

March 3 Mid Term Exam

Week 8/ March 7 The Post War Industry and Technological Suppression
Readings: Heitmann, pp. 133-154.
Film: “Tucker”

Week 9 March 14 – Spring Break

Week 21/ March 15 Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys
Readings: Heitmann, pp.154-163.
Film: “Hot Rod Girl;” Rebel Without a Cause;” “Thunder Road;” “American Graffiti”

March 24 Review of Wolfe Book is Due

Week 11/ March 28 The Love Affair in Question: The Recession of 1958 and the Critics: John Keats and Emma Rothchild. Imports Hit American Shores.
Readings: TBA

Week 12/ April 4 The Rise of the American Muscle Car
Readings: Heitmann, pp.164-178.
Films: “Goldfinger;” “Thunderball” “Bullitt.”

Week 14/April 11-18 Oil Shock I: Japan, James Bond, and Mobile Lovemaking
Readings: Heitmann, pp. 178-184.
Film: “Easy Rider;” “Gone in Sixty Seconds.”
Easter April 21

Week 15/April 26 The Automobile World Upside Down, 1980s and 1990s

Readings: Heitmann, pp.185-194.
Film: “Fast and Furious;” “The Bourne Identity.”

April 28 Review of Iacocca Book is due

Week 16 May 3 The Automobile Industry and the Future; Sum Up
Reading: Heitmann, pp.194-206.
Film: “Cars;” “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

May 10 Last Day of Classes
Heitmann, Epilogue.

FINAL EXAM, Monday, May 16, 2-4 p.m.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Gone in Sixty Seconds" -- a contextual analysis of the 2000 version

OK folks -- as some of you know, I ma working on a short book on the hisoty of auto theft. Here is a section on the film "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (2000):

Gone in Sixty Seconds -- There is more to it than you might think!

The 2000 remake of "Gone in Sixty Seconds" contained plenty of juvenile humor, but was set in a context of time where a number of contemporary truths concerning auto theft surfaced. Perhaps the most significant theme in the film is one that contrasts the practical wisdom of the organized professional to the impulsiveness of the young amateur. At the beginning of the film, a gang of young thieves led by Kip Raines (played by Giovanni Ribisi) steal a Porsche 911 by throwing a brick through a dealer showroom window, opening the key box, and crashing through showroom glass. Somewhat miraculously, not a scratch appears on the stolen car. A foolish flirtation puts the trio in the sights of the law, and they are followed back to the hideout where they elude capture, but also lose the cars they have stolen. Afterwards, these young men are described by one seasoned professional as "little boys in nursery school." And while the inexperienced young men play a part in the redemptive boost that follows, lapses in judgment will ultimately reduce them to having their "decision-making processes taken away from them." Kip's failure leads to the recruitment of his retired expert car thief brother, Memphis Raines (Nicholas Cage), who, along with former collaborators including Otto (James Duval) are forced by extortion to steal 50 high end vehicles in four days, with South America as the ultimate destination. These retired pros are now doing things like teaching kids karting, restoring cars rather than chopping them, and teaching Asian women to drive. Perhaps their routine lives are a reflection of more difficult times for the thief during the last two decades of the 20th century, the consequence of new deterrent technologies and enforcement procedures.
In the process of boosting these cars, and saving his brother, the viewer learns of a host of high and low tech techniques used by organized professional car thieves, varying from slim Jims and slide-hammers to computers and electronic frequency detectors. One recent technology introduced by manufacturers deters even the best of these thieves -- laser cut keys featured on new Mercedes. Laser keys by the way, do not employ a laser in cutting, but rather a high speed titanium bit. It consequently takes the clever ruse of stealing the cars from a police impound to get around this seemingly insurmountable technological barrier. Yet a decade later, defeating a laser cut key is as simple a watching a Youtube video and owning a blank, clay, calipers, a key cutting apparatus and a Dremel tool![1]
All ends well by the film's conclusion, as Memphis finally making peace with his so-called "unicorn," a gold 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500. Cage, who attended several driving schools and did his own driving stunts in the film, is featured in one of the most memorable of all chase sense towards the conclusion of the film. And his former lover, girl friend, and female auto thief Sara "Sway" Wayland (Angeline Jolie) adds a feminine touch to what is generally recognized as a masculine criminal activity. Indeed, it is curious to note that the targeted cars are given women's names -- supposedly as code words for the thieves who communicate via radio. Among the fifty "ladies" are the following: 1962 Aston Martin (Barbara); 1964 Bentley Continental (Alma); 1953 Corvette (Pamela); 1969 Dodge Daytona (Vanessa); 1957 Ford Thunderbird (Susan); 1957 M-B SL/Gullwing (Dorothy); 1950 Mercury Custom (Gabriella); 1961 Porsche Speedster (Natalie); and of course the film's star, a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500 (Eleanor).
Despite the superficiality in "Gone in Sixty Seconds," there are some deeper insights, especially when it comes to exploring the motives of a professional car thief. As Sway states as she discusses her life working two honest jobs, "I have discovered you have to work twice as hard when its honest." But stealing cars is more than just making easy money. As Memphis explains, "I did it for the cars…begging to be plucked. I'd blast to Palm Springs, instantly feeling better about myself." And in driving, Memphis related to his younger brother who lacks these sensibilities, that "the car is you, you are the car."
In sum, while the 2000 version of "Gone in 60 Seconds" suggests that skilled car thieves' days are numbered, its simplistic story line did little to dig deep into personalities or motives.
[1], accessed 1/17/2011. See also, which describes how one person with a $1200 tool can thwart a BMW laser key system in seconds.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cars(and Trucks) from Coronado, CA -- Part II

Black plate Porsche 356 C with fuchs wheels. I hope to meet the owner and get a ride some time.
A great color schemeon this Bronco.

This truck is so clean! I have noticed it for some time now, always parked near the corner of Orange and 6th.

Hi folks -- so many cars are under wraps here or put away. That said, here are a few more drivable dreams that I found while bicycling through the streets of Coronado. The Porsche 356 C coupe was of particular interest! I am confident more posts along this line will appear in the future.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Drivable Dreams on Coronado, CA, Streets

I spotted this rare Datsun 1200 P/U while walking to breakfast this morning.
There are nice bugs everywhere in this area.

1955 Ford Mainline -- for sale at $10,500. Fresh paint, but with a straight 6.

VW Vans everywhere as well, as you might expect.

A mid-1970s MGB, tired, but probably a great deal of fun here near the beach.

Hi folks -- there are not as many collector cars on the streets of Coronado as I thought. But there are some-- almost one per block -- and there are a number of interesting-looking cars that lurk under covers. I have not yet had the courage or foolhardiness to pull off the covers, however, to take photos for this blog! The photos here reflect the eclectic nature of Island.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Home on Coronado!

I am about two blocks from the golf course.
Hi folks -- last night was my first one on Coronado! Unpacked, and started walking the island. A soon to be done feature will be the cars of Coronado -- interesting cars parked on the street. I have already seen a good number, and more are under car covers. Got my library card yesterday as well, and checked out a few auto history books to re-read -- Charlie Sorenson's memoir and Jim Flink's first study, America Adopts the Automobile. I had breakfast this morning at Clayton's Coffee Shop on Orange Avenue -- it ha a big horseshoe counter -- and now will go to Kobe's Swap Meet. After that it is on to Tony's and finishing the welding job on the 1967 Mercury Cougar floor pan.

A note to friends like Randy Hughes -- I have plenty of space here for a visit when you get tired of shoveling. So long you cook.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fast Driving Fun -- U.S. 95, a Desert Highway to Experience!

Hi folks -- if you like fast driving with some curves and plenty of undulations, U.S. 95 from Needles to Blythe, CA is the drive for you. After Experiencing Route 66, I thought life couldn't be better. But indeed it did get better, as I drove 95. It is hard to beleive how desolate the region on both sides of the highway is, given that within a few hours you back up right to LA and SD.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dash to the Coast -- Days 3 and 4 -- Bozo's Route 66 Car Museum in Santa Rosa, NM, and a Frigid Night in Williams, AZ

Bozo's Route 66 Car Museum in SAnta Rosa, NM
Outside the Museum

It had snowed about a week before and shut down Williams, AZ for three days. The morning I left it was 3 degrees at dawn! Williams a town I definitely wnat to return to. A super place -- and a train to the Grand Canyon.

I thought I left all of this back in Ohio!

In front of the Road Kill Cafe in Seligman, AZ.

A typical roadside view on Route 66 on the way to Kingman, AZ.

More to come once I get some rest!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Night at the Motel Safari, Tucumcari, NM

The rather famous (thanks to Mike Wallis!) Blue Swallow Motel. Closed for the winter.

Hi folks -- After experiencing my first minoar jam on I-40 due to what appeared to be a junkyard tire fire, I was hoping to stay at the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari last evening. Disaapointed, found it boarded up! Actually it was just closed for the winter. So just down the street and on the other side I found a very attractive 1950s-style motel, the Motel Safari. It had to be a car-friendly place, since a 1964 Galaxie is parked near the office. I must say this place did not disappoint. $39.99 plus tax for a beautifully renovated room with large flat screen, wi-fi, and perhaps the world's most comfortable bed! The room was perhaps the cleanest I have been in -- bar none, including hi-end luxury hotels -- and the woman who checked me in was most friendly. The place is owned by a former engineer who had extensive work experience working for Marriott and the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). I wish them the best in terms of future business. Better than any chain motel or hotel.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tucamcari Tonight! Also some photos from the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX

An abandoned structure on Route 66, Texola, OK

All of the above at the Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX. Take exit 60 off of I-40, then go under I-40 and then take a left turn back towards Amarillo.

Hi folks -- I am in Tucamari tonight, at the Hotel Safari. Terrific place -- tomorrow I will take Route 66 across NM, or at least until I get tired of life in the slow lane. I love this journey on 66, especially now that I am truly in arid territory. The landscape is phenomenal, the people are fine, and it has been a long time coming. I have taught the history of Route 66 since 1998, and with the exception of one journey up to Flagstaff, I have never really experienced it until now.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day 1 of the "Dash to the West Coast" -- 618 miles, from Centerville OH to Mt. Vernon, MO.

A great place to get a meal on I-70, about 60 miles east of St. Louis

Next to the Interstate at Effingham is this huge cross, with what appears to be mediation and prayer benches around it. This photo does not doe the cross justice. The only other cross that I have seen previously that rivals it in size is at the Exposition Park in San Francisco.

Hi folks -- well, it is more of a saunter than a dash, at least from what was accomplished on the first day. The Nissan performed well, and I did my best to move fast, but at age 62 I just don't drive as hard or as long as I once did. But it was a start, and I had some great fun along the way. Attached are two photos -- one at the start, another at a favorite restaurant in Effingham, IL, Nieberg's Family Restaurant, which at one time featured mile-high pies. I opted for a more healthy chef salad, however. I overshot my objective of Springfield, MO, and ended up in this weird little town of Mt. Vernon. The only food establishment that had any other folks in it was El Asteca, and had some decent enchiladas there. But an authentic Mexican menu in the Ozarks? I guess you can find it almost anywhere in America now.