I interned at a local newspaper "back in the day" and had many articles published. Recently, another article I wrote was published; this time, online.
I've also added a bit more to my Route 66 story.
Last time here, I posted a thread with a bunch of older commercials that caught my attention:
This time ... I'm sharing an article I WROTE about commercials:
Television commercials are supposed to sell a company's product. Sometimes the way the company goes about it leaves you scratching your head. After a slew of generally well-received automotive Super Bowl ads, I thought I'd cover some of the head scratchers I've noticed over the years. Sometimes, you have to stop and say "Hey.. .wait a minute...."
The entire article, which "low"lights 4 commercials, is published by Cheers and Gears:
After my September 2009 road trip along Route 66, I started writing a Route 66-based story. I finally added a new section in late February 2011, just as the host website was disbanded. So, the entire story is copied in here. Soon, my story may have a new home; details to be determined. In the meantime, enjoy!
_THAT'S THE HIGHWAY_
by Cort Stevens
* Potential Sale *
He glanced down and kicked at the cracked pavement. In that moment, he flashed back to a scene some 40 years earlier.
"Get away from that wet concrete!" his mom had commanded, then turned back to the discussion between his dad and the contractor.
Now, that concrete was no longer new, far from it, and his Dad had been dead some 5 years. Meanwhile, his Mom lay in a nursing home, close to death, and he was contemplating selling the building ... and the concrete ... to new owners, who may or may not keep up the Route 66 traditions.
He didn't want to sell the place, but he didn't think he could keep up with it either.
It was a dream of his Dad's ... and, as it turned out, his Mom's, too, though she never admitted it. His Dad had a fascination with Route 66 ... and just HAD to own SOME business along Route 66, "for nostalgic purposes", he had explained at the time. So, with only some savings and a gritty determination, his parents bought a run down place along Route 66 ... and contracted some renovations ... including new concrete along the walkways ... that same concrete that now held their son's stare.
He sighed heavily, and took his stare away from the concrete to glance at his cell phone. A prospective buyer was already 30 minutes late. Figures, he muttered to himself. He kicked at the cracked concrete again, and turned around in the warm sun, looking for a car that may or may not show up. He looked back at the building and couldn't believe 40 years had gone by ... so quickly.
He glanced again at his cell phone, and hit the redial button. The prospective buyer answered, and explained: "Sorry, we're not coming. I don't think we really want that place after all."
Good, he thought. At least I don't have to deal with this today.
He jammed the cell phone back into his pocket, glanced at the building once more, and turned and started to walk toward his car. He kicked again at the pavement, wondering if his parents ever wondered if they made the right decision moving here. He knew they did.
* Arriving *
When they (him, his parents and 2 siblings) first moved to town after the renovations to the building were completed, the local folks were not quite sure what to make of the new family in town. After all, the local newspaper was quick to inform everyone of the newcomers ... especially since they were "city folk" moving to "small town USA", hoping to make a go along a small stretch of famed Route 66. The townsfolk figured the new family was in for a culture shock of sorts, but they weren't. His Dad had taken the time to educate his kids about Route 66 and the importance attached to even the smallest of towns. So, none of them were shocked at the relaxed life they had entered. Truth be told, they were all eager for the change from the "big city" life.
But, they weren't prepared for the "cold shoulder" they received from the locals. The first month his parents' business was open, they only had one visitor. It took his Dad quite some work, and the entire family some sacrifices, to convince the locals that they were not the enemy ... that they were, indeed, truly enthusiastic about and held an infectious passion in Route 66. Just a few short months later, a visitor to the town would never have guessed that this family of 5 had ever lived in a big city.
* Goodbye *
As he pulled his big, old 1976 Caprice sedan into the driveway of the home he's shared with his Mom for 5 years ... the same house his parents purchased when they moved to the small town, he realized his cell was still stuck in his pocket. He pulled it out and noticed a missed call. But, as he was about to hit the button to see who had called, his cell phone blinked again. The display showed the incoming call as "sis".
"Yeah?" he answered.
"She is gone," his younger sister whispered. "I tried to call you....."
Silence. He couldn't speak. Instead, he glanced at the dashboard of what had been his Dad's pride and joy for so many years to see how much gas was left, and quickly said, "I'll be there soon. Have you called..."
"Yes. I talked to him while a song was playing. He said he was going to call Kyle to see if he could do the rest of his show so he could take the next flight out of Nashville."
"OK. I will see you soon. Here we go again...."
He ended the call and backed the Caprice out of the driveway; the half-tank of gas would be plenty to get him back and forth one more time today. He had planned to park the Caprice and grab his other car, but he didn't want to take time to switch cars out now. Besides, the Caprice was at the center of the family for years, before his Dad bought a 1990 Dodge Caravan, which was then replaced by a 2000 Furd Crown Victoria. Of those three, the Caprice was the only one still in the family.
As he headed down the road, he turned the radio on to AM 650 to see if he could listen to his brother's show. His brother, the youngest of the three, had been the first to "have enough" of the small town life ... and headed for a big city. He loved older country music and landed himself a job at Nashville's WSM radio, the premier radio station that, at times, can be heard for miles.
The station came in ... but just barely. The first voice he heard, though, was his Mom's: "...has been tremendous. And, because of that, my eldest son has agreed to help me keep the business open for a year so we can continue the tradition and greet people if they want to stop."
It was the recording his Mom had done for his brother's show after his Dad died. The support they had received at the time was overwhelming, and at the urging of the local Route 66 Association, he had agreed to quit his job and help his Mom full time at the business to greet Route 66 travelers as they explored the famed roadway. He had agreed to only one year, but with all of the fellow Route 66 people stopping in to see his Mom after his Dad's death and the daily trek of Route 66 explorers, one year quickly turned into three. Then, his Mom became ill and he had to rely on others to open the business ... which is why he had decided to put the business up for sale.
His brother then spoke: "That was my Mom, about 5 years ago, speaking after Dad's death. A few moments ago, I received a call from my sister to tell me that Mom has died. Kyle is on his way to the Opryland Hotel studios to handle the rest of my show. Once he arrives, I will turn the reins over to him, and I will head to grab the next flight out of Nashville to my home town. Now, don't you worry, I WILL be back."
After a long pause, his brother spoke again: "And now, for Mom, Patty Loveless, 'How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?'"
* Preparation *
Five years earlier, the response to his Dad's death had been overwhelming. By this time, the entire family had well established themselves as Route 66 enthusiasts and, to some extent, legends. As the news of the death spread, thousands called, sent cards, and came to visit, which is partly why he had agreed to help his Mom for one year. The service for his Dad was originally scheduled for a church in their small town, but with so many wanting to attend, they opted to move it to a larger church in the closest "big" city, a move that all three kids thought was a bit ironic.
Now, with his Mom dead, he knew the response would be just as overwhelming ... mostly because everyone knew that Route 66 was as much a part of her as it had been for her husband, and perhaps even more so, though she would never admit it. This in mind, his head spun trying to think of all the details that would have to be figured out, though he knew this was not the time to think about them. He was, however, glad the prospective buyer had backed out. At least he wasn't in the middle of sale negotiations ... and a small part of him was beginning to think that he just may need to keep the place open and in the family for a little while longer.
The next few days weren't as difficult as he had anticipated. His brother flew in from Nashville yet that same night, actually very early the next morning, and he went to pick him up. When his brother got into the Caprice, he exclaimed, "Now I understand why you wanted to keep this car."
His sister did most of the arrangements, while the youngest brother watched his nieces and nephew. As the middle child, she was torn. She loved the "small town" life, but also knew she had more of the world to see. So, she went to college and graduated with honors. She then married her college sweetheart, and moved with him to the "big city", though she wasn't all that excited about it. A few years later, she gave birth to their first child, a girl, and convinced her husband that they should move to a small town. They didn't return to her home town, but a few towns away, close enough so that she could be near family ... including her Route 66 family ... and close enough for her husband to not have to drive to far to his job in the city.
The eldest brother found himself spending most of his time at the business. Once word spread about his Mom's death, people started calling and dropping by ... just as they had done when his Dad died. A few members of the local Route 66 Association stopped by to offer the auditorium in the state's museum for the place for the service ... and to ask about his intentions for the business. He didn't know. He told them about the most-recent prospective buyer dropping out, and the two told him that the state Route 66 Association would be interested in purchasing it ... or helping him run it. He told them he'd let them know in time.
Truth be told, though, he was starting to realize that this business had become his life's work. He hadn't intended that to happen. It was, after all, his Dad's dream. But, meeting the Route 66 people, along with the travelers, was simply fascinating to him ... and he wasn't quite sure he was ready to let go ... or that he ever would be. So, the evening before his Mom's service, he spoke to his younger siblings about keeping the business open ... and in the family's ownership.
His sister was very much eager to see them retain ownership, and told him that she would be willing to help out a few days a week. The youngest brother, perhaps feeling a little bit guilty, wasn't as eager for the family to retain ownership. He knew he wouldn't be there to help out, and he wasn't so sure the "small town" life was really right for any of them anymore.
* The Letter *
The service for their Mom was well-attended, as they expected. The state museum's auditorium served as the backdrop, and people agreed that it worked well and was appropriate for the life being celebrated. Even after the service was done, people lingered for a few hours ... conversing and reminiscing.
A few days after the service, the oldest son decided to keep the business ... for now. He took it off the market, and told the state Route 66 association that he would accept their assistance in running the business for a while. His sister adjusted her schedule to help out 3 days per week, more than her older brother thought she would. The youngest sibling, however, returned to Nashville and his job at WSM. He still wasn't convinced that keeping the business was in the best interest of the family, but he supported his older siblings in the decision.
A couple weeks after the service, the oldest sibling started the long process of sorting through his Mom's things in the house. One day, he grabbed a box, placed it in the Caprice, and drove to the business. He knew volunteers from the state Route 66 association would be there that day, so he figured he'd have some time to go through the contents of the box. When he arrived at the business, the volunteers were there ... already greeting some visitors.
He left the box in the Caprice and went to chat with the visitors. After they left, he retrieved the box from the Caprice, went into his office, and closed the door. As he started pulling things from the box, he came across an envelope. Curious, he turned the envelope over and found the words "PLEASE READ" written in his Mom's hand writing. He opened the envelope, pulled out a letter and started reading.
"To my oldest son," the letter began. "If you're reading this, I'm guessing I'm dead, though if I am, I don't know how long I've been gone. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks, months or even years. But, somehow, I don't think too much time has transpired because I know you'll want to start going through all of the stuff I've saved over the years, including this box. Which, of course, is why I've addressed this letter to you."
At this point, he paused and looked up from the letter. He glanced around his office ... the very one that his father had occupied for so many years. The very office where so many decisions were made. The very office where so many Route 66 travelers and enthusiasts had stopped in for a "quick" chat. He returned to the letter.
"I know that my death will force you to decide whether or not to keep the business. I think you already know my feelings on this, but I wanted to let you know that whatever you decide will be OK. Perhaps you've already sold it, but if you haven't, I do hope you will keep it. Yes, the business was your father's dream, and yes, I wasn't too thrilled about it. But, I knew it was a love of his ... and I wanted him to be happy. Turns out, though, it was my dream, too. And, I have a hunch that it is your dream, too, whether or not you admit it, much like myself."
He chuckled. He knew his Mom was correct. He continued reading:
"Do you remember when they poured the concrete and we brought you with us? You kept wanting to touch that concrete. But, while I secretly wanted you to put your mark in it, I knew your father wanted the sidewalk to be pristine to welcome people. So, I kept telling you to keep away from it."
Ah, yes, how well he remembered that.... The letter continued:
"Route 66 is not about the places or things alongside its pavement. The people make Route 66 what it is. Remember that, and the loss of landmarks along Route 66 will not be as painful as you might think."
His mother had written more, but he couldn't read more right now. He re-folded the letter, placed it in the envelope, and placed the envelope on the desk. He glanced around the office again and picked up the phone. 'A couple of quick calls,' he thought, 'and I'll be able to do it.'
* An Idea *
"Sure ... I can be at the business a bit more for 2 weeks," his sister replied to her brother's query. "But, where will you be?"
He wanted to tell her what he was planning, but he didn't want to jinx it. Instead, he avoided her question:
"Good. The volunteers from the state Route 66 Association are willing to help, so you won't be there all by yourself, and I know they will be able to watch the place if you need to be somewhere else any given day."
"OK...." His sister's voice trailed off. She wanted to ask her question again, but she knew from the tone of his voice, her brother was not going to tell her where he was going...at least not right now. Though, she had a hunch what he wanted to do.
"Cool," he said. "I will be in touch when I know more. Everything OK for you all?"
"Yes," she answered, glancing at her watch. "But, I have to go pick up the kids right now. I will talk to you later, OK?"
"Sounds good," he said. They both hung up.
While she frantically prepared to go pick up the kids, her brother sat back in the desk chair in the business's office and sighed. He glanced at the envelope on the desk, but wasn't in the mood right now to read the rest of his Mom's letter. instead, he glanced around the office again, stood up and walked out to the main room of the business where the volunteers were talking with some visitors. He listened intently as the visitors recounted what they had seen so far along Route 66. He was amazed at their enthusiasm and knowledge, and told them so. They, of course, knew of his parents, and offered their condolences on the recent death of his Mom. He thanked them and quickly reminded them that "life goes on" ... as does Route 66.
Once the visitors left, he told the volunteers he had to go out for a bit, but would be back later. He gathered a few things from the office, including his Mom's letter, and drove off in the Caprice.
As he headed home to start making further plans, he wondered if he was crazy to even consider doing this. He also wondered if he should take the Caprice ... or rent a newer car ... or borrow an older car? He wondered what all he should do to prepare? Should he contact people? Should he see if anyone wanted to join him?
He was still in a daze of unanswered questions and concerns when the Caprice turned into the driveway. He knew he had plenty of time to make decisions, but he also knew the sooner he made those decisions, the better he'd feel about the idea. Yet, he was actually excited about the endeavor. After all, it is what his parents had talked about doing for years ... and never completely accomplished. It is something he had always dreamt about, but never really thought of as a genuine possibility ... until now.
He sat in the Caprice for what seemed an eternity as his mind kept racing about all sorts of different possibilities and scenarios. Almost instinctively, he grabbed the envelope with his Mom's letter, took the letter out, unfolded it, started skimming it, and just about froze when he came to these words, near the end of the letter:
"Your father and I kept money saved for a number of years," his Mom had written. "While we obviously expect you kids to divvy it up equally, I have a specific thought on how you should spend at least part of your inheritance, and I think you already know what that is."
He didn't need to keep reading; he knew what that thought was ... and had already set plans into motion. Now, he had to follow through.
* A Return *
The ringing of the land line/house phone startled him awake. As he glanced around the living room from his vantage point on the couch, he wondered who on earth would be calling the house phone. Since his Mom's death and memorial service, the house phone had not rung. People knew that the best way to reach him was his cell phone, which he picked up off the coffee table and noticed three missed calls ... all from his sister.
"Hello, sis," he said into the house phone, which had only rang three times.
"How'd you know it was me?" she asked, a bit surprised.
"I see I missed a few calls from you on my cell phone, and nobody really calls the house phone anymore," he explained. "Sorry I missed your calls. I guess I dozed off while watching "Wheel Of Fortune".... Anyway, since you called the house phone, what's the matter?"
"Oh....um, well, if you have been sleeping you don't have the radio on, do you?"
"He's not on the air."
He didn't need to play 20 questions with his sister to know what she meant. She obviously was listening to WSM, and their younger brother must not be broadcasting his show.
"Well ... maybe he took the night off."
"They haven't said so."
"Did you try calling him?"
"Yes, but like you, I got no answer."
"So ... maybe he took the night off to sleep." He knew right away that was the wrong thing to say. His sister didn't say a word, so he continued: "Look, I'm sure he is OK. Someone at the station would've called one of us if.............."
He was rudely interrupted by the ringing of the door bell. During the brief moment of shocking silence, he had time to think to himself, 'First the house phone and now the house door bell. Wonder what's next.' He didn't have to wait long to find out.
His sister, still on the other end of the phone, broke the deafening emptiness: "Well, who is at your door?"
"I don't know," he said as he quickly glanced out the window towards the garage. Sometimes, when he has left the garage door open, people will stop by asking if the Caprice is for sale, but the glance out the window told him that probably wasn't the case, since he had remembered to close the garage door.
"So, go answer the door!" his sister commanded. "Maybe it's someone traveling Route 66 who wanted to see you, but stopped at the house since you're not at the business."
"Maybe...." He was skeptical of that, but went along with his sister's idea since he couldn't explain it otherwise. Though, he thought it might be someone from the state Route 66 Association, offering to help him start planning his adventure already, but he wasn't going to verbalize that for his sister since his plans were secret ... thus far.
He walked towards the front door, flipping on the porch light ... just in case.
"Um, I'm going to have to call you back...," he told his sister once he got to the door to peer out the window. "It's no mystery where he is anymore."
"Yep. One of us will call you back.... Talk to you later, sis. Bye."
He quickly hung up the phone and opened the front door.
"Hi!" his younger brother announced.
"Hi.....everything OK? Are you still working at WSM? What are you doing ... HERE?"
While he peppered his younger sibling with questions, he ushered him inside and closed the door. He was thrilled to see his brother "back home", but was a bit concerned....
* Research and a Test *
A couple days later, he still wasn't sure exactly why his younger brother had returned home. His brother had told him that he still works for WSM, that everything is OK, and that he "just had to be home", though he never explained WHY. And, perhaps, that is what bothered him the most ... that his younger brother couldn't explain this sudden "need" to be home. It was eerily similar to how he couldn't explain his need to be in the "big city" of Nashville when he left the small town life behind years ago.
But, this time, he couldn't wait for his younger brother to figure it out. He had to do what he needed to do. So, he contacted several people to start gathering information ... people his parents knew in Illinois (Becky at Becky's Barn; Rich at Henry's Ra66it Ranch), Missouri (Gary in Paris Springs), Kansas (Carolyn at the visitor's center; Melba at 4 Women On The Route), Oklahoma (Laurel at Afton Station), Texas (Fran at the MidPoint Cafe), Arizona (Jim Hinckley in Kingman), and California (Debra at the Barstow museum; Paul at the Victorville museum) ... among others.
The morning of the fifth day, while he was checking Email to see if anyone else had replied to him, his brother interrupted him: "Mind if I borrow the Caprice today?"
"But, you HATE that Caprice," came the stunned response.
"Then ... why....?"
"Because I want to explore some stretches of Route 66 today, and that car seems to be the best car for the drive."
He couldn't argue that point; his younger brother was correct, of course. But, he still had some reservations. Instead of voicing those, with something else entirely in mind he asked: "How long are you going to be here?"
A quizzical look engulfed his brother's face. "I don't really know."
"How about a ballpark figure?"
"Probably about a month. I was told to take as much time as I needed away from WSM; my job will always be there. Besides, it gives them a chance to have some different people at the mic for a while."
"OK...." He scratched his forehead a bit, trying to figure out what to say next. This latest revelation made him wonder if his brother was thinking about doing the same thing he was, but he didn't want to reveal his plans. So, instead, he countered: "Tell you what. Why don't you come with me to the business today and greet visitors? Then, we can talk about exploring Route 66 another day."
This clearly was not what his brother wanted, but his young sibling quickly realized the use of the Caprice was not going to be granted. For a split second, he saw his Dad standing in front of him instead of his older brother. "OK, sounds good." He left to finish getting ready to go, albeit to a different destination than he had hoped.
Left alone again at the computer to finish checking Email, the oldest sibling instinctively picked up the phone and dialed his sister's number.
"You are planning to be at the business today, right?"
"Yep, of course."
"Good. I think it is about time we have a chat with the 'come back home kid'." He described to their sister what had just taken place. She agreed.
He hung up the phone, shut down the computer, grabbed his keys, and called out to his younger brother that he was ready to go. As his brother met him at the door, he tossed the Caprice's keys at him saying, "Here, drive to the business today."
"I'm not giving you total permission, here. It will ALWAYS be MY Caprice. Today, it's just a drive to the business."
It was just a drive to the business, literally; but, for the eldest sibling, not figuratively....
* The Drive and a Revelation * (new, 02/21/2011)
The drive seemed to take forever, but the elder brother wasn't sure if that was because he wasn't driving or because the two brothers sat in silence the entire time in the car. But, that silence gave the elder one a chance to remember a different time in their lives.
"But, Dad, I want to drive the Caravan, not the Caprice!", the youngest sibling had exasperated to his father.
"No," his Dad had firmly said. "If you want ME to teach you how to drive, you will first learn how to handle the Caprice."
The eldest sibling had just shook his head as he watched his younger brother try in vain to NOT drive the Caprice. From the time the 2 boys had each received their permit and subsequent drivers license, the 1976 Caprice was the only car the oldest wanted to drive and the relatively-still-new 1990 Caravan was the vehicle of choice for the younger boy. But, their Dad held the firm belief that drivers should learn how to handle all sorts of cars ... "because you never know when you'll have to drive someone to the hospital in a car not your own."
So, the youngest boy grudgingly took the keys from his father and clomped out to the Caprice. Their father shook his head, turned to his eldest son and said, "I guess I know who wants the Caprice when your mother and I are gone." Then, their father walked out the door.
The oldest watched out the window as the youngest started up the Caprice and started backing it out of the driveway. He knew his brother hated the Caprice, but he wasn't exactly sure why. The Caprice had a lot more character than the Caravan ever would, and in most collisions, the Caprice would just about annihilate any newer vehicle on the road.
Almost 2 hours later, the youngest and their father returned home, and upon entering the house, the youngest declared, "I hate that Caprice ... and never want to drive it again."
The memory of that statement shook the elder brother back to the present, and he turned to look at his younger brother, and said. "So, why DO you hate this Caprice so much?"
The younger brother, startled at the broken silence, quickly glanced at his brother, then back to the road and said, "Because it was something that you and Dad loved so much and shared. I couldn't stand it. Dad never loved the Caravan. To Dad, that Caravan was just a purchase to quiet Mom's pestering of wanting a newer car to drive. I think, deep down, Dad hated that Caravan about as much as I know you did. I remember how thrilled Dad was when he got rid of the Caravan and bought the Crown Vic for Mom."
The youngest paused, and the eldest, knowing his younger brother to be correct thus far, jumped in: "So, why, then, the sudden interest in driving the Caprice?"
"Because..." the younger brother paused to choose his words carefully. "Because I'm finally realizing how sweet this Caprice really is. I mean, my radio show is all about older country music ... and this car blends right in with those old tunes. And...well...it is a piece of Americana that seemed to disappear right along with the joy of road trips when the interstates were built. Cars today ... well ... I'm realizing that they just don't have the class and character that older ones do. Are they more reliable? No question. But, there's nothing quite like the feeling of an older car...and nothing quite like the feeling of driving along Route 66 versus those interstates."
Again, the younger brother paused, trying to find more words, but the older brother interrupted: "So, why ARE you here?"
The older brother was amazed at how much he had learned in just the last few minutes ... and he was hoping his younger brother still had some words of explanation left in him before they arrived at the business.
The younger brother sighed a bit, and finally said, "Because I miss Mom and Dad. I'm still a city boy through and through, but believe it or not, I miss the small town life where it is a slower pace, where you can leave your doors unlocked and not worry about someone stealing anything, where people know who everyone is, where older cars like this Caprice are welcomed and NOT frowned upon. I'm finally realizing that some of the older country music that I love so much ... is about that type of life ... that time that so many people relive as they travel Route 66. And...well...I'm hoping to gather enough information to convince my boss at WSM to allow me to 'take the show on the road' and do some live broadcasts all along Route 66."
The younger brother only stopped talking because he had steered the car into the parking lot of their family business, but the older brother had finally heard the explanation he and his sister had wanted to know. Now, he knew that the possibility of having a travel companion was definitively greater than it had been just a few hours prior, and he had a hunch what the vehicle of choice should and would be.
"Good", the eldest said. "Thank you for telling me what is going through that head of yours. I know our sister will be glad to hear it, too, when she arrives in a few minutes. We'll talk more later. In the meantime, let's go open up and get ready for visitors."
With that, the youngest shut off the Caprice and handed the keys to his older sibling, who considered for a moment giving them back to his younger brother, but he didn't. Instead, he pocketed them, and the pair exited the Caprice, each man with a better understanding and a newer perspective than they had earlier in the morning.
Cort | 37.m.IL.pigValve.pacemaker | 5 Monte Carlos + 1 Caprice Classic | * meet_04.16.11_Dwight.IL *
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