Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bobby Troup -- "Route 66" (1964)

Now you go through St. Louis
Joplin, Missouri
Oklahoma City is mighty pretty

This will be my last post about Joplin for awhile -- it's time for 2 or 3 lines to leave for college.  But I'll be back for visits in the future, I'm sure.

One of my high-school classmates, who had mixed feelings about attending our recent 40th reunion, wrote these words: "[T]he door opens both ways . . . I can always run back out."  

Route 66 is the most famous road in the United States.  There have been no songs written about I-44 or I-70, and there was never a TV show titled "Will Rogers Turnpike."

More important for our purposes, Route 66 was the road that brought a lot of people to Joplin.  But it also took a lot of people away from Joplin.  Route 66 ran both ways.

There are a number of ways you can divide the people who came to the reunion into two groups:  Parkwood people vs. Memorial people, married people vs. single/divorced people, and so on.  Perhaps the most interesting dividing line is people who moved away from Joplin vs. people who still live in Joplin (or close by).

I don't think there is a simple way to categorize or differentiate those who stayed and those who left.  I have friends in both categories.  

If you were trying to come up with an explanation for why people left, one obvious theory is that those people were dissatisfied with life in Joplin and wanted out.  For some, that might have been a temporary thing -- they went away to college, or joined the military, or bummed around for a few years, but eventually moved back and settled down.  For others, Route 66 (or I-44) was a one-way road that took them away for good.

I've done a fair amount of genealogical research over the years.  From what I can tell, my ancestors left England for Virginia because they weren't having a lot of success in England -- that's the classic reason for emigrating.  (My ancestors moved on to Kentucky and Tennessee -- I guess things didn't work out in Virginia -- and then went to Missouri and Arkansas.  They weren't smart enough to keep going to California.)

People who are happy and successful where they are don't really need to emigrate to somewhere else.  That was the case for a lot of the people who never left Joplin, I'm sure -- they were content with life there, and had no reason to leave.  Some may have had family businesses to move into, or significant others who didn't want to leave.  Others may not have been happy to stay, but didn't have any more attractive alternatives.

I lived in Joplin from the day I was born until I graduated from high school.  I never really considered moving back for good after college or law school.  I did often think about what it would have been like to live there as an adult -- would I have been happier marrying someone I knew in high school, and staying around?  I know there would have been both positives and negatives for me.  

It would be interesting to know if the people who stayed or the people who left are "happier" -- if there were a way to measure that.  I'm guessing there's a full spectrum of people in both groups.  I'm also guessing there are a lot of people who have "the grass is always greener on the other side" feelings.

I'm sure there are people there who think they'd like to trade places with me and live in a big city, but when I come back, I see what the advantages of living in Joplin would be.  (Last Friday, my 35-minute subway ride to my office took 90 minutes due to a broken train and a "police situation" at a station down the line.  Coming home that night also took 90 minutes -- because "routine maintenance" required trains going in both directions to share one track, and because a 70-person brawl broke out in the station I was leaving from.  A 10-minute drive to and from work every day suddenly sounded very good.) 

I think the reunion experience was probably quite different for the people who have moved away than it was for the people who have stayed close.  I come back to see my parents once a year or so, but rarely see people I knew growing up.  So a lot of the people at the reunion were people I had not seen or thought much about in either 20 years (if they were at the 20th reunion) or 40 years.  It was pretty intense for me, and I know it was intense for several friends who had also moved away a long time ago.  We're far from getting over the reunion.

I'd be surprised if it was that dramatic for some of the local folks because they might run into a fair number of classmates on a regular basis.  On the other hand, I'm sure that seeing people who left Joplin after high school must make those people wonder about the road not taken.

I don't know -- you make a decision when you're 18 or 21, and your whole life is different as a result.  That decision could have been easily reversed a year or even 5 years later.  But not any more.  We're 57 or 58, and whether we like it or not, there are more leaves on the ground than remain on the tree (to quote a book I read recently).  

You can't turn the clock back four decades, and it's probably too late to get over a lot of our regrets about the past.  But it's never too late to make changes.  I hope the reunion was something of a wakeup call for us -- not necessarily to turn our lives upside-down and go off in a completely new direction, but to have a better understanding of where we are and how we got there . . . and where we go now.  

Nat King Cole

"Route 66" was written by Bobby Troup (a Pennsylvania native who had obviously never been to Oklahoma City) in 1946, and was a hit that year for Nat King Cole.  Since then, it has been recorded by Perry Como, Louis Prima, Bing Crosby, Natalie Cole, Asleep at the Wheel, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode, the Cramps, the Cheetah Girls, John Mayer (for the soundtrack of the movie "Cars") and many, many others.

All Gaul was divided into three parts.  And all recordings of "Route 66" can be divided into two groups: the ones that say "Joplin, Missouri" (which is part of the original composition) and those that say instead "down through Missouri" or something similar.  

One of my first Rolling Stones albums had a live version of "Route 66," but Mick Jagger disappointed me by not saying "Joplin, Missouri" when he should have.  The Depeche Mode version doesn't mention Joplin either -- they must have learned the song from the same Stones record.

One good thing about the song rhyming "Missouri" with "St. Louis": it promotes the correct pronunciation of our home state.  As far as I'm concerned, it's "Missour-ee," not "Missour-uh."

Here's Chuck Berry's version of "Route 66":

Here's Asleep at the Wheel:

For a change of pace, here's Depeche Mode (sans any mention of Joplin):

And here's a very, very cool performance by the song's composer, Bobby Troup:

Here's a link to use to order the song from Amazon:


  1. I really enjoyed reading that Gary! You have put so much into this and it really means alot to me. I know it means alot to others too. I regret missing the reunion but I am happy to still be a part of all this. It is really hard to grow and change and except that we are never going to be able to go back to those days we experienced in the late 60's leading up to 1970.
    I really loved my life back then and everything in Joplin but I left and it would be hard for me to return now. Life is interesting and the paths that we all take truly vary. Don't know all the reasons why people go and stay but guess that is part of life and we really aren't suppose to understand it.... right now anyway!

  2. Deby, I very much appreciate your comments -- you've expressed the essence of what I was trying to say, but in many fewer words.