Off We Go!

In some respects I have done this before – driving the length of Route 66. The first time it was an experience rich in discovery and imagination. Discovery of what Steinbeck called the "mother road," which carried about 250,000 Americans from Midwestern depression and despair many decades ago to the opportunity that drew them to California. It wasn't easy for them, but they did it, and moved toward their dreams.

It isn't particularly easy now either. The road is hard to follow in some states and what is left is often merely a shell of its former glory. That is where imagination comes in. I am entranced by what probably was present during the route's heyday and fascinated by what has been left behind for our consideration today.

The first trip for me was a bit of a 2,400-mile lark. I was joined on two separate segments by two special friends, but the rest of the time it was just me and the road. I didn't even listen to much music. The thrum of the highway encouraged deep thought and personal exploration. It was – and is – a very special gift for which I am very grateful.

This second journey – one that will begin in about an hour – will follow the same path; indeed, there is only one Route 66. This time I am joined by an intrepid band of talented colleagues who will help me record the purpose of this second journey. What I want to do this time is to converse with Main Street America on the subject of higher education. Specifically, are those of us entrusted with the leadership of colleges and universities responding to the hopes and dreams of Middle America? I hope so, but sometimes I am not so sure.

My colleagues have arranged some very interesting interviews and meetings. I have my questions ready, and I look forward to hearing the answers these new friends will share with me. I think the purpose of a blog is to invite comment, and I certainly welcome the inquiries and observations of those who want to follow along over the next ten days.

Much as I look forward to the journey and appreciate the planning that has been done, I suspect the best part will be the surprises and serendipities along the way. So, off we go.

11 Responses to "Off we go!"

  1. Rod Harsh Says:

    Mr. Benton,

    Sounds like you are really looking forward to your adventure on The Mother Road. I would like to meet you during your pass through Webb City on your way to Joplin, and help you navigate this area. You may also visit my webside ( for a downloadable tour guide (Carthage, MO. thru Baxter Springs, KS.) that lists points of interest that are not in many other guidebooks.

    My number is 417-291-2647. Thanks.

  2. susette stickel-rufer Says:

    "I am entranced by what probably was present during the route's heyday and fascinated by what has been left behind for our consideration today."

    I think that sums up my feelings, too. I took my 15 year old son, flew to Chicago and drove back to Santa Monica. It was amazing. I spent a lot of moments imagining what many of the towns looked like in their heyday and how difficult it would have been to drive the road, especially in the desert in those old cars.

    I'm glad you're asking those people who are along
    the route about what they think of America and education. I look forward to reading what you discover.

  3. Tony Cason Says:

    Wow Andy.
    I can't believe your driving it again. I hope you're in a '60s something Corvette convertible this time. (Watch the price of gas change as you get closer to California)

    It sounds like a great advienture and I hope you gain some valuable information from the people you will meet and talk with.

    Have a safe trip and I look forward to following your progress.


  4. carol kmiec Says:

    Ok, so you're Oprah. Who's Gayle on this roadtrip?

    Love all the music — Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo are our #1 favs.

    Here's the question I would ask: What's a waste? They can fill in the rest.

    Be safe.

  5. Rick Gibson Says:

    Andy, we'll be watching each step of the way. Looking forward to keeping track through your daily blog.

    I am also following a blogger who writes about all things related to Route 66 and he is, quite coincidentally, blogging about you and your visit to the "mother road". He's telling his readers, if they happen to meet you, to be polite, but to give you an "earful". Good luck. It sounds like they're waiting for you.

  6. Marie Ann Thaler Says:

    Thanks so very much for sharing this experience, Andy! I look forward to your comments and observations as you make new friends on "The Route." (Most especially the serendipities!)

  7. Lou Drobnick Says:


    I know you have book looking forward to traveling Route 66 again for the past year. I wish you a most memorable trip and know you will enjoy the journey each day. A poem I read describes what I hope you feel each day as you begin your journey:

    Familiar World
    This world look so familiar
    The air, I think I breath before
    The music, I think I heard before
    The journey, I've journeyed before

    Olufunmbi Aransiola

    Good luck on your journey, I look forward to following your progress.


  8. Bruno Lerner, Heidelberg Program Says:

    Dr. Benton,

    I wish I could come with you.
    Are you stopping at the Univ. of Oklahoma at Norman ?
    My wife Peggy is the European Director for OU.
    Best wishes.

  9. Tami Says:

    I know you wanted the Steve McQueen Bullitt Mustang for nostalgia reasons–but I think you would have enjoyed the Shelby GT 500! Vroom Vroom.

    P.S. Can I drive it when you get back? (ha ha)


  10. Don Philbin Says:

    Enjoying the posts and look forward to seeing you in Oklahoma City — we happened to be at Grand Lake for the week and decided to go back a day early to see you at mid-point.

  11. Patrick Evans Says:

    President Benton, I have been part of leading an international tour for motorcycles(Mother Road Ride Rally) on Route 66 for last 9 years. Many great friendships have developed over the years with the people along the Mother Road.As you probably know all of the characters in Pixar's movie Cars are based on real Route 66 people. At least 2 places you do not want to miss are; The Old Meat Market in Erik, OK. (Harley & Annabelle Russel)Notice the influence on the character "Mater". Erik is east of Shamrock on the old road. The second is the Mid point Cafe in Adrian TX (west of Amarillo).Fran and Joan are creators of the "Ugly Crust Pies"…to die for.The character "Flo" is based on Fran.
    Continue getting your kicks.