Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

barking up the wrong tree

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

TSB is right: I should keep chasing pavements.  I’m good at it.

night on Route 66 - near Barstow, CA (January, 2009)

night on Route 66 - near Barstow, CA (January, 2009)

Alas, for now, I need to stay put and sort out my pre-pavement chasing life so that I can pursue more pavements in the future.  A mortgage and a road trip of indefinite length are mutually exclusive for now – at least, until I am independently wealthy…  So for the time being, the Aliner is hunkering down for the cold Canadian winter, and I am starting the monumental task of sorting through the mounds of material (both photographic and mental/emotional) I returned home with.  After Christmas, the house gets tackled.  If I want to go, it simply has to go.  The math doesn’t work.

Two important events coming up fast: I will be showing portions of the Route 66 time-lapse document in two separate gallery shows next month.  The Art Gallery of Windsor and Artcite have asked me to be part of their group juried car-themed shows (timed to coincide with the North America International Auto Show across the river in Detroit).   AGW will feature stills from the time-lapse sequence presented in a casual, “storyboard” style presentation.  Artcite will have the first generation of the time-lapse video – rough and incomplete, but hopefully still interesting.  Lots to do.

Also, this is the busiest time of the year for selling prints, so I’ve been busting my butt trying to make a few bucks before the season is out.  That’s mostly where I’ve been, and explains why I haven’t been writing.  (I owe a lot of people emails – thanks for your patience and understanding!)  On top of that, Christmas is coming up fast, and of course that also requires planning and preparation.  I was up literally all night last night, packing and tying things up before the annual Maritime Christmas Pilgrimage back home to the east coast.  I can’t even remember the last time I did an all-nighter!  It feels awful!  My stomach is a wreck.  Don’t try this at home.  Good lord, I’m 43 – I can’t keep doing this to myself.  Anyway, I safely arrived in Fredericton, New Brunswick today.  My luggage, unfortunately, did not.

Enough on that – I think it’s high time I wrote something else about Route 66.  Given my sleep deprivation, let’s keep it simple.

Shoe trees.

the Amboy shoe tree - July 2008

the Amboy shoe tree - July 2008

There are two major shoe trees on Route 66: one near Stroud, Oklahoma and one near Amboy, California.  What is a shoe tree?  Shoe trees are trees that people hang their shoes on.  That’s it.  I’m not sure how or why they start, but they can be found all over the place.  Wikipedia claims there are at least 76 shoe trees in America.  The site calls them “icons of the American Road”, and they even have a page that lists the shoe tree rules.

I don’t know what in the heck was happening with my shoes on this trip, but they were just falling apart.  These were my rather new Rockport hiking boot-style shoes.  Got them at a great price, they fit, were comfortable (if not stylish) and were supposedly waterproof.  That last feature was why I bought them: for those mucky Salton Sea visits.  You need closed shoes on the Salton Sea to keep the dead barnacles from mashing up your feet, and waterproof is just a huge bonus.

my poor Rockports!  what a shame...

But on this Route 66 trip, where I really wasn’t putting them through much abuse at all, my great Rockports started literally coming apart at the seams!  By the time I hit California, I knew they were toast.  A drag, because the soles were like brand new and they were just getting really comfortably broken in.  Anyway, I knew the shoe tree was coming up and I figured that leaving my Route 66 Rockports there, near the end of the Route, would perfectly symbolize the end of the road for me.  It would be an appropriate and honourable resting place for the shoes that brought me there – especially the shoe tree near Amboy, since that little ghost town was what started my interest in Route 66 in the first place, years ago.

So: drove up, saw the many shoes hanging off the tree, pulled over, grabbed my camera, photographed my shoes, then prepared them for retirement.


fallen shoes scattered in the wash

I’ve actually photographed this tree before, on previous visits to Amboy – but this time the tree seemed smaller than I remembered.  Getting closer, I noticed that a large branch had broken off and fallen into the wash – guess the weight of so many shoes was too much for it.  I admired the many pairs of footwear donated by previous visitors: sandals, sneakers, loafers… even a pair of purple boots and some hand-painted Doc Martens were dangling there.  I wondered about the people who the shoes belonged to – where they came from, what brought them here, whether the shoes were significant to them…  Tying the laces together to act as a hanging mechanism, I scouted for the appropriate spot for mine.  I then lovingly said good bye to my shoes, thanked them for getting me this far without incident, and launched them into the air.

my Route 66 Rockports' final resting place

my Route 66 Rockports' final resting place

Amazingly, they landed pretty much where I wanted them to.  I photographed them hanging there, and I felt pleased to leave a part of me alongside my very favourite stretch of Route 66.  I really hadn’t wanted to get rid of those shoes, though.  They were immensely practical, and I hated the notion of just throwing them away… so I felt quite a sense of satisfaction at having so appropriately retired them as a symbol of my trip ending, on the famous Route 66 shoe tree.  This wasn’t as weird as leaving my bra in Devil’s Elbow, but it was definitely just as fitting.  (On that note, I read there is a bra tree somewhere too… I must find that.)

As much as I loved that area, I couldn’t linger.  I was under deadline: I had to be in LA that night.  I hopped into the Jeep, started up the dashboard’s time-lapse camera, and headed toward Amboy and the famous oft-photographed Roy’s Café.

A few minutes down the road, as I was happily humming along the highway, I glimpsed something up ahead.  It was a tree.  A much bigger tree than the one I just visited, and someone was photographing it.  …what?  Shoes??  Yes, shoes!  Many, many more pairs of shoes than on the previous tree, in fact.  Good god, I stopped too soon.  I had the wrong tree!  I was duped by a fake shoe tree?!  Argh!

approaching the real Amboy shoe tree

approaching the real Amboy shoe tree

I cursed and I groaned, thinking I now needed to stop the Jeep and the time-lapse camera, turn around, try to retrieve my shoes (which would have been not only slightly dangerous, but hilarious to watch I’m sure), and then install them on the correct tree.  But then I thought: 1) I simply don’t have the time, and 2) it’s actually more funny and interesting that I went through this big ritual to retire my Route 66 shoes, but on the wrong tree.  It’s sort of my luck, really.  Very dorky.  Very Sandi.

So I just left them where they landed.  I guess this means I need to do the Route again sometime – and then put the shoes on the right tree!  Oh, and by the way: apparently there are now two Route 66 shoe trees close together in Stroud, OK as well.  (Do shoe trees breed??)  So, be sure you have the right tree before you toss!

(Speaking of barking up the wrong tree… I have to admit that another thing happened recently that made it hard to want to write about Route 66, and made me want to throw in the blog towel altogether: hate mail.  Apparently I barked up the wrong Route 66 tree and the tree came back to bite me with venom.  More on that later.  Sleep now.)


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