Route 66/Servant-Leadership Journey

Writings & postings from Larry from his cross country 3-4 week journey.Larry will be traveling Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica (about 2,300 miles by car, one way). Please scroll down to see all blog postings.
While I suspect that I will continue to gain insights from my Route 66 Journey, I want to share a few thoughts that have come to me, and to put a kind of period or exclamation point to this particular blog.

In my initial posting of January 6, I mentioned that I had wanted to make this journey along Route 66 for quite a few years, but that I had repeatedly postponed it. The simple idea of taking three weeks off to do something like this seemed liked a frivolous idea to me. I use the word “frivolous” in an effort to help make clear the essence of what it was that had kept me from making the trip: My own sense of logic and responsibility had led me to reach other conclusions.

What finally enabled me to turn that dream into reality occurred last Fall when I asked myself two questions: “Why do I want to make this journey?” and, “What is it going to take for me to do this?

My answer to the first question (“Why do I want to make this journey?”) included such things as: The desire to try something new; my love of long-distance driving; my use of long-distance driving as an opportunity for contemplation; the opportunity to visit with friends along the way; interest in seeing things that I had read about over the years; and, a vague feeling of wanting to jump-start the New Year in a different fashion. As I look back on it, most of these answers had always been a part of why I was eager to take this trip.

It was my answer to the second question, “What is it going to take for me to do this?” that finally made it happen. The idiosyncratic answer that unlocked the door for me was: Perhaps I could make some use of the trip as an opportunity to do some writing about both the journey itself and servant-leadership. For some, the need to ask that question in the first place, or to find an answer for it, may be perplexing. For others, I can imagine that the question may make sense, but that the answer might seem odd. Speaking as someone who has been called “Mr. Responsibility” on more than one occasion, I can only say with some clarity that my particular answer to that question was the key to my making the journey.

Following years of thinking about making the Route 66 journey, once I had convinced myself to make the trip I wanted to start immediately and not put it off any longer. While it wasn’t the ideal time of year in terms of weather, I chose to make it happen at the earliest time possible, which was January, 2010.

As I reflect upon the highlights of the journey now ended, these are some of the things that come to mind—

FRIENDS: I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with old and new friends on this trip, including: Larry Fidelus in Joliet, Illinois; Jamie & Maren Showkeir, Victoria Crawford, and Jeff & Jennifer McCollum, all in Phoenix, Arizona; Cobe & Bruce Frobes in Rio Verde, Arizona; Warren Bennis, and Roger Slifer, both in Santa Monica, California.

GEOGRAPHY: I enjoyed seeing areas of the U.S. that I had never seen before. In particular, I was impressed with the stark beauty of so much of the landscape in New Mexico and Arizona. The snow-capped mountains were wonderful to see. And, while it rained during my short sojourn in Santa Monica, it was also good to see the Pacific Ocean once again. I have visited the Atlantic Ocean 20 or 30 times over the years; but, I have only been to the Pacific Ocean a handful of times.

CITIES AND TOWNS: It was interesting to stay overnight in the following towns and cities along the way: Joliet, IL; Springfield, IL; Springfield, MO; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Amarillo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Rio Verde, AZ; Kingman, AZ; Barstow, CA; Santa Monica, CA; Beaumont, CA; Goodyear, AZ; Deming, NM, Tucumcari, NM; Clinton, OK; and, Lebanon, MO.

THE DRIVE: While the Winter weather made driving quite challenging on some days (I encountered snow, ice, hail, rain, and high winds on roughly half of the trip), on the whole I enjoyed the long hours of driving Route 66 and associated highways. I travelled much of the journey in silence and enjoyed having the time for reflection, and to think about several creative projects. I also had the pleasure of listening to all of the Beatles’ albums, once again, while on this trip.

STATISTICS: Over the course of 21 days I travelled a total of 4,844 miles through the following states: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. While weather woes prompted me to skip some parts of Route 66 in favor of the better maintained highways, I estimate that I drove on 1,700 out of the 2,300 miles that constitute Route 66.

WRITING: I wrote a total of 38 pieces (about 14,000 words) that were posted on this Blog. Roughly half of them had to do with the journey, and the other half dealt with servant-leadership in some fashion, including two interviews that I conducted along the way. I especially enjoyed writing short pieces, but a large quantity of them. Also, while I am used to writing mostly in the third person, I enjoyed the act of writing most of these Blog items in the first person. The discipline of writing one or two pieces per day was an interesting exercise in-and-of itself.

BOOKS: I made the time to read and re-read a number of books along the way. These included four books written by friends of mine, plus one classic novel—

--AUTHENTIC CONVERSATIONS: MOVING FROM MANIPULATION TO TRUTH AND COMMITMENT, by Jamie and Maren Showkeir (Berrett-Koehler, 209 pages, 2008, One of the best books available on how to improve the quality of meaningful dialogue in the workplace.

--THE ART & PRACTICE OF TRUST: FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH UNCERTAINTY, CHANGE & TRANSITION, by Victoria Crawford (Way of Discovery Press, 153 pages, 2009, A caring look at personal growth and development through four guideposts of willingness, awareness, discernment, and action.

--THE STREETS OF FOREST HIGHLANDS: STORIES BEHIND THE NAMES, by Cobe Frobes (Forest Highlands Association, 70 pages, 2006). A delightful anthology comprised of some thirty biographical sketches of founders of the town of Flagstaff, Arizona, after whom streets have been named.

--ON BECOMING A LEADER, by Warren Bennis (Perseus Publishing, 218 pages, 2003 edition). A wise and inspiring book, ON BECOMING A LEADER offers great insights into the nature of leaders and leadership. One of the truly classic books in contemporary leadership literature.

--THE GRAPES OF WRATH, by John Steinbeck (Penguin Books, 619 pages, 1992 edition). The defining work by this Nobel Prize-winning author, THE GRAPES OF WRATH was a book that I first read in college some 35 years ago. It was the original source of my awareness and interest in Route 66 (“The Mother Road”).

SURPRISES: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my visit to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma, and by how well-organized it was. It was a great mix of information and inspiration. I was also surprised by my discovery of the Bible Museum located within a room at the Hampton Inn in Goodyear, Arizona, along with learning that it had links to the Byrd family in Indiana. Most of all, I was surprised by how interesting I found nearly every aspect of this trip to be. In that way, it proved to be a tremendously satisfying trip.


I either learned and/or was reminded of some things as a result of this trip—

12. There is something about long-distance driving that I find quite satisfying.

11. I valued the opportunity to read more, and more intensively, than is usually the case.

10. I enjoyed looking at the mountains in the distance much more than I did actually driving up-and-down them.

9. We live in a large country that is filled with fascinating people and interesting sights.

8. Having a GPS in your car is a wonderful thing, especially when you aren’t sure where you are going.

7. I enjoyed writing these short pieces for this Blog, and I am glad I made it an integral part of this trip.

6. I appreciated seeing places along Route 66 that I had read about for years.

5. There is an element of fun to be found in adventures great-and-small.

4. I value my friendships with people, and I am grateful for them.

3. There is an element of insight that comes as a result of quiet contemplation and solitude.

2. I appreciated my wife, Beth’s understanding as I was away from home for three weeks.

1. There is no place like home.

End of trip

--Larry Spears [Friday, Jan. 29, 2010]

I was up and on the road by 8:00 this morning as I figured I had about a 7 hour drive to get home and would lose an hour once I crossed from Illinois into Indiana. I was stuck in traffic for a bit in St. Louis, but once I cleared the city limits the highways were pretty good. I could also feel the temperature dropping throughout the day.

Phillips 66 

Finding myself back on I-70 for the final leg of the trip was a great feeling. While this trip has been my first on Route 66, I have driven much of I-70 many times over some thirty years, and its familiarity was reassuring.

I made it back home at 5:00 p.m. Checking my mileage gauge, I saw that I had travelled 4,844 miles since I began my Route 66 odyssey on Thursday, January 7.

Great to be back home safe-and-sound, and to see Beth again.

I’m going to take a day or two and then share some final thoughts regarding my Route 66/Servant-Leadership Journey.

--Larry Spears [Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010]

I had read that the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma was one of the very best, and so prior to hitting the road again I stopped in to take a look. Very happy that I did so.

The Route 66 Museum in Clinton is thoughtfully-and-well organized according to decades. Each decade of Route 66 has a separate room devoted to its life-and-times. It was an interesting mix of objects, photos, music, stories and more. Several photos that I took at the Route 66 Museum may be found below and elsewhere in this blog.

It was close to noon before I managed to get back on the road. Eager to get home after three weeks on the road and noting Winter Storm Warnings have gone up in Oklahoma and Missouri, I decided to stick to the highway today and tomorrow.

--Larry Spears [Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010]

I brought along with me on this trip a copy of John Steinbeck’s great work, The Grapes of Wrath. First published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath is the classic story of the Joad family who are forced to leave their home in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, and of their journey along Route 66 (“The Mother Road”) in search of the mythical good life in California. The Grapes of Wrath provides an unflinching look at the circumstances of farmers-turned-migrant workers as they travelled west in search of jobs and stability. Acts of violence and cruelties both great-and-small befall the Joad’s and their extended family along the way. Their difficult lives in this novel are punctuated by occasional acts of kindness. And yet, it is these few acts of kindness that help to fuel their sense of hope for a better future. As I finished reading the book last night I was reminded of Robert Greenleaf’s “Best Test” of servant-leadership, and how it, too, fuels my own sense of hope for a better future. Greenleaf writes: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

--Larry Spears [Monday, Jan. 25, 2010]

Got a late start today but managed to make it as far as Clinton, Oklahoma. Happy to be back onto Route 66/I40 East, too. It was the first truly easy drive in nearly ten days. No rain, snow, ice, hail or wind to contend with—just a straight road and modest traffic. I alternated between driving on Route 66 and I40 East throughout the afternoon. The scenery changed dramatically along the way. I have left the remarkable mountains of New Mexico behind and entered the prairie lands of Texas and Oklahoma.

Rattlesnake memorabilia 

--Larry Spears [Monday, Jan. 25, 2010]

(A). In an earlier posting I had mentioned seeing many signs along the highway that read, “Tucumcari Tonight!” While I hadn’t really planned on staying in Tucumcari, the repeated mention of it stuck in my mind. Whoever came up with that short phrase has most likely helped the longterm economy of the little town of Tucumcari, as I suspect that many weary travelers have chosen to stay there because “Tucumcari Tonight!” struck a chord.

(B). Curiously, I view my own work in servant-leadership as somewhat analogous to the Tucumcari Tonight! road signs. By that, I mean to say that I have often thought of all that I do as seeking to draw the attention of passers-by to servant-leadership. When I began this work in 1990, servant-leadership was rarely spoken of and was at some risk of receding in its influence. I saw the possibility of reversing this trend by putting my passion for writing and editing to work as a primary means of drawing attention to Robert Greenleaf’s writings on servant-leadership. I also thought it important to encourage new thinking about servant-leadership and began to look for opportunities to bring new voices on servant-leadership into the realm of the familiar. Over the years, this has led to my creating and editing five books of posthumously-published writings by Bob Greenleaf, plus five anthologies of writings by over 100 different authors. These books, plus, the International Journal of Servant-Leadership (with Gonzaga University), Servant-Leader News, and the hundreds of articles, radio and television appearances have—at their core—an element of calling attention to servant-leadership. Perhaps my attraction to “Tucumcari Tonight!” is that it resonates with my mantra, “Servant-Leadership, Today!”

(C). Curious discovery on my Friday night stay at a Hampton Inn in Goodyear, Arizona. This Hampton Inn was unique for two reasons: 1. It actually had a grand piano in the foyer—the first I have ever seen in a Hampton Inn. 2. An even greater surprise: It houses a Bible Museum in a large room that was built with that purpose in mind. I could hardly believe my eyes when I passed it on the way up to my room. I took my bags upstairs and then came back down to take a look. It was a good-sized room filled with any number of old, even rare, Bibles and some theological texts. I asked the desk clerk about it and she told me that it had been started by someone from Indianapolis named Dr. Jonathan Byrd. Jonathan Byrd is a name that is fairly well-known in Indianapolis for two reasons: The Jonathan Byrd Cafeterias and catering services found in-and-around Indianapolis; and, his involvement in supporting Indy Car Racing. I learned that he had been collecting rare Bibles and other books for years, and that his collection is now housed there at the Bible Museum located in this Hampton Inn in Goodyear, Arizona. Interesting what you may find in the most unexpected places.

Route 66

--Larry Spears [Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010]

I covered a lot of ground today—over 400 miles. Nearly all of it was on Route 25 North from Las Cruces, NM to Tucumcari, NM. The road was dry, the sun was bright, and the view of the mountains in the distance was spectacular.

New Mexico 

The only problem encountered today was the wind. The weather forecast this morning had called for sustained winds of 20-30 miles an hour, with gusts of 40-50 miles an hour. That seemed to be pretty accurate. The entire drive was spent with my holding a firm grip on the steering wheel as the winds buffeted my minivan. All along the way I saw signs that read: Gusty Winds May Exist. I passed one of these big metal signs with that message which was secured by just one bolt and was banging noisily against the metal pole on which it was precariously perched. That said more about the nature of the gusty winds than the words on the sign.

--Larry Spears [Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010]



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