Route 66 as a Lifeline
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel east on Route 66 and visit with community members in Moriarty and Santa Rosa. It was a wonderful experience and allowed me to talk directly with Hispanics who grew up on the Mother Road and greatly influenced its development in New Mexico. Previously, I had been using oral histories to get a better sense of the first person narrative, and while those are rich in content, talking to people directly and actually traveling on the road put the experience more in perspective.
For many Hispanics in the state, Route 66 was not the travel corridor to vacations in California or milkshakes and rockabilly, as we tend to think about it today. Instead, it was, in all honesty, just another road, but one that granted access to new ways of living and offered opportunities in business, politics, and commerce. It connected many rural communities and allowed families to participate in both rural and urban forms of economy. It allowed people like Mike Anaya, the first person we spoke with, to open businesses when he was just nineteen and move away from the labor-intensive construction work he had done prior to that. It became, as Richard Delgado of Santa Rosa asserts, a lifeline that impacted all aspects of daily life.
Our first stop was in Moriarty, a small town about a forty minute drive away from Albuquerque. There, we talked to Anaya, who graciously welcomed us into his home. His house, which he built himself, is behind his shop and restaurant on Route 66, “Mike’s Friendly Place” and “El Comedor.” His store opened in 1949 and provided basic goods to tourists who passed through, but was also a resource to locals, who would barter and sell their rural products like eggs or beef for credit to purchase items in the shop.
For Anaya, Route 66 provided access to new business opportunities and was also a resource for his political endeavors. During the twentieth century, Anaya served in numerous positions for the New Mexico Democratic Party. He used Route 66 to access other party affiliates and organize small towns to support the party. His restaurant, which opened in 1950, was also a common stop for both local and national politicians. Former President Bill Clinton even announced his intent to run for president at El Comedor in the 90s. Route 66 facilitated these interactions and allowed Anaya to take the initiative to open his businesses and participate in politics. As he stated, “Anybody can follow, but few can lead.” And he just so happened to be one of the few.
After leaving Moriarty, we stopped in Santa Rosa to talk with Richard Delgado, whose family has a long history of opening businesses on the Mother Road. His father’s family moved from Puerto de Luna to Santa Rosa specifically to take advantage of the job opportunities made available through Route 66. Over the course of his lifetime, he’s seen Santa Rosa expand because of advancements in transportation, first through the railroad and then Route 66.
While in Santa Rosa, we had the opportunity to visit Delgado’s sister, who recently purchased, renovated, and opened the Lake City Diner, a restaurant along Route 66 that has an extended history. The building was originally a bank, built in the 19th century. After that, it was converted to a diner, but maintained much of the original architecture, including a vault door that leads into the kitchen. It closed after the I-40 bypass, but through this restoration effort it is now up and running again during the weekends. Unfortunately, not many people know about the Lake City Diner anymore or that it is even open. Delgado’s sister has invested a lot into the restaurant, however, and hopes that business will pick up. In spite of these difficulties, this endeavor, to me, further illustrates the kinds of opportunity Route 66 provides. The road, even after its heyday, gives those who live on it opportunities to both look toward the future in their business efforts while appreciating the past for what these locations mean to locals in the area. Countless people ate at Lake City Diner, but even before that, before New Mexico was a state, residents used it as a way to store and save money and build a foundation in the town. This much was evident when we were talking with Delgado. As he asserted, Route 66 was integral to the lives of Hispanics and others who lived along it. It was a river to feed on or risk drying up.