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Toxic Town USA - Part Two

Updated: Jul 19, 2018


Humble beginnings of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop

My earliest years of life were spent living in different towns located on or near Route 66 in Oklahoma which meant we spent a lot of time driving along various stretches of it as we moved around the state and went to and from holiday and summer visits with our grandparents who all lived in a town straddling Route 66. Dazzled by colorful signage and aroma of grilled and smoked meats drifting out across the highway from bar-b-que joints and drive-in restaurants as we traveled along, we kids longed to stop at each over-advertised place to see what was offered there (and to get out of the damned car for a few minutes). But being poor as a result of my father's first professional business venture going belly up thanks to an embezzling creep of a partner, we never stopped at any of them and were frequently educated by my parents to regard them all as jip-joints out to overcharge traveling customers for everything they sold or provided as a service.

This was actually true for a lot of establishments along Route 66 in those days. Frugal shoppers went off-highway to family owned and operated businesses nestled deep within neighborhoods of the towns to make purchases or seek services (especially auto repairs) from more honest proprietors. We usually stocked up on groceries at the neighborhood store in whatever town we lived at the time before heading out onto Route 66, stopping to eat them at roadside parks or in the motels rooms we stayed at. A Mark Knopfler song about traveling revival bands of the south resonates for me even though I'm not black and we traveled about chasing oil rather than spreading the word of Jesus–we ate a lot of baloney in the car as we sped down the Mother Road in the 50s and 60s.

This all conditioned me to regard Route 66 as a highly toxic byway to be traveled with caution and much prior preparation to avoid being sucked into a roadside jip-joint out of dire necessity where my pockets would then be promptly and thoroughly cleaned. Even today, when I drive Route 66, very few of its roadside "attractions" hold any charm for me. In fact, there is only one place I enjoy stopping at now. None of the others provide any goods or services of any value to me. And I guess this is one reason I was so taken by Harley and Annabelle's business approach at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop: selling nothing and charging no entrance fees, working hard at what they did entirely for tips. They decked out their shop with many signs, curios and antiques from the golden days of Route 66, making it an eye candy addict's nostalgic dreamland, but they never did anything to try to jip their visitors, often overworking themselves trying to please them without any expectation of compensation in return. It was such a refreshing thing to experience where absolutely everything in this world today is for sale, frequently at jip-joint prices.

I suppose that since the Sandhills Curiosity Shop is located a block south of Route 66 in what was once a neighborhood meat market, I am still following my parent's training to seek out value in the kind of business establishments we shopped at back then. In local shops well away from the highway where the proprietors care deeply about providing quality while being honest and upfront with their customers at all times.

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