Friday, August 19, 2016

Getting my kicks on Route 66

2016 Route 66 Trip

July 26, 2016

My neighbor, up early, startled me as I sat in my drivers door  studying  my phone and googling  last minute info. I climbed from the cab and he sent me off with a big hug, saying  he loved me and would miss me. Something had changed for me. For the first time  I  would really miss my friends on this trip.  Facebook would keep us connected, and I  knew they would all cheer me along on my route like a marathon runner making her laps. I pulled away from the house at 6:15.

I squeezed through the inland empire commuter traffic and the road opened up as my motorhome climbed up the Cajon pass.

The vista spread before me, and I inhaled with a pleasant surprise.  I missed the traveling during the last four months at home. The joy of being on the road again swelled inside my chest like a lover’s first kiss after a long absence.  I was glad to be alone because as I considered the enormity of the past events in my life, which led up to this precise moment, my eyes teared up.  I was going home to the flatlands of the Midwest, cornfields and soybeans.. No words could express the   deep level of feelings I felt for all the events  I  had been through this past year. And soon I would be facing the events of my entire life. As the motorhome's engine hummed  like a quiet creek cutting through the land before me, It carried me  along  with  my  new intense emotions  while I anticipated  the road ahead.

My motorhome labored up each steep grade, and rushed down into every valley like the roller coaster in Happy Hollow at the Ilinois State Fair.As the distance increased behind me,  the miles ahead decreased bringing me closer to whatever the future held.

 After  an hour on the road, I exited at Barstow, California, where I choose a TA Truck Stop, Travel Centers of America, to get a cup of coffee.
My goal this trip, to meet and interview truckers. As I climbed out of my rig,   a bulky, black man with a round face, kind smile, and a soft voice for such a big man admired the “Short Story” lettering on my Smart Car.

 “Are you a trucker?’ I asked and told him that the hero in my next book was going to be a trucker.

“Yes I am,” he said.  

We shook hands and he invited me to join his girlfriend, Tina, his team driver, and her nephew, a sixteen-year-old boy for breakfast.


I slid into the booth as the trucker introduced me to Tina’s nephew.  The boy looked me straight in the eye and shook my hand. “Nice to meet you ma’am," the boy said. Even though I found his southern twang endearing the boy succeeded in  pulling  off a masculine presence of someone much older. 

 His respectful, grown up attitude, a  rare aspect for a teenager  these days,  delighted me.  “How do you like riding on the truck?”  I asked.

 The boy’s face lit up and I saw the road’s romantic pull in his eyes.” I love it.”

Their broker called, twice while they ate, assigning them two loads, one in Los Angeles, which they would deliver to Rapid City, South Dakota. There they would pick up another and transport to another destination.  Tina shared stories of trucking life while Rayman finished off his breakfast.

In Newberry Spring, I gassed up across from the Bagdad Café. The rising  heat and my  waning energy made me choose to ignore the lure of the  historic café. After checking my phone, I pushed on.

The afternoon temperatures climbed higher and higher as did my stress level.   What happens when you break down out here in nowhere land? You deal with it, I told myself. Drained from the miles, the events of the day and the anticipation of what lies ahead, I passed Kingman.  Unable to sing out with enthusiasm in accompaniment to my favorite country singers, I fought sleep.

Seventeen miles past Kingman I pulled off I-40, topped off my gas tank and checked
into Blake Ranch RV Resort.  Parked and with the air-conditioning blasting, I stretched out on the couch and waited for the interior to cool down.

The TV scanned for stations on the cable provided by the park while I heated up a serving of my baby back ribs and green beans, and straightened up. I ate dinner, watched Judge Judy,  and unwound.  After my first meal on the road, I carried Sportster outside. Like the King of his castle that he believed he was, he lounged under a tree  while I cleaned road dirt off the car and rig.

Chores finished, I returned Sportster to the motorhome and walked over to the campsite across from me and introduced myself   to a man and a younger woman sitting at their picnic table. The temperature had dropped to a bearable range.

The man smiled. “When I registered they told me there was another Howard in the park. Is that you?  My name is Howard, too. This is my daughter, Debbie.”

With last names in common, the conversation took off. Of course, I went into my book spiel as the man cooked hamburger patties on a small grill. I wished I had not left mine at home. When the burgers were cooked, we rose and I said   goodbye. The man reached out his hand and said, “My name is Jack.” 

“What?”  A light hum from the interstate in the distance as we shook.

“My name is Jack Howard.”

“That was my husband’s name,” I said.

The woman Debbie said, “That’s weird.”

“Yes it is,” I said. “Yes it is.”

In this mystery-romance, widow Judy Howard drives her RV along Route 66, encountering the ghosts of her teenage past when she was drugged, raped, and forced to undergo an illegal abortion.
         Tragedy strikes when Judy is drugged and date raped on a Saturday night in the parking lot of the town’s roller rink. But her high school crush Brad comes to her rescue, helping her deal with the crime perpetrated against her, even going as far as to arrange an abortion for her, though the practice is illegal. Judy must live in fear as the drug prevented her from knowing the identity of her attacker. Racked by guilt over the abortion and panic over the sexual assault, she accepts a college offer in California and flees to West Coast.
         After four decades of marriage, her husband dies and a high school reunion invitation from Brad threatens to shatter her illusory peace. Nonetheless, she summons up the courage to go, loading up her motor home and heading out on Route 66 with her cat named Sportster.
            Judy Howard is a writer whose debut novel is fictional, even if she happens to share the same name as her protagonist. She has traveled alone in her motor home with her cat, Sportster, throughout the country.
Sportster the cat had always envied the huge cats who lived the big life in the jungle until opportunity sends the motorhome in which he travels veering into a roadside ditch. When strangers whisk away not only his Winnebago, but also his chauffer, Judy, he is alarmed. However, once the dust settles, he purrs a happy tune as he discovers he is free! I He is in the wild! And he is in the Olympic Forest!

ACTIVATE LION MODE is just what Sportster does as he spins this yarn in his own words. Living wild and free brings on encounters he never have imagined. The life he dreamed becomes an adventure full of bears, pit bulls, drugs and more. Sportster weaves this story of his incredible journey as only a coddled cat of leisure can do.


When her husband of twenty-five years, Jack, passes away, Howard is faced with an overwhelming sense of loss. She takes to the road in her Winnebago on a journey of self-discovery accompanied by her cat, Sportster, and Jack Incarnate, a life-size stuffed doll she creates with an eerie resemblance to her late husband. During their travels she and Sportster experience the beauty of the land as she resolves her troubled memories through conversations with the doll. She comes to terms with her deep love for her husband despite the abuse that was part of their relationship and discovers how she became a stronger woman for it.

“The book is a narrative, both of physical travel and of emotional and spiritual evolvement,” says Howard. “It leads the reader through the hills and valleys and provides insights to fear and bravery.”

Howard aims to weave an emotionally-charged narrative with humorous anecdotes and a unique perspective on life, engaging and inspiring the reader. She looks to take the readers on a ride into her new stage of life, through the joys of travel, over unexpected bumps in the road with glimpses of the world through her eyes and even the eyes of her cat to a final destination that is hope.

Masada, a bumbling golden retriever puppy, struggles through eighteen months of training to become a lifeline for a veteran with PTSD.
As part of her training, the puppy is assigned to prison life, where she matures and adapts to the cold concrete life of confinement and experiences hair-raising risks, tension, and the ache of loneliness.
She forms unusual bonds, first with Roy, her inmate trainer, and in the end, the total prison population as well.  

When she walks point for her veteran down the graduation aisle, an awe of respect silences the crowd.

Will the readers also be led down the wedding aisle?  Brad and Judy, founders of the K9s for Warriors training facility,  who have reunited after a forty-year separation, face monumental responsibilities that test their relationship as they try to build the dog-training program for veterans.

A touching yet educational story, about the world of service dogs who save veteran lives.


When the subject of our military arose, I proudly stated my patriotic views and gave a blanket, but silent ‘thank you’ to all who lost their lives to keep me safe. My heart twisted in sadness every Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I consider myself an average American.

              When I decided to write MASADA’S MARINE, I imagined it as a nice story about a puppy named Masada who grows up to become a service dog and changes the lives of two men.

              One man, who began his life as a patriotic boy, graduates high school, starts his own family and becomes a gung-ho Marine. The young man has everything to live for until he comes home from his first tour in Iraq with PTSD and loses it all, even his will to live.

              Another man, who began life as the son of a drug addicted mother, learns how to fight a war of survival on the streets and exists inside a life of crime. The pressures of the young man’s illicit career takes its toll, and he ends up in prison, defeated. He, too, has nothing to live for.

              As I penned my story, the characters took on lives of their own and demanded that this not be a nice story about a man and his dog. During hours of research and interviews the characters became people, electric with emotions, and sometimes terrifying, like the firefight that promises only one victor. As I learned more about the invisible disease, PTSD, the story’s heartbeat pulsed out of my control, like the disease itself.

              Masada and her littermates, the real heroes in this drama, matured into valuable service dogs. They changed not only the characters’ lives, but my life as well. I am no longer the silent American. I hope Masada will change your life, too.

Every hour a veteran takes his own life.


Author, Judy Howard’s mailing address is Sun City, California, but you will rarely find her there. Instead, you might find the top ranking Amazon author strapped in at the race track ready to check out the Mario Andretti Racing Experience or cruising  down Route  66. 

Of one thing, you can be sure she is living up to a quote by Henry Thoreau, Howard questions, “How vain is it to sit down and write, when you have not stood up to live?”

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