For the last two years, trucker Evan Giovanni has traded in his mother loads for the Mother Road and a simpler way of life.
The 40-year-old Mesa man who lives in his 2000 Dodge Ram Conversion Camper and is settling in town for the winter, is also plotting his next road trip along historic Route 66 throughout all eight states it runs through.
Giovanni, who grew up in Mesa, is following his dream with a little influence from his former boss, the late Lloyd Dingman, a longtime trucker who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Giovanni took care of him until deciding to become a trucker himself, delivering freight for various companies.
"He would talk about the road, the old routes he traveled like Route 54 and the people he met along the way," Giovanni said of Dingman, who died in 2008. "He was a good and simple man. His stories fascinated me, and I wanted to be able to tell my stories. Traveling Route 66 is an adventure. It's nostalgic, but it's about the people. The trip is not about where you're going or where you've been; it's where you are."
Giovanni, who said he's not rich, but thrifty, saved his money from trucking and in-home health care as well as selling off various belongings, to help pursue his passion of exploring Route 66. He knows he won't travel the length of the legendary route 280 times like one of his traveling heroes, Jim Conkle, did. But, he's living a dream of doing something others have only talked about, including myself.
In 2010, Giovanni made the 2,430-mile trip in 14 days on his 1984 Honda Goldwing motorcycle - in the winter. It was 8 degrees when he left Chicago on Feb. 26 of that year wearing three layers of clothes, and 73 degrees when he arrived at the Santa Monica Pier on March 11 wearing shorts and a T-shirt. And, from Sept. 1 to Oct. 11 of this year, Giovanni took in all of Route 66 during a 40-day trip, with 11 of those days spent in New Mexico. His journey began at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Route 66 begins at the Navy Pier in Chicago and ends at the Santa Monica Pier in California. The states along Route 66: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.)
At one time or another, Giovanni, a 1989 graduate of Mesa's Westwood High School, also lived in Springfield, Ill., Springfield, Mo. and Marshfield, Mo. - all places along Route 66. He said his grandfather, a steelworker who worked at Bethlehem Steel in Johnstown, Pa., "worked himself silly," and died two years after he retired. He said his family rarely lived in one place longer than a year, fueling his desire to travel, stay on the move and do things while he had the chance.
When Giovanni was a trucker, he said he wanted to avoid the tolls along the highways through Oklahoma, so he drove the side roads and began discovering the road where many people have gotten their kicks. Oklahoma is the state he believes has the most "perfect" part of the route and notes that Tulsa was one of his favorite places.
"I didn't realize it at the time, but a lot of the trips I was taking were along Route 66, but I never got off the beaten path," Giovanni said. "When I started taking side roads, I started noticing a lot of small towns along the way and realized there's more to this road than just dirt and gravel."
Many Route 66 buffs may have passed by the famed Snow Cap in Seligman (Juan Delgadillo's food and ice cream stand where one can get a hamburger without the ham or the cheeseburger with the cheese), the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ruby Denton's Golden Spread Grille in Groom, Texas (where her fried pies were a staple), Stanley Marsh's Cadillac Ranch (where 10 late 1940s to early 1960s-era Cadillacs are buried nose down) west of Amarillo, Texas, the Blue Whale in Catoosa, Okla., and the Elbow Inn in Devil's Elbow, Mo.
But Giovanni took the time to stop along the way, talk to people such as famed barber Angel Delgabillo in Seligman, hear their stories and have more of a hands-on experience with Route 66, so to speak.
Along the way, Giovanni actually laid down in the road in a desolate part of the route waiting to see how long it would take someone to come along, but no one did. He said he just got bored, so he got up and continued his way.
He wrote his name and the names of his friends on the vintage Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch.
He ate at the Fat Elvis Diner in Yukon, Okla., where Elvis impersonator Darin Thrasher waits on you, and when you leave, he says in his Elvis voice, "Thank you very much."
And above all, he got a charge out of reliving the 1980s movie "Cars," especially when he met "Crazy Legs" Dean Walker in Baxter Springs, Kan. Walker played character Tow Mater in the movie and walked backwards after twisting his feet in the opposite direction.
"There's just a lot of nuances out there that you don't see anywhere else," Giovanni said.
Clutching a sack full of maps, Giovanni already is plotting his next trip and plans to live up to the slogan "Pier to Pier, Year to Year," a familiar saying for Route 66 enthusiasts.
"When you have a chance to meet people, do it," he said. "When I tell people I've been somewhere, I like to prove it."
And that he has. Giovanni took nearly 3,000 pictures on his recent jaunt - photos of once-famous roadside attractions from decades ago long before carloads of families sped along highways bypassing small towns and big cities.
"The Route 66 experience has opened my eyes to little towns that people don't think of anymore," Giovanni said. "A lot of people asked me, ‘How did you spend 11 days in New Mexico?' There's a lot to see."
Giovanni's goal is to travel Route 66 five times, and when he heads out early next spring, he said he'll do the trip backwards - from Santa Monica to Chicago. He said he'll begin traveling when the sun goes down so he can capture more of the glow from the many neon signs along the way.
And, he said he can't wait to make the trip again, this next time, maybe with a friend and without following a map.
I'm jealous, I told him. We should all be so lucky.
"Don't worry about where you're going," Giovanni said. "Enjoy where you're at."