The icons of the American landscape are as varied and diverse in nature as the people that call themselves Americans. There is Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the hallowed grounds at Gettysburg and Wounded Knee, the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell.
In recent years a new icon has been added to the list and it may be the most unusual of all. It is a stretch of asphalt and concrete that ties the metropolis of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan with the waters of the Pacific at Santa Monica signed with double sixes.
Long ago this old road transcended its original purpose and took on almost mythical incarnations. It became a destination and the key foundational component in the resurrection of forgotten towns all along its length.
Almost thirty years after its decommissioning the old roads popularity shows no signing of waning. In fact, it may be more popular today than at anytime in its history.
International tour companies cater to those hungry for an opportunity to experience the mystique of legendary Route 66. Publishers continue to crank out volumes extolling its virtues and all along the old route tarnished gems, such as Afton Station in Afton, Oklahoma, or the old Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Arizona are being given a new lease on life, a new opportunity to shine in the sun.
All along the route there is a palpable sense of excitement in the air that often defies the reality of empty streets, broken windows, and ruins that line its path. Kingman, Arizona exemplifies this.
Drive Route 66 through Kingman, from east to west, and you are presented with a near perfect time line, in chronological order, of the evolution of the American highway. First, are the manifestations of the modern, generic age that accompanied the development of the interstate highway system.
The shadow of the I-40 overpass will not have vanished from view in the mirror before vestiges in the form of motels from the 1960s and cafes appear along the roadway. Next are the tarnished gems such as the El Trovatore and Hilltop Motel, the Arcadia and the White Rock Court that represent the era from 1930 to the mid 1960s.
Many of these were noted in the now classic work by Jack Rittenhouse,
A Guide To Highway 66http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0826311482&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr. Most now cater to the weekly or monthly rental but they appear along the roadway with their darkened neon and faded signs as refugees that have somehow managed to escape from the confines of the past to serve as windows into the past for the modern motorist.
The historic district, is a sprinkling of artifacts from the territorial days of Arizona. A few of these received a face lift during the 1940s and 1950s in an attempt to hide their age much as an elderly matron will dye her hair a silver blue and apply make up like Spackle in a valiant effort to hide the years.
The few that have been given a new lease on life stand in stark contrast to the abandoned places with empty windows, dark interiors, or weed strewn vacant lots. Adding to the surreal atmosphere of the Kingman historic district where the past and present flow together seamlessly are events such as the Route 66 Fun Run and Chillin on Beale Street that fill the streets with glittering chrome, crowds, and life.
In recent years annual events have given way to monthly events and on occasion, weekly ones that hint a rebirth may be soon at hand. In the weeks to come the historic district serve as center stage for a salute to the automotive orphan at the July 17 edition of Chillin’ on Beale Street and a Dutch Route 66 tour group.
In August it will be a parade of vintage micro cars as they roll east for a convention in Chicago and a salute to Mopar at the August Chillin’ on Beale Street with an Australian tour group in attendance. For September plans are under way for a Route 66 film fest and an even larger version of Chillin’ on Beale Street.
Route 66 is now a larger than life icon, a new chapter in great mythology. Kingman, like many communities along iconic Route 66, is rising as did the mythical Phoenix, and the old highway is fast becoming an American version of Mount Olympus.