Which vacation destination is most popular, Colonial Williamsburg or Disneyland? The obvious answer mirrors societies choice of fantasy over fact as the way to unwind and escape the grind of the daily routine.
This simple fact is at the heart of an ongoing debate about Route 66 and how best to inspire a hunger to travel its storied route without sacrificing its essence, its historic nature. The latest chapter in the debate began with the efforts of Dan Rice to have a Route 66, end of the trail marker placed on Santa Monica Pier and a commemorative celebration of the highways commissioning at this location on November 11.
See, the western terminus of Route 66 was originally in Los Angeles. Later it was moved west to Santa Monica but it never ended at Palisades park with its Will Rogers Highway marker or at Santa Monica Pier. This has never stopped folks from assuming it did then or now.
So, does the marker and a celebration on Santa Monica Pier perpetuate a myth? In so doing does it destroy the historic nature of Route 66?
|Mr. D’z in Kingman, Arizona|
Here in Kingman, Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner is indicative of the modern era of resurgent interest in the highway. However, it is only a caricature, a romanticised image of what people expect a Route 66 diner, circa 1960 to be. It is fun, practical, and colorful but it does not represent Route 66. Or does it?
Mr. D’z is an historic Route 66 diner but in the 1930s, and well into the late 1970s, it was the Kimo Cafe and Shell station. What has changed?
The colors, the removal of the station, and the enclosure of the garage would be the most obvious. What can not be seen are the sweat soaked shirts of travelers crossing the desert without the luxury of air conditioning. What can not be heard is the clang of the bell as a driver behind the wheel of a weathered old truck pulls up to the pumps or the ringing of hammers on iron as a tire is removed from the rim.
|Kimo Cafe circa 1940|
Regardless of attention to detail, history can never be captured, merely recreated through preservation. If the Kimo was fully and intricately restored to original condition it would still only be a caricature as you can no longer operate a restaurant without air conditioning, the people who stop to eat have experienced television, and chances are those who stop for a root beer have never patched a tube along the road under a blazing sun.
So, again, where is the line between historical authenticity and deception, between perpetuating a myth until it obscures the truth and condemning the road to abandonment resultant of obsessive instance on historical accuracy? That is the fifty dollar question.
To give you an idea as to where I stand, we have never been to Disneyland but did enjoy Williamsburg very much. I have driven the Mojave Desert in a 1946 GMC and a 1998 Cherokee and prefer the Cherokee even though it would be fun to again drive the desert with the old truck, preferably in the spring or fall.
I have patched a tube under a blazing sun and have even experienced life as it was on the frontier with 12 hour days in the saddle in the deserts of New Mexico. I prefer to talk about it than experience it.
I fully understand the importance of history as a crucial foundational element for linking the past to the future and for providing guidance and direction. I am also a pragmatist who understands that a vintage hotel will only be restored and preserved for future generations if it is a profitable venture and that means authenticity that masks Wifi access.
So, in answer to the ongoing debate about the big celebration on the pier, an event I hope to attend, lets not split hairs and divide the Route 66 community. Still, it might not be a very good idea to let a myth obscure truth or taint history for future generations. We can do both and we can also fuel a passion for adventure on the legendary double six.
See you in Santa Monica?