THE INTERNATIONAL LOVE AFFAIR WITH ROUTE 66 AND A BIT OF SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

The international fascination with Route 66 never ceases to be a source of curiosity for me. How did an interconnected series of dusty pioneer trails linked by signs bearing a double six become an American icon? I suppose it is for the same reason the lowly ’57 Chevy came to symbolize the American automobile industry during the 1950s and the entire classic car hobby today. Hype.
Route 66 is not the longest, the most scenic, or most historic highway in America. Its history is tinged with tragedy.
The ’57 Chevy sold poorly when new. Dealers despised the warmed over model. To a large degree its poor reception was responsible for the surge in the sale of new Fords.
Still, long ago both transcended their original purpose to become larger than life icons symbolizing the best of America. Illusion and romanticism have supplanted reality.
The resurgent interest in iconic Route 66 is rapidly transforming it into a hybrid of sorts, an authentic replication and a time capsule, with a Disneyland overlay. The obsession with the ’57 Chevy has spawned an entire cottage industry to foster the illusion and maintain the legacy.
This past summer I played tour guide to a charming young photo journalist, Chris Tres, from France. Through her questions, her wide eyed wonder at the grand landscapes of the desert southwest that embrace Route 66 in western Arizona, I was able to better understand what people see in this battered old stretch of asphalt but still have trouble grasping the magnitude of that interest. Here is a link to a sneak preview of her film that is currently available through Youtube.
In spite of my near constant exposure to, and immersion in, the international fascination with the old road, I still have trouble grasping what people see in this old road. I suppose my difficulty in grasping this is similar to that experienced by folks who have trouble understanding passionate affection for antique cars.
I have difficulty grasping the lure for this old road, or any road, that is so strong people walk it on stilts, save for years to ride it on a bicycle, or participate in rallies for motorcycles manufactured before 1916 because it is on Route 66. And this is in spite of a year that included dinner with a tour from Holland led by a friend from Amsterdam, Dries Bessel, dinner and visits with a tour operator from Australia, Dale Butel, and interviews with French journalist.
Interestingly, after countless films, tours, books, and articles hyping the wonders of an adventure on Route 66, the interest does not seem to be waning. In fact, it seems to be escalating.
A few years ago late April to mid October were the months when Route 66 fairly hummed with motorcycles, bicycles, runners, and rental cars. Now, we are seeing tourist in every month of the year. This week a leading Australian news celebrity is going to be doing live broadcasts as Dale Butel, owner of Route 66 Tours, leads him on the adventure of discovery. You can follow along beginning tomorrow morning. Here is a link.
I have driven Route 66 countless times. I have driven ’57 Chevrolets. Neither need to be understood. Like love, friendship, and a sunset in the desert, they just need to be experienced.