Route 66 has always been about the people – the people who drove it and who drive it, the people who seek its charms, the people who have a passion for the old places that line its course from Chicago to Santa Monica, the people who made their living on the road and those that make their living there today. It is the people that give the old road the spice, the seasoning that makes it a destination.
Without the people, Route 66 would be just another stretch of asphalt with a colorful and lengthy history. It would be as sterile as the highway that replaced it.
Route 66 is fertile ground for the entrepreneurial spirit of the mom and pop shop swept away by the tide of chain stores and motels that transformed the American landscape in the closing years of the 20th century. The people who have embraced that spirit, that have unleashed their creative passions to refurbish a motel, open a restaurant or gift shop, or a gallery, are at the very heart of what makes this iconic road something special, they are the essence of what makes this storied highway a veritable time capsule of America during the era of the tail fin, the Edsel, and I Like Ike buttons.
On this old road you will find the very best of America. That is what makes a journey along the Main Street of America a unique adventure. That is what makes it an international destination.
The refurbished Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri would be an interesting historical throw back, it might even provide haven for the weary traveler that stumbled upon it if he were lost. It is the passion, the enthusiasm, and sense of being entrusted with the care of a very rare gem manifested in Connie Echols that make the property truly unique, that gives it life.
On some old roads you will find similar stewards who cling to their tangible link to the past with the passion and zeal of a priest, blinded to the reality that the old gods are dead, who has been entrusted with care of the temple. On Route 66 those who see their stewardship as a sacred honor are the rule, not the exception. Just talk with the Mueller’s, the new owners of the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, or Kumar Patel at the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California.
On Route 66 you will find entire communities where this spirit thrives filling it with enthusiasm, passion, and vitality. Look at the transformation that is taking place in Tucumcari, or experience the revitalization of the mind that comes from strolling the streets of Pontiac, Illinois, or Cuba, Missouri.
A great deal of my life is spent immersed in Route 66 culture and history as made manifest in my current project, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas, as well as my latest book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, and yet I found renewal and discovery on our recent excursion to Amarillo. I find it when folks like Denny Gibson from Ohio stops by the office to say hello and share tales of his latest adventure, and when Fran at the Mid Point Cafe greets me like an old friend even though it has been a year since our last stop for pie and coffee.
If you feel that as a nation our best years are behind us, if you feel a sense of loss and emptiness when meditating on this amazing country, set your sights on Route 66. What you need is an opportunity to experience America and the people that make it unique.