Completion of the recent adventure provided me with a current perspective on the state of Route 66 from end to end. As always, it also gave me a much needed boost in regards to my occasionally pessimistic view of the nation, and the direction we seem to be headed.
Each of the eight states through which Route 66 passes has discovered the old road is a marketable commodity that can serve as a key component in the economic foundation of small rural communities as well as a catalyst for renewal and development in larger towns as well as inner city areas. In the current economic climate that seems to be mimicking the Great Depression, this is one of the few bright spots for the towns and cities that line this iconic highway.
One aspect of the recent trip that I found refreshing was confirmation that Route 66 is truly the last bastion of the mom and pop enterprise. Only on this highway can owners of ancient motels and little five stool diners compete successfully with the generic franchises or conglomerates.
A facet of this that I found to be most encouraging were the people met along the way that have turned their back on the corporate scramble to the top, or that have discovered happiness is not always found in obtaining an office with a window. Even more encouraging were the one family owned business that have survived for fifty, sixty, seventy, and even eighty years.
|Tucumcari, New Mexico|
In spite of this rosy picture some communities, and states, have been very slow in capitalizing or developing cohesive plans to utilize the highway for economic development. From this perspective Illinois truly leads the pack and serves as an example of what can be accomplished if there is a unified sense of direction as well as purpose.
This state, and the towns along Route 66, have found ways to market most every aspect of the highway with the result being a better experience for the traveler, and communities where people wish to live, will relocate to, and will establish businesses. Missouri is a close second.
Texas and Oklahoma are doing well but there does not seem to be a cohesive plan or unity of purpose. I feel that after years of similar issues, New Mexico is about to become a leader in the development of Route 66. An example of the impact this will have on dead or dying rural communities can be seen with clarity in the evolutionary transformation of Tucumcari.
In spite of the success stories and the potential Route 66 has for serving as a foundational element in the revitalization of communities, there is one missing component that hinders the development of this asset to its full potential. That element is unity.
In early 1927, Cyrus Avery and a group of visionaries gathered in Tulsa to create the U.S. Highway 66 Association. The popularity of Route 66 today is a direct result of those efforts for this highway is not the most historic or the most scenic.
However, through their efforts to promote, to unify, to label the highway as the “Main Street of America” it became the most famous highway in America. Now, to put it in the words of acclaimed author Joe Sonderman, the myth has become the reality.
There are a number of organizations and entities that are attempting to fill the very large shoes of Cyrus Avery and his visionary band. Some are self serving and as a result have damaged efforts by those with a sincere desire and sense of purpose.
Others, such as the National Route 66 Federation, have quietly made incredible contributions to the resurgent interest in the highway and subsequent refurbishment of historic properties as well as preservation of historical integrity. This is the template.
If you are despondent about the state of the nation or need inspiration for the development of your community, drive Route 66. If you simply need renewal of mind and spirit, drive Route 66. And if you want your imagination stimulated drive Route 66.