With just a bit of imagination you can hear the voice of Rod Serling introduce Route 66 as the place where the past and present, the myth and reality intersect. While that descriptor is an accurate one it falls short as an adequate portrayal of how important this highway is, what its relevance is to 21st century America, and why the fascination, and hype, continue unabated even though the highway officially ceased to exist two decades ago.
Almost immediately after its inception in November of 1926, a concerted effort to present the highway as something magical began. In February of 1927, the fledgling U.S. Highway 66 Association initiated extensive promotion that proclaimed the road as the Main Street of America. In 1932 the association joined forces with the city of Los Angeles and the state of California to promote U.S. 66 as the highway of choice for those traveling to the 1932 Olympics.
With the publication of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and its release as a movie in 1940, and the hit song that heralded the merits of getting your kicks on Route 66 in the mid 1940s, the transition from highway to icon was complete. The dawning of post war prosperity that fueled unprecedented relocation to the west and southwest, and the golden era of family vacations that centered on epic road trips and station wagons built upon this foundation of fame providing a generation with a life time of memories that centered on a highway signed with two sixes.
Fast forward to the closing years of the 20th century and the dawn of a new one. The increasingly sterile and impersonal world of the modern era magnified a perceived sense of loss, of apprehension, and of emptiness. Where could one find solace, something comforting, something familiar?
A graying generation turned to memories of their youth, and sought tangible links along the Main Street of America. A generation to young to remember the era of the tail fin, the Edsel, or the thrill of staying at a motel with a swimming pool after a long days drive in an automobile without air conditioning began seeking the world portrayed in Happy Days and American Graffiti without comprehension of the reality.
Europeans and Australians, Japanese and Africans, left as equally empty by the dawning of the brave new world, sought the warmth, the excitement, and majestic landscapes of a Technicolor America and the free spirit made manifest in Easy Rider.  America was more than the land of opportunity, it was the stuff of dreams.
The myth and perceived magic of Route 66 served as the Sirens song. Adding their voices to the call to come explore, to rediscover were the oracles such as Michael Wallis and Bob Waldmire.
The rest, as they say, is history. The glowing embers made manifest in the old motels, the ten stool diners, and dusty trading posts that had survived the severance of their lifeblood with the creation of the interstate were fanned into a bright blaze.
Like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, or the rebirth of Radiator Springs in the animated movie Cars, Route 66 was reborn with the resurgent interest. All along the old highway refurbished neon again glows bright, crowds of hungry travelers ebb and flow in cafes where the apples in the pie are from the orchard across the street, and motels dating to the 1930s and 1940s, again offer weary travelers welcome respite from a long day on the road.
Route 66 is a living, breathing time capsule. It is a national treasure. It is an asphalt thread that ties the past with the present. It is a time machine and an illusion, it is the stuff of dreams and a mirror that reflects 85 years of American societal evolution with brutal honesty.
Or as the oracle from Tulsa so eloquently described it …

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