As Rich Dinkela motors west on his own dime to mark obscure alignments of Route 66 with a shield painted on the broken asphalt, I am again reminded of something Joe Sonderman said last fall as we sat on the deck at the Wagon Wheel Motel. “On Route 66, the myth has become the reality.”
For the uninitiated, the fascination bordering on obsession that is the hallmark of the Route 66 enthusiast appears to be additional evidence to support the thesis pertaining to the mind altering properties of chemicals in our drinking water. They may rightly ask, why Route 66? Why not U.S. or 50, the Lincoln Highway or the Dixie Highway?
|Rich Dinkela’s truck with its “signature” hood.|
For those who have experienced the mystique, the sense of exploration, the international camaraderie, and the sense of timelessness that is found only on America’s most famous highway, the answer to all of these questions is quite simple.
All of those other roads are interesting, fun, and even charming. They are historic and scenic, they are also fascinating, but they are not magic.
They lack the ability to bridge chasms of culture or language. They are almost wholly incapable of unleashing the power of dreams or the imagination.
Can you imagine any other highway that would inspire someone in Belgium to buy a sixty year old motel in Williams, Arizona? Imagine something as insignificant as a photo of the haunting ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post inspiring someone from Holland to explore Route 66, time and again, and then you begin to see the magic in this iconic highway made manifest.
Route 66 is a monument to America’s restless spirit and its historic quest to see what lies beyond the next hill. It is a tangible link to the ’57 Chevy, the Edsel, the tail fin and the era of the great American road trip.
It is the entrepreneurial spirit of America unleashed and a time capsule chronicling more than a century of societal evolution. It is a wonderland, an asphalt bridge that links the past with the present and the present with the future.
|Motel Safari, Tucumcari, New Mexico.|
With the exception of the northeast, Florida, and the interior of Washington state, I have traveled this country so many times it is often as though there is an atlas in my head. But only on Route 66 has the best of the past and the best of the modern era been woven seamlessly into a delightful tapestry.
All along the two lane highways of America you will find vintage auto courts and service stations, once stylish automobile dealerships and diners. But only along Route 66 are the empty places revered and treasured, only along Route 66 are the tarnished gems that survive lovingly given a new lease on life.
There was a time many years ago that I often cursed this old road, just as did many who had to drive it in the pre-interstate world. However, even in an era when two in seven fatal auto accidents in Arizona occurred on this highway, there was something special about it, something sensed more than understood.
As the speed of the modern world increased, and Route 66 fell by the wayside, a victim of our myopic focus on the destination rather than the journey, a few philosophers and free thinkers such as Michael Wallis and Bob Waldmire, took up the mantle of Ezra Meeker to remind us that in our past is found the balm for a weary soul. And as a chameleon, Route 66 again became what a generation needed.
|Left to right, Dean Kennedy, Rich Dinkela, Jim
Hinckley, and Joe Sonderman at Zeno’s shortly
before its closure.
In my recent travels along this amazing old road, and a few ventures on other roads less traveled, I have had ample time to reflect, to listen, and to give free reign to thoughts such as these. I have made valiant efforts to come to an understanding about why this road is so special to so many people.
But, as with magic, knowing the secrets and analyzing the mechanics of the trick only serve to lessen the sense of wonder, of awe. And, as with magic or love, some things about Route 66 can not be explained as logic and reason fall short when the heart is unleashed.