Route 66. What was the first thing that came to mind when you read that. Road trip? Honeymoon? Dust Bowl? Hard times? Motorcycles? Neon? Nothing? A trip with a brother before he marched off to war?
|The Pigeon Ranch on the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66.|
I would be willing to bet more ink has been applied to paper extolling the virtues of this now legendary highway than there was asphalt to pave it from Chicago to Santa Monica even with the loop through Santa Fe. If I were to add to that the amount of ink used to condemn it, to write its premature obituary, or to try to explain the international fascination with this old road, I am quite sure that if ink was asphalt we could pave most of the great two lane roads from coast to coast.
In early 1927, a few visionaries with Cyrus Avery leading the way proclaimed U.S. 66 as the Main Street of America. And so the hype began.
However, unlike with the hype that accompanies the sale of used cars, swap land in the desert near Amboy, or a presidential election cycle, with Route 66 those who proclaimed it meant it, and soon they had many of the folks in small towns all along the way believing that this was the Main Street of America. As the dream became a reality, the old highway transcended its original purpose to become an institution that even truncating, bypass, and elimination from the roster of highways could not erase.
Today Route 66 is more popular than ever. It is an internationally recognized icon, a caricature of what people expect to find in the heartland, and a time capsule, it is the heart and soul of America, a mirror that reflects a century of American societal evolution.
If you want to experience America, the real America not the one portrayed in movies or on television, or the one painted in sweeping shades of grey and black by politicians who peddle fear in their quest for votes, you need to drive Route 66. You need to follow its twisted course from the shaded man made canyons of Chicago, through the gritty and tarnished industrial wastelands to the west that give way to farmlands, and then south to the Mississippi River.
You need to immerse yourself in the sights, the sounds, and the tastes at Ted Drewes in St. Louis, bask in the calm and serenity at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, and be energized by the atmosphere in Tucumcari that is rising from the ashes of abandonment as the mythical Phoenix. In short, you need you to cast aside preconceived ideas, and step away from the cold, impersonal electronic age and live.
For those familiar with legendary Route 66, I am preaching to the choir. For those unfamiliar with the magic, the wonder, and the renewal that is only found on Route 66, this may be a revelation, or it may seem just another opportunity to paint a broken and truncated old road in neon colors.
The truth is that this old road is America distilled. The past, present, and future with the hopes, worries, fears, prejudices, and diversity are all magnified on this road that connects Chicago with Santa Monica.
It is America’s goodwill ambassador and the last bastion of mom and pop enterprise. It is a repository of more than a century of history preserved as a living time capsule and a wedding of modern technology with old fashioned simplicity. It is an anachronism.
It defies description. It is Route 66.