Through books written, articles published, speaking engagements, and other venues a great deal of my time is spent either preserving a bit of Route 66 history, adding depth and context to the Route 66 experience, or simply trying to explain what makes this old road special. All of this has led to an interesting conclusion – I can’t really provide a definitive answer as to what makes the double six an internationally recognized icon while other roads such as U.S. 6 and U.S. 80 languish in obscurity.
A simplistic answer is that from its inception U.S. 66 has had the best press and publicity. Consider the fact that in February 1927, Cyrus Avery and a few visionaries formed the U.S. Highway 66 Association and kicked off a promotional campaign proclaiming this road to be the Main Street of America.
An even more simplistic, and almost childlike, explanation is that it is enthused with a certain magic. That, however, is one of the best ways to explain the transformation that occurs when an individual sets out with an open heart and open mind to discover Route 66 for themselves.
There is also another factor to consider. The Route 66 renaissance is fueling a movement that is rapidly transforming the old double six into a living, breathing time capsule with a thin veneer of Disneyland.
From Santa Monica to Chicago people from every corner of the globe are discovering, or rediscovering a world of human interaction, a place where coffee and pie is savored with friends new and old. Here the modern world of electronic communication and social media enhances that experience rather than mutes it, or even chokes it out.
Resultant of my immersion into the culture and community of Route 66, my life is filled with examples of the real world standing in stark contrast to that almost timeless serenity and simplicity of a sepia toned world that is framed in the muted glow of colorful neon found all along this storied old highway. An excellent case study is encapsulated in my office.
Two computers, a printer, and a scanner are lost amongst the books, the souvenirs, the post cards, the notes and gifts from friends, and the photographs. My office is a microcosm of the Route 66 experience.
Accoutrements and trappings of the modern world is where I work, but embracing that are reminders that we work to live, not live to work. The world is where we work but Route 66 is where we live.
I derive tremendous satisfaction in hearing that something I wrote or said inspired a voyage of discovery on this legendary old road. Even better is when I hear that this adventure led someone to reevaluate priorities and what is truly important in this life.
One of the tools used to initiate these conversation is the poster that often accompanies me to book signings. It is adorned with a wide array of stickers from our favorite locations along Route 66, and provided by fans of the double six from places such as Germany.
The memories on this board also ensure any conversations it starts will commence with a smile. How I could I do otherwise when being reminded of a lunch in Chloride with friends from Germany or Fran in Adrian, Texas?
So, when asked about what makes Route 66 special, my answer, like the road, is plain and simple. Experience it, then ask that question.