Here is an interesting thought to ponder. Route 66 doesn’t exist. It hasn’t for almost three decades, at least officially. Yet, without a doubt, it is the most popular highway in America with a legion of international fans and enthusiasts.
A happy group from Holland traveling with U.S. Bikers at the Dambar with Jim and Judy Hinckley
Take that train of thought one step further. This means that many people traveling the road, buying books about it, or that join tour groups to explore it have no association with the road when it was a U.S. highway.
What then is the allure, the charm? That, my friend, is the million dollar question. That is the most often asked question during interviews. And that is the most impossible question to answer.
In my humble opinion a key component is that the old road has a culture of its own that is a bridge between the modern and generic, and the simplistic colorful world of the 1950s. The modern world of social media, email, and smart phones is cold, soulless, and impersonal. The Route 66 community stands in stark contrast as a Technicolor world of friendships, personal interaction, meals shared with friends, laughter, fun, and invigorating adventure.
Quite often my simplistic answer is that the road is a living, breathing time capsule with a thin veneer of Disneyland. It is a linear community with several hundred quirky neighborhoods that appear on maps as Kingman and Tulsa, Cuba and Victorville, Galena and Gallup.
As to the people in those quirky neighborhoods, acclaimed author Michael Wallis refers to the Route 66 community as a family, a dysfunctional family peppered with eccentrics and crazy uncles. That really sums it up quite well.
Great minds think alike. As it turns out, trying to understand the allure of Route 66 was a topic of discussion this morning with Kevin and Nancy Mueller, owners and stewards of the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, one of two highly rated historic motels in Tucumcari. Here is a dusty little town that withered on the vine with the bypass of Route 66. In less than five years of the severance of the communities lifeline, the population plummeted, businesses closed, and the downward spiral began. Now, however it is on a fast track toward becoming a destination for international travelers. The forthcoming “Rockabilly” festival is one indication. The TripAdvisor ratings for the Motel Safari and Blue Swallow Motel is another. And yet another is the recent purchase of a long closed motel that will be undergoing restoration soon.Still, the underlying theme behind the rebirth of Tucumcari or Cuba, Pontiac or Galena, however, is the same. It isn’t just the historic sites, restored buildings, or festivals. It isn’t just restaurants or restored neon. The key to the rebirth of communities, and as a result, Route 66 is the people; the ones who travel it, the people who preserve its history, the people who create a unified sense of community and community spirit, and the people who serve as its stewards. And this is the key to understanding the ever growing popularity of Route 66, it is an opportunity to savor life at its very best. If your new to the Route 66 experience, I would like to suggest you consider a trip to Kingman in mid August for the annual Route 66 International Festival. In one location you can experience the camaraderie of an international family reunion, complete with crazy uncles and eccentrics, talk to representatives from each of the eight state Route 66 associations, and immerse yourself in a Norman Rockwell world with WiFi access.