Legendary Route 66 is quite an anomaly. Officially it ceased to exist several decades ago. From its inception the highway was in a near constant state of evolution but still it failed to meet the needs of the American motorist.
Today it is a fragmented string of worn and potholed asphalt. Some sections are little more than obscure paths through the brush and across the desert. Its antiquated bridges are are in dire need of replacement or repair.
Once dubbed the Main Street of America it is now the main street in ghost towns, faded and tarnished communities where darkened neon and shuttered windows hint of better times, and metropolises where the sterile and modern swept away the unique and colorful.
And yet people come throughout the world to explore it from Grant Park in Chicago to the Bob Waldmire memorial at the end of Santa Monica Pier. Urban pioneers roll up their sleeves and tackle the renovation of long closed motels and cafes. Grassroots initiatives to preserve bridges and signs, roadway and service stations bring passionate people together from every corner of the world.
Route 66 long ago transcended its original purpose. Today the Route 66 highway shield is as internationally recognized as the Coca Cola logo. The highway is the crossroads of the past and future, a living, breathing time capsule.
Gary Turner memorial courtesy Dean Kennedy.
What separates Route 66 from the Lincoln Highway or the Jefferson Highway, the Dixie Highway or Highway 101, what infuses a trip on this road with a heady intoxication, what fuels the highways renaissance is the people. They are the very heartbeat of Route 66.
Just this past weekend on a sunny but cool late winters day, more than three hundred people from as far away as Germany and California turned out in support of a grassroots initiative launched by Rich Dinkela for the restoration of the historic Gasconade River Bridge in Missouri.
The following day an equally diverse crowd turned out in Paris Springs Junction for a memorial to Gary Turner, a simple man with a dream that touched lives from throughout the world.
The magic of Route 66 transcends barriers of language. It transforms enthusiasts into an extended family and fosters a sense of community that reaches beyond the narrow confines of the corridor signed with two sixes that links Chicago with Santa Monica.
Evidence of this is made manifest in attendance of the Gasconade River Bridge rally by Wolfgang Werz of the German Route Route 66 Association, and the hospitality of Mirjam van Ravenhorst and members of the Dutch Route 66 Association during our recent trip to the Netherlands.
It was made manifest at the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman last August, and it is made manifest in laughter filled evenings at the Blue Swallow Motel.
For the enthusiast, I am preaching to the choir. For those unfamiliar with the lure of the double six, or who are curious about the hype that seems to grow by the day, I hope to inspire a bit of exploration.
Route 66 is no mere highway. It is the stuff of dreams, the cities of Cibola and the Fountain of Youth. It is an adventure through time. It is a place where everyone knows your name and calls you friend.