In 1927, an innovative marketing campaign forever branded US 66 as the Main Street of America. Looking back over a nine decade history, and toward the highways centennial, it appears as though that promotional campaign had a bit of self fulling prophecy built in.
In 1932, it was THE road for people driving to the Los Angeles Olympic games. More often than not, the people who could afford that holiday outing shared the road with the first waves of a people displaced by environmental catastrophe and an unprecedented economic disaster.
Those hungry migrants heading west on a journey of desperation were immortalized in the book (and later a film) entitled The Grapes of Wrath. For a new generation, US 66 was now known as the Mother Road, but it was still the Main Street of America.
After the dark days of the Great Depression, and even darker time of war, America was ready for adventure on the road road. Bobby Troup wrote the theme song for a new era but it was Nat King Cole, a man who prohibited from staying at most hotels and motels along Route 66, that made the song about getting kicks on a highway signed with two sixes a sensation that would grow in popularity with each passing generation.
By the dawning of the interstate highway system that would in time remove US 66 from the national register, Route 66, the Mother Road, the Main Street of America, was already an American icon.
With each passing year vestiges of the past were replaced with the modern, and forgotten places and towns slumbered until the era of renaissance, or succumbed to the passing of time. Scattered here and there were living time capsules, special places that seemed impervious to the passing of the years.
In the modern era, Route 66 is an archive, an almost magical place where the past and present blend together seamlessly. It is the Main Street of America, a bridge between our past and our future, a place where the American experience has been distilled and purified. It is a place where the American dream thrives.
Fueling the renaissance of this storied old highway is a quest for an authentic American experience on the Main Street of America. Here the highway passes through town, rather than around, past places once made famous by topless celebrities or mayhem, and where apple pie is still served fresh from the oven in cafes with dusty farmers warming their calloused hands over a warm cup of coffee line the counter.
Route 66 in the modern era, as it was when first branded as the Main Street of America, is also the intersection of the past and future. In Kingman, the world’s first electric vehicle museum stands in contrast to events such as the Route 66 Fun Run where chrome trimmed tail fins gleam brightly under a desert sun.
Ninety miles to the east in Seligman, a humble barber greets visitors from around the world and shares stories from the time when refugees from the Dust Bowl rolled west toward the promised land.
Route 66 is no mere highway. It is an American experience, an infectious journey where memories are made and shared with friends.