Route 66 – And So It Begins

Route 66 never really was a road. It was certainly never just an ordinary road. Commissioned by the U.S. Government in 1926 and originally called Route 60, it was merely a linking of many bits and pieces of existing road which enabled a traveler to get from Chicago to Los Angeles. When it was first commissioned, only 800 miles of its roughly 2,448 miles were paved and most of the rest was just washed out dirt trails. It wasn’t until 1937 that it was paved from end to end. In spite of its humble beginnings though, it was destined to become an iconic highway that represents what is good about America.

Over its life, there were numerous realignments which resulted in adding and subtracting miles and various sections of roadway. In downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, one realignment resulted in the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street being the corner of Route 66 and Route 66! Traveling the old highway today requires you to make numerous decisions along the way as to which alignment you want to take where. If you are looking to drive a single highway, Route 66 is not the road trip for you. Route 66 is the un-interstate and a road trip down her is a kind of un-vacation. You have to accept that you will not get anywhere fast. And be aware, you WILL get lost a few times. No matter how good your maps, no matter how good your instructions, no matter how good your internal compass, road construction and numerous side trips you find yourself taking will cause you to lose your way and you will have to seek until you eventually find the route on down the road a ways. Best to just think of it as part of the fun and always keep in mind that Route 66 isn’t the way to get to your destination — Route 66 is your destination.

In 1927, Cyrus Avery, the father of Route 66, was the first to refer to it as “The Main Street of America.” In the Dust Bowl years, people saw Route 66 as a symbol of hope and a new beginning. John Steinbeck was the first to refer to it as the “Mother Road” in his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Bobby Troup wrote the hit song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66″ in 1946 and it was recorded that same year by Nat King Cole (hear the song here). The song captured the heart of the country and eventually the world. In the 1960′s came the popular TV show “Route 66″ with Todd & Buzz traveling the country in a Corvette seeking adventure (Partial episode here). People began to romanticize Route 66 and before long it became known as the most magical road in the world.

The Interstate is fast - no curious attractions to tempt the traveler to pull over and spend a few minutes not driving, no stop lights and higher speed limits, but it is mind-numbingly, mile after mile sterile. In the 1950′s though, for a number of reasons, “speed” became America’s buzz word and the interstate highway system began to take over much of Route 66. Sections were dug up, towns were bypassed and mom & pop business’s located along her roads began dying from lack of customers. Finally, in 1984, the last section of the old girl was bypassed in Williams, Arizona. Government officials expected the road to become just another historical byway like the Oregon Trail and the Chisholm Trail. But she refused to die and she didn’t go away.

Before long, she became something even more special, even more magical. And she began a slow, but steady comeback. A few people began writing books about her; movies were made about her, then merchandise and magazines became available. It became a grass-roots movement of resurgence led by a few hardy, dedicated souls. The movement is still underway today as more and more people travel her, not just Americans, but folks from all around the world, hoping to find bygone glory days, glimpses of a simpler way of life. The small towns and communities along Route 66 are like snapshots of a time in America that have almost disappeared; glimpses of America’s past.

Like a lot of people, one of the items on my Bucket List was to travel Route 66 from beginning to end. I am happy to say that item has now been checked off. From May 25, 2012 through June 4, 2012 with my 13-year-old daughter along as navigator and co-photographer, we set out to travel America’s Main Street from Chicago to L.A. We called it our “Daddy Daughter Mother Road Trip.”

What follows over the next few blog entries will be an account of this once-in-a-lifetime trip. We talked, we laughed, we took hundreds of pictures, we met some really interesting people, we saw a lot of really interesting sites and yes, we actually made it the whole way and are still talking to each other!

Was it a very special Father – Daughter bonding experience? Yes. Did we make memories that my daughter will remember for the rest of her life? I believe so; I think and hope so. Did we learn more about each other? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Just maybe not in the next couple of months!

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: