Route 66 - It Starts in Chicago


I've spent a good number of hours over the last 20 years or so enviously reading other people's accounts of their Route 66 trips, but I don't recall anyone even mentioning the very first step of the trip - getting to the beginning of Route 66 in either Chicago or L.A. Now, a lot of people live in Chicago and L.A., but I would venture to say relatively few of them have ever taken the full 2,448 mile Route 66 trip by leaving home and driving just a couple of miles to the start and and have then written books about it so well that they've been published. So why haven't I heard about the "pre road trip" road trip, the getting to the start part? I now know why and I'll let you in on it - because they drove the interstate highways to get there and it's mind-numbingly boring!

Youngest-daughter and I wanted to start our "Daddy Daughter Mother Road Trip" at the traditional beginning of Route 66 in Chicago at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. Between us and it was 688 very long miles. Nobody takes a leisurely back road road trip to start a long back road road trip and neither did we.
 
Youngest-daughter relieved her boredom by
taking pics of trucks
Over the last two days before leaving, I had washed, cleaned, packed and gassed up BFT (Big Ford Truck) so we could leave at noon sharp on Friday, Youngest-daughter's last day of school for the summer. I would rather have driven a classic Corvette or a Mustang or a Camaro, but given that I don't own any of those, we were taking the next best thing - a vintage pickup! OK, so it was a 2011 Ford F-150 King Ranch with leather seats, GPS, sat radio and all the other  bells & whistles, but hey, it's what we have so we had to make do. I felt pretty good when we finally pulled out of the driveway at 1:30. Just 1 1/2 hours late; not bad!

Getting to Chicago we went interstate all the way - jumping on I-40 and going through Conway and Little Rock, Arkansas - set the cruise on 72 and had smooth sailing  all the way - all the way to Forrest City, Arkansas anyway, a grand total of about 125 miles. Road construction ahead. Everyone came to a screeching halt. A couple of times I turned off the truck to save gas, but every time I did, the line moved up a couple of car lengths and I had to start it back up so youngest-daughter and I sat in our idling vehicle making the oil folks richer and me poorer. At first we talked about her being out of school for the summer, where her friends were going on vacation and her concern that we would have to spend a few nights in run-down flea-bag motels while on this trip. I let her go on thinking that just because it was fun to do so. Eventually she fell asleep and I was left with nothing to do except look at my fellow drivers and exchange glances, nods of heads and shrugs of shoulders in our shared misery of being on an interstate going nowhere quickly. I watched the folks going about 80 miles per hour the other way whizzing by us and I knew they were thinking, "Whoa, sure glad I'm not going east bound. Yes!"

The most exciting thing we saw along the
interstate - burning wheat fields
75 minutes later and 10 miles closer to Chicago, we finally cleared the last of the bright orange and white barrels which had blocked off one of the two lanes for 10 miles so the last 100 yards of road could be worked on. I quickly got BFT back up to 72, set the cruise and we were soon putting the miles behind us. Jumped onto I-55 just west of Memphis and that's where we stayed until reaching Marion, Illinois, where we stopped to spend the night at the first "flea-bag motel," a new Marriott Fairfield Inn at 1400 Champion Dr. 

View from our hotel window - have had worse!
Rather new, in a safe neighborhood, very clean and with a friendly front desk staff, Youngest-daughter was pleased and relieved. The shower was exceptionally nice and I spent a couple of extra minutes standing under the spray letting the hot water relax me. Those of you who have followed my missives for a while know how I feel about hotels that save a nickel by supplying cheap, 3rd-world-country, splinter-embedded toilet paper so you know I checked it out and I'm happy to report it passed - not Charmin, but nice enough. The only complaint I had at all was the air conditioner would not get the room below about 72 degrees. I strongly suspect that some places, and this was one of them, put some kind of mechanical or software constraint on the A/C unit so that even if you set it to 65, it will not cool below 72 degrees and they can save some money on electricity. I like the room to be about 68 so I can snuggle under the covers and sleep the good sleep. Too warm and I can't sleep at all. Pay $100+ for a room for the night and call me unreasonable, but I kind of expect to be able to sleep good. Sorry Fairfield Inn in Marion, IL, you get a point deducted since I had to use the fan I carry with me for just such occasions.

The famous Lou Mitchell's
The next morning, after partaking of the "free" breakfast at the hotel, we were off to Chicago, the Windy City; home to almost 3 million people  and still the U.S. home of the Lava Lite (Haggerty Enterprises in Chicago, which purchased the manufacturing rights to the Lava Lamp in the late 1970's, is still in business and selling the 1960's icons). Our 1st stop would be Lou Mitchell's Restaurant on Jackson Blvd. Open for breakfast and lunch only and most famous for their breakfast fare, it has been in business since 1923, three years before Route 66 came into existence. Since it was a Saturday, we figured there wouldn't be a lot of traffic and not much problem getting there. We were wrong. There was lots of traffic. I'm talking LOTS of traffic! From the outskirts of downtown all the way in was stop and go. Fortunately, the GPS guided us along the turns and confusing changing of freeways and although later than we had thought, we arrived at Lou's with no problem and even found a place to park in a pay parking lot around the block. $6, but what the heck, we found the place, we're excited and we're hungry so let's have us some Lou Mitchell's!

Inside Lou Mitchell's - hope that guy didn't
 decide on the cheeseburger combo!
It was crowded, it was noisy and it was pretty darn cool! We were quickly shown to a table for 2, Youngest-daughter received her complimentary little box of milk duds (given to all female patrons) and our waitress arrived quickly. Cheeseburger combo for me (medium-well, please) & chicken nugget combo for Youngest-daughter. We laughed, we looked around, we took pictures, we were all smiles - until our food came.

Maybe there's a reason Lou Mitchell's is famous for their breakfasts and not their lunches. My burger came with decently cooked edges of the meat, but still red in the middle. The fries were barely warm, limp and almost tasted raw (don't ask me how real potato's can be both limp & raw cause I don't know). The chicken nuggets were basically puff-balls of fried batter with a little piece of chicken trapped inside. I've occasionally marvelled at Youngest-daughter's ability to eat what I consider to be nasty-looking chicken nuggets. If they are even close to being chicken nuggets, she can eat them, yet she didn't finish these. She gave me a rather sad look and said, "Sorry Dad, these just don't taste very good." And then she didn't eat the fries. This was something so rare, it has only been observed maybe once before - ever. We started to send it all back, but decided we'd just head on down the road and eat again at a Diner. Maybe it was an anomaly, maybe we just don't have the same taste as Chicagoans. Whatever it was, I am left with no option other than to say go there for breakfast or go there for some of their baked goods, but do not go there for lunch! After our Route 66 adventure was over, we both agreed, this was the worst meal we had on the entire trip.

Neon sign inside Lou Mitchell's
If you've eaten at Lou Mitchell's, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought. I'd really like to think we were just there on a bad day or something.

Next up: Grant's Park & Buckingham Fountain where we begin the actual journey. Just 2,448 exciting miles to go!




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






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