Wild Wild West


Road trippin’ in the USA - fun and debauchery on Route 66

Route 66 is a myth. Created in 1926, the infamous ‘Main Street of America’ was commissioned, using existing roads, to transverse the USA between Chicago and Santa Monica (for the most authentic experience, road trippers should always head southwest towards the Pacific Ocean). In 1985 it was decommissioned after being virtually replaced by a number of interstate highways. But, perhaps in deference to the legends created on 66, road trippers still have a hankering for driving along the historic route, shunning the featureless highway for the character of the scenic route.

Why drive it? Passing through eight states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California), the route allows drivers to soak up quintessential American townships and cities, giving an insight into an optimistic culture that has dominated the world in recent decades. To many, the 2400-mile (3800km) journey represents the ‘real’ USA.

Some of the experiences that characterise the route include: stopping at a roadside diner, staying at a motel or a cabin camp (cottage), sending a cheesy postcard of said accommodation, filling up at a gas (petrol) station along the route, posing for a photograph under one of the historic Route 66 signs, breaking down in the desert… No, wait, I think that was a movie I saw. Certainly get swaggering into a seedy bar and chat to the barmaid.

It was John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ that pushed the route into popular culture. The book featured the westward migration of Oklahoma’s farmers, who were suffering from drought and dust storms in their state, to California via Route 66. Steinbeck coined the term “The Mother Road”, which is a nickname that 66 still retains today.

A TV show called ‘Route 66’ aired in the USA between 1960 and 1964 featuring a pair of young men seeking and surviving unlikely adventures along the highway. Via this show, the Corvette - their vehicle of choice - became the unofficial car of 66.

Route 66 even has its own anthem, the Bobby Troup-written ‘(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66’, which Nat King Cole made into a hit. Artists such as Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones later covered the song. Others that you can sing along to in your Corvette are ‘Road Trippin’’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles. Though neither of those tunes directly reference 66 they, like the legendary route, embody the spirit of the great American road trip.

Today, the former Route 66 survives through numerous associations scattered across the states. Because Route 66 doesn’t officially exist any more, they provide maps that you can follow to ensure that you travel along (more or less) the original route, where possible. Comprehensive guidebooks will even contain diner reviews and recommended stops.

Santa Monica - the end of Route 66

Recommended Links:

National Historic Route 66 Federation: www.national66.com

Route 66: www.route66.com

Historic 66: www.historic66.com

Legends of America: www.legendsofamerica.com