Route 66: The Mother Road, The Road of Dreams

This entry is part 7 of 17 in the series GDB & Route 66

painted Route 66 icon on cracked pavement into horizonRoute 66 was the first transcontinental highway, opened in 1926. Depending on the year and route you chose to travel, it was somewhere between 2,200 and 2,500 miles to run from Chicago to Los Angeles. It became (in)famous during the migrations from the Dustbowl, when over 200,000 left their failing farms and headed west looking for other work. (Most returned within a few months; some found farm or highway or other work, but generally California wasn’t hospitable to the refugees.)

The coming of the interstate did unkind things to the road towns, many of which depended on serving travelers (shippers, migrants, tourists) for their livelihoods. Route 66 was finally de-certified in 1985, and the road was thought dead.

It wasn’t.

The Great American Road Trip

The Great American Road Trip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nostalgia for the Great American Road Trip remained, and Route 66 has acquired a near-mythical status for all its Americana, tourist traps, winding roads, scenic overlooks, and friendly interaction that modern interstates lack. Enthusiasts banded together, formed associations, volunteered, put up signs, and ultimately revived the road, or most of it.

I’ve made the run down 66 once before, with my parents and sister in the late 90s. Since then, it’s gotten much easier to discover the old road, with the publication of official guides and maps and more road associations and info-sharing. But there are so many variants (the road was progressively updated and rerouted in its decades of service), even an official guide can offer a lot of options.

The Music

It’s impossible to drive down 66 without humming something. The obvious choice, of course, is Bobby Troup’s iconic “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” which has been covered by every commercial singer and his kid brother. (I have a Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters version on my driving playlist to fill the obligatory spot.)

But there are other songs associated with the road, even if some of them are indirect.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard
She’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard
“The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” Jan & Dean

Route 66 is Colorado Boulevard as it runs through Pasadena. (Earworm now? You’re welcome.)

Songs of the Heart, Daniel AmosBut my favorite Route 66 song is “The Glory Road,” by a group called Daniel Amos. Don’t let the album cover fool you — they’re a rock band, and they’re the same team who brought you such classics as “Outdoor Elvis,” a mashup of the Bigfoot and Elvis-lives legends.

“The Glory Road” is Route 66 as a metaphor for life, and it’s a catchy tune even outside of its place in the story album which explores love, the passing of generations, finding God despite religious hooey, and meaningful death. But “The Glory Road” traces 66 from one end to the other as life goes on, and I repurchased the album (my CD had gone missing!) the night before our departure, because it was necessary for our trip.

(all Amazon links are affiliate links, because artists are starving)

Tune in next post for the first day of travel, complete with pictures of a root beer float the size of a small dog and Aztec ruins in the middle of Los Angeles.

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  1. It sounds like you’re having so much fun! :D Great blog posts!

  2. While riding a CTA bus across the Chicago River, I saw a Route 66 historic marker and thought of you.
    We also saw the “Roots 66 garden shop” while riding a train through the suburbs.

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