Get your kicks on Route 66! Remember that slogan? What about the Burma Shave signs? If you remember those, you may have traveled an American highway during the 1950s, 60s, or 70s. Maybe you cruised down Route 66.
On November 11, 1926, the American Highway System became a reality, opening the door for Route 66 and other two-lane highways. The most famous of those early roads, Route 66, opened the American West just as the Oregon Trail had done almost one hundred years earlier. Nicknames of this celebrated road are "Main Street of America" and "The Mother Road."
Route 66 crossed a total of eight states and became a legend while demonstrating the romance of small town life. Many small towns blossomed along the road as those seeking the fulfillment of their dreams traveled the famous route. Gradually, most of the old highway has been replaced or bypassed by four-lane freeways until our memories and a few attractions are about all that's left of the famous Mother Road. Some individuals and groups are making an effort to preserve the history of Route 66, so you can find museums and even some of the original businesses still open, serving travelers as well as local patrons.
I didn't grow up on Route 66, but I lived close enough to have some memories of the road back in its day. One Saturday night I "chaperoned" a friend from church who was four years older than me and already out of high school. She drove us to the site where her boyfriend worked construction. He scooted behind the wheel and drove us to a small town near Springfield, Missouri. The night was dark, but as we cruised down the main drag, street lights and businesses blazed with lights chasing the night away. A dream-like atmosphere of colored neon lights flashing, cars with windows down, voices calling out greetings, catcalls, or whistles, and radios blaring, filled me with excitement. When we stopped for a red light, another car rolled up beside us and stopped, revving its engine, clearly wanting to race. My friends didn't take the bait. They were just out of their teens and too mature. That wasn't true of everyone, so an occasional squeal of tires leaving a trail of smoke added to the scene as they raced side-by-side down the street.
Some favorite hang-outs along the Route were fast food restaurants. There again teenagers and young adults dominated those places. Many tourist sights are sprinkled along the route, including museums of the highway. The 2,400 mile road wound from Chicago to Los Angeles, linking one small town after another together in a long chain of businesses and people. Today, maps are available for anyone who wants to travel the old road from one end to the other. However, new freeways often hide the historic route until the traveler wonders if the old road has disappeared.
Route 66 is more than a memory. The road is a symbol of our America. A time when dreams became reality. When times moved a little slower and we didn't need four-lane highways to handle the rush of our lives but could relax with windows down to the gentle wind in our hair while we cruised down the Main Street of America.
Do you have any memories of Route 66? Did you ever travel down the Mother Road?