When the road connected Chicago to Los Angeles in 1926, it represented the possibility of the automobile. In the 1930s, it served as an east-to-west escape route from the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. By the 1950s, the 2,400-mile highway lured travelers with the post-World War II promise of adventure on the open road. And as the era of interstate highway driving dawned, Route 66 began to reflect a yearning for a time when a journey was about more than the destination.
Now, states are handing out grants to restore vintage neon signs along the highway, the “Missouri Independent” reported. They are installing shoulders to make the road safer for bicyclists and improving signage to make the route more obvious through cities. And they’re installing charging stations that will make it easier to travel the entire length in an electric vehicle.
“The world still comes to Route 66,” said Michael Wallis, author of “Route 66: The Mother Road.” “It’s because they can get a taste of this country before it became generic, before it was just littered with cookie-cutter franchise businesses before it was homogenized. It’s a road not so much for tourists as it is for travelers.”
After World War II, as automobile ownership and general prosperity boomed, the highway led to vacation destinations in New Mexico, Arizona and California. It was then that travelers experienced the heyday of the mom-and-pop motels and diners with architecture and neon signage that define the peak era of the highway.
For many older baby boomers, Route 66 meant the television show that aired from 1960 to 1964, starring two young men who drove the country in a Chevrolet Corvette convertible. The show was not set exclusively on Route 66, but its title and its spirit of adventure had an outsized impact on the road trip as a cultural phenomenon.
“Every time I go out on the road, I find something new,” Wallis said. “More importantly, I find someone new.”
Springfield, Mo., holds an annual festival to celebrate being the birthplace of of the famous highway. For more information about this year’s event, visit www.route66festivalsgf.com.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice