THE PAVILIONS PHUKET BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PHUKET Kata Rocks
Login | Create Account Poll Currency Weather Facebook Youtube Search

Revving back to life: Route 66, America’s ‘Mother Road’ experiencing a nostalgia-driven revival

UNITED STATES: For decades, Route 66 captured the imagination of travellers the world over, offering a glimpse of a bygone era of American history, when people hit the road in search of adventure and a better life.

transporttourismconstructionlandculture
By AFP

Sunday 11 June 2017, 05:00PM


People walk past the ‘End of the Trail’ for Route 66 sign at Santa Monica pier in Santa Monica, California. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

People walk past the ‘End of the Trail’ for Route 66 sign at Santa Monica pier in Santa Monica, California. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

The two-lane highway established in 1926 and coined the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck seemed to encompass the essence of America, threading through eight states from Chicago to Santa Monica.

But after it was decommissioned in the 1980s in favour of larger and faster thoroughfares, Route 66 appeared headed for the dustbin of history as the mom and pop stores, kitschy motels, diners and petrol stations that lined the road gradually shut down.

“Entire towns folded up and what had been a 4,000 kilometre carnival became to a large extent a 4,000km ghost town,” explained David Knudson, founder and executive director of the non-profit National Historic Route 66 Federation. 

In recent years, however, the iconic road that has been immortalised in countless books, movies, music (“Get your kicks on Route 66”), and a TV series has been experiencing a nostalgia-driven revival that is attracting tourists from around the globe.

“Foreigners come to travel the road because it gives them a chance to experience America before we became generic,” said Michael Wallis, a historian and author of “Route 66: The Mother Road”.

“It’s still the road of adventure because nothing on Route 66 is predictable,” he added. “I often say, ‘You know what you are going to get at McDonald’s ... but if you are on an old two-lane such as Route 66, you could go into a cafe, a greasy spoon, a pie place, a diner and you don’t know what you’re going to get.’”

Wallis said the fastest growing groups of tourists on Route 66 are Chinese and Brazilians, as well as Europeans drawn by the idea of the open space and the “road trip of a lifetime”.

“I have clients in their 20s and 70s who are fascinated by this road and everyone is looking for convertible Mustangs and Harley Davidsons to experience it,” said Zsolt Nagy, who twice a year organises Route 66 road trips that cost up to $8,000 (B272,480) per person.

“Business is booming, the roads are better, the signs are better, it’s coming back to life,” said Zsolt, who is from Hungary and who fell in love with the open road about 10 years ago when he travelled it. “I think the legend is growing like crazy.”

Bob Russell, the mayor of Pontiac, about two hours southwest of Chicago, said his small community of about 12,000 people is a prime example of the resurgent interest in the road.

QSI International School Phuket

“It has been an amazing transformation,” he said of the town which boasts four museums, 27 large murals and is considered one of the jewels of Route 66.

“There is a special aura for Route 66 to the overseas people because it represents freedom, the open road, your scarf around your neck and your hair blowing in the wind.”

Driving today along stretches of the fabled highway – 85% of which can still be travelled – one can see renovated motels with blazing neon signs, newly opened museums, quirky sights and souvenir shops galore.

There are also half-abandoned communities and crumbling ghost towns that echo Steinbeck’s epic 1930s novel of the great depression, “The Grapes of Wrath”, the story of a family that embarks on a journey along Route 66, fleeing the Oklahoma dust bowl for California.

And while the road for many may evoke images of a more innocent America, as encapsulated in Norman Rockwell’s paintings, Route 66 had a more sinister side for black travellers.

Half of the 89 counties that lined the highway were known as “sundown towns” where African Americans were banned after dark.

The author Candacy Taylor was researching a travel guide on Route 66 when she stumbled on “The Negro Motorist Green Book”," which listed safe places along the road – and notably revealed that the Ku Klux Klan ran Fantastic Caverns, a popular tourist attraction in Springfield, Missouri, and held cross burnings inside.

“All of the American narratives around what it means to hit the open road and the freedom and the symbolism that comes along with that was a dramatically different story for black people,” said Taylor, who encourages people to “look beyond the bobby socks, the Chevys and the chrome” to experience the real Route 66.

“It’s an American icon, just like Marilyn Monroe or Elvis,” she said. “But Route 66 is not perfect and shiny, there are a lot of cracks in that metaphor, in that illusion of what America is.”

 

 

Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

Comments Here:
Comments Left:
# Characters
Username:
Password:
E-mail:
Security:

Be the first to comment.

Have a news tip-off? Click here

 

Phuket community
DPM Prawit tight-lipped since joking about Nairobi attack

DPM/ Minister of Defence Prawit better spend his energy on fighting and isolating the thai terrorist...(Read More)


New B25mn tsunami-warning buoy ‘to be operational tomorrow’

The two clueless ones can babble on as much as they like. The buoys are just an abject waste of time...(Read More)


Tout dumps slow loris with tourist, evades arrest at Kata Beach

Get it right. Again check the act. No point in making a comment when you dont know what you're ...(Read More)


Bangkok haze sweeps into surrounding provinces

Silly "Bangkok Post".Calling it "Haze" again.Our prof. on here corrected them al...(Read More)


New B25mn tsunami-warning buoy ‘to be operational tomorrow’

",,,when you live high/dry" In your case i believe the being"high" state,"d...(Read More)


TAT cultivates India as rich source of tourist arrivals

A rich source of tourists, but not a source of rich tourists......(Read More)


Phuket Opinion: ‘Reviving’ drowning victims

I'm a first aid instructor, but I would NEVER give CPR to someone in Thailand for one simple fac...(Read More)


Phuket Opinion: ‘Reviving’ drowning victims

Great informative article. Every Phuket beach life guard, all tourist boat 'captain's' s...(Read More)


US Govt shutdown prevents tsunami-warning buoy going live

The sane world really needs to focus on weaning itself from the US. The empire is crumbling and ther...(Read More)


Model claiming Trump secrets ’dragged’ into Russian detention

The only reason she was arrested i. Moscow was the Thai government turned her in. ...(Read More)