My daughter and I recently traveled by car from Chicago to our home in Las Vegas. As we traversed the modern, quite wide, and generally pothole-deficient I-40, we realized that there was a tiny unassuming road running perhaps thirty feet to our right. It followed us everywhere we went. It curved when we curved, it rolled over hills when we rolled over hills, it stopped and waited for us outside of each gas stop. At one point I thought it might be looking for a handout, but that seemed mildly ridiculous. This was a road. It eats tire treads, not burritos. And then I saw it, the street sign, and it all became clear to me:
Historic Route 66. (Pronounced “Root” 66. Don’t let anyone in-the-know ever hear you call it “Rowt” 66 for fear of a severe tongue lashing and, even worse, an all-night slideshow marathon of said expert’s wondrous travels.)
Say no more. I get it. This is the one they call “The Mother Road.” This is the avenue which stretches all the way from Chi-town to L.A. This is the lane that has inspired songs, television shows, and loads and loads of bad T-shirts and hokey coffee mugs. This was…
This was a small, slightly bumpy, two-lane road which runs alongside a perfectly good multi-lane highway. Why bother?
Because, it’s a piece of history, you might say. It’s a slice of Americana. Perhaps history buffs frequent the road. Maybe enthusiasts plot this course to relive the past, to connect with previous generations. With this in mind, I observed the sparse traffic on this tiny lane. Motorists did not drive vintage automobiles, or wear period clothing, nor did they – as near as I can tell – add so much as a “golly” or a “jeepers” to their twenty-first century vocabularies. Most were on cell phones. I saw two Harleys cruising along decked out with radios, helmet-mounted phones, and I’m pretty sure one of them had a Jacuzzi.
I then looked beyond the tourists for my historical connection. There had to be significant landmarks afoot, profound connections to a bygone era. And I was not disappointed. At one stop, I found a Taco Bell, a Hookah Lounge, and a payday loan outfit, all of which were, of course, popular during the first half of the twentieth century.
Now, I know the lore. I’ve heard travelers speak in wonder of their fantastic journeys down this mystical lane. With starry eyes and trembling lips, they utter such awe-inspiring claims as, “We drove Route 66 all the way from Albuquerque to Flagstaff.” Or, “We rode Route 66 and had a blow-out near Winslow.” Two things of note: 1) When speaking of Route 66 one must always affect a southern drawl, and 2) it’s just a road. Travelers must strain and sputter, concentrate and exaggerate in a profound effort to share anything of interest.
So, if not nostalgia, and if not adventure, what is the true purpose of Route 66’s continued existence?
Yes, moccasins, made by real-life Taiwanese, several of whom have actually seen old cowboy and Indian movies. Yep, capitalism is alive and well on Route 66. Souvenir shops litter the lane. One can purchase any number of T-shirts, door-matts, and even belt buckles roughly the size of Frisbees, all emblazoned with the historic Route 66 logo. In these magical establishments, it’s possible to simultaneously wear quasi-authentic hand-sold Indian jewelry, sip a diet energy drink, and groove to a late-nineties techno remix of Smoke on the Water. But most importantly, one can buy moccasins, lots and lots of moccasins, because obviously, that’s what the old-timers wore back when they drove Route 66.
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
“Through Thom Tinted Lenses” is posted weekly. If you enjoy these blogs, please subscribe using the button to the right and share the link with your friends. Comments are welcome.