Mutual 2 resident gets her kicks on Route 66
by Joanna Matos
I had three fabulous reasons to take a roadtrip along old Route 66 across eight states to Chicago on April 24: I had gotten my COVID vaccinations; I wanted to attend my sister’s 90th-birthday surprise partyinCrownPoint,Indiana;and my son Gary, who lives in Oregon, wanted to take his new camper truck on the road.
It’s also worth noting that I’m an avid Route 66 fan. I belong to a Facebook group for Historic Rte. 66 Roadies. I have Route 66 license platesonmySUV,commemorative plaques on a wall in my home, a bank, a rhinestone bracelet, six themed T-shirts and two hats, plus a few books. (Plus, the trip allowed me to add to my collection a blue whale souvenir license plate; a “standing on the corner” puzzle from Winslow, Arizona; and a Route 66 passport.) Motoristshavemanynamesfor Route 66, which was designated a national highway in 1926: the Will Rogers Highway; the Ozark Trail; Main Street, America; or the MotherRoad.Theroutewaspieced together from an existing network
of promoted trails and unnamed roads, most of which were dirt paths at the time. Despite the invasion of the modern interstates, at least 85 percent of old 66, in one guise or another, remains to be easily explored on a well-paved two-lane road that sometimes aligns with interstate Highway 40.
Route66spansmorethan2,200 miles through eights states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It’s a magical crosssection of the nation, from the massive skyscrapers of Chicago, over the green hills of the Ozarks, the grassy plains, the awesome deserts, canyons,andmountains,then down into the fascinating basin of Los Angeles. Historic Route 66 is the legendary emblem of 20th century roadside America. And the road gained national attention in 1946 with the Bobby Troupe song“GetYourKicksonRoute66.”
The final bypass in Williams, Arizona, was built in 1984. The next year, Route 66 was decertified. No longer an official U.S. Highway, authorities and commentators expected the old road to fade into history. But fueled by nostalgia andfired-uppreservation-minded folk, Route 66 began a surprising comeback, with a community of friends, fans and fanatics from virtually every corner of the civilized world. Volunteers formed state associations to bring back what was left of its glory days. Though Route 66 marked about 59 years as a U.S. Highway, it has spend nine decades as an American icon.
Loaded into the camper truck, we—Gary;hiswife,Gretchen;their dog, Lily; and me—traveled about 265 miles per day, giving ourselves eight days to explore small, rural towns, to stop and visit with diner people, as well as the motel, curio shop and museums that many had settled into as business owners. We stayed at such iconic places as the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona;theRoadRunnerMotelin Tucumcari,NewMexico;theSilver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe, New Mexico; KOA cabins in Clinton, Oklahoma; and the Boots Court Motel in Carthage, Missouri.
Everywherewewent—whether Hackberry, Arizona; Santa Rosa, New Mexico; or Elk City, Oklahoma— we encountered downhome, friendly people who loved sharing their Route 66 stories. We left room for serendipity in the plan executed by our navigation expert, Gretchen, to visit most attractions along the way. (Though Gary did have to make a U-turn to visit the famous fudge factory and general store in Uranus, Missouri.) Itwassadtoseehundredsof small gas stations boarded up and abandoned because of the megasized interstate fuel stations. I put my government-issued stimulus money into the small businesses along Route 66.
But the best part of the trip happened on May 2. That was the day of my sister’s surprise party. We had not seen each other for more than six years, and our old clocks are ticking away, so I positively had to go.
Among the unexpected joys of our journey were reading the Burma Shave jingles along the roadway; walking onto the Blue Whale in Catoosa, Missouri; having breakfastina1940scafeatMidpoint 66 in Adrian, Texas; spraypainting old Cadillacs planted in the ground in Vega, Texas; visiting the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, Illinois; and, of course, holding my healthy, 90-year-old sister amid tears and cheers. We definitely got our kicks on Route 66.