The Magic of Route 66
Jim Wolfmeyer (Photo F. Harms)
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Written by William Clark
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Route 66 is a magical phrase -- shout it to the heavens and you cast a spell. You have just conjured up 2448 miles of highway snaking westwards across the mighty continent of America from windy Chicago, Illinois to sunny Los Angeles, California.
Its magic inspired writers, lyricists, film makers and millions of ordinary Americans to follow the sinuous trail through cities, towns, villages and scenery of seven states:
Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
In 1939 John Steinbeck's book "The Grapes of Wrath" described the "Okies" as they fled terrified from the dust bowl hell their unsustainable farming had unleashed:
"...and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads, 66 is the mother road, the road of flight."
After the war, in 1946, Bobby Troup invited us to, "Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six" and listed the evocative placenames: "Now you go through Saint Louis, Joplin, Missouri, And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty. You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona. Don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino"
The interstate highway fated to become the legend of Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926, and later saw a huge traffic of anxious troops rushing for embarkation to the battlefields of Europe during World War II.
The post war generation of youngsters discovered an escape route to adventure and self discovery at a time when automobiles held their own special romance and glamor. The 1960 - 64 black and white TV series "Route 66" charts the adventures of two guys and a Corvette Convertible car as they drive across America. The instrumental theme became a big hit.
Route Sixty-six has embedded itself in the American psyche recalling an era of greater innocence and promise. A time when Americans jived the night away and fell in love to the melodies and words of the King himself -- Elvis. An era not without its dramas and heart-stopping moments: the Cuban missile crisis, landing a man on the moon, the Cold War.
This great artery of the nation carried the hopes and fears of generations of "huddled masses" as they rose to walk tall, and drive far and fast across their adopted homeland.
Official decommissioning arrived in 1985 but much of its original aura remains and attracts millions of visitors each year seeking to recapture the magic of a bygone era. Some of the buildings that line the route, including motels, date from that historic time. The latest Pixar animation movie "Cars" vrooms along with the support of real people and places belonging to the famous highway.
One of the classic sights is the magnificent edifice of Tucumcari Mountain rising imperiously out of the deserts of New Mexico. The mysterious origins of these reddish stone outcrops prompted folk tales and myths. To the Native American shaman they were big medicine and cast a spell over all who passed that way.
Film makers were entranced. Many westerns yipped and yahooed their echoes off these stirring backdrops as the arrows flew and the bullets whizzed and cracked. Frenzied horses galloped, brave men fought and died as beautiful women were won or lost -- their desperate deeds and daring captured through the still clear air onto the whirring enchantment of celluloid.
And magic still exists for all who seek their kicks on Route 66 -- "The Main Street of America".
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