Route 66: the Main Street of America

by : Adam Singleton

Route 66 first entered the general public conscience in 1939 when California writer John Steinbeck published his novel "The Grapes of Wrath", detailing the westward migration of Oklahoma's Dust Bowl farmers to California's San Joaquin Valley. During the story, he refers to Route 66 as the "Mother Road", a nickname it still has today. When Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, the road became even more famous.

The highway also gave its name to a popular television show, "Route 66", broadcast during the early sixties in the United States. The show featured two young men looking for adventure along America's highways and was clearly inspired by passages from "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, his book describing several cross country adventures undertaken in the 1940s. The book has since become a literary staple for any would-be road trippers and has inspired countless journeys down Route 66.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing gradually over the next 25 years, old Route 66 was bypassed section by section as the high-speed Interstate highways were completed. Finally, in 1984, when the last stretch of freeway was finished, Route 66 was officially decommissioned; the old route is now designated Historic Route 66 and is firmly lodged, with an almost mythical quality, in modern popular culture

While much of the appeal of taking a trip down the legendary highway lies in the thought of being on the open road in the wilderness, speeding past one great attraction to the next, Route 66 also takes in some of the United States' most archetypal roadside scenes including great displays of neon signs, rusty middle-of-nowhere truck stops and kitschy Americana. These almost accidental tourist attractions detail a rich part of America's history, with many of the roadside cafes and motels being opened during the Great Depression when hundreds of thousands of farm families, displaced from the Dust Bowl, made their way west along Route 66 to California. Indeed, many of the small roadside towns along the route only survive today due to shameless self promotion of attractions and nostalgic travellers, eager to enjoy a small part of this increasingly endangered American experience.

Over the past 50 years, more and more people have set their sights on a trip down Route 66 and with constant developments in the world of automobile travel, particularly in the realm of car finance, the experience is no longer exclusive to people with time on their hands and money to burn.

From the suburban idyll of Southern California, past the Grand Canyon and the Native American communities of the desert southwest, to the gritty streets of St. Louis and Chicago, a trip down Route 66 is truly the pinnacle of road tripping for any traveller and offers an unforgettable journey down the Main Street of America.