Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Looking for pearls.
Date: Tue, 02 Sep 1997 08:01:54 -0700

8:35 Riverside Park Campground; Springfield, Illinois :: 02 SEP 97

One difficulty with RV travel is finding a place to setup in urban areas. I ended up in Tinley Park, a small ways outside Chicago. Pulling a trailer through a city, finding parking in one, those present other problems. So I'd left the trailer in Tinley Park for the day driving the truck into Chicago to pick John up from the Hostel. After satisfying ourselves with a late breakfast at a guide-recommended diner on Jackson Street, John and I climbed into the truck and headed west.

Before reaching Joliet, there isn't much about 66 to admire. Cicero, and the town following it, Berwyn, are crumbling and the bright, new banners lining the Ogden Street light standards seem unreasonably hopeful. Somehow, they proclaim, the commercial potential of Route 66 tourism will revitalize the area.

Commercial appeal of Route 66; Wilmington, Illinois

Get your bucks on Route 66
Commerce on the Mother Road

Mother Road commerce; Hamel, Illinois An old fave with a new face; Joplin, Missouri

We are now into our third day and we've both been noticing the inevitable commercialisation of Route 66. Businesses which never existed before the last stretch of highway was decommissioned now flog themselves with the familiar ROUTE 66 highway symbol. The state marks the highway's path through the country side with "Historic Route 66" signs pointing the way. Although there are multiple alignments of the highway, the signs pick just one, leaving the impression that no others existed. I'm sure this is not what Tom Snyder had in mind when he founded The Route 66 Association, an organisation which steadfastly works to revitalize the old highway. Short of having the President of the United States declaring 2,500 miles of highway a National Monument, appealing to the commercial and tourism benefits seems the surest way of keeping the road bed driveable and the roadside attractions operating.

Neither of us is interested in that type of tourist journey. Sure, we're photo-oping all the roadside attractions; three guide-books and a ROUTE 66 map help us find the various alignments of the highway. We eat in diners and restaurants recommended by either the guides or, preferably, the locals. But what we're seeking is a sense of how the folks lived and live, what life was and is like on the highway.

Yesterday, after photographing an old, boarded up train station in Chenoa, John struck up a conversation with Bobby, a 13 year-old boy who was buying cans of Pepsi at a vending machine. "I'm from California." How did you get here? "My parents wanted to move away from the city, live in a small town." What do you think of Chenoa? "There's nothing here."

Bobby rides BMX, bicycle moto-cross. Apparently he rides well, taking second place in a recent state-wide event. The California boy whipping the poor rural kids? His mother owns two businesses in Chenoa, she waitresses and mows the lawn for the town. His dad's a brick-layer/contractor who also works a second job. So much for the romantic ideal of slow-paced country life.

Several times now, locals have referred to "old Route 66" when giving directions, even though officially the highway is posted as SR 53, or some other number and even though the oldest alignment runs right by where we're currently standing. I'm wondering if this is a hangover, the result of refusing to acknowledge the new number applied by the state's highways department to the decommissioned 66, or whether the move to restore the highway has restored the name.

And so we drive down Route 66, which often closely parallels the interstates that replaced it. Occasionally, the interstate runs over old 66 and we are forced to enter the four-lane rush of cars and semis. We're happy to get back on the old two lane highway which we have almost entirely to ourselves. We watch the traffic overtaking us on the interstate and know that the feel of it, of traveling, of driving-of life-changes perceptibly and qualitatively whenever we signal for the onramp.

I'm not looking for the pearl, I'm looking for pearls and you have to know where to look for them.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that's practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious of course.
  graphical element Jack Kerouac
On the Road