Why Are Europeans Fascinated By Route 66?

I know Route 66 has a special place in American history, but that was a long time ago. I never once thought about getting my kicks on Route 66, because I wouldn’t waste my vacation time on that. I honestly didn’t even know people still cared about the old highway until I went to Europe. That’s when I found that Europeans are fascinated by Route 66.

Route 66 SignI decided to swing by the hotel bar for a couple of drinks one night in Edinburgh, Scotland. That’s where I met Kris the bartender. He was originally from Latvia, but relocated to Edinburgh after his girlfriend broke up with him. He wanted a fresh start, so he and a friend moved across the continent. Kris and I quickly bonded once he found out I was American (which didn’t take long). Kris had a passion for American basketball (he played with Golden State Warriors center Andris Biedrins growing up) and American cars (his dad sold them in Latvia). Even though he thinks Americans are racist, Kris told me how bad he wants to drive his Chevy Malibu down Route 66. As he told me about his dream, he leaned back, put one hand out like it was on a steering wheel, and started nodding his head with a ‘cool’ look on his face. I always thought there was nothing worth seeing on Route 66, but there was nowhere else Kris wanted to be. Since he talked about his dream with so much pride, I didn’t question him for a second, but it definitely struck me as odd.

I flew from Edinburgh to London a few days later, and I met this guy named Ravi at the airport. He was a young go-getter working for IBM. He just graduated from college, but he was already climbing the ranks. He had a company car (a BMW) and traveled all over the world for work. Ravi and I wound up next to each other on the plane (it was one of those pick-your-own-seat airlines) after he found out I was American. He always wanted to go to Las Vegas, and I had been there several times, so he wanted to pick my brain about the best places to go in Sin City. We talked the entire flight. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation shifted, but Ravi told me about his friends that were going to America to drive Route 66. Seriously?! We were suddenly talking about a bunch of 20-something-year-old dudes rolling down Route 66 for fun. That sounds like a snorefest to me, but I quickly realized that Kris the bartender wasn’t unique in his dream — many Europeans are enamoured with Route 66.

Route 66 Map

Map of Route 66

Known as the “Mother Road” or the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 was one of first highways in the United States. Built in 1926, Route 66 started in Chicago and stretched through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Los Angeles. It served as a main path for Americans heading west during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, kept America moving west during World War II (California was a hub of industry), and pushed vacationers into Los Angeles during the 50s. The highway was also made popular by a hit song (covered by plenty of artists over the years) and a television show in the 1960s.

That was then — this is now. There’s a complex interstate system across America, so Route 66 isn’t what it used to be. It was even decertified in 1985, which means the old highway doesn’t even fully exist anymore (it’s impossible to drive the original path uninterrupted from Chicago to Los Angeles). When traffic died; business died – and so did Route 66.

Route 66 Highway Sign

Does this look exciting to you?

I actually played craps with a pharmacist from Amarillo (one of the main cities along the old Route 66) in Las Vegas last week. When I asked him what Route 66 was like nowadays, he just sort of shrugged and gave me a look like it’s nothing special. I laughed and told him about my experience with Europeans and their interest in Route 66. He told me that’s not a surprise, because many of his customers are Europeans who need something from his pharmacy as they cruise the old highway.

I’d take New York, Chicago, Buffalo or even Tuscaloosa before I’d ever think about driving Route 66. I’m either missing out on a treasured piece of Americana or Europeans have the wrong idea about Route 66. I’m sure people fight on both sides of the argument. I personally think history books need an update in Europe – there’s much cooler stuff to see in the United States now.

Have you ever cruised Route 66? Am I not giving the “Mother Road” enough credit? I’d love to hear from you! Simply leave a message below or connect with me on TwitterFacebook and Google+. Don’t forget — if you can’t travel the globe; experience the world with me at http://allaroundtim.com.

Comments

  1. Tovey says:

    Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    In 2009 my friend, Sal Santoro and I fulfilled a lifelong dream by traveling all of Route 66 in my 1968 Cadillac convertible. It was such a life-changing experience that we wrote a book, “Route 66, The People-the Places-the Dream.” If you read it you will know why people are so fascinated with the Mother Road. Bob Walton

  3. Nancy says:

    I also noticed this European fascination. Last fall in AZ we met a couple from Holland that had rented a car in Chicago and were on their way to LA via route 66. Then later in Mesa Verde we met a couple from England also traveling route 66. Although, they admitted to being bored with the journey and going off the path. This year we have been traveling through Europe and made friends that had the route 66 map on their wall and were planning a birthday trip. Maybe this is a good opportunity for an entrepreneur to do something? Book, app, map, hmmmm?
    I enjoyed your post.

  4. Jarka says:

    now 21, 8, 2013 departing from Slovakia with my family to Chicago where I have ordered a car and go over Route 66 to Las Vegas, I’m very happy

  5. Banshee says:

    I drive it every week in a semi. It has some pretty areas, but I wouldn’t make a vacation out of it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have been fascinated with The Mother Road for as long as I can remember. I also have an obsession with semi trucks. For my 16th birthday I got the immense pleasure of travelling the entirety of Route 66 in an 18 wheeler. I had an amazing time!!!! You should do the same, (maybe not in a semi) and see what America has to offer. You should visit your own backyard before visiting someone else’s.

  6. klaas van der Heide says:

    Look at calvencade.blogspot.com or my pictures on route66.calvencadecats.nl and you found a dutch men driving his dream on the age of 52 dreaming to do R66 since I was 19

  7. Anonymous says:

    Not just Europeans are attracted to Route 66, Asians are too.
    For Asians, it’s mainly because of Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Europeans lived American 50′s and 60′s like a mythe, cause they watched americans americans
    TV shows, listened americans songs and read books of the beat generation (es. Keruac).
    They werw fascinated by coast to coast trip with no money, no thoughts.

  9. Robert Bavelaar says:

    I can understand what Tim means with his article about the Europeans and Route 66.
    We are planning our own trip to Route 66 for March 2016. And yes; we are European. As a matter of fact we are from the Netherlands :)
    Changing the history books in Europe will not change the ideas about Route 66 I guess, because you can not change the idea of a myth…
    Talking about myths. I am always surprised about the fact that people from the US visit the Netherlands and still believe we all wear wooden shoes and that all building are wind mills. I am even more surprised when those visitors talk about Amsterdam as if it is the most unique and heavenly place in the world. I know better. Also just myths and it is okay to keep it that way :)
    Back to Route 66: As a matter of fact we are looking for information about nice places and nice spots, not necessarily Route 66, for our trip from Chicago to LA. Have any suggestions??
    Looking forward to replies!

  10. modohunt says:

    Personally, I can’t think of anything more boring than driving for thousands of miles in a straight line with repetitive scenery. Give me the Swiss Alps or the Amalfi Coast any day!!

Let me know what you think!