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.
I 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.
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.
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 Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget — if you can’t travel the globe; experience the world with me at http://allaroundtim.com.