The art of the Great American Road Trip has been lost in translation over the years – driving from A to B used to be an affair to remember, a whimsical adventure that would see you saying farewell to your loved ones for weeks, maybe even months, on end. Now, the 21st century has seen the rise in wanting to get to any said destination right now. Why would you want to take the scenic route when motorways and high-speed interstates can whip you across the country in a matter of hours?
Better still, hopping on a flight from JFK to LAX will take less than half a day, and cost less than driving from Florida Keys to Washington DC – after all, you don’t need breakdown cover when you’re 30,000 feet above the roads.
Historic Route 66 now runs alongside Interstate 40 – the American’s preferred way to drive from east to west – but driving along the USA’s most romanticised road is an indulgence in the kitsch, the bizarre and the can’t-believe-that’s-real. You could speed along the Interstate, but you’d miss out on Gemini Giant and Road Kill Café if you did.
Before buzzing neon signs and burnt-out trucks found their homes at the side of Main Street USA, it was a corridor for travellers and trade; during the Great Depression it was the main artery of the country, with people living in the mid-west migrating to Golden California in hope of work and a golden future. After WWII, thousands more up-and-left the more industrial east to find a more prosperous west.
Though it is no longer the beating heart of mainland USA, it still has a certain hold on the imaginations of will-be travellers and explorers. The hucksterism is still the same too – giant billboards which fuelled the first fires of American wanderlust-cum-consumerism still dominate the roadside, tempting drivers and their passengers to swim next to a giant blue whale or eat where the corn dog was born.
However, Route 66 wouldn’t be Route 66 without the shameless tackiness that lines the roads – we’d even go as far to say that every business owner along the 2,000 mile stretch proudly flies the flag of cheap and shabby – and why not? Travellers travel on a budget, they scrimp and save and cut back by all means necessary, they are not going to stop at a diner to eat over a sweaty packed lunch unless it’s really worth it.
That is why we love Route 66. We love its outspoken past and its crude giant statues. We love its timelessness, its brash personality and its oddly understated presence in modern America. We advise you to take a few weeks off work, hire a convertible Cadillac and head to Chicago to start the drive of your life.
Top Route 66 oddities include:
● Cadillac Ranch. On your way to Amarillo, hold tight to your hire car before it joins this Texan Cadillac graveyard. In a field just off the road, you’ll see ten Caddis buried nose-first in a straight line. An odd sight if you’re not ready for it, however, they are meant to be vandalised so pick up a spray can and get creative!
● Gigantus Headicus. Where Route 66 and Antares Road meet, near Kingman, you could be mistaken for thinking that one of the eerie heads on Easter Island had decided it had had enough of the isolation of the South Pacific, and moved to this less than busy corner in Arizona. Stand under its nose and get a good “I drove Route 66” picture.
● Prada Marfa. Driving across the bare Texan landscape, you’ll be shocked to see a building (surrounded by nothing) resembling a Prada store. If you do decide to stop and check it out, you won’t be able to get in and purchase anything, but you will be able to lust over the real Prada handbags and one half of a pair of Prada heels.
● Oklahoma Ghost. If you find yourself driving between Weatherford and El Reno on a damp evening, be cautious of a humpbacked hitchhiker wearing a trenchcoat and a fedora. If you do pick him up, he’ll more than likely attempt to jump out of your moving vehicle, vanish from sight and appear again thumbing for a lift 10 miles up the road.
● Bottle Tree Ranch. Probably the most impressive attraction along Route 66, featuring hundreds of bottle trees tinkering in the wind. Make sure you knock on Elmer Long’s (the quirky guy behind the ranch) door for a chat and tour.