The road is eternal,its yellow line a perpetual exclamation of freedom.
Oh, to be the wheels that chase that line,that race away--to forever.
The open road has always been synonymous for freedom. Long before the automobile, the road was a lure to our species. We wandered out of Africa just barely upright and looking to straighten our stride. Down through the centuries we just kept on going. We never seemed to be satisfied with where we were. We just had to keep trying to find out, where else we could be.
We spread all over the eastern continents and when we got to the edge of the Atlantic, dove in and swam to the other side. Once there, we wandered the plains, the frozen mountains and burning deserts till the migration ended. After that there was just a country to build. So, we settled down, soaked our itchy feet and for many years our wanderlust lay dormant.
Now, it came to pass that the period following World War II was a boom time for our country. America went back to work full time, our industries thriving and our farmlands abundant. People left the cities in droves and snuggled into suburbia. We had proven to the world, and ourselves, that we were the big kids on the block and finally we had the money and the cars to enjoy it.
We also had discovered something even more precious, leisure time. We took a breather and when our vacations came we just had to show our kids what it felt like to be mobile. We had to show them that freedom was not just "-living in the USA." Freedom was also the open road!
Not just any road, Route 66, the "Mother Road,"- US Highway 66 was established on November 11, 1926. She cut diagonally across the middle of the U.S. like an exploratory surgery from Chicago to Santa Monica., 2,448 miles of wide open spaces and sheer American beauty.
Originally, the escape route west during the dustbowl of the thirties, the revenues she generated spawned small towns and roadside attractions. She was lean and flat on the horizon, which made her a popular truck route and she had her share of natural wonders like the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon to dress her up some.
The more fashionable she became the more wealth she generated. All sorts of strange and wonderful sights sprang up alongside her, like mushrooms after a heavy rain. The Cadillac Ranch, the U-Drop Inn, the tee pee shaped Wigwam motels, and Red's Hamburgers, the first drive-through eatery. The wonders she inspired on her way west paved the way to her reputation as the ultimate appetizer plate of pure Americana.
She's been immortalized in song, on TV and in literature. Bobby Troup wrote his best-known song, "Get your kicks on Route 66"- as he rode her west to California and Ray Charles sang "Hit the road, Jack"- to honor Jack Kerouac, who cruised "The Main Street of America"- several times when he was On the Road, with friends Neil Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. She became a major symbol of the new American way of life.
Alas, there were dark clouds on her horizon. President Eisenhower, inspired by Germany's high-speed roadways during World War II, predicted a similar system of roads for the US, and in 1956 signed the Interstate Highway Act. After only 30-years in existence, Route 66 was placed in the ICU and she never fully recovered.
"The Main Street of America"-, was officially decommissioned from the US Highway System on June 27, 1985. She was replaced by various legs of the Interstate System which bypassed the countless small towns and roadside attractions that made her so popular. Leaving them to wither and die on the vine.
This also marked a change in the culture of our road trip holidays. These new highways were meant to be rode fast so instead of stopping to smell the roses, we started chasing the exhaust of our fellow travelers. No more vacillation on our vacation. The destination became the new sensation.
The Mother Road still lives on, even though she doesn't always appear on the maps of today. Portions of her have been designated a National Scenic Byway and given the name "Historic Route 66." It's not possible to ride her continuously east to west or vice versa. However, the remaining eighty percent is still drivable with precautious planning and a pinch of patience.
This is good news because our species is still driven by a primal urge to look for the greener grass at the other end of the block. Maybe that's the problem with America today. We don't have any horizons to look to anymore. Perhaps the next time we hear that siren song we'll stop to realize that we don't need to "democratize"- another country. We just need more dreams to pursue. We need new roads to chase.