Route 66 & The American Dream
As many of you know, I have just arrived in Birmingham, Alabama for a new job. I have spent the last few days road tripping cross country from Los Angeles with my mom. We had the pleasure of visiting 8 states over the course of 5 days. I had done parts of this road trip before as I have moved quite a couple times, but this is my first time doing the road trip while having a blog (so now you get to hear all about it, but I promise I’ll keep it fun).
The first day we left bright and early from Los Angeles and went all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona. It amazed me how long it took just to get out of Los Angeles (you know traffic and such), but once you are out of the city, the landscape is gorgeous. You are surrounded by mountains and deserts. One thing that really stood out to me as the days continued was how much the landscape changed day to day. It felt like it would happen all of the sudden, but maybe it was because I was too invested in my Spotify playlists to really pay attention. I sometimes forget just how big and vast our country is.
Some people here may know that Route 66 is decommissioned and you can no longer drive it all the way from Santa Monica to Chicago. It is now replaced mostly on the southern route by I-40. Even the last time I did this trip, I did not know much about Route 66, other than the famous song about getting your kicks, and that there were diners along the way. This time, I really wanted to look up the history behind the infamous road and truly understand the oddities we were seeing along the journey.
Before Route 66, there were no roads interlinking major cities, only some country roads between small towns. While legislation for public highways first appeared in 1916, Congress enacted a plan for national highway construction in 1925. The numerical designation 66 was assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route in the summer of 1926 and it soon became the nation’s principal east-west link. The road connected the main streets of rural and urban communities and for the first time most of these small towns had access to a major national thoroughfare. Now small farmers could transport their goods to major cities across the US. By 1930, the trucking industry had come to rival the railroads for preeminence in the American shipping industry.
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” calls Route 66 the “Mother Road.” The book, as well as the film, immortalized Route 66 in the minds of all Americans, as an estimated 210,000 people migrated to California to escape the dust bowl. From then on, the road came to symbolize a road to opportunity. I may dare say a road to the American Dream.
By 1938, Route 66 was reported as a continuously paved roadway, ready for all weather. Now that this all-weather road was ready, Army captain, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who found his command bogged down near Ft. Riley, Kansas, while on a coast-to-coast maneuver, was about to get the inspiration for a new system of transportation. The War Department need improved highways for rapid mobilization during wartime and to promote national defense during peacetime. When America became involved in World War II, the War Department wanted to use the west for military training bases because of the geographic isolation as well as the dry weather. Route 66 helped to facilitate the single greatest wartime manpower mobilization in the history of the nation.
After the war, Americans were now more mobile than ever. They could leave behind the harsh winters up north, and head down Route 66 to relocate. This is the same time the popular phrase, “get your kicks on Route 66,” appeared in the famous song by Bobby Troup and Tommy Dorsey. Later, it was released in 1946 by Nat King Cole. Store owners, motel managers, and gas station attendances recognized early on that even the poorest travelers needed food, water, gas, car maintenance and a place to rest. It was no longer the military bringing in all the money, but now the tourists.
Sadly Route 66 does not have a happy ending (I did tell you it was decommissioned at the beginning to be fair). Soon, the overused road became too narrow and deteriorated to drive on safely. The same public lobby that gained popularity for Route 66, now was creating its demise. Poetic if you ask me. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his second term in the White House and was very impressed with the German’s use of the Autobahn, or national highways crossings their country, that allowed individuals to drive with speed and safety at the same time. Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which provided the finances for a national interstate and defense highway system. By 1970, almost all segments of the original Route 66 were bypassed by a modern four land highway. For most of our drive this was I-40.
Now that I have given you a history lesson, I want to focus more on the symbolisms of this road. It was the first-time people from one part of the country could even get goods and services to another part of the country hundreds of miles away. More importantly, it was the first time, everyday people, could take a road trip, and make the decision to move for an improved life. As you drive down I-40, you pass many relics of what used to be along the route, including broken down gas stations, foreclosed buildings, old cafes, and entire ghost towns. While intriguing, I also found it quite sad to see a booming industry fall and crumble, causing all the little towns that spiked from Route 66, to suddenly fall out of existence. Like everything in life, something new and improved always comes along and the others around it will fall. The new ways are constantly pushing out the old ways in an endless cycle.
For me, it was realizing that I had the privileged of road tripping across country to take a job in another state. Unlike times of the past, I was able to drive safely and speedily across 8 states in 5 days. It is crazy to think that before interstates and even before Route 66, none of this would have been possible. Although the dreams of those small towns are now standing as ghost towns, the idea of the road to opportunity still keeps its inspiration. I have driven this route 3 times and each one has brought opportunity just in the sheer fact that I am able to travel with my car. It has also connected people on a different level. Not only do you just know the people in your small town, but now you can travel to any US city and meet people across the nation. The most interesting part of the whole adventure was meeting people across the way and seeing how much we all have in common even if we live hundreds of miles apart. Before I continue going on about roads forever, here are the actual attractions we stopped at.
Our first major stop was Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. It is a pit stops that features tree shapes with bottles and antiques. A fun place to walk around and take pictures. No bathrooms though. Afterwards we stopped in Kingman, Arizona, home to a famous Route 66 diner, Mr. D’z. The town is filled with Route 66 murals and even a Route 66 museum. We also stopped at Area 66 in Arizona, that claims to have been the sight of an alien crash landing. There is a museum (yes, we did have to pay to see it) and I am bound to secrecy. I do believe in aliens if anyone was wondering. Finally, that night we got to Flagstaff, Arizona for some rest.
The next day we headed to see the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, we had rain for majority of the day and night, but we did not let that stop us from seeing the sights. As we chugged along, we stopped in Winslow, Arizona to stand on a corner (if you don’t know that song reference, then we need to have a long talk). After we made a pit stop at the Little Painted Desert Park. It wasn’t really a park if you ask me. It was a dirt road filled with pot holes, that led to a cliffs edge with beautiful views of the colored desert. There was no guard rails or parking and if you weren’t paying attention, your car could literally just drive right off the cliff. Since we weren’t trying to pull a Thelma & Louise, we continued on to the Petrified Forest. As I said earlier, it was raining all day, so we had to drive most of the park and only get out for short periods to get photos and views. That night we made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was also our first time change and really freaked us out as the GPS changed before we came to the realization ourselves.
That next morning, we headed to the old historic part of Albuquerque. It is filled with cute shops, restaurants and buildings. We walked around (may have bought more candles, do not judge) for a bit and then had a mini pit stop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Of course, we got some Mexican food and did some more shopping. Then, we were on the road to Amarillo, Texas. Once we crossed into Texas, it was the first time the landscape changed drastically. It was also luckily our last time change of the trip. Before dark, we snapped a photo of Cadillac Ranch. Another classic Route 66 roadside attraction, featuring Cadillacs stuck in the ground covered in the spray paint of many tourists over the years.
The next day was our longest drive. We first stopped in Shamrock, Texas. It was yet another small town that still had some parts of the original Route 66 that ran through the main drag. I guess we can say we did drive on Route 66. The town has a piece of the famous Blarney Stone from Ireland (except I did not want to kiss this one without a Lysol wipe). The town is also the official Saint Patrick’s celebration city of Texas. Along with this, the town has U Drop Inn, an art deco gas station/diner from the 1930s that used to be a stop along 66. Even Elvis once sat at a booth at the café. You may also recognize the iconic style of the stop from the Pixar movie, Cars, which took inspiration from Shamrock, TX for the design of Radiator Springs. We had to quickly make it through Oklahoma (no time to stop really) in order to get to our hotel in Fort Smith, Arkansas before dark.
That next morning, we had some amazing maple pecan lattes from a local joint called the Fort Smith Coffee Company. Then, we headed out to Little Rock, Arkansas. First, we went to the President Clinton library and museum. Although interesting, it was more intriguing to see Central High School. If you are unaware of The Little Rock Nine and the famous desegregation of the school, I highly suggest you educate yourself. It was horrible to think this did not happen so long ago, and really made me see how much further we still have to come as a nation. After Little Rock, we drove into Memphis, Tennessee for the night and were able to go out on Beale Street. It reminded me a lot of Bourbon Street, filled with neon lights, open alcohol carry, and lots of tourists. A shout out to the amazing police officer who helped my mother and I get away from three creepy middle-aged men trying to hit on us. He was a true gentleman and every man should try to help women who they see in uncomfortable situations.
For our last day of the road trip, we stopped in Tupelo, Mississippi. Our first stop was to Queen’s Reward, a local meadery. For those who don’t know, mead is in fact alcohol, that is created from fermented honey. All it requires is honey, yeast, and water, and it’s delicious. Queen’s Reward uses only local Mississippi honey and provides tastings and even mead slushies. It was amazing getting the run down from the owner herself. Afterwards we went to see the birthplace of Elvis Presley. The attraction has the actual 2 room house (one bedroom, and a kitchen) that Elvis was born in. You can also go inside the church Elvis attended as a boy as well as a museum full of relics and paraphernalia. I am not a huge Elvis fan, but it was awesome to see the humble beginnings of where it all started.
From Tupelo, it was only a short drive into Birmingham. We arrived Friday evening and were excited to finally stay put in the same location for a couple days. Luckily, we were able to find an awesome apartment in the Homewood area of Birmingham today and we will start the move in process in the next couple days. It’s time to continue down the mother road of opportunities! A huge thank you to my mom for coming on this road trip with me and always supporting my dreams. Also, a shout out to my dad who is helping move the furniture and set up internet out here in Alabama. Roll Tide!
Until next time, please enjoy this photo of a questionable neon sign on Beale Street….
Please also enjoy this photo of Cali girl achieving her greatest accomplishment to date, fitting both her favorite balls in her mouth at the same time…