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Route 66 – main street of America

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Route 66 – main street of America

It goes through St. Louis, job in Missouri
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty
You see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona don't forget Winona
Kingsman, Barstaw, San Bernadino

That’s how Chuck Berry, the father of Rock and Roll, described the Mother road – Route 66. This fabled road starts in Chicago and stretches across the whole country, ending in Santa Monica, CA. The length of this trail is 2.448m, which is, for instance, more than enough to cross the South pole, coast to coast.

Route 66 was built in 1926. The plan was to connect the main streets of small towns along the way to the route, since many of the urban and rural communities didn’t have any road connection prior to the building of the road. In an effort to raise awareness of the route, promote tourism and tourist sites along the way, and to help it get paved end to end, the US Highway 66 Association organized a number of events, including a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City, known as the “Bunion derby”. They were successful, and the road was completely paved by 1938. By this time, the road was already famous and heavily used, mostly because of the favorable geography — for the most part, the road is flat, which made long drives easier, especially for truck drivers. 

Then came the Dust bowl, a series of catastrophic dust storms in the prairies during the 1930s. This, combined with the extreme drought that lasted for years, made many families from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas head west, to California, to reestablish their agricultural work. And the main road they took was Route 66. Since the route passed through many small towns, the massive migration helped the economy thrive in those communities. Small businesses, service stations, bars and restaurants especially benefited. 

Another migration west occurred in World War Two, thanks to military industries based in California. After the war, the route became a popular tourist destination, with both marvelous geographical features and a number of tourist attractions along the way. Motels, small towns, shops, restaurants, and the birth of fast food as well as the first drive-through restaurant. The route has become an almost perfect representation of American culture.

But the passing of time and the advance of technology made change inevitable. To be able to advance, some parts of the past have to be discarded. This happened to Route 66, too. It started with building bypasses. One by one, virtually all towns were bypassed. In some cases, the new roads were built parallel to the old. In others, the new road was built on top of the existing one. These changes gradually unfolded, until the road was officially decertified in 1985. The legend ceased to exist. 

What does this mean? Does it mean that we should disregard our history and tradition to make way for progress? Sure, it’s now easier, faster, and safer to travel across the country on the new roads, but does the old one have to be forgotten? Once booming communities are now ghost towns. Luckily, some changes are underway. Certain sections of the route have been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Old motels and neon signs are being preserved, and various funds have been provided to preserve the historic features along the route. There is even a group, The US Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative, fighting to recertify the road as a national highway. It is of utmost importance to help preserve the memory of Route 66, the Mother road — because, if we forget our history, we’ll easily forget who we are. 


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