Driving on Route 66
During the month of March I took a 10 day drive from San Antonio, TX to Las Vegas, NV. A road trip that put a little over 3,000 miles on my 2013 Mazda 3 and I did it alone – by choice. Throughout the 10 day trip I made it a goal to drive on Route 66, aka the Mother Road. The highway that has been the subject of movies, TV shows, rock n roll songs, and makes you think of glass bottle cola and chrome finned convertibles. It’s a museum you drive on. Sadly, there are sections of Route 66 that are in bad shape, but there is still large part of it that you can still enjoy a scenic drive and get infused with nostalgia whether it was before your time or not.
My trip started in the town of Williams, AZ; a small town just off the major internet that is less than an hour away from the Grand Canyon. Williams is an ideal town to stop because you’ll get to indulge in Route 66 tourism, it offers various hotels to spend the night, and the option to see the Grand Canyon can be done in an afternoon. The town’s main street is Route 66 and has restaurants, stores, gift shops, and plenty of photo opportunities for social media.
Being an automotive enthusiast I stopped by a mechanic shop on Main Street because a 1960’s Chevy Impala inside caught my attention. I ended up chatting with the owner, JP Walker and his wife, about cars, road trips, and how his father used to own this shop before he took over. Before saying goodbye they told me that I should drive to the city of Seligman, AZ. That was the city Pixar used as inspiration for the city of Radiator Springs in the animated film franchise Cars. It was also the longest stretch of Route 66 that remained in near excellent condition. I was sold.
Seligman, AZ is a small town with a lot of character. I parked on the street when I saw a classic early 60’s Chevrolet pickup truck decorated with Route 66 advertising. The truck was parked in front of Angel and Vilma’s Original Route 66 gift shop. Established in 1957, Angel was also the town Barber. He was the man that gave John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars, Bug’s Life) the scoop on what Route 66 is all about. Inside the gift shop there is a separate room with a barber chair where I was told that Angel sat with John for several hours just talking about the Mother Road. Before leaving Lasseter make a quick drawing of Buzz Lightyear and Woody as a thank you gift for Angel and Vilma, which is signed, dated, and proudly hanging over the cashier on the wall.
From here the rest of the town is one beautifully decorated gift shop after another. Stocked piled with souvenirs galore in the form of bumper stickers, shirts, haps, jackets, and shot glasses with Route 66 Arizona stamped on them. A western cowboy with tame ponies offering rides for a price. Tour buses making routine stops at these stores that keep the town from going bust like so many others on this tarmac slice of Americana. I watched and listened to these tourists while I walked around taking photos. My ears tuned in on the different accents and languages echoing on this cool desert day. A rain storm had been chasing me since morning with dark clouds always a few miles behind me keeping the heat at bay.
Leaving the city of Seligman you are immediately greeted by a landscape of mountains that’ll be the closest you ever get to being in Radiator Springs. The main interstate always present in the distance to the left of Route 66 with white diesel powered rectangles moving parallel with the horizon. After Seligman the rest of the towns are smaller, and some are abandoned. A clear sight of what the Interstate did to these two lane blacktop communities.
I stopped to eat at this eye catching café at the top of hill. It had a large sculpture of green painted eastern island head. The café had old gas station pumps with classic cars parked in front of them. A white ’74 Cadillac and an early 70’s Volkswagen Super Beetle painted like Herbie the Love Bug. The café was empty when I walked in except for an older man in a polo shirt and sweat pants – semi formal. A young woman working the cash register and I wondered what people who lived in the trailer park community down the hill behind the café ever did for recreation. The same thought one often has when they drive past a small “one horse” town.
I ordered a hamburger and washed it down with Route 66 branded orange soda – it was better than I expected. Homemade taste with just the right amount of sugar to wash it down with Sirus XM 60’s on 6 to fill the ambiance. Before I left I chatted with the old man, Dino, an Italian immigrant who fell in love and married a Hispanic woman and now had more than one great grandchild. As I left a family from Australia stopped by on their family vacation for a meal.
From there on it was just a smooth ride until I rejoined the interstate, after that I was back in the grind. Tractor trailers, mini vans, commuters with somewhere to be and state police with trigger happy radar guns – reality. What you take away from Route 66 is what it’s been preaching since the day the interstate was invented – slow down and enjoy the ride. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of international visitors on this road. For being such an ionic piece of America, Route 66 is an international highway.
Driving on Route 66 was the only time in 3,000 miles that I felt fine driving at only 65 mph. It was relaxing and made me feel sentimental that I was able to still enjoy it even in 2019. That it was still here, the people who remember its heyday are still around, and that one can still enjoy the freedom of driving on it. So if you have the means, and the time, get out and find a piece of Route 66. Get your kicks before it stops kicking.