THE MYSTICAL ROAD: ROUTE 66

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URBAN LEGEND OF AMERICA

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
―  Erol Ozan

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The route 66. There are no many global highways  with such a famous name, with the myth behind and urban legends in the front of. When you say US 66, you almost open the door of pure imagination, hippy heritage, the spirit of unleashed freedom and the times which have passed by and will never come back. Even if you still  keep empty bottle of the aftershave lotion with this name, you will not bring  Will Rogers Highway into the life.

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This Mother Road or the Main Street of America has been born in 1926 as the part of the U.S. Highway System and it was made with the purpose to connect one part of America with another one. The route started from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri,Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, ending up in sunny Santa Monica, California. The long journey covered about  2,448 miles (3,940 km) and brought wind from cold Chicago to warm L.A. Everyone who was chasing youth challenges back in 1960s, will never forget the popular song “Get Your Kicks On” as the color of the age of happiness and activism for peace, while drives old car, being sure that it must be the road to the whole world.

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This route has been created because of the  migrational and  economical reasons. The new development of America had requested one infrastructural and reliable line so the people can be able to travel and to fluctuate in between the cities. America has never been so successful in land transport infrastructure so the US 66 was the answer on the prayer, final connection of businessmen, families, travelers and cities. That was final shaping of new American spirit, the framing of awaken labour interests and tourist hunger. The dollar has got the chance to travel from Illinois to California, conquesting all those places which have been on that long, dirty, red road.

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But, today the route 66 is dead. After so many years of shining, attracting the hell riders, all modern Mad Max gangs, scared bar ladies, truck drivers and enthusiasts with small children in van, the route has died slowly like the bestselling book under dust in the basement. The famous American street is now the decommissioned U.S. highway,pretty crumbling and  inaccessible.The miles of line which linked small, big and great cities have been turned into tourist history so the all west towns that have been feed on this reservoir of prosperity.The destiny of this route was to save the refugees  of the Dust Bowl and the Depression,who tried to find better lives somewhere down the road. The US 66 helped them to drive into the new world, far away from ruined houses, empty pockets and the hopeless  atmosphere. Americans were finally able to buy new cars, travel and to eat in small restaurants by the road while they are looking forward to meet totally dream life. Along with the route 66, the whole track of side towns were simply booming, trying to reply on demanding moving population and on desires of US 66:“During this period, from the late 1940s to early 1950s, American travel was more about the journey, and less about the destination. The road was not completely open for everyone, however; the exhibit includes brochures made for African-American travelers noting ‘sundown towns’—places to avoid getting harassed (or even killed) after dark. Still, this was a unique, brief time in tourism when an American vacation meant infusing time and money into small communities rather than corporations.” Then, in 1956 Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System bypassed famous American highway and  later the  increasing of aero traffic moved the most famous route into the history:“It was officially decommissioned by the federal government in 1985. Its legacy dwindled into trinkets from Americana stores and a  line of denim from K-Mart”. In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the National Route 66 Preservation Bill with the idea to provide funds to save the historic route and all landmarks on the legendary road. That was something very big for all because no one wanted to lose forever the beauty of the road into the American heartland. If it is expensive to conserve it, then money for it must be somehow be found and the US 66 must be preserved as American tattoo, the soul of the land of the free and home of the brave.

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However, the mysteries about this route have not been gone even after the Interstate Highway System has eaten up the road’s unique nature. It is almost impossible to talk about route 66 without mentioning the experiences of people who have traveled and have seen the ghosts who were lurking in empty restaurants or demons who were hiding in old motel buildings. Every U.S. state which is on the route has something to share, especially about the hauntings. It is obviously that ordinary  people do have good imaginations and writers have many good chances to make famed  novels. Everyone can see everything what offers US 66 but there are some places which are simply known outside the USA, as the hook for potential tourists to get into the car and to start journey of life, using the Mother Road and visiting some of the  notable stops:Gemini Giant,20-foot tall green space  man with a rocket, in Wilmington, Illinois; the oldest recognized truck stop under the name Dixie Truckers Home McClean, also in Illinois;The Chain of Rocks bridge that carried our route over the Mississippi in Missouri and the famous dessert place in the same state-Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard in St. Louis; The beautiful Missouri hides the very well known cave system of Meramec Caverns Stanton as well as Texas is coming out with Cadillac Ranch Amarillo,made by strange  millionaire Stanley Marsh III. You do not want to miss the oldest operating motel,  Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico and after you are reaching the Black Mountains in Arizona, it would be great to pop in to Sitgreaves Pass(between Kingman and Oatman) just because of the spectacular view from above. If you haven’t been kidnapped by some angry ghosts on the long journey, you have a right to enjoy the sun and cold drink at Santa Monica Boulevard, the official end of the fairy tale known as US 66, American Dream Road.

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Wherever you look at, it is a sign of timeless attractivity of route 66. The road collected so many broken dreams, sleepy hopes, forgotten loves, bankrupted jobs and tales that will last forever. Not only in tourist prospects they give you when you start your journey  into the Middle land but in people’s heart. Maybe having everything in city called Nothing is simply kiss of the destiny and as one traveler wrote :”We briefly passed through the former settlement of Nothing, Arizona (population: 4), whose town sign once read: ‘The staunch citizens of Nothing are full of Hope, Faith, and Believe in the work ethic. Through the years, these dedicated people had faith in Nothing, hoped for Nothing, worked at Nothing, for Nothing.’Though abandoned by May ’05, Nothing now has a working pizza parlor, with hopes for future establishments.”

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The American goverment has calculated over the necessity to keep the route 66 and to find financial and tourist ways to preserve it as a cultural heritage. People want 66 back because that highway is a real America, born to be wild, born to be remembered as a part of  DNA of every American. The Will Rogers Highway is a captured treasure of old good times when country boys have been after pretty local good girls. Their children have tried to revoke the magnificent energy of the Main American Street, but they failed jumping over dollars lost in the middle of wrong political decisions.

I know  it will sound  pretentious, but personally I think that route 66 belongs to all of us, Americans and non-Americans, to all of us who share the feelings for  all great old  things shown  in movies, expressed in songs and described in books, when anyone has a chance to become a storyteller after ran out of gas on legendary route 66.

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3 thoughts on “THE MYSTICAL ROAD: ROUTE 66”

  1. What a nice article, Sarah! Your storytelling style takes us back to an older era, and makes us feel nostalgic, as we have all seen route 66 in the movies!

    In the 1990”s, I drove a long way to California. Trough my driving, I stumbled upon Tucumcari, the small town that you mentioned ! It was a small town and it felt very peaceful. The people there were very friendly, and I remember seeing the Tucumcari mountain which is supposed to hold the legend of Tucumcari.

    The legend tells us that there was an aging Apache Chief who called for a dual between two of his best men, Tocom and Tonopah, in order to succeed him and to marry his daughter Kari. In the meantime, the Chief did not know that his daughter Kari was in love with Tocom.

    The dual took place and Tocom lost his life. When Kari, who was watching the dual from a hidden place, saw that her beloved Tocom lost his life, she ran and used the same knife that killed him to kill herself. The town was named, therefore, based on the two names Tocom and Kari!

    Legend or truth, how beautiful it is to dream of pure and genuine love!

    It would be wonderful to keep route 66 alive, as it is part of everyone’s heritage, as you so eloquently alluded to it!

    You brought back memories from my long journey in the 1990’s when I drove through so many little towns and spent the nights in small motels!

    Thank you, Sarah, for your beautiful article!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Culturally, linguistically and intellectually, Sarah’s article is both relative and enchanting, in my humble opinion. It brought to mind the poetry and lyrics of Jim Morrison (1943-1971) of The Doors. As Sarah points out, Route 66 is more so a universal cultural entity than a North American one, because it has touched the lives of so many outsiders through music, literature and visual arts, etc.

    Around 1947-1948, the Morrison family drove from Albuquerque to Santa Fe; passing along sections of Route 66. Jim Morrison was a small boy, but an incident occurred along the road that would influence him for the rest of his life, as an artist: there may have been an accident along the highway (his family never corroborated his recollection) which involved some local indigenous people; some were crying tears of sorrow for a man lying dead by the side of the road, apparently. According to the poet/lyricist, the dead man’s spirit went into his own body and became part of him.

    Jim Morrison was a highly sensitive and impressionable person, and as he became a young adult he experimented with various narcotics and hallucinogenics which interacted with his childhood memory of Route 66 and the apparent dead man. More and more, the poetry and lyrics of Jim Morrison became embellished by aspects of shamanism and traditional spiritual beliefs of North American aboriginals.

    He read widely and voraciously; being particularly inspired by the writings of philosophers and poets. He was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, whose views on aesthetics, morality and the Apollonian and Dionysian duality would appear in his conversation, poetry and songs. He read the works of the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, whose style would later influence the form of Jim Morrison’s short prose poems. He was also influenced by William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg; North American authors also familiar with Route 66.

    His senior-year English teacher stated that ‘Jim read as much and probably more than any student in class, but everything he read was so offbeat I had another teacher (who was going to the Library of Congress) check to see if the books Jim was reporting on actually existed. I suspected he was making them up, as they were English books on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century demonology. I had never heard of them, but they existed, and I am convinced from the paper he wrote that he read them, and the Library of Congress would have been the only source.’

    While he was still in primary school, his family moved to New Mexico where he saw some of the places and artifacts important to the North American south-west indigenous cultures. These interests appear to be the source of many references to creatures and places (e.g. lizards, snakes, deserts and ancient lakes) that appear in his songs and poetry. His interpretation and imagination of the practices of Native American ceremonial people (which, based on his readings, he referred to by the anthropological but inaccurate term ‘shamans’) influenced his stage routine, notably in seeking trance states and vision through dancing to the point of exhaustion. In particular, his poem ‘The Ghost Song’ was inspired by his readings about the Native American Ghost Dance.

    Thank you Sarah for this inspirational article and for articulating the fact that humans are shaped through so many entities, both organic and inanimate, through the development of the psyche… It is normal and healthy for humans to be nostalgic and to feel a sense of affinity to a place or aspect extraneous to their immediate social environment: the human imagination is the most precious gift a person can ever receive from life, in my humble opinion. It proffers up purpose, significance and a sense of belonging…

    Liked by 1 person

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