Megan Gambino in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine takes a somewhat dour look at the Mother Road.
Here’s an excerpt:
Writing about the Joad family’s journey from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California in The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck famously called Route 66 the “mother road.” But today it’s more of an impoverished great-grandmother.
The 2,400-mile highway, which starts in Chicago and passes through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Los Angeles, will turn 83 this year—and it’s not aging gracefully. Derelict gas stations, restaurants and trading posts, often vandalized, line its rural stretches, their neon signs long since dimmed. Developers are bulldozing quirky motels to make room for generic high-rises.
I don’t deny that Route 66 has experienced losses in recent years from development, neglect or old age. And though the article leavens its pessimism with examples of preservation, it fails to mention one crucial part of the big picture — new businesses springing up that pay tribute to the old road while bringing a new twist.
Route 66 was losing businesses at a much faster rate 15 years ago. Michael Wallis’ bestselling book “Route 66: The Mother Road” helped stem the tide somewhat, and Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” from 2006 is attracting new generations of travelers. And Route 66 is dotted with success stories that would have been nearly unthinkable a decade ago, such as POPS in Arcadia, Okla., Lucille’s Roadhouse in Weatherford, Okla.; and 4 Women on the Route in Galena, Kan.
Sure, there’s plenty of work to be done. But the Main Street of America resembles more of a road that’s evolving, not dying.
(Hat tip: Ron McCoy)