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Route 66 News

Book review: Charles Phoenix’s “Addicted to Americana”

If you wondered whether famed pop-culture enthusiast Charles Phoenix included Route 66 attractions in his latest book, “Addicted to Americana” (180 pages, hardcover, illustrated, Prospect Park Books), all you have to do is glance at its cover.

It contains an image of the Desert Hills Motel neon sign in Tulsa and a tepee from one of the Wigwam Motel sites, two of which are on the Mother Road.

The entertaining book, subtitled “Celebrating Classic and Kitschy American Life and Style,” serves as a thumbnail biography of Phoenix himself, a Southern California native who cut his teeth in his dad’s used-car lots, giving him an appreciation for long, tail-finned vehicles from the 1950s and the culture itself.

The “Ambassador of Americana” gained fame beginning in the late 1990s when he developed an show derived from Kodachrome slides of the 1950s and ’60s that he’d collected from thrift shops and antique stores. He’s been a frequent guest on NPR and KCET in Los Angeles. His “test kitchens” of oddball foods and desserts — especially the Cherpumple, a three-layer cake/pie hybrid — went viral on the internet.

Phoenix also is known for wearing retro or garish suits — many of them found in vintage-clothing stores — during public appearances.

This short documentary explains the Phoenix phenomenon as well as any:

Given all of this, it seems fitting “Addicted to Americana” is one of the most colorful and well-designed books out there. The graphics and color-saturated images from decades ago pop out from the pages. Much of the credit for that goes to creative director and designer, Kathy Kikkert, who rightly is given co-author credit.

Below is a sample of two “Addicted to Americana” pages:

Addicted to Americana

Among the Route 66 attractions in the book along with the aforementioned Desert Hills Motel and Wigwam Motel on the cover:

  • Rainbow Rock Shop, Holbrook, Arizona.
  • Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Arizona.
  • Twin Arrows, Arizona.
  • Blue Whale, Catoosa, Oklahoma.
  • Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield, Illinois.
  • Rod’s Steak House, Williams, Arizona.
  • Plainsman Coffee Shop sign, Holbrook, Arizona.

The book also prominently shows the first Wigwam Motel, in Cave City, Kentucky, but dutifully mentions the surviving Route 66 Wigwam Motels in Holbrook, Arizona, and Rialto, California.

The book includes the so-called “Miss Belvidere” saga in Tulsa, where the city unearthed a time capsule in 2007 that contained a 1957 Plymouth Belvidere. The underground vault wasn’t quite on Route 66, but its unveiling brought people from all over the country, including a fair number of Mother Road enthusiasts.

Phoenix dives into all sorts of retro culture, including the early days of Disneyland, monorails, Muffler Men, drive-in theaters, tourist traps, quirky motels, Space Age relics, soft-serve ice-cream stands and old-fashioned breakfast diners.

Phoenix perks up “Addicted to Americana” more by adding many personal stories. His persistent attempts to rescue a vintage Sears neon sign from a store in San Gabriel, California, will prove inspirational to many historic preservationists. He also tells of times he’s resorted to gumshoe detective work to track down a long-defunct roadside attraction.

And, as you might expect, Phoenix includes a few pages on extremely rare cars such as a 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Seville and the 1955 Dodge La Femme, which came with a pink-and-white paint job and a custom umbrella, raincoat, purse and cigarette case.

Also fascinating are a few prototype cars that never made it into production, such as the 1956 Packard Predictor and the 1951 General Motors LaSabre, both of which were utterly distinctive and decades ahead of their time with their designs.

Highly recommended.

(Image of Charles Phoenix at the 2009 Do Dah Parade in Pasadena, California, by Kevin Stanchfield via Flickr)

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