Many Americans in search of a better life have looked toward Los Angeles, where dreams could be achieved and stars were born. Route 66 was the primary road for those heading to the promise of Southern California and its lifestyle. The road served as a pathway of hope for much of the 20th century.
In many ways, the Mother Road defined the American Dream while exposing those traveling her way to the towns, cities, farms, ranches and scenery that would draw not only those from “back East” and the Midwest, but travelers from around the world who would come to see her funky motels, truck-stop diners, roadside attractions and offbeat destinations.
But then the straight and fast-moving Interstate system was built, and I-55 and I-40 and others bypassed those places along the old roadway.
Some entire towns shriveled, but there were people who wanted to preserve not only their communities, but the charm of the golden era. Now, Route 66 itself has become the destination.
Recently, the 30th annual Fun Run, a three-day celebration in northwestern Arizona attracted those nostalgic for the bygone days. Among them was my dad.
For dad, the experience brought back youthful memories of growing up in New Jersey, far from the start of Route 66 in Chicago, even further from the end of the road at Santa Monica Beach. Nonetheless, Route 66 celebrated the world of his childhood.
When dad was 18 he’d had enough of the snow and cold and headed west — on his motorcycle — settling in Tucson, Arizona. Strangely, until last week, he’d made only a brief visit to the old road. But he has always envisioned riding the entire Route 66 on a motorcycle.
For now, however, he settled for a day trip to the Fun Run with me, and not on a bike but in his late-model Cadillac.
The Fun Run runs for three days. It begins on Friday with the Cruisin’ Route 66 Parade in Seligman, which leads to through Peach Springs, pat the Hackberry General Store and Valle Vista before arriving in Kingman for the big Show and Shine on Saturday. The run ends the following day in Toprock after winding its way through Oatman.
The old road was more enjoyable to drive then I’d expected, especially the section leading to Oatman with its elevation changes, twist and turns, and even a few smooth straight sections where he said it was as if the road was asking him to “floor it.”
Dad enjoyed seeing the old gas stations and talked about “back in his day” when his first job was working as a fuel pumper.
The old diners reminded him of the local cruise-ins he’d go to as a teenager. All the classic cars traveling the route and seen at the shows brought back memories of cars he had hot-rodded and how those same cars were the first few his parents made him trade in for “something more sensible,” and about how they didn’t quite understand why the family car became a bit louder and more loopy.
Throughout the car ride, he shared stories of what his life was like growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s. I enjoyed time on Route 66. But I enjoyed the time with my dad even more.
Photos by Nicole James