There are certain dates in history that with the luxury
of hindsight can be seen as a point in time where the proverbial corner was turned; December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963, or July 4, 1776 come to mind as examples. One of these dates was November 11, 1926. On this date, resultant of a political compromise, US 60 became US 66, the one and only Route 66. A few months latter Cyrus Avery and a band of visionaries established the US Highway 66 Association. This organization had two primary tasks – serve as a quasi chamber of commerce for the communities and businesses along that highway corridor, and ensure US 66 received adequate publicity.
One of the organizations first marketing initiatives branded US 66 as the Main Street of America. Of course at that point in time all US highways served as the main street in countless communities and cities but this moniker provided Route 66 with a sort of unofficial claim to the title. With the passing of the years, the title became a bit more than symbolic, especially during the late 1950’s when the interstate highway was bypassing the historic heart of towns large and small, and transforming US 66 into a footnote.
When highways such as US 66 actually followed Main Street, or Front Street, or Elm Street through a town, residents were exposed to a broader view of the world, and travelers garnered a sense of understanding about a community or locale through interaction by eating at the local coffee house with mill workers or cowboys, listening to local businessmen while waiting for a haircut, or chatting with the service station attendant as they checked the oil. Route 66 was, to a large degree, a linear community. That all changed with the interstate highway system that allowed the motorist to drive coast to coast without having to stop for red lights.
The world soon became homogenized, generic in nature. The motel room in Joplin was a cookie cutter copy of the motel room in Kingman. The television in that room played the same programs and the same news as the television at home. The hamburger eaten at McDonald’s in Barstow was exactly the same as the hamburger eaten for lunch at McDonald’s in Albuquerque. The traveler was assured of consistency and was freed from the worry about ending the day in a flophouse or having a mediocre dinner. An ever increasing myopia, the withering of historic districts, and a creeping erasure of community individuality was the high price paid for such assurance.
Fast forward to the dawn of a new century. The generic wave has swept across the country and there is a dreary sameness. Now it is not just restaurants and motels that seem to have been cut from the same mold, entire neighborhoods and communities are void of authenticity. They are no longer unique.
There is, however, an ever growing hunger for something old that is again new, a quest, a search for magical places where the past and present flow together seamlessly. That magical place is the Main Street of America, iconic Route 66. All along that storied old highway are places that never succumbed to changing times, and as a result are living time capsules in the modern era. The excitement and passion of the modern adventurer is infectious, and soon towns were dusting off their treasures and rediscovering what made them unique. Once again neon glows bright under a desert moon.
Last year Route 66 turned ninety. It is now an icon, a destination for legions of international enthusiasts. There are Route 66 associations in Germany and the Netherlands, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. In 2016, the first European Route 66 Festival took place in Ofterdingen Germany, and in 2018, there will be another in the Czech Republic. Route 66 is again the Main Street of America, a linear community. Route 66 is America’s longest attraction.
In the era of Route 66 renaissance the reawakening in Kingman was slow in coming. Now, however, like the mythical Phoenix, the Route 66 corridor and the historic business district is rising from the ashes. Neon is again glowing bright. Parking is again in short supply. Cafes and restaurants are full of locals and travelers. And the best is yet to come. This is not just the era of rediscovery on Route 66, this is the dawn of the Kingman renaissance.