One of the songs that celebrates The Main Street of America is “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” written by Bobby Troup, sung by Nat King Cole, and later by dozens of other artists, including Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones. Everybody who knows a thing or two about American culture, gets the idea that the best two ways to immortalize something is to show it in a movie, or to dedicate a song to it.
Route 66, accept being the road that goes through vast forests, prairies, desserts, towns and cities of an American dream, owns some part of its popularity to famous Nat King Cole song and of course Route 66 series with Martin Milner and George Maharis. In “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” Bobby Troup mentions 10 cities on the road trip. He wrote the song while driving from Pennsylvania to California with 1941 Buick and his wife on the passenger seat.
To be honest I’ve never drove down this famous route, nor I’ve been to United States. I’ve only read about these places online, saw them in the news from time to time and dreamed how it would feel to drive through all these towns. They all have their history tales, legends and residents, who continue to live on with their hopes, dreams, problems and fears with or without the major tourist route, passing by their house. So now I just need to wait for that special day when I’ll step on the gas pedal of some nice piece of American machinery, play this song on the car radio , and get my kicks while visiting each place from this list. Presenting you the Route 66 with Nat King Cole and Bobby Troup:
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is one of the biggest cities on this list. It was founded by French in the middle of Native American land, and sold to the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Than whole bunch of people decided to settle here, from Irish to Germans and Bosnians. Later they decided to segregate and separate themselves. So the city that’s home of St Louis Rams, Gateway Arch and Forest Park is also home of the Benton Place, a.k.a. the first private street in US. Some people say St. Louis is one of the most dangerous cities nationwide. If you watched the news lately you realized this is not far from truth. Especially dangerous are the suburbs, like Ferguson for example, where it is possible to get shoot while walking down do street doing nothing, by dangerous armed men in blue uniforms.
At first Joplin doesn’t seem much different from Anytown, America. Actually none of the smaller cities on this list does, that’s what makes them so special. It was founded by a Methodist priest, lived its lawless life on the frontier for a couple of decades, opened a few mines and hit by few devastating tornados. Lead and zinc mines closed during Great Depression, and during the same period this city welcomed two unwanted visitors. Man and woman with guts, guns and plenty of bad attitude, who arrived in this town in their Ford V8 B400 convertible, took few photos, robbed a few banks, and killed County Constable John Wesley Harryman and Police Detective Harry McGuiness in a shootout. They forgot their camera, which left citizens of Joplin with few rare photos of this notorious couple.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Another big city, largest metropolitan area in Oklahoma and the city that had more than 10,000 inhabitants the minute after it was founded, because as part of the “Big Land Run” more than 10,000 homesteaders took their land share instantly and start building their houses. That’s how popular this place was. Later it became a capital, elected first female mayor in the US, built up baseball park, canal with water taxis and Bricktown entertainment district and witnessed the deadliest act of domestic terrorism when a nutjob called Timothy McVeigh parked rented F-700 truck full of explosive in front of Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Amarillo is the city of nicknames. During its 120-something years long history it earned more than 4 different nicknames, being the “Helium Capital of the World”, because of its rich Helium fields, Rotor City because the hybrid aircraft used by US Army is being assembled here, poetic “Yellow Rose of Texas” since the name of the town means “Yellow” in Spanish, and less poetic Bomb City because of the nearby nuclear bomb production facilities. This town also has been one of the biggest meat packing centers in the US, and has The Big Texan Steak Ranch, place where you’ll get a free 72 ounce beef steak, but only if you eat it in less than 60 minutes. There’s also a Cadillac Ranch, place with dozens of psychedelic-painted Cadillac halves sticking out from the ground buried under the same angle as Great Pyramid of Giza.
Gallup, New Mexico
This town is in the middle of Native American country, best place to introduce yourself with rich culture of Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and other tribes, and to try your luck in their casinos. Because of its rugged surroundings, Gallup was used as film set for numerous Westerns during the 50’s and the 60’s, and welcomed dozens of film stars from John Wayne to Katherine Hepburn. They all slept in famous El Rancho Hotel&Motel. Gallup was always far from the Wild West stereotypes. Its residents used to fought to prevent deportation of 800 Japanese Americans from Gallup to internment camps. Accept Route 66, this town has another highway which used to be called Highway 666, until former Governor Bill Richardson urged for its name to be changed, because it was possessed by Satan and cheap whiskey which drastically increased its death toll.
Would you like to go to Pluto? Me too, unfortunately there’s no highway up to there, but you sure can visit Lowell observatory in Flagstaff, place from where Pluto and its moon Charon were discovered. Small town in Arizona is not the only Flagstaff, other one is on its journey through space at this very moment, This place is called 2118 Flagstaff asteroid and although it doesn’t have railroad, demolition derby, symphony or lumberjacks it was named after the original Flagstaff, Arizona. This town went through a long journey from looking like a “third rate mining camp” as famous journalist Sharlot Hall called it on one of her bad days in 1901, to becoming one of the most important cultural oases in The Copper State, where 6 foot metallic pinecone is dropped from the roof of a hotel building as part of some strange New Year’s Eve celebration custom.
This is the smallest town on this list which is used in few songs when writers need to rhyme something with Arizona. Bobby Troup did the same and this celebrated Winona far and wide. After listening to this song country singer today known as Wynnona Judd chose this to be her stage name. Was this the case with actress Winona Ryder, we are not really sure. One of the most picturesque things in this small settlement is the old bridge next to the Route 66, which is closed for traffic.
This is the place where airplanes come to die. And they are resting on the near by army airport facility, on which more than 35,000 soldiers and airmen were trained for WW2 combat missions. Kingman’s history goes further than that, before the town was founded Lt Edward Fitzgerald Beale was sent to the area to built a wagon road and check are camels good transportation animals for the Mojave dessert. They probably decided not to go any further with introducing camels to Arizona, and unfortunately Mojave dessert today doesn’t look like the the right place to shoot Lawrence of Arabia. In spite of this fact Kingman was used as a set in various other movies, like airport scene in Fear of Loathing in Las Vegas and Universal Solider that was filmed in downtown. But let’s go back to the airport, it’s now used as one of the biggest airplane bone yards in United States, and it’s one of the biggest small town off the beaten path tourist sites on the Route 66.
This is the town on the edge of the dessert. Place where drugs usually begin to take hold and huge bats start roaring, swooping and screeching around your car, that is if you drive red Chevy Impala convertible from Sunset strip to Las Vegas, with a serious drug collection and your attorney high on mescaline on the driver seat. On the other hand if you visit Barstow area while driving down the most famous Route in the country, suddenly this town looks like a much more friendly place. It’s a small town with a drive-in cinema that’s still open and Old Woman meteorite, the largest meteorite that was found in California, which is placed at the Desert Discover Center. Another famous museum is the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, one of the biggest museums dedicated to Main Street of America. Accept the road, Barstow and numerous other smaller cities on this route are also famous railroad junctions. Most of these towns were founded by the local rail barons, after the railroad reached certain area. That’s why Barstow has a Western American Railroad Museum, that still operates trains as a station in Amtrak system. Even the corporations recognize Barstow’s railroad history, and the McDonald’s restaurant on the train station is built from three rail cars, standing next to each other.
San Bernardino, California
This city is founded in San Bernardino valley, or Valley of the Cupped Hand of God, as it was called by the Native Americans. Their were the first people who settled the area, and the reason for that was the big rock formation that looks like an arrow head in the nearby mountain and it points out towards hot and cold water springs. Back then this was a definite sign that this is the right place to settle. Later came the Spanish, than the Mormons and so on, and each new religious group gave a new meaning to the arrow head rock. In this town begun the American obesity tale, with the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant by Richard and Maurice. Later the same building was demolished and than bought by another restaurant chain called Juan Pollo, and later became a McDonald’s and Route 66 themed museum. Another interesting thing is that Glen Bell, the Taco Bell founder is also from San Bernardino, I guess now you understand my obesity remark.
And as the last tacts of the Nat King Cole and Bobby Troup’s song are playing we are arriving in LA, after the ride that went few times front and back through American past, which is exactly the reason why every hipster looking backpacker rents an old hotrod and starts driving down this road. Thanks for reading Route 66 with Nat King Cole and Bobby Troup, this ride was fantastic, don’t forget to tip the driver, see you on some other roadtrip.
Source: Car Statement
Featured image by: tpsdave