Highways and By-gone Ways
The most iconic (and stereotyped) road trip route in the United States starts in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica. I’ve been to both ends – and a ridiculously significant quantity of places between A and Z – but you cannot drive the full length from end to end any more, just an approximation of it. Lincoln (Illinois, not Nebraska), Joplin, downtown Oklahoma City, Tucumcari, a corner in Winslow, and a swing through Barstow all line the historic road, and all of which I’ve navigated. Random stretches are no more; in other places, interstates replace the two-lane equivalent, and even where US Highway Sixty-Six passes between towns, the route has changed. It’s more memory than pavement.
If you prefer to travel via interstate from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean, you’re not really getting the Route Sixty-Six experience. You miss the family-owned diners and motels, the one pump gas stations and the occasional dirt road where you can pull over and unwrap your picnic lunch. The closest modern-day equivalent to transport you from state to state to state would be a U.S. highway. Once you get into the Chicago suburbs, or when you make that left turn in Albuquerque, or when you attempt to avoid the turnpike outside Tulsa, you’ll find the two-lane nostalgia gives way to overpasses and steel structures and congested traffic. It’s not the melodic, post-war experience.
Go Slow And Stop Often
So how do you get that encounter with the past while living in the twenty-first century? The one about which people fascinate, and recall, and long for, even if they’ve never driven across the country? For starters, go slow. Travelling at seventy-five miles-per-hour negates absorbing the sights and pulling over just because life catches your eye. You miss historic markers and fountains or sculptures in the center of towns with less than two thousand residents. You see hundred-year-old architecture and tree-lined stretches where the sunlight doesn’t reach the pavement. You see America.
Stop often. Give yourself time along the way to enjoy everything you don’t expect. Have a conversation with the waitress at the restaurant. Detour along the river route. Stumble upon a local event and stay for a spell. Take a selfie with the statues you see. Photograph neon signs just after sunset. Play music that reminds you of someplace you love and do it while driving with the windows down. If you happen to have heard the old song, lean into the recommendation to get your kicks, but keep in mind, you aren’t required to only go west. Go south instead. Take a circle route, or head northward. Wind your way over the mountains to the east coast. Just go. That’s how you discover – or rediscover – the classic American road trip.