John Steinbeck called it the “mother road”. It was also known as America’s Main Street. A major artery that linked a large part of our nation. It started at Grant Park in Chicago and more than 2400 miles later, crossing three time zones, eight states, it ended in Santa Monica, California.
Route 66 came into being a long time before the Interstate system endorsed by President Eisenhower. It became an official highway in 1926, but would not be completely paved until 1937.
Then there was that song telling you to get your kicks on route 66.
Bobby Troup, known to some of us as Dr, Joe Early on the seventies TV show, Emergency!, was also a song writer. He was born in Pennsylvania in late 1918 and played the piano and wrote songs through college. Before he graduated one of his songs became number on for several weeks, “Daddy”, sung by Sammy Kaye. He went to work for Tommy Dorsey as a music arranger and songwriter. When World War II started he went into the Marine Corps in the Pacific reaching the rank of captain. He got out in 1946 and decided to move his family to Los Angeles. He and his wife headed west in their 1941 Buick convertible and his mother was to follow with the daughters after they were settled.
As they left St. Louis, Cindy leaned over and whispered in his ear “Get your kicks on Route 66”. He thought it was a marvelous title for a song and started putting the song together in the car as they traveled west. After they reached Los Angeles he continued to work on the song. A week later and he met up with his idol, Nat “King” Cole and played some of the music he composed and then told Nat about another song he was in the midst of writing.
After hearing some of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” Nat loved it. He wanted to record it right away. Bobby finished the song and Nat “King” Cole went on to make the song a hit. It put Bobby in a position that he could buy a house and live in California.
Since that time Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, and hundreds of bands have covered the song.
In the sixties there was a TV show called Route 66, but another writer, Nelson Riddle, wrote a theme song for that instead.
Today both the road and the song that Buddy wrote bring to mind the wide open promise of traveling across the United States.
The post-WW II Interstate system changed all that. The limited access highway may have made things safer and faster, but now you have to work very hard not to be stuck eating at a nationwide franchise instead of a local eatery. I miss discovering the uniqueness of a place by stopping at a diner or restaurant that you would never find a duplicate of. It also was the same for the stores. You would travel and find a special surplus store that you could never come across anywhere else. Or it might be a movie theatre that had only one screen, but showed the kind of interesting film that the 20 screen cinemaplex would never waste their pre-made popcorn on. The adventure of traveling these united states was to explore the differences in the country side, the people, the food, and the culture. The differences remain, but covered under a homogenized layer of sameness.