Welcome back to my personal blog, which I started two years ago when I did a two-week road trip vacation from Miami to Memphis. There’s something truly beautiful and magical about road trip vacations – being out on the open road with the freedom to go wherever you please; knowing the journey, not the destination, is the real adventure.
And there is truly something about ditching the Interstates, and exploring the country through small towns. I first experienced this as a teenager with my Mother, one summer in France as we were driving back from Switzerland. Traffic on the autoroute was really bad, so we opted to get off somewhere in Burgundy and take the back roads all the way to Paris. It took a lot longer, but I still cherish that evening – because we got to see the “real” France. And I’ve sworn ever since that any worthwile vacation is one that explores these country roads.
I just turned 33 years old, and for the last 11 years I have explored America. In the spring of 2000, I was about to graduate from college at UC Berkeley – when I decided to travel the United States that summer. After buying the book Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, I mapped out an extremely ambitious cross-country road trip. That summer, I went to 28 states – but I was running out of money.
While sitting at a bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island, I got a call on my cell phone from Randy Shaw at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic – who I had briefly met before leaving. He asked when I could come back to the Bay Area and start a job, so I told him to give me two weeks. I drove all the way down U.S. Route 1 on the East Coast to Key West, Florida – and hopped on an airplane back home.
That was eleven years ago, and taking that job changed my life. I still work at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, albeit now as a lawyer and as managing editor of our political blog, Beyond Chron. But it has always been my goal to complete that Great American Road Trip, even if it requires multiple road trip vacations. So every few years, I take off for a week or two and drive somewhere in America.
One summer in law school, I took three weeks off and did the whole Pacific Northwest – from San Francisco up to Seattle on the Pacific Coast, and then back down inland through Mount Saint Helens and Crater Lake. Two years ago, I flew to Miami, went back to Key West where I left off, and drove to New Orleans for Mardi Gras – capping the trip at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
At this point, I have done everything I had set out to do 11 years ago … everything except the Magical Mother Road, known as Route 66.
What is Route 66? Why is it so Special?
Route 66 was known as “America’s Main Street” – one of the earliest cross-country roads that went from Chicago, all the way to Los Angeles. When John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930’s, he called it the “Mother Road” as it helped struggling Okie sharecroppers find their way to California. In the 1950’s and 60’s, as Americans flocked to the Sunbelt to find opportunity, Route 66 symbolized the journey West for young people.
Long before I became a road trip enthusiast, I remember hearing about Route 66 on a TV documentary in the early 1990’s. I was living in Chicago at the time, and the idea of driving on one road to Los Angeles fascinated me. What I found even more interesting was the fact that Route 66 no longer exists. That’s right … In 1984, after they completed the Interstate System, Route 66 was decommissioned as a national road – because there were now quicker ways to travel the country. So it began to decay, and small towns along the way dwindled in population.
So if Route 66 No Longer Exists, How Can You Drive it?
While it’s technically impossible to drive the entire Route 66 (and there will be times when going on the Interstate is required), the vast majority of the road itself still exists – even if it’s no longer designated as a U.S. Highway. In some states, like Oklahoma, they have designated most of the old U.S. 66 as a state road. And in many places, there are markers that say “Historic Route 66.” The road is basically still there, but you need to know where it is – and that’s the fun of this adventure.
Having grown up in Chicago, I know exactly where Route 66 starts – in front of the Art Institute, on Michigan Avenue. And having been to L.A. a lot, I know exactly where it ends – Santa Monica Pier. But the idea of driving the entirety sounds amazing, and it’s always intrigued me to do this road – especially because it no longer exists.
Eleven years ago, I bought the book Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion by Tom Snyder, a 177-page book that gives elaborate turn-by-turn directions on how to take Route 66. There are also websites out there that can help you. And I’m not going to disclose how many HOURS I have been wasting in the past month, geeking out on Google Maps to figure it all out.
Okay, So When Are You Going?
Today is Monday, March 28th, and I am still at home in San Francisco. On Friday, April 1st, I fly to Chicago and spend a couple days at my Mom’s house. On April 2nd, I pick up a rental car – and on April 3rd, I begin the long journey down Route 66. My goal is to arrive in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 16th – after taking a two-day detour in the Grand Canyon. And after Los Angeles, finish up the trip by taking Highway One back to San Francisco.
I can’t wait, and can’t wait to have so many of my friends read this blog and offer me advice along the way!!