I remember Route 66. Our family traveled that highway countless times between our home in the Chicago suburbs and Alton, Ill., my parents' hometown. I remember, 40-plus years ago, sitting in the back seat of the station wagon, looking over the expanse of farm fields of Central Illinois. I remember counting the telephone poles and watching for trains along the tracks that ran parallel to the highway. I remember being awakened when the trip's rhythm and the hum of the highway was interrupted by a stoplight at Lincoln, Ill., and who knows where else. I remember the final day of June 1966, when my mother, crying in the passenger seat, rolled down her window to ask the service station attendant -- yes, this was before self-service -- to please hurry as he pumped our gasoline. Yes, we were in a hurry; hours earlier, a heart attack claimed my Grandpa, and we needed to be in Alton. As a kid, I was unaware of the history of U.S. 66 -- the first major highway to link Chicago and Los Angeles.
Route 66 does not officially exist anymore. The route number was retired. It gave way to the interstate system, with its entrance and exit ramps and bypasses. Much safer. Much faster. But less personality.
Friday found me driving to St. Louis to retrieve our youngest (and his ample belongings) after his first year of college. Southbound on I-55, my "low fuel" gauge told me to exit. I did so at Divernon, where I saw a "Historic Route 66" directional sign. After filling up (more than $40!), I decided to drive a stretch of the same pavement I used to ride as a kid. (The road has been declassified to a county road.) I drove parallel to I-55 a distance of eight miles to Farmersville.
I must have picked the least interesting stretch of the old highway. Just farms and a few crossroads. No kicks on Route 66 this trip.
Sometime, when I have to make another St. Louis trip, I'll carve out extra time and explore other stretches of the old Route 66. They have to be more intriguing!