THE MOTHER LOAD, ER ROAD
I know that Route 66 started in the Chi and ended in LA. Later in life I understood that it passed through Boogie to do so. I understand that in the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck dubbed the road "the mother road." I have never, for the life of me, understood the fascination people have with Route 66. Nevertheless, in the last couple of days I had the opportunity to check in on the Route 66 market at a few different points between the Chi and Boogie.
As I wrote the other night, I was crossing the prairie by automobile. I took I-55 (the Stevenson for my people in the Chi) because time was of the essence. However, this evening I reversed my course and came home. Time was still pretty much of the essence, but not as urgently as Monday night. Besides, I had just spent a day and a half in Litchfield, Illinois, where I crossed both Old Route 66 and Historic Route 66 several times a day, and ate a restaurant
that believes that it may be the oldest restaurant on (Historic) Route 66. This got me thinking about my kicks, and where I have been getting them.
I started in Litchfield. Litchfield may have had better days. For instance, they have a Carnegie Library
that looks to be in good shape, a cool former Elks Lodge (as shown on the foto page), and parts of State Street look like they were nice, as pictured below.
Carnegie Library, Litchfield
Litchfield State Street
Unfortunately for Litchfield, both Old Route 66 and Historic Route 66 are on the western edge of town. A part of town largely given over to Hampton Inns, Ruby Tuesday restaurants, and other indicia of interstate-driven development. In other words, the Route 66 marketing is pretty minimal.
Further north, just south of Bloomington-Normal is a town called Atlanta
. Atlanta has embraced Route 66 with its heart, and whatever is left of its soul. Atlanta does not seem to actually have any businesses downtown (see below).
Atlanta does have a giant Paul Bunyan holding a sausage (see the foto page), as well as a pair of mill stones (see below) that frankly are just not very interesting. There may also be a grain elevator museum, but the eerie quiet of a village without commerce was starting to freak me out.
Admittedly, Atlanta does have a very nice library. However, the library does not counteract the extreme reliance on Route 66 for the town's tourism plan.
Finally, there was Chenoa. Chenoa did not really seem to care about Route 66. I did not notice any Route 66 Diners, Route 66 Car Washes, or the like. In fact, there does not seem to be much to Chenoa, although the building below is pretty cool.
My personal verdict? It does not seem to avoid being frightening and market yourself on the Route 66 tip. Thus, if you are into the ironic, kitsch value of the Route 66 deal, towns like Atlanta are sooooo for you. Otherwise, you will get that children of the corn feeling when visiting these towns. By the way, a number of pictures are in the foto side (besides those referenced above), as well as here