Route 66 is arguably, the most famous road in America, even if it was officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. Tourists come from all over the world to drive the ultimate American road trip. I have been meaning to drive the Illinois section since we moved to Chicago, so after years of postponing, I finally organized the trip! Brad decided to sit this one out, so I was joined by my good friend SE and her friend from out of town. Both of them are from big cities in the UK, so I was a little worried about giving them a false impression of small town life in America. Honestly, I needn’t have worried. Sure the drive is an absolute indulgence in American kitsch, but the towns and the people are genuine and really friendly. Every one we spoke to wanted to chat and ensure that we saw everything their town had to offer.
“Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail me now.”Elwood, Blues Bothers
An 8am kick off was early for a Saturday, but necessary to maximize daylight. Our first stop was actually the official start to Rt 66: Adams and Michigan (across from the art institute). The space in front of the sign is reserved parking for some embassy, so we had to be quick. We picked a great time as no one was around to ruin our shot. After a few cheeky photos, we popped in to Starbucks for a gallon of coffee each then set out on the road!
The next “big attraction” on the map was the ‘Rich & Creamy’ ice-cream shop in Joliet. The building itself was nondescript, but it was topped with a giant Rt 66 sign and replicas of the Blues Brothers, Ellwood and “Joliet” Jake. It was neat, but the far better attraction was across the road. “Dick’s Towing” is exactly that, a towing service. The classic cars dotted around and on, yes on, the building are a brilliant marketing tactic. We were surprised when the owner came out to talk to us after taking a few photos. He told us a little about his business then allowed us to take photos inside the cars. We stayed longer than we had planned, but it’s not every day that we’re allowed to play in police cars!
I have to admit, I thought the Gemini Giant would be bigger. It's located next the Launching Pad diner, which was closed. I guess they didn't know that we had our hearts set on milkshakes. While taking pictures of the giant, a large group (pack? Convoy?) of bikers drove by. There must have been hundreds of them. All waving and smiling like they were in a grand parade. A big slice of cheesy America! Speaking of cheesy, if you are into giant statues, have a look at this Muffler Men map created by RoadsideAmerica.com. My list of National Lampoon-ish destinations is growing at a steady rate!
Pontiac is everything that television shows promise small towns will be. Tidy little streets lined with mom and pop shops. Everyone was so nice and friendly. Based on photos I saw online, I thought we would snap a few photos then be on our way. We ended up staying for nearly two hours! Most of our time was spent talking about Europe with locals and listening to stories about Rt 66. As I said, everyone was so friendly. Pontiac is known for its murals, however, the museum, the statues, and the little shops are just as cool. In front of the museum is Bob Waldmire’s old home: a converted school bus! The monstrosity on top is the guest room he built himself. The famous artist is known for his drawings of Rt 66. One of the museum volunteers told us that the character, Fillmore, from Cars is based on Waldmire. Apparently, Waldmire turned down acontract with Pixar because he was worried that the related toys would be sold at McDonald's. As a vegetarian, he felt it was unethical to work with a restaurant that peddles meat. Pretty cool that he stood by his convictions!
With only a few hours of daylight left and half the state to go, we decided to skip straight to Litchfield to catch a movie at the drive-in. We reasoned that we would see everything that we missed on the way back. I hadn’t booked a hotel in advance because I didn’t want to feel rushed. Normally this is okay, but it was a slight problem. St Louis and Chicago teams had a baseball game in St Louis and there was some sort of conference in Springfield. As a result, all rooms between the two were booked up. We were lucky to get the last room at the Baymont Inn after checking six places before. It meant cramming three of us into one bed though. I had just enough time to finish a paper that was due at midnight and to pick up some snacks from Walmart before we headed over to the drive-in theatre. We have movies in the park in Chicago, but it’s way cooler to watch films when you can actually see the moon and the stars. Highlight of my night was seeing the hotdog/bun intermission clip as seen in Grease. I’m such a nerd. Day two was less interesting as it was mostly driving back in the rain. It was cool to cross the Mississippi and to see Abe Lincoln's home. All in all, it was a fantastic road trip and I am really keen to drive the rest of the mother road out west!
Route 66: EZ66 GUIDE For Travelers : Good if you plan to drive the entire road.
Here It Is! The Route 66 Map Series : Excellent if you plan to complete the drive one state at a time. I plan to frame the Illinois map.