First, let's give the highway its due. Commissioned in 1926 and completely paved by 1937, Route 66 was a 2,448-mile, two-lane embodiment of the American Dream that curved from Chicago to Los Angeles. It transported Dust Bowl migrants during the 1930s, eager GIs and future aircraft workers during the '40s, and swarms of postwar tourists during the '50s. Clanking his metaphors in The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck in 1939 called Route 66 "the mother road, the road of flight." It has also been dubbed The Glory Road and The Main Street of America. In 1946, Bobby Troup wrote the song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," since recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to the Rolling Stones. Route 66, the 1960-64 CBS television series that was almost always filmed somewhere other than on Route 66, made the road a pop-culture icon in America, just as the reruns have since done in Europe.
Despite all this, Route 66 has become nearly as famous in death as in life. Just as it was boosted during its birth and early years by its own publicist, so is it now mythologized by revivalist drum-beaters. There is now a Route 66 preservation association in each of the eight states through which the road passed, not to mention a national organization dedicated to its promotion. Congress has appropriated $200,000 to explore options for its preservation. At least five books have been published about the highway during the past four years, including a facsimile of a mile-by-mile 1946 guidebook. A quarterly fanzine of Route 66 minutiae, The Mother Road Journal, is based in Colorado (despite the fact that the road passes more than 100 miles south of the state). Rand McNally & Co. has this year produced a commemorative Route 66 map. The Coors Brewing Co. is sponsoring a concert tour that is stopping in 10 Route 66 cities. And a plethora of boosterish local events -- Route 66 Days in Flagstaff, Arizona, for instance, and the fifth annual Route 66 Fun Run Weekend in western Arizona -- are taking place this spring.
When Route 66 was decertified, [Angel Delgadillo] got ornery. "Gosh-dammit," he says, "they were telling the world that Route 66 was gone! And I'm saying to myself, `But I live on Route 66!' " Which is still true. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Historical Route 66 Association of Arizona, which Delgadillo cofounded, just up the street amid the Formica and neon of the Copper Cart restaurant, on February 18, 1987 (at 1 p.m.), the state declared the 116-mile stretch running from Seligman westward to Oatman to be a historic highway. Meaning, among other things, that it is still officially known as Route 66.