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“One always wonders about roads not taken.”
Warren Christopher, American statesman, 1925-2011
Despite being formally decommissioned more than a quarter-century ago, Route 66 lives on in the collective memory of America. It embodies a sense of freedom and opportunity that come with the open road.
In 1992, the 66th anniversary of the commissioning of the road brought with it a renewal of interest in the route. Parts of the road have been renamed “Historic Route 66,” turn-by-turn guides have been published leading drivers along what’s left of the road they never got the chance to travel or want to revisit, and in 1999 President Clinton signed the National Route 66 Preservation Bill, which provided ten million dollars (in matching funds) to maintain and restore, not the route itself, but the historic sites along side it.
The USA may not have a single Main Street anymore, but the ideal of such a unifying road has not been lost. There is a sense of nostalgia about Route 66, even for those who have never laid eyes upon its fabled pavement. It is the road of great writers, musicians, and even criminals. It is the home of the first McDonald’s. It is the imagined path that every road trip travels. Route 66 is America’s road now as much as ever, thanks to the words and images — including road maps — that have made it a legend.