Route 66 ; Convertible, Road and Girls Down Memory Lane the Symbolism of a Historic Highway

Route 66 sign from Renijishino on creative commons attribution license
Route 66 sign from Renijishino on creative commons attribution license

Route 66


Route 66 was a route from Chicago to California that was replaced by the Interstate highway system in the 1960’s. However, it was more than a highway; it was a symbol, a metaphor. It represented, to many Americans, the lure of touring the country

I think my all time favorite television series was “Route 66” which starred Martin Milner and George Maharis as two young men traveling the country. I tried to explain my interest in the show to a young co-worker but he could not understand the concept. “If it’s about Route 66, how can they have episodes that have no relation to that highway “?

But Route 66 is a metaphor for the west which itself is an American metaphor.

However, the highway has always had a special meaning to American culture, along with the automobile itself. This love affair with the highway and the car may date back to the westward movement in frontier days. The “West” itself became symbolic and Route 66 goes west. Like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn “…I reckon I got to light out for the territory,” Twain himself went West because he deserted the Confederate Army and wrote an amusing book about it.

Daniel Boone always wanted to move on as soon as neighbors got too close. The early frontiersmen, the mountain men went west for profit but some were explorers like Lewis and Clark. Granted they had a job to do, but I think they were also motivated by wanting to know what is up ahead or across the next river. Likewise the heroes of the TV show always wanted to travel on to the next place to see who or what they would discover.

The show ran from 1960 to 1964 with the express purpose of “seeking values” in America. Since the car, a Corvette convertible is considered a status symbol some criticized the show for being hypocritical. I don’t see a problem. Values can simply be what people believe. I think what they wanted to see was the culture of the country. Values in the sense of what people consider important. For contrast there was an attempt to revamp the show with a younger generation. Their express purpose was to travel the country to look for girls. Is this a generational difference?


Source

Route 66 motel

from Renjishino on Wikimedia creative commons license
from Renjishino on Wikimedia creative commons license

Source

There is little doubt that what most people remember about the show was the car. The singer Dinah Shore did commercials for Chevrolet. She would sock out the theme “see the USA in your Chevrolet.” I guess that is what Todd and Buzz were doing—“seeing the USA.”

Oddly I somehow misinterpreted the song and thought it meant that you should see something especially American about Chevrolet.

According to Wikipedia “Route 66” was a hybrid between episodic television drama which has continuing characters and situation and the “anthology” format in which each show had different cast and characters. “Route 66” had only three continuing characters. They moved from place to place and got caught up in the struggles of the people there. The concept has the drama centered on the guest stars rather than on the continuing characters. Stirling Silliphant who created the show “Naked City” (1958-63) as well as Route 66 had very literate scripts and rich characterizations.

What I personally like about the show is that the characters had personalities that were displayed in their responses to situations. Tod, clean cut Martin Milner, is the image of the decent, all American youth, and serves as the moral anchor of the show. Buz, played by George Maharis is working-class, looser, and hipper with a more beat generation attitude. Todd would approach a fight scene with a very skilled but formal approach, whereas Buz was more of a street fighter. Todd was a bleeding heart, while Buz was more cynical. In the third season Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett, replaced Tod. Case was a somewhat darker character.

In my opinion, at least, the stories were good and the show had imitators. Did they find values? I think what they did was find American culture in its varieties. It showed a portrait of the America of the time. It was shot on location, quite a task for a continuing TV show. To me the real appeal of the show was the general theme of exploring the country and stories that showed different ways and areas of the country in their uniqueness.

The highway itself is having a period of renewed interest and it is now considered an historical route. There are now route 66 associations and attempts are made to preserve old landmarks.

© 2009 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 33 comments

Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

Thanks for writing this - great information & memories. I remember the song & the show. And I agree; I think Route 66 is a metaphor for our never-ending quest.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading. I recall that the theme music always gave me yearning to want to travel somewhere, anywhere.


Bill Kinghorn 6 years ago

I didn't see the show because I was roaming around too during those years, in the Army and in field service. But I remember thinking that the adventure of travel enthralled everyone then. (then and before. Remember "Those Faraway Places with the Strange-sounding Names"? It's different now.)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate any feedback. Judging by all the travel literature being distributed I would think that roaming still has an appeal.


greatAmerican profile image

greatAmerican 6 years ago

Those were the days my friend

We thought they'd never end,,,

gosh that was another song..

I used to drive 66 from Chicago to St Louis and

what I seem to remember most is cars were not like

they are today, tires often went flat and it was no

unusual to see folks changing tires and in some cases

just boiling over.. Some things get better with age!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I remember,not too long ago, the humor columnist Dave Barry writing that his new car is very reliable, but boring. They'll never write a song about it, he said.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I loved this show, too. It was fantasy fuel for a young girl's dreams of breaking out, growing up, and heading west...not in her own Vet, by the way, but in the passenger seat of one owned by one of those two hotties, Tod and Buz. Thanks for the nice memories.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the insight from a woman's perspective.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I also remember that show and of course Dinah Shore singing those commercials. I've seen pieces of the original Route 66 and I hope that the renewed interest keeps it intact so that generations from now this iconic piece of American history will still be able to be seen.

Remember the old Burma Shave postings? Indian tepees as lodgings? Never stayed in one of the latter...but thought that it would have been fun.

Fun posting, as I have come to expect from you. Thanks!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Peggy W

Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes I remember the Burma Shave signs. It brings to mind the Ozzie and Harriet show on radio. You may not remember but you will probably at least know the singer Ricki Nelson. Dave and Ricki were the children and just kids then. They were out for a Sunday ride in the country and the kids would read the Burma Shave signs ouit loud and if I recall driving the parents crazy.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I don't remember that particular episode but I certainly remember the Ozzie and Harriet show on television. :)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Peggy W

I don't think that particular thing would have worked as well on TV as on radio.


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 6 years ago from Cave Creek

Route 66 may have been replaced by the Eisenhower highways, but it still exists in small pieces across the Southwest. Thanks for bringing it back from my memory.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Glad to have people who share my feelings about such things. Thanks for commenting.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

I think something was lost when the interstate system replaced the older highways, including route 66; Yes the interstate system is faster, but you are so isolated from the towns you pass though unless you take an exit ramp. I never saw the TV show, but I have traveled on parts of the old Route 66. I Enjoyed reading your article.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I guess the interstates are ok if you like them, but I recently went thru Kansas on the turnpike and I never saw anything. I'll be careful to avoid such roads in the future.


emeraldkell 6 years ago

That's a great story. My mom use to live in New Mexico. We travelled Route 66 sometimes. I love the small towns. Sometimes I think the interstate took away a part of America with it. Small town USA.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment. After a recent trip, I am more convinced that traveling isn't as much fun as it used to be.


FCEtier profile image

FCEtier 6 years ago from Cold Mountain

OH!! The motels that looked like miniature versions of The Alamo!

Traveling the interstates is of course much faster, but I miss the sights along the "white shield highways". Grew up on old U.S. Hwy 80 across the South.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading this and commenting. I took a long trip recently and ended up going through cities without seeing them


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

My best friend from high school drove this route from Minneapolis (does it go there?) to California and loved it. I was not of this ilk and had no idea what inspired her to do this, but it sounded like a great way to see the changing landscapes and I envied her the idea. On my way out to LA with my sister in law last March, we saw some of these signs and I felt a strange rush of adventure. I never watched the show, but as you write, the metaphor has been implanted in my brain. Thanks for giving me more reason to understand its meaning with this great hub!

By the way, I LOVED this line: Oddly I somehow misinterpreted the song and thought it meant that you should see something especially American about Chevrolet.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I don't believe it went to Minneapolis. The show did not always stick to the literal route 66. One episode was done in Minneapolis and one I missed was done somewhere else in Minnesota. The one in Minneapolis was at the new Radison Hotel, which may or may not still be there now.

The line about "see the USA" still seems ambiguous to me. It may have been the way Dinah Shore belted it out.

And back then Chevrolet was something of an American icon along with apple pie.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

The hotel was the Sheridan Ritz.I stand corrected on that.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

I used to love that show. I always wanted to travel down Route 66, just to do it. Great job


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Certain places and roads seem to hold symbolic meaning.Thanks for the comment.


resspenser profile image

resspenser 6 years ago from South Carolina

Nice trip down memory lane. I'm a big Corvette guy and have owned three. I remember the show but only barely because I was nine when it started. Good hub.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

resspenser

thanks for commenting.In some ways the car dominated the show, but it was sponsored by Chevrolet.Thanks for commenting.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Pat writes: This certainly brings back memories. I was living in the USA when Route 66 was on television. I remember the opening sequence, and the theme song, but mostly I remember wishing that was me.

The funny thing I had forgotten how the show made me feel, and now I think it is responsible for a lot of things in my life.

The other Tricia often asks how I can bear to travel so much, and asks if it isn't tiring. The truth is that I love being 'on the road' - even though the constant packing and unpacking can be a pain.

Above all, my favourite kind of trip is one where I don't quite know where I am going.

Thanks for a Hub that evoked a lot of memories.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks rot commenting. I was about the same age as the characters at the time so it was easy to identify.I agree with you on trips where you don't quite know where you are going. Every time I see a back road I am tempted to follow it.


Anaya M. Baker profile image

Anaya M. Baker 4 years ago from North Carolina

I never saw the show, but have great memories of driving along Route 66, both the modern tourist attraction and the abandoned part. I had no idea that portions of road had fallen out of use, and started driving around sunset. As the sun went down, the road got worse and worse, nothing around but abandoned buildings and roadside attractions. Eerie! Finally became largely impassible, and had to get off. Took the restored portion the next day, stopped for lunch at the roadkill cafe and got chintzy souveneirs. Great times!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Anaya M. Baker

It has been as many years since I drove that route as it has been since the show. I did go where it was but got caught up on the interstates and didn't see anything.I've been watching some reruns of the show and find it still good. First time around though I was the age of the guys on it. Glad you enjoyed your trip and thanks for commenting.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 17 months ago from Central United States of America

I do remember your Highway 66 as a child, riding in our family Chevrolet.

Enjoyed your hub!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 17 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate your reading and commenting. I do think this highway is symbolic.

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