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