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On The Road

April 2023
1min read

Route 66: An American Odyssey

directed by John Paget, Pacific Communications, 54 minutes.

In 1926 a twenty-four-hundred-mile national highway was begun as part of a program to replace the scanty system of market roads between Chicago and Los Angeles. Route 66 eventually delivered the Grand Canyon and Hollywood, the Petrified Forest, Las Vegas, and underground caves, while along it ran a sideshow of diners, tepee-shaped motels, miniature-golf courses, and dinosaurlands. The “Mother Road,” in John Steinbeck’s phrase, made possible the Okies’ escape west from the dust bowl. The director of this documentary turned up a couple of sixty-year-old jalopies, abandoned and flaking next to the highway, that still had “California or bust” scratched in their fenders. Route 66 had its own theme song—Bobby Troup composed half of it in his car, after almost writing about Route 40—and in the early sixties the road starred in a weekly television series, in which two young guys drove its length seeking girls and adventure. By then, though, interstates were replacing 66. It was eventually abandoned, but the lights didn’t go out completely. The film, chiefly narrated by Michael Wallis, author of a history of Route 66, ends with the recent efforts of hundreds of small-town associations to declare the highway a national historic road. Today about 85 percent of the old 66 is there in one form or another. John Paget saw it in style from a 1969 Cadillac while making this film, and he has a collector’s eye for roadside attractions. Lovers of the Mother Road can now happily travel it in their living rooms.

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