Travelling the Main Street of America
Normal, Illinois. Now, there's a name of romance and mystery. Together with its siamese-twin city, Bloomington, it hosts 66's great annual Corvette gathering and this is where we'll make our first overnight stop. Local contacts are working to put on quite a welcome for us, and you'll find amazing enthusiasm and affection for the Mother Road here. And just wait till you see the great hotel we've found for you, furnished with $10,000,000-worth of antiques. It's fun, and it's real!
It's a pretty run south out of Normal-Bloomington, even though Funk's Grove had run out of its famous maple syrup when I was there! Next stop, the Dixie Truckers Home in McLean, is one of Route 66's icons. For decades from 1932, John Geske and his family served honest all-American road food to truckers and travellers, only closing for one day in 1965 when the original building burned down. In the true spirit of the Route 66 community, temporary arrangements were cobbled together so that their legendary pie was being dispensed again within 24 hours. My own experience of the Dixie in October was mixed. The founders have franchised the business, so you now find Dixies in several locations across the country. Perhaps as a result, the place has become bigger and brasher, the food now with a suggestion of mass-production. The corridor housing the "Route 66 Hall of Fame" remains an absolute must-see, but I found friendlier and more pleasant places to eat than the "improved" Dixie. It is, I fear, evidence of what Tom Teague has called "the blanding of America". Long may the insidious tide of uniformity be held back by the dreamers and campaigners along Old 66.
The antidote to the cleaned-up Dixie? Atlanta! Six miles from McLean and seldom covered in the guides, but what a gem. The nice clock tower and library sometimes crack a mention, but the ramshackle City Hall and old commercial area are far more interesting. You could do a U-turn with a Kenworth eighteen-wheeler in Vine Street and there's one car an hour, but it's One Way - Why? One feels the eerie stillness and wonders what stories lie behind Atlanta's sad, slumbering façades.
Springfield, Illinois, is the hometown of Abraham Lincoln and I'm recommending that you spend an hour or two here. If you follow the old, old alignment of original 66 through town, you'll pass right by some of the most important sights. As early as the 'thirties, 66 was re-routed to by-pass the centre of town and this "new" section is an easier road to follow, but whichever way you go, park up for a while and visit the shady historic quarter surrounding Lincoln's home. The boardwalks, clap-board houses and unsealed roads take you back to a more gracious age.