It has long been accepted as fact that Americans are car-crazy. The ideology of Manifest Destiny, our allegiance to the idea of personal freedom, the materialistic drive that powers our society -- all of these have been cited as reasons for the torrid American love affair with the automobile.
And yet, despite our need for wheels and a road to drive upon, most of our ardor is directed at the Car and not the Road. We love our cars, we name them, we pamper them, and if we're lucky, we are buried in them Pharaoh-style under a pyramid of old air filters. But roads? Eh, we let them fall into disrepair and give them only numbers as designations. It's hard to love a number the way you love an Elzie -- unless that number is 66. As in Route 66, the Mother Road of America. Route 66 is the only road to ever weave itself into our national fiber, its very name denoting romance, freedom, excitement -- all the things cars normally do to us, Route 66 does as well.
So it's little wonder that Mighty 66 is celebrated, especially here in the Illinois-Missouri area, where so many sections of the long-gone highway remain. This weekend offers several opportunities to renew your connection to the Mother Road, or to make your first tryst with the original highway. Don't worry, she'll be gentle with you; that's part of her charm.
Ms. Day: Start your tour of grandeur in Cuba, Missouri, which is about 90 minutes southwest of St. Louis off I-44. Along Route 66 there, you can go on a guided tour of the town's ten murals, which depict various historic, local scenes (call 573-885-2627 for information). Or you can just guide yourself after picking up a map at the Visitor Center (877-212-8429) or visiting www.crawfordco.com/murals.
Mr. Night: Technically, these murals don't date from Route 66's heyday, but they're clearly in the spirit of the road. Route 66 was as much about seeing interesting things along the way as it was about getting to your ultimate destination. The Missouri House and Senate proclaimed Cuba "Route 66 Mural City," and that's not an honor bequeathed lightly.
But if you like your pictures of the moving variety, head to Lebanon, Missouri (about three hours southwest of St. Louis off I-44). On Saturday, September 10, the city hosts an all-day Route 66 Festival. In addition to tours of the Route 66 Museum (915 South Jefferson Avenue) and a 10 a.m. classic car parade, you can enjoy one of five screenings of George Lucas' American Graffiti at the Ritz 7 Theatre. Tickets are a very un-2005 $1 each.
Also be sure to check out the Munger-Moss Motel -- a 1946 roadside motel marked by a colorful neon sign, complete with a giant arrow pointing to the stop-over spot -- and Wrink's Market, operated for 55 years by original owner, Glenn Wrink. There's bound to be some good stories floating around in there. For more information about these landmarks or the fest, call the Lebanon Convention & Visitors Bureau at 866-532-2666 or visit www.lebanonmo.org.
Of course, if you're more of a homebody, there're parts of Route 66 still existent right here in St. Louis. The city of Manchester celebrates its connection to the past with the Route 66 Homecoming Celebration at Paul Schroeder Park (350 Old Meramec Station Road; 636-391-6326) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (September 9 through 11). Admission is free, there's a carnival midway and concessions, and even with gas prices hovering at $3 a gallon, it's still a cheaper date than going to the movies.