Published in the summer 2011 issue of MyLIFE magazine
I’m a frustrated piano player. I longed and still yearn to replicate the talents of Teddy Wilson, Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and Bobby Troup, whom I was fortunate enough to see perform three or four times with his trio at a trendy, up-scale restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.
The requests during the evening would always flow: “Route 66, please, Bobby!” Troup would swing into a smooth rendition of the song. It became his signature work, much the same as Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco did for him. Once, his wife, actress Julie London, joined him and sang the piece.
Formerly a pianist with the renowned Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Troup headed west after World War II with millions of other veterans. His travels inspired him to write the song, which suggested that the “get-your-kicks” journey was an end in itself.
Route 66 became a huge hit for Troup. It also popularized the two-lane highway that commenced in Chicago and ended in Los Angeles. From its starting point in the Windy City, the road headed southwest to Oklahoma City, then due west to the sun and surf of the Pacific Ocean. It crossed eight states—Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California—and three time zones.
Established in the 1920s, at a time when the automobile was rapidly becoming the main preference for family vacation travel, Route 66 was officially designated a U.S. highway by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 1926. Its lifespan, however, was short—less than 50 years. It was decommissioned in 1985, with some sections becoming part of the Interstate Highway System.
Artist Zack Jones escaped the summer heat of the Valley in 2005 by spending a great deal of time at a friend’s ranch in Parks, which is located in the northern part of Arizona. He soon discovered that the fabled Route 66 was the main road that ran between Williams and Flagstaff, where he would go to buy groceries and other necessities. The lure of “66” got to him and, enchanted by the history of “The Mother Road” (so named by John Steinbeck in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath), Jones began photographing old homes and buildings, abandoned gas stations and garages, lonely and stark portions of the route … whatever gripped him. A classic was his photo of a bright red Corvette (made famous in the ’60s television show Route 66) outside an old gas station and motel.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ZACK JONES
A scene from the film version of The Grapes of Wrath that will always be etched in my mind is the one in which Henry Fonda sits at the wheel of a broken-down automobile laden with his family and all of their belongings as they leave the Dust Bowl to head for California. During the Great Depression, Route 66 served as a main passage for more than 200,000 poverty-ridden rural inhabitants to their Garden of Eden, California.
Very few highways in America, if any, will hold an everlasting allure for so many as has Route 66.