|
|
Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Kendall's Korner: Getting my kicks on Route 66

  • Spring is here and that means one thing — it’s time to hit the road.

    I’ve always loved to travel and explore.
    • email print
      Comment
  • Spring is here and that means one thing — it’s time to hit the road.
    I’ve always loved to travel and explore.
    In 2012, my boyfriend, Tim, and I went to Pontiac to check out the Route 66 Museum. While there, we heard a woman from Australia telling a museum volunteer that she was taking a month to travel the route by herself. I mentioned to Tim later that we should travel Route 66 as well. Granted, there is no way I could take a month off work to do the entire route, but we decided to break it into four parts.
    So, last year in the spring, we began our journey. We traveled to Chicago to start at the beginning or end, depending whether you are going east or west. We got so caught up in eating breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, a Chicago downtown eatery established in 1923, and the sights of the Windy City, that we forgot to get a photo by the Route 66 sign that marks the beginning. We had to walk all the way back from our car as I was not leaving Chicago without that photo. 
    A unique thing about eating at Lou’s is a girl handed out free doughnut holes from a basket while we waited in line. Our super-friendly waitress asked if I wanted a complimentary orange slice and a prune. Sure, why not?
    Next, we traveled to Cicero where we ate lunch at Henry’s, a cool little hotdog joint that had an even cooler sign out front — a large hot dog with neon on the sign.
    At one time Cicero housed one of the giant “muffler men.” He held a hot dog. That giant is now located in Atlanta, Ill. Another interesting thing about Cicero is that in the 1920s, it was a hotbed for gangsters, including Al Capone.
    We traveled through many little towns on the Route. Some don’t have much to look at, but Joliet sure does. Many recognize Joliet as the place where part of “The Blues Brothers” was filmed and a Jake and Elwood theme can be seen throughout the Route. Statues of them are at the old Joliet prison, on top of an ice cream stand and inside the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center. The Welcome Center in Joliet was not as thrilling as the museum in Pontiac, but it’s still worth the stop. There are a lot of really neat Route 66 signs and old gas station pumps for photo ops around town. There is also a delightful Route 66 diner where we ate breakfast. 
    Page 2 of 3 - Driving into Wilmington, we were on the lookout for the Gemini Giant, a 30-foot tall muffler man. How could he be so difficult to find? As we rounded a curve, there he was, holding a rocket. He is located next to the Launching Pad restaurant, which was for sale. Tim and I talked about how fun it would be to own a business along Route 66, but not for $400,000.
    I should pause here and say that Tim and I love roadside oddities, neon signs, old motels, and pretty much anything else that is vintage or nostalgic. Being on Route 66 was thrilling for me. It combined so many things I love, and it’s a photographer’s dream.
    In Braidwood, we stopped at the Polk-A-Dot Drive-In, which had James Dean, Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe on the side of the building. When I stepped inside, I felt like I was on the set of Happy Days. Heeeey! Sometimes I think I was born too late. For some reason, the ’50s really appeal to me. Life was simple back then. Plus, the cars were pretty cool, too.
    The town of Gardner features a little two-cell jailhouse that was built in 1905 and a street car diner display.
    Dwight has an adorable 1930s gas station that has been refurbished and now serves as the town’s visitor’s center. The station was closed when we were there.
    We drove to Odell where there is a vintage billboard. It’s actually painted on the side of a barn and advertises Meramec Caverns in Missouri. These types of billboards are a thing of the past. According to the “Route 66 Adventure Handbook” by Drew Knowles — one of the many Route 66 books I purchased for our trip — it states it’s illegal to paint these advertisements on barns due to highway beautification. I didn’t realize highways were beautiful. They actually seem to be the opposite — dull. 
    In Odell, it began to snow, so we headed home. 
    A month later we picked up again in Dwight and this time I was determined to get inside the little gas station. I called the number on the door and a man said he would be right over. He got out of his car and was eating a doughnut. He let us in to browse. He told us he was a city commissioner and explained how a group of the town’s folks got together to restore the gas station. He was very nice and even gave us a free Route 66 pen for the upcoming Red Carpet event, which we also went on in May. You could say that I’m a Route 66 junkie. 
    Page 3 of 3 - We learned a lot on our journey. Illinois has a Route 66 organization, a group of people who are dedicated to preserving things on the Route. I may join someday. We also learned that Route 66 has become quite popular lately. We could tell by looking at the guest book at the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. People signed in from all over the world, many of them from Australia, England, France and even China.
    Pontiac is such a neat town. We ate breakfast at the Old Log Cabin Restaurant, which was built in 1926. This restaurant was turned 180 degrees when a new road was built. When I got to downtown Pontiac, I felt I was stepping back in time. There are about 20 old-fashioned murals painted on the buildings and the courthouse on the square is so picturesque. That’s probably why this town was selected for the movie “Grandview U.S.A.” in 1984. On top of all of this eye candy, there is the Route 66 Museum, which also has a war museum upstairs, and the Pontiac car museum, which is pretty awesome, especially the station wagon display complete with picnic table and a camping theme.
    Lexington has a really neat old section of Route 66 that is dubbed as a “Memory Lane.” Motorists are only allowed to drive it during special occasions, but walking is allowed. Old signs line the cracked pavement. We were excited to drive down Memory Lane in May during the Red Carpet event.
    Funk’s Grove was the halfway point on Route 66 in Illinois and that’s where I will end this portion of the story for now, but there is so much more to tell you about. Thanks for coming along for the journey.
    — Jeanette Kendall is the executive editor at TimesNewspapers and the editor of the East Peoria Times-Courier.

        calendar