Our holidays over the past few years have been enjoyable but flawed in some significant way. Being a keen photographer, I like nothing better than being somewhere that offers great photo opportunities. To some extent, everywhere does - but Sri Lanka was a whistle stop tour to someone else’s agenda and Marrakesh was full of pushy and miserable people who did their level best to make life miserable and fleece tourists to the greatest degree possible.
That’s why we wanted something very different; something where we had more control and what better than a road trip? Land’s End to John O’Groats? Seen most of that and not exotic enough. Then we fell upon Route 66. Neither of us had ever been to USA and I’d never driven abroad - i.e. outside the UK.
A bit of research later and we had a package of flights, accommodation and car hire that would get us into Chicago, 2,500 miles to Santa Monica and then back to Heathrow.
Virgin airlines did a splendid job of the outbound flight. Great check-in and even the US immigration process was quick and efficient - when we’d been warned to expect a slow and tortuous process.
The CTA train to downtown Chicago was both easy and efficient. In fact, it puts the London Underground service to shame in every meaningful respect. When we exited the CTA a kind gentleman pointed the way to our hotel on West Randolph St. Perfect. Art Deco decor and exquisite room made for a fantastic introduction to America’s second city.
The first full day there was spent looking round the Shedd Aquarium - right next to Soldier Field on a day when Chicago Bears were playing host to New Orleans Saints. Both sets of fans behaved impeccably before and after the game. On the way back, we ate at The Exchequer pub on Wabash. Apparently, Al Capone used to dine there and it was named after his finance man’s nickname. Fantastic food and an excellent local real ale.
One more night in the hotel and we were off to pick up our hire car. We had a Toyota Corolla booked but were offered a cheap upgrade to a Dodge Avenger. So far, so average. It’s comfortable and economical but the steering seems very light. Not a problem but not what I’m used to.
Then there’s the traffic. Oh my word. Chicago was mega-busy on the Monday morning we set off towards Springfield Illinois. There were also numerous diversions which caused our rather skittish sat-nav some real challenges. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, we got onto what was masquerading as Route 66.
At this point, it’s worth highlighting that Route 66 doesn’t actually exist. What you have is modern roads with current designations which have surplanted what was Route 66 once upon a time, many years ago. Frankly, to drive the back roads all the way (only using interstate highways where the old roads no longer exist) would probably take several weeks - particularly to first-timers.
Then there’s the signage. Because Route 66 changed and morphed over the years since it’s origin in the mid 1920’s, there are several options and side-trips - many of which are dead ends or end up as dirt tracks passable only with care. The guide books do tell you this but what is not obvious until you encounter it is the truly awful and inconsistent way in which roads (in general and Route 66 in particular) are signed. On numerous occasions, we’ve had to take blind leaps of faith as to which road to take when faced with a variety of unmarked or poorly marked options. Some exits from interstates have led us to have to make circuitous re-routes to make second and third stabs at getting on the road we want.
Driving on the “wrong side of the road” in busy cities and towns in an unfamiliar car and looking for roads that aren’t marked or are marked differently to expected has caused some very stressful situations and “debates”. As my wife says, though, “at least we’re still talking”.
That’s probably enough for now. I’m shooting film, so photos will have to wait for a couple of weeks. However, we’re currently in an hotel in Amarillo, Texas and heading out to get some food. That said, we’re not driving - we’re taking a taxi. It’ll cost a few bucks more but at least we can relax and have a beer.
I’ll post more about Springfield Illinois, St Louis, Springfield Missouri, Oklahoma City and the rest of the trip over the next few weeks. Tomorrow is Tucumcari - a relatively short hop. With a bit of luck, we’ll be able to drive the whole way on Route 66 - but I’m not holding my breath!!