trip along America's historic Route 66
cornerstone of modern American
life; yet cars need roads, and so the road too is a cornerstone. But
while cars have regularly been raised to the status of cult
in song, poetry and film, roads have tended to keep a more prosaic
image. Occasionally there have been exceptions: Bob Dylan named one of
his most famous albums for a road — Highway 61 Revisited
— and Jack Kerouac gave pride of place to a highway in his
classic novel On the
. Yet in the culture and history of twentieth
century America, one highway stands out from the rest; and although it
no longer exists, except in small sections here and there, "Route 66"
is without the shadow of a doubt the most famous highway in
the United States of America.
Steinbeck, who knew it well, called it
"the Mother Road". It was the
road taken by the Joad family in the
Grapes of Wrath
; for them, as for
hundreds of thousands of real-life dustbowl refugees, Route 66 was the
road that led from the hell of dusty Oklahoma to the paradise of
California, where the peach trees and vines were always laden with succulent
luxurious fruit, just waiting to be picked. At least, that was the
Those who like listening to American
music may have heard the song
Route 66, originally recorded by Nat King Cole, and since then
re-recorded dozens of times by a bevy
artists including The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and Depeche Mode: the
words of the song detail the full itinerary of the US Highway 66, which
from Chicago to L.A., more than two thousand miles all the way."
Today, little is left of
the most famous of all America's highways. Here and there, in Illinois
or in Kentucky, sections of the famous road still display the sign 66;
but 66, where it does survive, is no longer a key element in a
continental highway system as it once was — just a local
highway linking neighboring towns. The development of
transcontinental system of divided-highway "interstates
1950's and 1960's meant that the Mother Road rapidly became obsolete,
and in 1977, fifty-one years after it was created, U.S. 66 officially
ceased to exist. By then, almost everyone wanting to "motor west" was
using the main east-west interstates, I-40, I-60 or I-80.
It was in 1926, the year in which Henry Ford
launched the Model-T and
put the automobile in reach of the ordinary American, that officials
decided that the U.S.A. should have a federal
road network. In Oklahoma, a businessman called Cyrus Avery, who
quickly saw the advantage of bringing a transcontinental highway
through his state, immediately started lobbying officials to create a
single highway running all the way from the Great Lakes to the Pacific,
and passing through Oklahoma; it would be the longest federal highway
in the U.S.A..
Avery's plan was accepted, and the
number 66 was chosen — a
nice memorable number. Avery and others wanted to attract business to
the road and all kinds of promotional activities were organized,
including an amazing trans-America running race from L.A
. to New York
of the 275 runners who began the race, 55 actually ran the
When it opened, only 800 of the 2,400
miles were paved; the rest were
or earth, and it was not until 1937 that the whole route was paved.
Even then, however, it was a hard journey. In winter time most of the
route ran through bitterly cold regions; and in summer, the sections
through new Mexico, Arizona and the California desert were extremely
hot. In those days, cars regularly overheated, passengers needed
and the service stations, restaurants cafés and motels that
appeared at short intervals all along the route did a good trade.
When, bit by
bit, 4-lane interstates replaced the old highway, business collapsed
very rapidly for many of those who had helped so many travelers on
their way. In agricultural regions, towns and communities could survive
without the road, but in the sparsely-populated desert areas, many
small communities just disappeared. Today, for instance, nothing but a
solitary palm tree and a wooden signboard marks the site of
the one-time Bagdad, California. Elsewhere, empty roofless stone
buildings that were once garages or hotels stand abandoned to the wind
and the elements. On some sections of the old road, cars pass by at the
rate of one an hour or less
Perhaps in coming years, there may be a few more; the story of Route 66
is coming to be recognized as history, and a few adventurous travellers
are driving along sections of it, reliving the spirit of the
few, very few, travel the whole road, or what is left of it. Even
in an air-conditioned Cadillac, Route 66 remains what Woody
Guthrie called "a mighty hard road."
object: object that is treated with almost
religious respect -
prosaic: banal - succulent:
juicy - bevy:
collection - to
To travel Route 66 from end to end, travelers should allow at least a week. For an interactive map of the historic route, see Route 66 map
Route 66 is
a road for people with time to spare, and a taste for a long
journey. Scottish TV presenter Billy Connolly spent weeks
the route for a four-part TV documentary;
(pronounced like "wined"): to twist
and turn - interstate:
motorway - federal:
national - network:
- gravel: sand and stones - sustenance:
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Highway 66 revisited
Vocabulary: Select the nearest equivalent for the following words and
phrases used in the article:
A. Gave pride of
: 1 gave prominence to, 2 gave a new role
3 gave up
B. Stands out from:
1 is better than, 2 is older than, 3 can be distinguished from.
C. Without the
shadow of a doubt
: 1 certainly 2
probably 3 perhaps
D. Laden with
covered with, 2 accompanied by 3, full of.
E. A key
1. a limited access road, 2 an
part, 3 an industrial route
popular, 2 no longer adequate, 3 old fashioned
telling, 2 trying to persuade, 3 paying.
Written expression: Free composition.
The year is 1930. You are driving, with your family and have just
reached Dry Creek Station, Arizona, en route for California. Write a
letter home to your friends in Oklahoma, describing the road and the
Comprehension: Read the article, then put these events in the right
1. Nothing remains
of Bagdad, California, except a palm tree and a sign.
2. Only 800 of the
2,400 miles were paved when it opened.
3. The U.S.
Government decided to create a federal road network.
4. Number 66 was
chosen for the road.
road officially ceased to exist.
Avery began lobbying for the road.
7. A trans-American
foot race was run.
8. Interstates were
developed all over the USA.
9. Avery's plan was
10. Depeche Mode
recorded the song Route 66.
Once you have established the right
order, link the sentences in pairs, and use them as the basis of a
synopsis of the story of Route 66 in 200 words.