Oliver Cross: Time to live the dream of getting kicks on Route 66

Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois.
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JANUARY, in the empty period following the festivities, is a time for dreaming.

So this week, me and my partner Lynne have been dreaming about driving the length of Route 66, which, you’ll remember, winds from Chicago to LA, which is more than 2,000 (actually 2,278) miles on the way and, I’m advised, is the highway that’s the best, especially with regard to getting your kicks.

Actually, I won’t be driving because I’ve never passed my driving test (due to bad nerves and dyspraxia) and we won’t, strictly speaking, be following Route 66, which ceased to exist in 1985 and was replaced by new inter-state highways.

But the dream lives on because Lynne enjoys driving and the idea of travelling down what are now back-roads is more attractive than doing the distance as quickly as possible. Creative tootling will be our mission.

Besides, it will give us the chance to visit some beautifully-named towns and states, American place names being one of the glories of the western world – Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh (incidentally, the only US city named after a British prime minister)…they’re all crying out to be celebrated in song.

The lyrics of Route 66 name-check oh-so-pretty Oklahoma City, Flagstaff, Amarillo (which we hope to find the way to), Wynona and San Bernardino, but that’s only the start of it; we also want to visit Shamrock, Moriarty (New Mexico), Hackberry, Tucumcary and, particularly satisfying for a fan of The Simpsons, two Springfields.

I’ve only been driven around America once before, on a press trip through Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The strange thing was that everything seemed familiar – more so than some redeveloped parts of Britain, which look like Shanghai. We saw houses that could have been inhabited by Rosanne, The Family Guy or The Simpsons, a bar straight out of Cheers and gasoline stations and fast-food diners from a thousand American films and TV shows.

There was even a copy of the Bates Motel from the film Psycho, which is a bit worrying because Norman Bates turned into a crazed serial killer after the motel was bypassed by a new highway, which is roughly the situation in the places we’ll be visiting on Route 66. Still, I’m sure that was an atypical over-reaction and see no reason to cancel the trip.

The other thing I discovered on my journey through the Mid-west was how pleasant and moderate most Americans are; the internet and Rupert Murdoch’s dreadful Fox News are full of violently outspoken right-wing or religious extremists but, in person, I met only intelligent, often humorous and gentle people – and can we please drop the grossly-unobservant myth that Americans have no sense of irony?

It may be that the Route 66 trip, if it comes off, will be our last major adventure before our pensions run out, so I think it important that we don’t go anywhere too exotic. The Far East or South America are fine for young Britons, who have yet to understand that, really, you can’t expect to fully understand foreigners, particularly if they don’t speak English; but I want to get the best out of my farewell tour. I want to go somewhere, unlike the Middle East, the Balkans or Afghanistan, where I’ve got a chance of appreciating what’s going on without getting bored, or indeed shot.