Route 66: The mother of all nostalgia
Since 1926, the highway has provided life to eight states
There was a time when cars drove across eight states, from Chicago to coastal California. But the 2,400-mile path known as Route 66 seems to live on as a sentimental journey.
The Mother Road, as outlined in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” was part of America’s first highway system, according to the National Park Service.
It existed in real terms until 1946, but has adapted to tourist purposes.
Cadillac Ranch, a line of a decade’s worth of half-buried vehicles, is a Route 66 icon outside Amarillo, Texas. (Photo by John Naughton.)
The road speaks to car culture. Some preserved stretches of Route 66 link small towns with cozy restaurants, signposts and neon. There’s also some rural poverty mixed in, should you take a closer look.
A TV show and song based on the road emerged in the 1960s. Reruns led to more memories, too.
In the past week, I covered stretches of the road through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. I sampled chili served over spaghetti (Cincinnati style five way chili) and grilled hamburgers with onions pressed into the meat in Oklahoma. I traced back my own nostalgia on family road trips that featured five kids packed into a station wagon.
Ike’s Chili is a notable food fixture on Route 66 in Tulsa, one of the largest cities on the route. (Photo by John Naughton.)
I’m too young to have driven the actual highway during its heyday. But I do think it’s a fun way to travel when you have the time.
Ike’s Chili in Tulsa serves up heaping portions of chili. You can order it “three way,” with spaghetti, chili and cheese. Add onions and beans and you’re up to a five-way meal that will fill your belly.
The chili has a deep, rich flavor. If you’ve eating canned chili beans with chili gravy, that’s close. Tomatoes aren’t big here.
This five-way chili includes meat, beans, onions and shredded cheese atop spaghetti. (Photo by John Naughton.)
West of Tulsa is a tiny town known as El Reno, Oklahoma. It’s home to Sid’s, a delightful joint known for Oklahoma onion burgers.
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