Dedek explores the common and uncommon aspects to the history of Route 66. The first part of the book covers the chronology and dives into the national need for well-maintained highways. This concludes with the official closing of the road and then a cultural investigation begins. Route 66 has featured in several well-known works, such asThe Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. Yet Dedek doesn’t stop there. He touches on the negative sides of the times, such as prejudice and lack of equal rights for women; Route 66 is a part of that history.
I learned quite a bit about Route 66 from this book. Quite frankly, I was stunned to hear that the route was officially closed as I have driven on parts of Route 66 many times. Through this book, I learned how the major interstates replaced such roads in commerce. Hence, much of 66 is officially closed and abandoned, no longer maintained. Here in NM, chunks of it are still alive and thriving (hence my ignorance on the matter). Also, I was unaware that 66 had stretched so far east. Truly, I just thought it was a desert Southwest thing. Yet when I reflect on all the TV, movies, books, music that reference 66, so much of those references are set in the desert Southwest.
As the automobile rose in popularity and families started taking meandering holidays, transportation by railroad declined. Route 66 had a hand in that, making much of the west accessible. With all these tourists came a change in advertising, hotels, diners, and cultural attractions. The native cultures of the desert Southwest were definitely encouraged to modify their wears to make them more attractive to tourists. Plus there were the little roadside acts, like cowboys versus Indians trick riding shows. Many Route 66 buildings added facades to their street side face that made them more attractive to tourists. I’m sure whole books have been written on the architecture of Route 66.
Dedek includes a section on the nostalgia of Route 66, the various preservation organizations, the fan clubs, etc. Coupled with that he includes a short section on how the freedom of Route 66 was not for everyone. For much of the history of 66, hotels and diners would not cater to non-Whites. It was also highly unusual for unaccompanied women to travel the route. I really appreciate that Dedek makes this nod to reality instead of clinging to the fantasy of the perfect road trip. He also went to the trouble to dig up postcards from the ‘good old times’ that travelers mailed home back east. Not everyone was taken with the charms of the desert Southwest. All around, this is a pretty comprehensive history of Route 66 that refuses to turn a blind eye to certain realities.
I received this audiobook from the narrator (via the Audiobook BlastNewsletter) at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
The Narration: Michael Rene Zuzel did a pretty good job. He sounded interested in the subject and seemed to enjoy narrating the book. His pacing was good, not rushing the listener along. There were a few times he pronounced a local word (like ‘kachina’) oddly and I had to stop a moment to figure out what he meant. I am sure some regional dialect uses his pronunciation, just not mine. These instances were few & far between.