Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Got My Kicks On Route 66

Or so the song said.  I'm not sure exactly what it is that has ingrained Route 66 into the fabric of America -- John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath; Bobby Troup's song; the old TV show, or just the shear number of folks who made their way up and down the Main Street of America before the advent of the Interstate.  Regardless, it's an institution and an Icon, and I can say I've ridden it end-to-end.  I pulled up to the corner of Jackson and Michigan in downtown Chicago about 530pm.  I traveled 4,170 miles on the entire trip, and I never really intended to end up here.  I had started with the idea of going down to Austin, TX to see some friends -- but plans changed, and then changed again, and here I sat on a muddy, rain splattered hot bike on a surprisingly quiet street in downtown Chicago having reached the proverbial and literal end of the road.
I'd left Springfield, IL on the last 200 miles of this trip earlier in the day, having stumbled into town by accident on the day of the "Springfield Mile" motorcycle race.  The town was full of bikers in for the race.  It reminded me a bit of Sturgis since virtually everyone in the Holiday Inn breakfast bar was wearing a Harley t-shirt.  As I poured over the HD Rider's Atlas I was amused to see that the section of the map I was looking at was on page 66 -- an ironic ending to this journey I thought.

I headed Northeast out of Springfield -- up past the State Capitol and out into the farm fields following the rail line.  I love the small towns that dot this section of the road, and about an hour into the ride I rolled into the small town of Atlanta, IL.  Coming past a corn field the town had installed a fun little Burma Shave run to welcome folks to town:  "Welcome.  Atlanta.  Is R Name.  Library/Clock.  Bring us fame.  Stop to visit. On the left.  BA Shame. 4 U 2 Miss it."  There was no traffic on the road, and I pulled over to take the picture and to write it down.  I saw in my rearview another small truck stopped heading the other way, then started to back up.  I really paid no mind, and then pulled forward a bit to keep writing, and so did the truck.  Finally she backed up to me and asked if I was OK.  I said I was, and told her what I was doing and how I thought the sign was cleaver, especially since they wrote it in "TXT" speak.  She agreed, and that started a five minute conversation -- her truck facing the opposite direction, me on the bike, both of us chatting beside a corn field across a road with no traffic.  She told me about the town, and said "It ain't much -- but the people sure are nice."  I said she was a prime example and we talked about the just staring memorial day celebration up in the town square.  So here was the population of Atlanta, IL, sitting along the old road,  celebrating memorial day as it was intended, while the rest of America rushed by on I-55 a few miles to the south, never realizing what was just of the Interstate. 
Just past the town square in Atlanta stood another roadside icon.  A reconfigured "Muffler Man" and sometimes called "Paul Bunyans".  These were very popular with oil and auto service companies in the 50s and 60s and were roadside icons all over the US.  There is even a web site devoted to documenting them.  They were made by the International Fiberglass Company, and hundreds were made, and there are versions all over, but few still standing for their original use.  I ran into two of them in this stretch of road -- first if Atlanta, IL's "Hot Dog" guy, and second is a famous Route 66 icon, in Wilmington, IL, for the "Launching Pad" restaurant.  
I've always loved roadside kitsch like this -- giant statutes, gimicks and come-on's.  But today no one has anything original and new -- all you get is the wacky wild inflatable arm flailing tube man.  That isn't creative or fun.

I could see a developing storm on the horizon to the west, but I was heading northeast so I figured I'd be outrunning it.  However it came up faster than I could get away, and the sky suddenly turned dark and the wind started blowing me and the bike all over, and then it started to rain and I knew what was coming.  Fortunately I had just turned into the small town of Odell, IL and up to a restored gas station that also serves as welcome to town kiosk.  I pulled under the canopy as if I were getting gas just as it started to pour.
The very nice lady inside said she didn't mind if I parked there to wait out the storm.  We chatted for quite a bit, both of us saying "it should last much longer".  I had no way of checking radar, but she called around and found out what was going on, and another passerby said they heard it would stop about 2p.  It was 115p, so I figured i'd wait it out rather than struggle into the rain gear, and I was only 80 miles out of Chicago.  In the middle of the rain storm a parade of bikers came in, followed by a mini-van.  It was an escorted motorcycle tour of German tourists.  They all wanted to know about my trip, and we all posed for pictures.  They were all in full rain gear and this was more of a "smoke" break for them, as ALL of them smoked, and few could read or understand English.  Their tour guide and I chatted, he'd just taken another tour east the way I was going from LA, and was taking this group and the bikes back west.  I think I found a new career.

The rain wasn't letting up, so I just sat on the bench and read, but was getting too antsy to read and decided to get the rain gear out.  Sure enough, as soon as I did it started to stop.  I let it go for another half hour and then loaded everything back up and hit the road for the final miles into Chicago.

While the road was wet, I got some splash up on my legs, but was wearing gaiters so I stayed dry, and I had to put the jacket on to keep warm.  The urban area started in Joliet, IL and continued all the way to the end.  It took a while getting through Chicago -- but this is "real" Chicago -- where the real folks live and play and work -- not the pretty tourist areas downtown by the Sears Tower and Grant Park.  Its fascinating for me to watch as I drive through, and I get a few "looks" like what is this crazy-ass biker dude with all this luggage doing riding down our corner of the world.   You see the workingman's bar, the strip joint, the local convenience store, and a million different ethnic restaurants.  

The road actually ends at Michigan and Jackson downtown.  I motored up and found the street deserted and was able to park and get the picture and enjoy a brief respite.  I'd reached the end of the road.  But in this case, there is no "end".  I had to get to my hotel before shipping the bike out today, so I rode around the block -- only to find "Begin Historic Route 66!"  Well, we could...

Final batch of pictures is on FaceBook album:

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