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75 Years of Route 66

By Amy Lifson | HUMANITIES, July/August 2001 | Volume 22, Number 4

“Elvis only came in here one time. I started to wait on him and we had the juke box right in the center. When he came in he just stopped to look at the juke box first and put his stuff on the table and then he didn’t see any of his records on there. I don’t know why ’cause we always had ’em on there, but I think the Beatles were very popular then. He got mad and left.”
—Hilda Fish, waitress at the Summit Inn, Cajon Pass, Oak Hills, California.

It was built in 1926, crossed eight states and three time zones, went from Chicago to Santa Monica, and was called “The Mother Road.” Route 66 is not marked on most contemporary maps, but its influence on the road culture of the nation is still visible. Opening July 6, to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of Route 66, is a photography exhibition chronicling life along the road in New Mexico between 1970 and today. “‘Don’t Forget Winona’: Route 66 Then and Now” runs through August 10 at Magnifico!Artspace in Albuquerque. It includes photographs by Bill Lucas taken during the 1970s and 80s in Albuquerque, and more recent images from a joint project of Jane Bernard and Polly Brown.

Bernard and Brown began in 1999 to document the entire route through pho-tographs and interviews. What they found along the way surpassed their expectations. Through word-of-mouth they found people still fascinated with the road: from a slew of German tourists who motorcycle across the entire road every summer, to a waitress in California who saw Elvis stop in her diner, to a seventy-year-old man in Arizona who has lived his whole life alongside Route 66, even when he attended barber school in Los Angeles.

Brown tries to explain the lure for modern society. “We go from point A to point B, but we don’t see anything. It’s all the same. Route 66 is an antidote to the ubiquitous sprawl of the superhighways. You get a sense that you’re on an adventure or a journey instead of just speeding down an interstate where everything is the same.”

Later at Magnifico!, from August 17 through September 23, is “Roots & Routes,” a juried art exhibition and panel discus-sion based on the theme of Route 66.

More Route 66 events include a photog-raphy exhibition opening July 11 on the influence of the road in Tucumcari. On July 4, KUNM Albuquerque airs a radio documentary series about how Route 66, and earlier the railroads, transformed the culture of the American Southwest.