For years I’ve been fascinated with Route 66. Recently, as I traveled a section across six states, I realized why. It’s a time warp.
In a world where everything else is at a frenetic pace, Route 66 is slow. By definition, it claims slow—you are off the main highway, moving at a lower speed limit and willing to stop to take a photo, grab a bite to eat, even chat with a stranger.
Because Route 66 is also friendly. Oh, not the Mother Road itself, although it does seem to beckon you to take quick side trips and linger over decades-old relics. But it’s the people along Route 66 that make it what it is. These are the people who live within a constant reminder of that earlier, slower time, when hospitality was extended to all.
“When you travel Route 66, you’re gonna meet some of the nicest people you’ve ever known,” says Gary Turner, proprietor of what used to be called the Gay Purita Store at Paris Springs Junction. “You’ll find some snaggletoothed old man maybe sweeping the front porch, but if you take the time to talk, he’ll tell you something you didn’t know before. You’ll see some neat things, and make a lot of friends.”
Turner is quick to play tour guide, too, walking visitors through his favorite stops along the road via a book by David Wickline, Images of 66. “The Café on the Route is a B and B upstairs, and they have really good food,” he says. He also advises a stop at Sid’s Diner in Yukon, Oklahoma.”
When you get into Texas, he says check out the Red River Steakhouse in McLean, adding, “I promise you will not be sorry you ate there!” But, if you prefer, take the challenge at the Big Texan, where a 72 oz. steak is free if you can eat it—along with the salad, sides and bread—in one hour.
Turner recommends the Ugly Crust Pies at the Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas, where you can celebrate being halfway along Route 66 with a special dessert. But his recommendation for a leisurely lunch sounds best of all. He says, “Pull into an old time grocery store and get some bread, some lunch meat, some onion, maybe a tomato about this thick. Let it drip on you a little when you take a bite. Maybe add a bag of chips and an ice cold Coca Cola. It may be the best meal of your life.”
One other piece of advice from Turner: “The best way to travel Route 66 is to not make reservations and not make plans. Take it as it comes. It’ll be the best vacation of your life.”
When it comes right down to it, that’s what the old route is about. “People who drive through, maybe stop to take a picture but never slow down to chat—well, they can say they’ve been on Route 66, but they never really found it,” Turner says. “It’s really about the people. This isn’t the same culture as New York or Chicago. It’s the way it was in the 20s, the 30s, the 40s. You can’t go back there, but you can’t ever get closer than when you slow down on Route 66.”
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All photos courtesy of Paul K. Logsdon