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Route 66, America's 'Mother Road', revs back to life

Updated: 2017-06-05 08:11
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"Foreigners come to travel the road because it gives them a chance to experience America before we became generic," says Michael Wallis, a historian and author of Route 66: The Mother Road.

"It's still the road of adventure because nothing on Route 66 is predictable," he adds.

"I often say, 'You know what you are going to get at McDonald's ... but if you are on an old two-lane such as Route 66, you could go into a cafe, a greasy spoon, a pie place, a diner and you don't know what you're going to get.'"

Wallis says the fastest-growing groups of tourists on Route 66 are Chinese and Brazilians, as well as Europeans drawn by the idea of the open space and the "roadtrip of a lifetime".

"I have clients in their 20s and 70s who are fascinated by this road, and everyone is looking for convertible Mustangs and Harley Davidsons to experience it," says Zsolt Nagy, who twice a year organizes Route 66 road trips that cost up to $8,000 per person.

"Business is booming. The roads are better. The signs are better. It's coming back to life," says Zsolt, who is from Hungary and who fell in love with the open road about 10 years ago when he traveled it.

"I think the legend is growing like crazy."

Bob Russell, the mayor of Pontiac, a settlement about two hours southwest of Chicago, says his small community of about 12,000 people is a prime example of the resurgent interest in the road.

"It has been an amazing transformation," he says of the town that boasts four museums and 27 large murals, and is considered one of the jewels of Route 66.

"There is a special aura for Route 66 to the overseas people because it represents freedom, the open road, your scarf around your neck and your hair blowing in the wind."

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