Last month was a busy time for Route 66 fans in northern Illinois. Not only was it the start of cruising season (technically, that began on Memorial Day weekend, but let’s not split hairs), it was also the month when the Route 66 Association of Illinois had its 24th annual motor tour up and down the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway; the Czechoslovak American Congress and the city of Crest Hill held their annual Lidice remembrance at the monument in town (more on that later this week); and many fellow 66 roadies began their own personal summer road trips down the historic highway. Yes! Please forgive us for posting this so late: we were having too much fun.
One of the things we haven’t seen yet is the new exhibit that opened June 16th at the Joliet Area Historical Museum: “Life is a Highway: Discovering Route 66,” which will be open through September 7th (my birthday – blush!). The exhibit covers 66 points of interest along the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway (let’s hope some of those are north of Joliet, eh?). This exhibit is in addition to the “Route 66 Experience” that resides within the first-floor Route 66 Welcome Center. Don’t miss it!
And of course, June is when you know for sure that it’s summer, and the Rich & Creamy ice cream stand is open again on Broadway Street in Joliet. You can’t miss it: it’s the one with Jake and Elwood Blues dancing on the roof. Speaking of which: the city of Joliet has been the landlord of Rich & Creamy ever since it began buying up property for the Broadway Greenway project, which is now better known as Route 66 Park. For some crazy reason, city manager Tom Thanas has the kooky idea that instead of fixing the roof and letting the official Route 66 Roadside Attraction continue to do business (the fix-up will cost about $19,000, according to one estimate), maybe the city should just tear down the ice cream stand. ARE YOU KIDDING?!? This is a Route 66 landmark that brings tourists into your town, one that also has a dead downtown most of the week, and you’re just going to tear down a money-making business that gets people to spend money in your burg? What have you been smoking, Tom??? BAD city manager!
Here’s a thought: perhaps Route 66 roadies everywhere would like to let the city manager know just what a dumb idea tearing down Rich & Creamy would be. Express your displeasure to Joliet city manager Tom Thanas by calling him at (815) 724-3722 or e-mailing him at email@example.com. Thanks and a tip of the hat to Ron Warnick of Route 66 News for letting us know about that development and about the new film about the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway wayside markers (and yes, they did skip everything north of Joliet; sheesh! Some people never learn …).BTW, June is also when our friend and resource, geographer par excellence Dr. Dave Solzman, restarts his tours up and down the Chicago River and related waterways. This is something he only does during the summer because weather and rough waters make it impossible the other three seasons of the year. Dr. Dave, who is a member of Friends of the Chicago River, knows the waterways well and has been leading this tour for a few decades, having inherited it from his mentor, the late geographer and fellow academic Harold Meyer. For those unfamiliar with Chicago: the Chicago River and its connection via Mud Lake (the famous Chicago Portage) to the Des Plaines River, the Illinois River, and the Mississippi was the Route 66 of its time – i.e., the major way of getting from one end of the territory (Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, through the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic) to the other end (the Gulf of Mexico). That was one well-traveled waterway! And so full of history, too.
We did Dr. Dave’s all-day Great Circle Waterways Tour last September on a brilliant Sunday and had the best time. Our very comfy tour boat, Chicago’s Little Lady, started off at the Michigan Avenue Bridge and took the main stem of the Chicago River through the Chicago lock out onto the lakefront, down the lakeshore to the mouth of the Calumet River, then up the Calumet and through the Cal-Sag Channel all the way to its confluence with the Sanitary & Ship Canal. At that point, we went back upstream on the Sanitary & Ship Canal all the way through what used to be Mud Lake and into the South Branch of the Chicago River, then returned downtown on the South Branch to the main stem and back to the Michigan Avenue Bridge. We’ll be writing up that trip for you and posting it in the near future, along with some great photos we took. It’s a tour you really ought to consider taking.
June was also the second anniversary of the day when yours truly got the notion to take that long-delayed road trip down the route from downtown Chicago to downtown Joliet and invited fellow foodie Joe Kubal to come along. As we were both (ahem) somewhat underemployed that summer, we had the time … and decided to do a little research first, to see what was still left on the route that was there in 1926. Imagine our surprise when we found that nearly all extant guidebooks on Route 66 were useless for this particular section of the road, because they said almost nothing about it. Imagine our further surprise when we began finding a whole lot more than we guessed would be there. Well. That day trip, which finally took place in August of 2011 – and attracted a me-too pal, fellow roadie and geographer Keith Yearman – made us realize that we had the beginnings of a book. Which led us to begin researching the road in earnest and me to start writing a manuscript. And this blog, from which y’all now benefit. Hope you’re enjoying it! (Can we have a little love now, please, for our efforts? Thank you.)
Has it really been two years that we’ve been at this? OMG, yes it has – and we’ve had the sweat and the sleepless nights doing the work to prove it. More to the point, we’ve found more than 150 points of interest so far that were there in 1926 when the route opened for business and are still there (we don’t believe in pointing people to things that don’t exist anymore; where’s the fun in that?). So you see, fellow roadies, you really did need us to do this. Chicago to Joliet is the most underrated, overlooked, undiscovered part of the route – for shame!! The Route begins here! – and YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE MISSING. Well … that is, you wouldn’t know, if it weren’t for us. We love doing this, anyway, so we hope that shows.
And we hope that more of you stop thinking that the ‘real’ Route 66 begins south of Joliet after you get past I-80. Not so. That’s like thinking that the route stops once you hit San Berdoo, and never mind the rest of it all the way through greater L.A. to Santa Monica and Pacific Coast Highway, where it actually ends. That would be crazy, right? Our point exactly. Time to get better acquainted with the front end of the road.
Finally, it’s not too soon to start planning for two great Route 66 car shows in September. Mark your calendars now: the Berwyn Route 66 Car Show is always on the first Saturday after Labor Day, and the Springfield Route 66 Car Show is near the end of the month. If you have wheels to show off, these would be the places to do it in northern and central Illinois. And there’s the last car cruise of the summer just a day or two before the Berwyn car show; can’t miss that. Be there or be square, dudes.
Have fun on the route this month! We’ll see you there.
Until next time,