Route 66 Souvenirs
by Alan Rose
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
1998, 54 pages
Buy it online
I have wonderful memories of traveling overseas when I was a kid. Through Scotland and England, a couple of nights in Amsterdam, a few days in Paris. Traveling by train from Rome to Genoa and through the rolling countryside of the Swiss Alps. But the memories of all those trips pale in comparison to my recollections of traveling by car in my own country.
When I was a boy and the parental units couldn't afford to go to Vienna or London -- which was often -- dad would usually pile all of us into the 62 Strato Chief and head out down the road to places unknown (usually the Rockies which were about four hours away). As far as I was concerned, we were on holiday and it didn't matter which way we were headed. Paris was fun, sure, but there was more to traveling in a big piece of Detroit steel than just the drive. The hum of the wheels on the road, the friendly banter of your parents in the front seat, picking up weird and wacky radio stations, opening the window and doing that up and down airplane thing with your hand. To be able to stand on the drive-shaft hump between the front and back seats and peer over dad's shoulder and down the road as if I were driving the Great Beast myself. Instead I was delegated to the purgatory that is the back seat with my three-year-old sister yammering in my ear mile after mile.
Traveling by car made most of North America a blissful place to get around provided the gas was cheap and the Styrofoam cooler in the trunk was well stocked with weenies and plenty of cool drinks. The automobile was not just a cheap and easy way of getting from A to B -- it was your very own self-contained world on wheels, delivering you down the highway with speed and comfort. That is if it was 102 degrees in the shade and dad had sprung for that most coveted of all car options: air conditioning. Mine didn't. So it was windows-down-at-sixty-miles-an-hour-stripped-to-my-jockeys-in-a-navy-blue-car hell. With vinyl seats.
This great romance of traveling by car meant never having to follow anybody else's time table. You could stop at the roadside diner for a bite if you were hungry -- it didn't matter if it was two in the a.m. or p.m. You could visit that really boring historical point of interest if you really wanted. Just for a look. Or that convenient roadside bush -- should mother nature whisper in your ear that you drank one too many sodas at that last diner -- well it was waiting just for you.
To so many people the car and the trips taken in it were valuable rights of passage. If you had a car you could say "I've been there, done that and have the bumpersticker to prove it." And to Americans there seems to be no greater right of passage than to have traveled down Route 66: Main Street, USA.
With Route 66 Souvenirs, Alan Rose has compiled not so much a book of momentos as of panoramas of that great highway. Little glimpses of sights to be seen. Tiny dioramas you can punch out and put together, recreating some of the more famous facades you would see or perhaps have seen along this famous road. Beginning with a brief history of Route 66 from its christening in 1926 to its becoming fully decertified in 1985 and what has become of it since. Never mind that the history is short, because there is already a book on the subject, Route 66: The Mother Road, penned by Suzanne and Michael Wallis who also wrote the forward to this book.
With Route 66 Souvenirs what we really care about is the cool stuff inside. The easy-to-punch-out-and-assemble die-cut buildings and reproductions of billboards, bumper-stickers and matchbook covers. Trains and cars and roadside marques, giant whales and ancient gas pumps, seedy motels and diners. So much great retro stuff, it makes me want to punch it all out and create my own little Route 66. Set them all up and drive my 62 Corvette Dinky Toy up and down the miniature ersatz highway. What fun.
Having never traveled down this highway myself, I often find it difficult to understand the appeal of this main artery of America. With Route 66 Souvenirs that understanding is a little closer. I can almost feel the wind in my hair and the vinyl sticking to my backside. | November 1998
David Middleton is art director of January Magazine.