It’s here. Hot days, thunderous rains, cool breezes; it’s not a perfect Spring but what is? Illinois green is peeking out from the ground – in fact, in some places the corn actually looks a little high already. Drab muddy browns and grays are giving way to bright greens, spring perennials, and even bright yellow dandelions. Woo hoo – no snow and pops of color!
This is going to be a busy summer everywhere on 66! This is the year of the better than ever Staycation! Communities are putting together their summer/fall festival lineups and you will find fun and interesting places and faces to go and meet not far from home.
The Launching Pad has come a long way from the shuttered, for-sale restaurant with the Gemini Giant slowly being covered with stickers. It is interesting to see that two people who are in the process of rediscovering new lives after sorrow were able to focus on what the Gemini Giant means. Clean windows, a resurfaced parking lot, new bus lanes, neon, an updated roof, racks of t-shirts and even a Route 66 Information Center inside and suddenly the dark and empty recesses of the Launching Pad glow with a warm welcome to local and International visitors. No food inside yet, but it will come. A place to start your adventure and to start your story. It’s always appreciated if you buy a pop or water or t-shirt, but Holly and Tully are genuinely happy to see you.
Increasingly, major companies are getting vested in Route 66. This year, Lipton Ice Tea celebrated National Ice Tea Day with a takeover of the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum’s rear parking lot and giant shield – and offered tastings of their ice teas and selected bites of “road food” during the 8th, 9th and 10th of June. There was also a Rottweiler Dog show in Pontiac on June 10th. Pontiac truly has a little bit of everything and just when you think there is nothing else – something else happens!
The Road Ahead is working on several projects including a cloud based GPS for Route 66 that allows for customization along the road. It would encompass ALL of the surrounding sites for each town, not just the “big ones.” Some of the famous places that are no longer there, such as the Riviera, now have a place-marker to show what was there and what part it played in that community. Other GPS programs don’t even have some of the local alignments listed as an option. Some people think our pursuit of a custom, true-to-road GPS is redundant – but I think we need to be fluid – as more and more time is spent on the Internet or looking up stuff on our phones, let’s make it easy to get the info and share it.
The Road Ahead has gotten some major funding from State Farm. State Farm helped launch our Association back in 1989, so they are a “good neighbor” and we are happy they have partnered with the Road Ahead. All eight states are represented in the Road Ahead. Representing us on the board are association member Bill Thomas of Atlanta, as Director, and John Miller, Cook County Board Representative. Bill Kelly, of the Route 66 Scenic Byway, is also an active member. Illinois is well represented. I think we bring a nice balance to the eight-state group.
We are waiting to see how the act to make Route 66 a National Trail continues. Our population that is hardcore 66 is aging, and we need to make sure that when the volunteers are no available, the road will be protected and provided for by law. In Illinois, we work with IDOT and lawmakers and the cities, towns and villages that request help. Our Preservation projects are usually places that need help to maintain their existence. We can’t save everything, but we can assist anyone who wants to try. Over the years, there have been buildings and train stations we would have loved to have been a part of. It just didn’t work out. We have helped save a bridge, the red brick road in Auburn, and the Meramac barns in Cayugah and Staunton (the one is Staunton is gone now).
New places are happening on 66 as well! There will soon be Midwest Classics On 66 Classic Car Museum and Classic Car Sales in the old Ben Franklin building in Wilmington (formerly owned by Hall of Fame member Angelo Aggelopoulous). The former J.K. Harrison’s has been revamped and renewed into the “Wicked Cricket” and from what I’ve been told has an amazing staff and a great “feel.” Although we lost the Country Mansion and Turtles in Dwight, there are new owners in Odell of Poor Richards (now Pour Farmers), and the old “Wishing Well” is now Café 110. Route 66 was built to help connect the country and it still does today.
So – classic car shows all up and down 66! Summer festivals, plays in the park, movies in the park! When was the last time you went to a demolition derby or a stock car race? When did a county fair lit up at night not give you a little thrill? Get out your maps, pick a spot and go! There’s a lot out there if you look. Put your phone down and look around. We can always use a volunteer or two at the Hall of Fame and Museum. Contact Emmy Bates if you think you’d like to try it. It’s exciting to greet the people at the museum and hear their stories about why they are so happy to see you!
We had our annual museum clean up day and Bob Waldmire bus cleanup We are doing some repairs and replacements on the outside of Bob’s Road yacht. We have had some issue with people “borrowing” things from the bus’s interior We will be replacing some of the more ordinary things that have disappeared. If you’ve never seen the Bob Waldmire Experience in the City Hall building, please take the time this summer to do so. There are films and more of his work to see.
So quit binge watching, give Hulu and Netflix a rest, and get out on the road. There are buffalo to see at Midewin, microbreweries in Normal/Bloomington, and new displays at the Litchfield Museum. Mining was a huge part of Illinois’ history; coal mining started in Illinois in 1810 and at one time there were over 7400 active mines. Today there are about 30 still active. So, put the Illinois Coal Museum in Gillespie on your to-do list. Check the Internet for times when they are open. If you live in the area, please consider volunteering. There is now a “Mother Jones” museum in the Mount Olive City Hall and it has been garnering great reviews. Check the Mount Olive website for more information.
No big lectures this “season.” No big changes on the horizon for now. Today, live a little. Get moving and walk those car shows, dance at those Friday night festivals, soak in a little sun and maybe even indulge in a little summer shandy with good friends.
Share your time – it’s so precious. Enjoy for now I and hope you have an amazing and soul-satisfying summer.
See you on the road!