Route 66 – Chicago to St. Louis

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

Note: My novel, Live from the Road¸ is available free May 23 and May 24 on in both the U.S. and the U.K.

My blog is the nonfiction account of the real trip I took with my daughter, my friend Joy and her daughter in 2007.  I wrote the novel after the road inspired me and caused me to think about what travel really does for the soul.

After a two-yolk breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s,  you’d think the rest of the day might be disappointing. How could we be disappointed with a road lined with fiberglass giants?

When we departed Chicago, we tried to stay as close to the route as possible because Route 66 has much to offer in Illinois. It runs parallel to Highway 55 and many of the directions are just downright confusing. One of my favorites comes from Lonely Planet Road Trip Route 66 guidebook: “Stay on US 53 south to Joliet. Drive south on Clinton St., turn left on Ottawa St., then veer left onto MLK, Jr. Drive; turn right at the T-intersection, left onto Scott St., another left onto Van Buren St., then right onto Chicago St.”

One such bit of directional advice to find the fiberglass palm tree led us down a narrow two-lane with no shoulder, surrounded by corn fields. When we finally made our way back to civilization, we discovered we were sixty miles from the Mother Road. So we missed the palm tree, but we saw other sites that made it all right.

We came into the town of Wilmington, Ill., with much anticipation. We easily spotted the Gemini Giant in the parking lot of the Launching Pad Drive In. Towering over Route 66, this fiberglass astronaut holds a rocket and greets visitors and poses patiently with the tourists.

We moved on to Atlanta, Ill., for some refreshment at a local pub serving homemade pies. We asked the bartender if she saw many Route 66 travelers.

“Are you kidding?” she asked. “At least you can speak English.” We learned Route 66 is famous worldwide.

We then asked where we might find the Paul Bunyan Giant. We read it resided in Atlanta on the Route.

“You’re kidding again, right?” she asked.

Turns out this giant fiberglass man was less than a block away next to the old building across the street. And sure enough, when we walked down the block we spotted him. It’s kind of hard to miss a giant Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog. His left hand was turned down because he was originally designed to hold an ax – he is Paul Bunyan, after all. But  he was being constructed to tower over a hot dog stand in Cicero, Ill., and the folks commissioning the giant decided at the last minute  he should be holding a hot dog instead of an ax. And so he remains today, even though the hot dog shop closed and the giant was moved to Atlanta, Ill.

There are many historical spots on Route 66 in Illinois as well. Odell is one such place where a Standard Oil filling station from 1932 has been restored and sits right on the Route.

By early evening we were crossing the Mississippi River and headed for a night of fun in St. Louis. Our first day on the road did not disappoint.

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