National Geographic : 1997 Sep
had I felt so free, so liberated from parents, whom, now gone, I wonder why I ever wanted to leave in the first place. Sarah Vaughan was singing "Broken-Hearted Melody" that summer, and to this day I cannot drive alone through the night without hearing her voice and feeling my friend's presence, and for a moment, in my mind's eye, the calendar slips back to when life seemed forever and all things were possible. SINCE THEN I have been drawn back to this stretch of 66 like a fisherman returning to his favorite trout stream. I have traveled it in Greyhounds, trailer trucks, cars, a motor home, once even on a bicycle, pedaling alone from Virginia to California. And, wanting to roam one more time over the road that used to be America's main route west-in our imaginations, Route 66 always seemed to carry us west, not east-I arranged a grand present for my 56th birthday: To meander in a Corvette through Seligman and Truxton and Hackberry and the other way-station towns that the world abandoned when the interstate went through. The temperature was holding steady at 100-plus degrees the afternoon I pulled out of Phoenix in my rented 1960 red Corvette, top down, radio blaring-feeling for all the world like a million bucks. The Vette was reminiscent of the one Martin Milner and George Maharis drove in the 1960s Route 66 TV show, and I rolled like thunder up the Black Canyon High way, headed for 66 just past Flagstaff. Then my temperature gauge shot up; steam and smoke poured from the engine. I braked to a halt on the shoulder and turned off the ignition. When I switched it back on, I got only a lifeless click, click in response. An 18-wheeler pulled over a hundred yards down the road, and the young driver ambled back. "Got problems?" he asked. "I sure do," I said. He opened the hood and confirmed my fears. "Looks dead to me," he said. "I can run you into the truck stop in Flag if you like. You not just being there, and ARTBYJAMESNOELSMITH NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAPS Those who love wind in their hair relish the straightaway west of Seligman (facing page). The perfect ride? A snappy Corvette, icon of the 1960s TV series Route 66. Why stop? Perhaps for a jolt of java at a roadside diner. Or to behold the Tyrannosaurus rex at Grand Canyon Caverns. Fans work to save remnants of the road and its trappings in all eight states along its route. .* .