Miles of Possibility Conference News Release - Joliet IL, October 2017

Jerry McClanahan, Author of the EZ66 Guide for Travelers and Bonnie Game (Jerry’s Artwork in Background)

Route 66 enthusiasts show their love of the road in Joliet

‘You either get it or you don’t’

From the Herald News

By Bob Okon

Oct. 22, 2017

JOLIET – Vancouver, Canada, Akron, Ohio and Green Bay, Wisconsin, were a few of the hometowns of people who came to a Route 66 conference over the weekend, showing a bit of the drawing power that the historic highway has for its devotees.

None of those towns are even along the old Route 66, famous for its place in Americana as a favourite travel route in the early days of automobile travel.

“You either get it or you don’t,” George Game said of the fascination with Route 66. “I’ve met people who don’t.”

Those who don’t weren’t at the Route 66 Miles of Possibility conference in Joliet over the weekend.

George Game, a member of the Canadian Route 66 Association, came from Vancouver to share the love for Route 66 travel at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, where speakers covered subjects such as historic preservation and economic opportunity.

Others came from familiar Route 66 towns: Pontiac, Illinois; Springfield, Missouri; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, to name a few.

Joliet is too. The museum, which also houses a Route 66 exhibit, is prime territory for Route 66 travellers. It’s one of the first destinations for those who make the full trip along the old route from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Illinois Director of Tourism Cory Jobe, who talked about the Route 66 role in a state tourism business calculated to have contributed 10,000 jobs in 2016.

“Route 66 is a major international draw,” Jobe told the audience, as he talked about German and Japanese tour operators who organize trips to Route 66.

Then there was Ron Jones of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

The tattoo man

“For some odd reason, they call me the Route 66 tattoo man,” Jones said as he introduced himself at the conference. “I have 169 tattoos. 164 of them are Route 66.”

Jones would doff his cap to show a tattoo depicting Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, New Mexico, one of many Route 66 stops that one can see inked on his skin.

“When I first met Ron, he had only 19 tattoos,” said Brenda St. Clair of Akron, Ohio, showing some of the 

Route 66 camaraderie evident in the room.

“I come to see the people,” said Dora Meroney, president of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas, discussing what drew her to the Joliet conference. “And I came to hear what they’re talking about in other states, and if I can use any of it.”

Route 66 college

Thomas Chase of Green Bay, Wisconsin, talked about the Route 66 class he teaches in a Lifelong Learning Program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

He has 50 people in the class and a waiting list of 80.

“They’re Wisconsin people,” Chase said.

Wisconsin is off the Route 66 path. But some have memories of Route 66 from when they lived in states along the route. Others are interested in traveling the highway, he said.

“They’re there because it looks like a fun thing to do,” Chase said.

Many in his class are older, Chase said. He is thinking of setting up bus tours that might run from Joliet to Pontiac to give them a taste of Route 66.

Most Route 66 enthusiasts are older, said Bill Thomas, chairman of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, which includes all eight states along the route.

The next generation

“We’re all in the prime and prime-plus stage of our lives,” Thomas said. “We need to make sure people younger than us know about Route 66 and appreciate it.”

Thomas talked about efforts underway to make the highway a national historic trail. A Route 66 credit card could be ready by November, he said. And students in the Netherlands are working on a Route 66 global positioning system to help travellers stay on course.

But Thomas also said Route 66 advocates will need to educate a new generation of travellers if they want to keep fascination with the road alive.

Actually, there were a couple of young students from the University of St. Francis at the conference.

One was Diana Viveros, a marketing student who said she knew little about Route 66 other than what she learned from the Disney movie “Cars” before joining the conference for a bus tour down the route to Dwight on Thursday.

Might she consider a Route 66 road trip of her own some day?

“I think I would,” Viveros said. “It’s just part of our American history.”