Getting your kicks on Route 66/Adams street, the Chicagoland edition

Route 66 has two endpoints: one is in downtown Chicago, which many people think of as ‘the start’ of the route (because of the order in the “get your kicks on Route 66”, song), while the other is (currently) at the Santa Monica Pier, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which is where I started my trip. In Chicago route 66 is a little complicated as it exists on two one way streets, Adams, which travels west, and Jackson, which travels east. SINCE most people take 66 going west, that’s where you’ll find most of the signs…

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Because Chicago is home and I’ve pretty much walked or driven most of these roads at one time or another without realizing they ARE 66, I have to admit that once I did, I opted to fudge it a bit once I passed Dell Rheas’s Chicken basket in Willowbrook IL (a town I’ve only ever passed by while driving on I-55) and felt that I had for all intents and purposes I had finished the route on the 24th of October. (I admit this is largely because I knew the neighborhoods I would be passing through… knew most of them to HIGHLY unsafe ones with nasty traffic. When I go downtown I stick to safe routes and park my car in safe areas.)IMG_0134

So for instance, the above are some photos of me in 2001 having dinner with friends at what was then arguably the best Greek Restaurant in Chicago’s GreekTown (on Halstead between Adams and Jackson … i.e., 66) the now closed Roditites Greek Restaurant, which used to be one of my favorite go to’s (it was open for 45 years). (All of the old Greektown classic restaurants seem to be closing, I think the children weren’t interested in taking over the businesses)IMG_2619.jpgbut on the 31st of October I had business I had to deal with downtown, and as such took the opportunity to finish my 66 trek (only this time on foot, cause driving into the city is NUTS). I was staying at my friend’s home in Northbrook, and took the Metra Train from North Glenview station to Union Station, which is also located between Adams and Jackson (again, both are Route 66, it just depends on which direction you’re going) with exits to either street. IMG_0149Ironically, I have only ever been in this station once before. The Metra train line adjacent to my parents home went to a different station, the Ogilvie Center, a few blocks north. Unlike that station, which only services local lines, this station is where you go in Chicago if you’re taking an Amtrak line. As such, the only other time I was ever here was when I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco back when I was in my late 20’s.IMG_0150The odds are you’ve seen this station before, even if you’ve never been to Chicago, as it’s been used more than few times in movies. The list includes Public Enemies (with Jonny Depp), My Best Friend’s Wedding (with Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett), Man of Steel (one of the Superman movies), Derailed, and most prominently in the movie The Untouchables, about Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) … with a scene steeling Oscar worthy supporting performance from Sean Connery… which had a LOT of Chicago locations in it.

IMG_0071From the station I went straight to my 11am appointment, and then double backed to have lunch at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery (click link for my blog post about it), which is located a half block west of Union Station, and is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide. After lunch I walked back east, along Adams (Route 66 west bound) past Union station and to the Chicago River which forms the station’s eastern boundary.

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The Jackson street bridge (Route 66 eastbound), opening to allow ships to pass

If you ever come to Chicago I strongly suggest taking one of our Water Taxi’s from Union Station (i.e, Route 66) to Navy Pier (the Orange line on the map above) which travels to where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan… that said I’m about to go a bit off topic, but really… you have GOT to try the water Taxis

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Pics of me and my Chinese friend when she visited Chicago in 2013

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While at Navy pier, before switching to the next Taxi, you might want to go up on the Ferris Wheel (which is sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel, as it actually served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side) which offers some great views of the city

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The skyscraper behind me is the John Hancock (grin) center, where I used to work for about a year back when I was in my 20’s, 

but then make sure to take the Water Taxi that travels from the pier via Lake Michigan to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, even if you don’t want to go to the Museums.

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The skyscraper on the left is the Big Willy (see below), the one in the middle is the Standard Oil building — no self-respecting Chicagoan refers to it as the Aon center and if you asked them where the Aon center was I doubt they’d know, and one to the right is the John Hancock (where I used to work back when I was in my 20’s)….. again, NO ONE calls it 875 North Michigan Avenue. Apparently the John Hancock building, the corporate headquarters for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co, at around 2013 ceased to be their headquarters, and just a few months ago the name got changed to its address. The pics above were from when I did this back in 2013 when my friend, who I knew from when I was teaching in S. Korea, came to visit during a summer break.

But I digress…  returning to Route 66….

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From there I continued my trek down Adams (the west bound 66). The above picture is looking west down the street, across the bridge I had just passed over… and, the ‘small’ white building just above the black van is Union station.

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Again, this photo is looking west. The sky scraper in the distance is the same one shown in the picture from the Water Taxi. Which I referred to as “The big Willy.” It was originally called the Sears Tower (my best friend from high-school has worked there for almost 15 years), and when first built in 1973 (I remember it going up) it was the tallest building in the world. But Sears then sold it to Willis Insurance in 2009, who renamed it as The Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans to this day absolutely refuse to use that name, but I, personally, LOVE IT… because it allows me to call it “the big Willy” (Willy being a British slang word for penis) and just how great is that?! The GORGEOUS historic building in the foreground of the picture is the SIDE entrance (if you can believe it) of the Rookery Building, which designed by deeply important architectural firm of Burnham and Root in 1888. If you have ever read the best-selling novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the Chicago world’s fair, you know who they are. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but the lobby was design by Frank Loyd Wright. If you’re an architecture enthusiast you will LOVE Chicago.

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Another thing Chicago is famous for, one of which is visible on Route 66, is our collection of public art. The above is Alexander Calder‘s Flamingo (sculpture). I remember when it was first unveiled in 1974, none of us could make heads or tails of what it was… but it’s pretty.

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After this I pit stopped off at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (click the link for a fully review of the place) for a mug of their root beer (they brew it themselves). For some reason this iconic German restaurant which is a landmark of downtown Chicago, its been there since 1898… is NOT in the Michelin guide… shrug?… I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the image above, and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. If you love German food, EAT HERE, this place has been rocking my socks off my whole life… if you don’t… at least try the root beer and look around, the interior is just amazing to look at and reeks of Chicago history (photos and murals of Chicago Exposition line the walls)

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AND THIS is also a route 66 establishment — and I never realized it was that until this trip. Did I mention I have been eaten here my whole life.

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If you look carefully at the building, you’ll see how the sign above… which I’ve never seen before, and keep in mind the roman looking building is Art Institute of Chicago, were I went to school for four years….. and this one below are on either end of the same city block…

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Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, Dorothy’s final resting place, Bloomington, IL

Some Graveyards are worth a visit because of the important people who are buried there. About two blocks off of Route 66 in Bloomington, Illinois is the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, which is just such a graveyard

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the reason, in my mind, is because it is where THE real Dorothy, Dorthy Gale, she of the Wizard of Oz, is buried…

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Dorothy Louise Gage, born June 11 1898, and died November of that same year.  She was the niece of Frank L Baum, and he made her immortal.

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FINDING the grave wasn’t all that easy.  Just as you come into the graveyard there’s a caretaker’s house, with a map, but it’s not all that easy to follow. There’s also a memorial garden there in her memory, but that’s not the grave.

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In the images below, the top left one shows the statue on the left edge, and the grave (just in front of the tree in the back right corner, in the shade) where it sits between the two green bushes.

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I ended up at first on the road between the plot section at the back edge of the graveyard. From there I found the statue easily enough but it was just far enough from the actual grave as to sort of mislead you (you’re in the right plot, you just can’t spot the grave). So I went back to the house asked various locals visiting their loved ones (who seemed to have no idea that in fact Dorothy was buried there, let alone where), checked the map again, and this time found the road in FRONT of the lot, where the big plaque showing the statue AND the grave is located. With that, and now knowing what the grave looked like, I was able with some effort to find the grave.

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The same graveyard has the graves for Adlai Stevenson (Governor of Illinois from 1948 to 1953, has an expressway named after him) but I don’t care as much about him… He’s just a politician, time will forget about him

Route 66’s Rainbow Bridge, Riverton, Kansas

The Rainbow Bridge in Riverton KS, (Baxter Springs is the closest town) dates back to the two lanes period, and is directly adjacent to a much newer version of 66.

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One of the things you realize driving route 66 is it developed in stages. There’s the original one, which was generally two lanes and existed in a time when there wasn’t much traffic… then increased usage necessitated wider bridges, or that the road be moved entirely… and then there’s the most recent version some of which I’m beginning to think was organized AFTER the road had been decommissioned, when it started to become a tourist destination.

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View from 66’s newer route and the new bridge

Apparently, in a fight between the county, which wanted funds from the government to build the new bridge whose rules demanded demolishing the old bridge, and the Kansas Route 66 Association… who clearly wanted it preserved, a compromised was reached. And now the bridge is listed with the National Register, so it will never be demolished, and has since been used as local for filming route 66 specials on TV.

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Cars on the Route, Galena, Kansas

Yet another historic gas station repurposed to take advantage of renewed interest in 66 that the Pixar Movie Cars generated. Every car has been anthropomorphized, and the police car is claiming to be from Radiator Springs. (From what I read they also serve sandwiches and stuff to generate income.)

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As is clearly obvious from the photo, it was approaching 7pm by the time I got here, and it was raining, and the temps were dropping precipitously … I think it was already like 47 F according to my car’s “outside” thermometer (in MID October, i.e., unusually cold).

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The website I had looked at said they were open on Sundays….AND, I got there on a Sunday (this part of the country seems to close down on Sundays…), but apparently not so much.

66 Drive-In Theatre, Carthage, Missouri

I TRIED to see this still functioning Drive-in theater on Route 66. UNFORTUNATELY google maps lied to me yet again… the drive on 66 rather than on the freeway, so slower (especially when you add stops along the way) had me showing up here past 7pm and with it being overcast and raining….

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As it turned out, it was actually closed for the season, and THIS was all I actually managed to see of this  old-fashioned Drive-in theater (and it was Sunday night and raining, so even if it had been offering a movie it wouldn’t have been showing anything that night). That said, this section of 66 is profoundly back roads and rural. VERY little traffic and more than a few deer (be careful). AND the temperature were dropping. By the time I finally managed to get to gas station (I was in dire need of a pee) the RAIN, as in floated in the air was clearly behaving more like tiny snow flakes than rain… so from that point on I opted for the highway as the much safer option to get me to my hotel.

I’d also driven right past The Gay Parita Sinclair Station on Route 66 (they got a National Geographic write up!), but it was SO dark there was nothing to really see or take photos of… no nice neon  or anything

The Rock Cafe on Route 66, in Stroud Oklahoma

Per the suggestion of a friend, and one of those “places you need to check out on Route 66 lists” I stopped for a meal at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma. Not only is the Cafe original to the 66 experience (the place has been there since 1939, and used to be a Grey Hound Bus stop), but when the Pixar folks were doing their Route 66 road trip as research for the animated movie Cars, they came here, and so fell in love with the place’s owner, Dawn Welch, a Route 66 restoration activist who had moved to Stroud and bought the restaurant in large part to help resurrect the town…  that they based one of the main characters for the movie on her; namely, the animated character Sally Carrera (shown as a blue, 2002 Porsche 911) the owner of the Cozy Cone Motel, who serves both as the love interest of/and protagonist against Lightning McQueen,  was based almost entirely on .

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I found YouTube video by her, where you a taste of what the Pixar folks saw

That said, she wasn’t there the day I visited, and odds are you won’t meet her either… so lets talk about the restaurant she owns.

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I found the menu of the Rock Cafe to be far more upmarket/chef driven than I would have expected based on most of the other historic eateries in town (and more than a few of the dishes made me wonder about the German Heritage of Stroud)

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Of course anyone know knows me well knows which of the items on this menu I went for (although I admit the Jagersnitzel & Spaetzle with cheese were calling to me)…. but I opted for food more in line with my dietary restrictions (low fat)

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One Buffalo Burger with mustard

The Buffalo burger was ok. The meat patty was thin and crunchy rather than thick and juicy, and the amount of mustard they put on completely overwhelmed the flavor of the meat (which should have been the star of the dish).  But it had a good bun…

After eating I checked out the gift shop and IF they had offered this T-shirt on a more feminine cut shirt (a V neck or a scoop neck) I would have purchased it…. but they didn’t.

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It’s the Sally Carrera character that’s based on the Rock Cafe’s owner, in front of the cafe and a route 66 sign. (I’ve emailed the owner and she’s agreed she needs some women’s versions, hopefully she’ll get back to me when she has one and I’ll buy it on-line).

 

 

Roger “King of the Road” Miller Museum, in Erick, Oklahoma

The king of the road Is no more….‘tis sad. NONE of the web sites that I looked at told me this, heck even GOOGLE… which knows all… didn’t tell me this (when I was charting the trip… between then and now someone informed them, so this closure must be pretty recent) … So when I got there I was pretty nonplussed to discover an empty building with blocked out windows, and when I peaked in all I saw was an empty room.

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you can sort of see where they have scrapped the name off the glass

That said, I was going to seriously cheat on this one anyway. My mom used to bake, that was until she discovered the Sarah Lee factory that was about a 15 minute drive from our house that had an ACTUAL outlet store that sold items that had failed their “perfection” tests… so like the icing was lopsided or the crust was not perfectly flat, etc., which they then sold at a deep discount. From then on, she just bought their stuff and presented it as her own work. That said…

Think of it as a memory of things passed … (pun intended)

Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs California

Back in the late 1980’s one of my favorite movies was The Bagdad Cafe. It’s a movie about a run down cafe/motel on Route 66, and definitely worth seeing. Anyway, the shooting location, which had been known as the Sidewinder Cafe (before the movie came out) is REAL, although it’s in Newberry Springs (the town of Bagdad which isn’t that far away was leveled after traffic was redirected from Route 66 to I-40, and before traveling the OLD route 66 became a thing) and this week I got to visit it.

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As much as I love me some bumper stickers… I don’t like what they’ve done with the interior of the place

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