Blizzards still threaten to bury the Midwest and Northeast in snow, but for us in the Southwest, it's time to start pondering a spring road trip. Alas, traveling abroad is hardly an option, thanks to the falling dollar. Expect hundreds of books devoted to homegrown landmarks to burden the shelves of your local bookstore.
The landmarks of the legendary highway known as Route 66 are forever etched in the American consciousness: the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Ill.; the half-buried autos of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; the Twin Arrows on Interstate 40 just outside of Meteor Crater in Arizona. Indeed, it's almost a rite of passage for young photographers to drive this disintegrating stretch of history, snapping black-and-white panoramas of wide-open spaces punctuated by fragments of the old, "can-do" country that shaped our baby boomer parents. (With, maybe, jazz composer Bobby Troup's famous song blasting on the convertible's stereo system.) Later, of course, these shots will appear on the walls of coffee shops and university art galleries. Yep, the Mother Road remains a source of comfort for artists and travelers alike.
None of this suggests that the world needs another Route 66 guidebook, however. In fact, a quick search at Amazon.com reveals too many of them to even count. Yet there's one title that stands at the top of the list: Bob Moore's Route 66: Spirit of the Mother Road, published by Northland. Well, there's a reason it's at the top: It's a superior, and perhaps definitive, guide.
Mother Road enthusiasts may recognize Moore as the editor of Route 66 Magazine, which gives him more than enough authority for such a project. The book in question is extremely well-written and full of fascinating sidebars, like the complete lyrics to "Get Your Kicks" superimposed on a photo of Troup with his wife, gorgeous torch singer Julie London, as well as a list of some of the many artists who've covered this famous road anthem. Sure, there are a few minor errata (a photo caption mistakenly locates the Gemini Giant in Bloomington, for instance), but overall, this is a painstakingly put-together guide that covers every state through which the old Route 66 used to deliver motorists.
Tucson Weekly readers might not get much out of the Arizona chapter--unless, of course, they've somehow never heard of Meteor Crater, Twin Arrows, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, the Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff and the Roadkill 66 Café Steak House in Seligman. But Spirit of the Mother Road isn't just intended for Arizonans; it's meant for anyone who plans on taking an informed trip on a road that once defined America itself. Glossy, colorful, oversized and information-packed, Moore's book even offers a "Test Your Classic Car IQ" game, in which pictures of vintage autos (from a 1937 Buick Century to a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500) appear at the top of many pages. So whether you prefer it on your coffee table or in your glove box, Spirit of the Mother Road is a necessary read for anyone who loves the open road.
While it's easy to admire the automotive pursuits of earlier generations, it's harder to appreciate their culinary pleasures. I mean, how did anyone in his right mind manage to get down--and keep down--something called a "tuna gelatin mold"? Northland's The Ultimate Route 66 Cookbook (edited by Tammy Gales), however, seems to have bypassed the Jell-O and instead culled the better dishes of the Golden Age of Diners.
While there are plenty of tasty heart attacks offered here--like Roy's Route 66 Double Cheeseburger, courtesy Roy's Motel and Café in Amboy, Calif. --there's also an extensive chapter devoted to "Munchies & Lite Bites." Some of my favorites include the artichoke melt, the Ramen noodle cabbage salad and the butternut squash and apple soup. The heavier stuff is fine, too, particularly the chicken fettuccine alfredo, which even I, with my severely limited kitchen skills, managed to make into a tasty entrée. And I could almost taste Eisenhower in the homemade sloppy joes.
So if you're hungry for the open road or just manning the cooking range, there are a couple of books out there that'll stoke your imagination and your palate. Be safe, whether you're behind the wheel or in front of the grill. Either way, it doesn't pay to drink too much.