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POPS in Arcadia, Okla.


Round Barn in Arcadia, Okla. “For me, it’s not so much the literal road, the concrete and


asphalt, that matters as much as the people along the road.” - Michael Wallis, premier Route 66 historian


Wallis says many travelers are also attracted to the route’s unpredictability—a welcome change from the monotony of turnpike travel. “On Route 66, you can still walk into a café, sit at the counter and eat a piece of rhubarb or banana cream pie that the woman behind the counter made that very day,” Wallis says. “And, if you’ve not been in that café, then it’s a roll of the dice; you don’t know what it’s going to be like. You could get ptomaine poisoning or you might fi nd the meatloaf platter that you’d kill your mother for. “It’s intriguing. There’s a sense of danger on the road. That’s the James Dean quality—that Jack Kerouac thing.”


A significant opportunity


“Route 66 represents a time before ‘generica,’ when everything started to look the same,” says Linda Barnett, director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s Main Street Center. “Paul McCartney traveled Route 66 on his honeymoon. The Sayre courthouse was where they shot the opening scene of The Grapes of Wrath.”


As part of the Oklahoma Main Street program, Barnett is currently working with seven Route 66 communities to help develop successful downtown business districts. A capacity issue keeps the pro- gram from working with communities with populations under 1,000, she says. “The No. 1 tourism activity is shopping, and we are focused on downtown-based retail and preser- vation,” Barnett says. “There’s a great interest in Route 66, and it brings tourists and cash into these communities.”


Although many communities are embracing their Route 66 connections—for example, Murrell says Arcadia is working to develop additional attractions like a walking tour and family history museum to keep tourists in the area—Tulsa City Councilor Blake Ewing says Oklahoma City and Tulsa are missing what he calls “a signifi cant opportunity.”


“I think it’s Tulsa’s biggest and most underutilized asset,” says Ewing, who acknowledged the city has made some recent improvements thanks to $15 million in Vision 2025 funding. “Other cities have fi gured it out. You go to small towns all across the U.S. and it’s part of their culture … Here, it runs through a large city in the middle of the U.S., supposedly the birthplace of the highway, and it’s underutilized and underrepresented. “Oklahoma City is missing it, too.”


Ewing recently established a 100-person task force to help Tulsa realize the route’s full economic potential.


“The Oklahoma cities should be doing this better, and that’s where we want support from our elected representatives at the Capitol to say, ‘This is a part of Oklahoma and we need to invest some money and time thinking about how to capitalize on it.’”


Photos by Leonardo Politano 18 OKLAHOMA LIVING


The Golden Driller in Tulsa, Okla.


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