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London combines charity road trip with TV production September 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Road trips, Television, Vehicles.
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Here’s something you don’t see every day — a British television company aims to raise more than $400,000 for a cancer support group and gain a television series at the same time by using a journey on Route 66 in an electric car as the backdrop.

It’s called “Route 66 — The Ultimate Challenge,” and it’s scheduled to begin from the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday.

From the news release:

Jamie Branson, Chairman of View TV Group, is joining forces with his colleagues at Only Motors – a production company within the Group – to drive from LA to New York via the famous Route 66. The idea is to make 12 TV programmes in just 12 days.

The event, which was dreamt up by Branson, kicks off with a flight from London on 21st September 2014. Once in the States, the crew will steer across the star spangled continent, stopping off to make various TV features every day. [...]

“We’ll be covering 4,000 miles of tarmac in not just any car – it’ll be an electrically powered motor. But the real test is completing more than 100 scenes of film shoots while we’re out on the road and at our pit-stops.”

The itinerary — with stops at landmarks — is here.

Teen with rare aging disease is touring Route 66 September 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Road trips, Television.
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Sammy Basso, an 18-year-old Italian boy afflicted with progeria, a rare genetic disease that ages him prematurely, is traveling Route 66, and a subsidiary with the National Geographic Channel is documenting the journey, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph.

The folks in Pontiac, Illinois, in typical fashion, rolled out the red carpet for him:

Basso, his family, best friend and film crew arrived in Pontiac Monday evening and had dinner with Mayor Bob Russell, said Pontiac Tourism Director Ellie Alexander. The mayor allowed Basso, who understands and speaks English, to gavel that night’s City Council meeting to order.

After the meeting, Basso, his crew and city officials went to Chautauqua Park where Russell presented Basso with a key to the city and proclaimed Monday as Sammy Basso Day. After Basso received other gifts, the Vermilion Players presented their Route 66 musical review.

“Sammy said ‘Pontiac is such a beautiful country,'” Alexander said.

According to the African-American Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chicago that hosted Basso a few days ago, the Standbyme.tv documentary will air on Christmas Day in Italy, then later in English in the United States. Basso also is scheduled to meet Amish people in Illinois, an authentic Native American chief and members of various other American cultures during his journey.

Progeria typically causes death through heart attack or stroke from hardening of the arteries. It’s uncertain how much time Basso has left, but progeria patients often die by their early 20s.

UPDATE 9/18/2014: Basso was in St. Louis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Cardinals baseball game. According to KTVI-TV’s report, his Route 66 journey will end at Santa Monica on Sept. 30, when he will receive “a special surprise.”

(Image of Sammy Basso and his mother Laura by Tatiana Zaghet via Flickr)

“66 Mainstreet, Americana” September 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People, Road trips.
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This film documents a couple of Brits, film director Andy Harrison and photographer Natalie Pluck, taking in a Route 66 trip.

I like this film very much, mostly because it seems to be simply willing to go its own way.

66 Mainstreet, Americana from Andy Harrison on Vimeo.

A few things to note before you view it:

  1. The film works best in full-screen mode on your computer.
  2. Make sure you watch the whole thing to see a nice little surprise near the end.
  3. The excellent song by Matt McCloskey is available for download here.

Hello from Moscow September 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music.
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I bet you haven’t heard this one. It’s Ned Wright, singing Bobby Troup’s “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ in 1955 in Moscow as part of The Everyman’s Opera Concerto. It’s a lot jazzier than you might think it is.

Wright, by the way, was one of the first Americans allowed to perform behind the Iron Curtain, performing in Czechoslovakia and Romania as well.

Wright, an Ohio native, was best-known as being part of The Phoenix Singers during the 1960s and a member of the Belafonte Folk Singers. He died in 1981 at age 55.

Proposed Chicago park may include Route 66 museum September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Museums.
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A small lot on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Adams Street in downtown Chicago that’s planned as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Park may include a small Route 66 museum to recognize its location on Route 66, according to a story in DNAinfo.

The so-called pocket park would sit just west of the Chicago Symphony building. Vanessa Moss, the symphony’s vice president for orchestra and building operations, said the pocket park would be part of an overall plan to revitalize Wabash. According to the article:

Moss said Friday that the CSO could partner with Blue Plate catering to “enhance dining options there and create a really nice oasis for people in the city, and help bring more traffic to the CSO.”

She said the plaza could include a “Route 66 museum” that will explain the site’s historical significance. In 1926, Route 66 started down the street at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.

Officials didn’t elaborate on what they had planned for the museum, but a rendering did not appear to show a new building on the site. [...]

If funds can be raised on schedule, the CSO hopes to start construction in the early spring and open the park by summer 2015, Moss said.

Based on the artist’s rendering, I suspect it’s not an enclosed “museum” per se, but a few well designed kiosks to tell the Route 66 story in that area.

Swa Frantzen at Historic66.com explains the Route 66 path in that area:

The start of Route 66 has moved a few times. Originally, Route 66 began on Jackson Blvd. at Michigan Ave. In 1933, the start (and end) was moved east onto the reclaimed land for the world fair to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson Blvd became one way west of Michigan Ave. and Adams St. became the westbound US-66. However the start of US-66 remained on Jackson at Lake Shore Drive.

So, even while currently Adams Street at Michigan Avenue is marked as the starting point, Route 66 never departed from there.

A short distance away in 1977, city workers took down the Route 66 signs at the highway’s eastern terminus at Grant Park at Jackson Drive. Twenty-five years later, Route 66 signs were reinstalled on that spot.

Owner of troubled Bel-Aire Motel dies September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Motels, People.
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bel-aire manor

Gopal Motwani, owner of the historic but troubled Bel-Aire Motel on Sixth Street (aka Route 66) in Springfield, Illinois, died Saturday near his home in Naples, Florida, reported the Springfield State Journal-Register.

After putting the motel up for sale for $750,000 — plus $114,000 in fines for 700 code violations — this summer, Motwani told the newspaper he was doing it because of health problems. The code violations included unsanitary bathrooms, dirty carpet, potholes and lack of smoke detectors.

His wife still co-owns the property.

The newspaper reported:

Bel-Aire employee Dominic Marando said repair work underway at the property in response to a host of fines and citations from the city will continue as planned.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Marando said Sunday evening. “He had a lot of pressure lately on him.” [...]

Motwani was in Springfield last month for a city administrative court hearing on the alleged code violations. At the two-day hearing, he disputed many of the problems city inspectors identified at the property and said that, in some cases, the city hadn’t given him adequate direction for making repairs. The hearing officer later toured the motel to see it firsthand.

According to a story in the newspaper earlier in the year, Motwani bought the motel in 1986. The property went into decline almost immediately after the transaction, according to relatives of the previous longtime owner, Charles Ciesler.

If anything comes of good from Motwani’s death, it’s his family likely will be more amenable to a discounted price for the property. The current asking amount is far too high, especially when it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to rehab the building.

The city of Springfield a few years ago proposed buying the circa-1950 property and converting it into a Route 66 tourism center or museum. The motel’s retro neon sign, including a Sputnik structure, would have made it a beacon for Route 66 travelers.

But the city lacked the money, and the idea was quietly dropped. Mayor Timothy Davlin, who brought up the idea, committed suicide in 2010.

(Image of the Bel Aire Motel by Jackie via Flickr)

Johnny Rockets to open four types of Route 66-themed restaurants September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Theaters.
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The Johnny Rockets restaurant chain plans to open four types of Route 66-themed prototype restaurants — including drive-ins, food trucks and drive-in theaters —  as soon as this year, according to a news release Monday from the company.

The restaurant stated:

Established in 1926 as one of America’s original highways, Route 66 became the major path for those who migrated west, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. No company is better suited to resurrect the nostalgic brand than Johnny Rockets, which was founded on Classic Americana and opened its first location down the road from the culminating point of Route 66 in Santa Monica.

“Johnny Rockets launched exactly one year after Route 66 was officially removed from the highway system in 1985,” explains James Walker, chief development officer of Johnny Rockets.  “We feel privileged to have the opportunity to re-introduce the Route 66 brand to the new car culture generation through our already cravable food in what we are sure will be a cravable environment.”

The Johnny Rockets Route 66 concept will take the form of four distinct prototypes: drive-thru, drive-in, food truck and pop-up.  Through enhanced operational efficiencies and technology, the Route 66 concept allows guests to enjoy Johnny Rockets’ made-to-order burgers and hand-spun shakes while they are on the road or being entertained at the classic American drive-in.  Johnny Rockets anticipates some of the first prototypes to debut as early as Q4 2014. [...]

Drive-Ins LLC, a company that collectively has 135 years of experience in the motion picture exhibition, production and distribution industry, is spurring a resurgence in the American drive-in theatre.  At one time, there were an estimated 6,000 active drive-in theatres across the country, with the number now dwindled to 350. USA Drive-Ins LLC, however, announces plans to open 200 new drive-in locations including Johnny Rockets Route 66 as the food and beverage option for attending guests. These locations will present family-friendly films and embody a nostalgic, all-American experience.

Also in cooperation with Drive-Ins LLC, Johnny Rockets will configure a pop-up theatre prototype with a combined mobile restaurant that allows owners to create a dinner and movie combination in a myriad of venues, throughout the country. As with existing Johnny Rockets restaurants, this combination of food, families and fun was created for franchise partners interested in providing an entertaining and satisfying dining experience. For current Johnny Rockets restaurant owners, Route 66 food trucks now provide the capability to increase visibility and sales. The Route 66 food truck can be utilized for catering and community events or added to a market’s existing food truck line up.

Nation’s Restaurant News also has a few more details about this four-pronged initiative. Franchise info — including discounts for entrepreneurs who are veterans — is here.

This entire plan sounds incredibly ambitious. Then again, the number of drive-in theaters has declined to a point to where perhaps Johnny Rockets sees an opportunity in select areas — especially in suburbs that never had a drive-in.

And I suspect the drive-in and drive-through restaurant ideas take aim at Sonic, which built its business on largely the same model.

As for the food trucks, Johnny Rockets probably is betting that people — especially children — will more often order food from a truck with a familiar name.

In case you’re wondering, Johnny Rockets has locations in only the Route 66 towns of Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

(Images courtesy of Johnny Rockets)

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