2021 tour season wraps: stories of Route 66 friendship and perseverance
After losing an entire travel season, Two Lane America comes back at full-throttle on Route 66...
For nearly a decade, every year of my life had been marked by the “travel season”… From time on the road as a “writer” to thousands of miles logged as a tour guide, the spring, summer, and fall meant it was time to hit the road. Then 2020 happened, and that time came and went without a single departure for most guided tour companies, including Two Lane America.
Those of us in the travel and tourism industry longed for the days when we could again show folks the beauty around every corner in America. “Set your sights on 2021,” most of us said to ourselves. Finally, we saw a reason to hope as the season drew nearer...
And for Two Lane America, the 2021 season did not disappoint.
Sure, it was messy and complicated… Rules and guidance changed weekly, Delta showed its ugly face, and more than a few cities and towns felt slightly unfamiliar as restaurants and attractions remained closed, but the core of our beloved Route 66 trip remained vibrant.
From our guests to our vendors, everyone persevered, and it will be a season we’ll never forget.
As I sit, almost recovered from the busy days of being on the road, I thought I’d take a moment to thank all our amazing guests, our long-time Route 66 friends, and the new Route 66 friends we grew close to this year.
The amazing guests that we now call friends
I repeat it frequently, but only because it is true: doing the same trip doesn’t get old when you get to share it with new, wonderful people. After more than a year of not getting to share the Mother Road with others, it brought me to tears to look at the first group gathered at Exchequer Pub in Chicago for our kick-off celebration- knowing I was going share the places and people I love with these new travelers.
From the first trip to the last, each was packed with people I’m fortunate now to call not my former clients, but my friends. Many had stuck with me through their own trips being canceled in 2020, and others found their way to us at the last minute, but all were phenomenal, not only to me and Two Lane America, but to each other.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to hear about a guest picking up the tab for a dinner or buying the group all a shirt or souvenir. It wasn’t uncommon for me to look over and see a guest helping another carry their bag. It wasn’t uncommon for me to overhear guests checking on each other’s loved ones and friends back home. By day 5 or 6 it was often impossible for me to believe each group didn’t know each other before the trip.
What was uncommon was any sort of malice, complaining, or political grandstanding. Funny how little our differences matter when we’re on a trip. It’s one of the things I love about group travel.
To my 2021 guests, you remind me why I’m so blessed to do this job. Thank you.
The long-time Route 66 friends
I know 2020 and 2021 were both hard years for many of our vendors, but it was like a grand reunion when I walked into many of my favorite Route 66 stops and saw familiar faces. From Pontiac, IL’s wonderful tourism folks to the unflinchingly kind George at Gary’s to my dear friend Clarice Coffey of Custom Tours by Clarice in Santa Fe, NM, it all gave me energy and a gentle reminder of what I’d missed so much about being on the road. (This, of course, is just a fraction of the many folks we know and love.)
To our long-time friends on Route 66, thank you. It meant so much to see you again. Cheers to a busy 2022.
The newly made Route 66 friends
Our 2021 Guided Route 66 Car Caravans also gave us a chance to get to know some new people we either didn’t know or didn’t know very well. Out east we can't say enough about our experiences with The Launching Pad in Wilmington, IL, and the privilege of working with Whitney Ortiz as she takes Atlanta, IL’s tourism department to exciting places.
Through Oklahoma we found new friends at the stunning Coleman Theater in Miami (a place we hadn't been to in years!) and the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford.
Further west we finally were able to spend time with the acclaimed author Jim Hinkley, someone I admired for years and can now call “friend,” and we became friends more than just visitors passing through with Tony and Cindy at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post.
At the end of the Route in Santa Monica, we found the folks at Mel’s Diner for our farewell dinner and a new friend in the talented and charming Candy Clark, aka Debbie from American Graffiti.
To our new friends mentioned and unmentioned here… Thank you and we look forward to many more years of friendship.
We’ve always said part of what makes our Route 66 trips so special isn’t just the great stops, of which there are many, but the people. It’s what makes the Mother Road such an unforgettable experience.
In 2022, we hope you’ll consider joining the ranks of our guests-turned-friends… either on our guided car caravans of Route 66 and the South or on our newly-launched Route 66 bus tour.
Cover photo via Dave Garretson