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Route 66 sign
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Michelle Tribe

Route 66 is turning 90 years old and Chicago is celebrating

Zach Long
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Zach Long
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Once known as the Main Street of America, the original U.S. Route 66 was among the nation's first highways, providing a cross-country path from the streets of Chicago to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California. Established in 1926, the highway provided a course for families moving west during the Dust Bowl (as dramatized in The Grapes of Wrath) and became a widely used trucking route during World War II.

By the time the ’50s rolled around, diners, gas stations, roadside attractions and entire communities had sprung up along the route, catering to tourists on vacation. But Route 66's heyday quickly came to an end when President Dwight Eisenhower's Federal Aid Highway Act authorized the construction of a more modern highway system in 1956, bypassing many of the communities that had been established along the old route.

Ninety years after the creation of Route 66, the old-fashioned service stations and kitschy attractions that once dominated the highway have become engrained in pop culture (Pixar even made us cry about it in Cars). To celebrate the anniversary, the Illinois Office of Tourism is throwing a free pop-up party where the historic highway begins in downtown Chicago, conveniently located near the latest Bow Truss coffee shop at 73 East Jackson Boulevard.

This Saturday, between 11:30am and 2pm, attendees will be able to see memorabilia from the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum and a classic car from the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, plus watch as a Route 66 mural is painted. The event will also feature music, food and free samples of Bow Truss's new Route 66–themed coffee blend, which is roasted with chocolate, cherries and peaches (not that we understand the significance of these flavors). If you're too busy to take a road trip this summer, this party might be the closest thing to hitting the open road in a rented convertible.

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