Dog daysChicagoland and Springfield, IL

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Okay, I’m starting this post with a few sketches that are not on Route 66, but that provide a good bit of context—which is to say, if you’re hankering for a roadside red hot on your travels, there’s no better place to go than Chicago.

There’s some debate as to the origin of the humble hot dog. There is the German frankfurter, of course, but what has become the ultimate American street food seems to have murkier beginnings. Various cities with German-immigrant roots lay claim to the invention, including New York (where sausages were served on rolls at Coney Island in the 1870s) and St. Louis. But thanks to the persistent legend that the modern dawg, as we know it, was first served at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Chicago has taken the story and run all the way to the bank with it.

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Today, Chicago is the weenie capital of the world. Chicagoland Mom & Pop hot dog stands outnumber the city’s combined tally of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s franchises. And many of them, like the fabulous (and slightly creepy) Superdawg Drive-In above, have been mainstays for half a century or more.

Chicago sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And just like the infamous Hot Wiener Sandwich of Rhode Island, a true Chicago Dog wouldn’t be caught dead in ketchup.

I started with these non-66 hot dog stands so you could see how high Chicago sets the bar for its tube-steak signage. If these wiener masterpieces could be found across town from the Mother Road, imagine how high my expectations were for Route 66’s offerings.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Well, I’m here to tell you, I didn’t come away disappointed.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And if you’re heading west on Route 66, you’re in for an added bonus. Just when you think you’ve left the Dog Days behind, you’ll reach the state capital of Springfield and meet the Cozy Dog Drive-In. The Cozy Dog was founded by one Ed Waldmire, Jr. (remember the name Waldmire—there’s more 66 lore there to share another day), who, at a USO during World War II, invented the “crusty cur,” a cornbread-battered hot dog on a stick that would become a staple of State Fair cuisine. The recipe was an enormous hit with the troops, so in 1946 Waldmire rechristened his creation the Cozy Dog, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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(Dairy) king of the roadCommerce, OK

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you happen to drive Route 66 in the summer, like we did, you might just find yourself pulling into Commerce, OK at the hottest part of an absolutely scorching day. If that’s the case, this former filling station will appear on the horizon first like a desert mirage, and then like a beacon of hope.

Apparently the unique draw of the Dairy King is the legendary Route 66 cookie (yes, a cookie shaped like US Highway shields!), but I have to confess: sometimes all you want on a hundred-degree day is a little something frosty.

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Roadside zigguratMonrovia, CA

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Here’s a unique one. If you drive Route 66 through the seemingly unending sprawl of greater Los Angeles, you’ll pass an ornate oddment around the halfway point of the Valley. The place is called the Aztec Hotel, and it’s apparently one of the best (and only) still-standing examples of Mayan-Revival architecture.

Did you know that was a thing? Me, neither.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Nevermind that the Aztecs and Mayans were two completely different cultures, and the implications of approximating either or both in America—whatever your opinion of the genre, the Aztec Hotel’s unique relief work is quite a beauty. And amazingly, the “Mayan” style dovetails beautifully with the Art Deco era in which this place was built.

The Aztec is currently closed, but rumor has it that the building is owned by a Chinese investor, who is supposedly fixing the place up with plans to reopen in the near future. I really hope that’s the case, because based on vintage photos I’ve seen of the interior, I’m dying to get in there with my sketchbook.

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Burro boroughOatman, AZ

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

I think this is the closest I’ve yet come to experiencing the phenomenon of the sacred cow. In Oatman, Arizona, they have sacred donkeys.

Well, if not exactly sacred…then, I’d imagine, lucrative.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Oatman is something of a living ghost town: what’s left is a relic of the gold rush, a dessicated hamlet tucked away in the craggy, bare mountains of western Arizona. The place is so unbelievably remote, it’s a wonder that any highway reached it at all, let alone the Mother Road.

At the time of the gold rush, prospectors brought burros with them to do the heavy lifting for them. Far more hardy than your average horse, the donkeys could tough it out in such an inhospitable place. The ore veins dried up during the Great Depression, and at the start of World War II, the mines were formally closed as nonessential to the war effort. The last few miners turned their beasts of burden loose onto the surrounding hills, and left town for good.

The burros, being burros, thrived on their hardscrabble existence, and before long had produced an entire population of feral donkeys. Their sleek, well-fed descendants roam the streets of Oatman today, stalling traffic (such as there is) and biting the fingers of unwary tourists.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You have to hand it to Oatman: someone there saw the potential for a feral donkey to become a serious—and sacred—cash cow.

I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t part with any tourist cash in Oatman. I didn’t even get out of the car. It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and while I’ll do almost anything for a good tourist trap, frying like an egg isn’t on the list. But then again, stubborn as I may be, I’m no burro—just a pale Irish gal from a cold, rainy climate.

Maybe I’ll visit in the winter next time, and buy an extra t-shirt as penance.

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Running the Googie gauntletAlbuquerque, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you want to see a good concentration of neon signage you can visit the Miracle Mile in California, or you might try 11th Street in Tulsa. Or you just can head straight for the Googie Mecca. I gave you just a taste of it in last week’s installment, but I figured it was worth elaborating a bit.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There are actually two Route Sixty-Sixes in Albuquerque, as the Mother Road’s path changed from a north-south route to an east-west one. (That’s a story in and of itself, which I’ll tell in a future post.) And both alignments of the old highway are absolutely crammed with vintage neon.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Central Avenue is the more recent incarnation of 66, cutting roughly a fifteen-mile neon swath through the heart of the city.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Googie beacons point the way from the eastern boundary…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…to the far western edge of town. At the peak of Route 66’s heyday in the mid-1950s, there were apparently 98 motels along Central Avenue—yet even in 2015 I lost count of how many old signs we passed.Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Mother Road signage isn’t limited to lodging, either.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Many of the signs were in fine fettle, either newly restored or lovingly maintained. Still, we passed business after business that had very recently been shuttered for good—a reminder that the Route 66 Mom-n-Pop is an endangered species.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

About fifteen or twenty years ago, stretches of Central Avenue and its motel relics were plagued with the hallmarks of hard times: drugs, violent crime, human trafficking. Yet in recent years the remaining business owners have made an effort to clean up the thoroughfare and their properties, particularly from Nob Hill inward.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The contemporary result is example after gleaming example of gorgeous storefronts and restored midcentury typography.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I just couldn’t believe our luck—we’d hit the Googie jackpot.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There wasn’t time to finish even a single sketch that day—it was all I could do to keep up by jotting down messy, temporary pencil scrawls. The “To Finish in the Studio Later” debt I incurred that day was enormous, and I’m still paying it off. I haven’t even showed you everything here—just my favorites (oh, that canary Cleaners storefront! A sketch will never do that beautiful, pristine façade the justice it deserves).

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So, yeah. I loved Albuquerque already, for other reasons, but Route 66’s mark on the city pushed it into the stratosphere for me. The only downside is that now the bar has been raised a goodly height—and at least where old neon is concerned, it’ll be hard to find anywhere else that can hold a candle to the Q.

 

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Take the leapEureka, CA

Fish sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I was really hoping I might have had a sketch of a neon leaping frog (or something similar) for today’s post, but no such luck. Still, a leaping trout ain’t too shabby.

Hope your extra day shines like a neon beacon…happy leap year!

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The tail wagging the dogAlbuquerque, NM

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Those of you who are fans of the show Breaking Bad will recognize Fido here, but you might not know that this beauty has graced Route 66 for over half a century. But while the place is notable both for its television fame and the fact that you can get red or green New Mexico chili sauce on your dog, I was there purely for the neon.

For almost all of our Route 66 trip, I had to content myself with seeing most of the Mother Road’s neon during daylight hours only. But luckily for me, we stayed with friends in Albuquerque that night. I told them I was dying to see the Dog House at night, so after dinner we all made the trek back down to Central Avenue together.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I couldn’t decide which stage of the neon motion to sketch, so I drew them all. And that led me to an idea I’d never tried before…

Animated Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…just a wee bit of sketchbook animation. I think I might have stumbled upon something I’ll keep doing again and again. After all, there’s an awful lot of animated neon out there!

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