Billy Connolly’s Route 66

April 24, 2012

It may seem strange to have one of America’s most sacred and beloved roadways reviewed by a Brit, but both classic car junkies and fans of the comedian will find plenty to enjoy in this sometimes humorous and surprisingly humane sendup of the 2,278 miles of open road that once took Americans of every stripe all the way from the oceanfront pier in Santa Monica to the bustling metropolis of urban Chicago. And while Connolly is certainly not the first to take a road trip on the great Route 66 and then write about his epic journey through America’s heartland, he certainly puts his own unique spin on the subject in his audio book, “Billy Connolly’s Route 66: The Big Yin on the Ultimate American Road Trip”.

Fans of Connolly may know him for any number of reasons. The Big Yin (or the big one), as he is known in his native Scotland, has tackled just about every popular performance art, including acting, singing, and most notably, comedy. But it was his love of American music that first introduced him to Route 66 (it’s where you get your kicks), thanks to a little song by Chuck Berry, and his love of the open road that led him to take his custom trike (along with a camera crew) on a westbound adventure across America.

The narrative opens not at the beginning of his trip, but in the middle, in a small Amish town called Arthur, Illinois (population 800). Connolly talks briefly about his unscheduled detour to this tiny town off Route 66 (he goes into more detail later) and how it not only became the highlight of his trip, but also served to illustrate why road trips are such an amazing experience. Without fail, even the most tightly-scheduled road trip can produce a chance encounter with a truly wonderful stranger. In the midst of the many attractions that once made this iconic roadway the stuff of legend; the rock and roll roadhouses, the burgeoning car culture, and the many neon-lit diners and retail shops beckoning passers-by; it was his stop in this sleepy town and his unexpected meeting with Mervin, an Amish furniture maker, that made his trip worthwhile, simply because connecting with other humans is what brings meaning to our lives.

Connolly proves himself an adept narrator as he takes listeners with him on his journey, which spans his six-week tour of middle America, starting in Chicago, winding through major highlights like St. Louis and the Grand Canyon, and ending up in Los Angeles. And what is most compelling about his story is the surprising sincerity with which he approaches this historic road and its many denizens. He is well aware of the significance that Route 66 holds in American culture, but he also remains cognizant of the fact that even as the freeways passed it by, the road developed an aura of the mythical and a romantic about it. In many ways, this audio book stands testament to his own love affair with the open road and the many interesting souls that one can find along it completely by chance.

This book is an easy listen, to say the least, with Connolly’s well-honed knack for turning a phrase and engaging with his audience. You’re more likely than not to find yourself itching to renew your caravan insurance, hitch up your trailer, and hit the open road after you finish this profound audio book. At the very least, Connolly will convince you to put the historic tour along Route 66 on your bucket list (and maybe just stop in for a visit with Mervin along the way).

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