Route 66 in the News

TV Series Features Route 66

2009-07-01 08:18:09

CHICAGO, Ill. - The Coote family of Lockport planned on taking a family road trip out West this year. They just didn't plan on television crews tagging along. The Cootes are one of seven families chosen to star in the new reality TV program "Great American Road Trip," premiering at 7 p.m. Tuesday on WMAQ-Channel 5. The eight-episode series follows the exploits of these peripatetic parents and their kids as they pilot RVs along America's legendary highway, U.S. Route 66.

"When you think of All-American road trips, you think of Route 66," said Lisa Hennessy, the show's executive producer.

Hennessy, 39, who grew up in northwest suburban Park Ridge, said the families of four travel through some of the country's most scenic landscapes, soaking up the sites and competing in challenges along the way. Each week, one family gets eliminated. The last clan standing comes home $100,000 richer.

Since historic Route 66 begins in Chicago, so did the show.

"We started [taping] at Wrigley Field," Hennessy said. "I'm a third-generation Cub fan, so it was awesome."

The Coote kids -- Jake, 9, and Cassidy, 12 -- waved to onlookers as their 35-foot-long RV, which looks more like a rock band tour bus, pulled away from the Friendly Confines on May 18.

"Root for the Cootes!" they yelled through the half-open RV windows.

Like many families, the Cootes' previous vacations consisted of trips to Disney World and water parks. This year, they decided to shake things up.

"We wanted the kids to see different parts of the country and see some of the historical sites across the United States," Jennifer Coote said. "We had planned on doing pretty much this exact trip, but with our parents."

They heard about auditions for the TV show and decided to give it a shot. "We never thought we'd get picked," Coote said.

Before long, Jennifer and her husband, Keith, were putting on hold their real estate and hardwood flooring businesses, packing up the kids and hitting the road for their first-ever RV experience.

"It's a little cramped, but it's been great," Coote said during a phone interview from the road. "We have no cell phones, no Internet, nothing. It's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be."

Built in the early 20th century, Route 66 originally started in Chicago at the intersection of Michigan and Jackson. The two-lane highway meandered roughly 2,400 miles through eight states before ending at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. It spawned countless Mom and Pop diners, motels with bright neon signs and quirky roadside attractions, all springing up in its wake. The "Mother Road" quickly evolved into a pop culture icon.

The advent of high-speed interstate highways chipped away at Route 66 to the point where, technically, it no longer exists. The federal government decommissioned the last section in the mid-1980s.

While you won't find it on most modern maps, much of the old Route 66 can still be driven -- especially in Illinois -- and many of its classic haunts remain.

So it's still possible to get your kicks on Route 66. And that's what viewers will watch the Cootes and their competition do as they visit the World's Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Ill., gawk at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, roam around prairies loaded with buffalo and check out the cars poking up from a cow pasture at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The sites keep on coming -- as long as the families can win challenges and stay in the game.

"We're really hoping to make it to the Grand Canyon," said Coote, as she and her family caught up on laundry and grocery shopping at an RV park ... somewhere. (I don't want to give away too much.)

The Cootes still had many miles to go before reaching Santa Monica. Jennifer Coote had her fingers crossed they'd make it -- not just for the $100,000 grand prize, but because there was so much left to explore.

"Every day is an adventure," Coote said.

"The kids get to see all this now and hopefully they'll be able to bring their kids back one day," she added. "And if we win, maybe we'll even pay for it."

~Lori Rackl, Chicago Sun-Times


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