I too would have traveled America in a ‘61 Corvette, solving the problems of pretty young women along the way. All I lacked were a driver’s license, frat-boy looks, and of course the car.
I watched “Route 66” quite a bit as a kid, even after discovering that the show rarely involved interesting homicides or gunplay, or really much action of any kind. It was just these two guys tooling around to that cool Nelson Riddle theme, unencumbered by steady jobs or family sorrows, dispensing life-changing epiphanies like they were handing out leaflets at a trade fair. For cross-country motorists, they carried very little baggage – and I mean that literally, given the trunk size of those earlier Corvettes.
Their names were Tod (one “d”) and Buz (ditto the one “z”). I guess the spellings were meant to project a nonconformist vibe, but both wore pressed shirts and snug chinos like they’d just emerged from a J.C. Penny catalog. Despite appearances, they were always up for part-time work as lumberjacks, or lifeguards or lobstermen. The extra money probably came in handy. Gas was cheap back then, but it wasn’t free.
All of which is a nod to George Maharis. Taken none too soon at 94. He was not my favorite actor – a bit too intense for his role as full-time passenger – but for a lazy adolescent like myself he and his buddy Tod represented an alluring view of adulthood: Life on the road, every week a different town, a different job, a different ingenue in need of wise counsel. Maybe a kiss or two.
All a fantasy, but hey, so was “Bewitched.” As TV fantasies go, “Route 66” probably tapped into the national zeitgeist more than most. It came before the Interstate system was finished and before all of us learned to equate road trips with road rage and a mind-numbing string of identical exits.
George Maharis himself once summed up the show’s allure, and why it couldn’t be replicated today: “You could go from one town to the next, maybe 80 miles away, and it was a totally different world,” he said. “Now you can go 3,000 miles and one town is the same as the next.”