By October 2006, leaders from 12 communities from Joliet to Towanda agreed to do whatever they could — spruce up paint, add audio narration, post new signs — to promote Route 66 attractions. Clustered along 90 miles of the highway, the towns coined a name designed to promote their offerings collectively: "The Red Carpet Corridor."
Pontiac, which already housed the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, took its promise seriously. It added what locals claim to be the world's largest Route 66 mural for photo opportunities and opened three new downtown museums. Tourism officials painted colored footprints on sidewalks to lead non-English speaking visitors from one to attraction to another, said Ellie Alexander, Pontiac's tourism director.
At the Polka Dot Drive-In in Braidwood, signatures from international travelers fill up multiple guest books kept under the cash register.
Philippe Eli, 52, was one of those visitors, traveling with 13 other French tourists on Route 66 from California to Chicago by bus. While perusing souvenirs at the gift shop in Pontiac, he was asked what inspired him to choose a Route 66 trip.
His answers came as short, choppy examples at first.
"Grapes of Wrath."
And then Eli summed it up in one sentence, spoken in perfect English.
"We love America more than you think," he said.
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