From 1926 until it was replaced by the Interstate Highway System in 1985, Route 66 was the primary route from the Midwest to southern California. It started in Chicago and passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, ending in Los Angeles. For teenagers growing up in the Midwest during much of the twentieth century, it was the road to the land of movie stars and swimming pools. Nat King Cole romanticized it with his 1946 recording of the song (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66, written by songwriter Bobby Troup, and in the early sixties there was a television show, Route 66, based on the freedom and mystique of the open road.
In the days before the mundane mediocrity of fast-food establishments and “cookie cutter” chain motels, the towns and businesses along the route showed a great deal of imagination. One such town was Cuba, Missouri, which created a series of twelve murals along the route. The Wagon Wheel Motel, a Route 66 fixture since the 1930s, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. In the nineteenth century the town was named after the island of Cuba. When Castro came to power in the 1950s, the townsfolk put up signs leading into town that read “Cuba—No Castro.”
Laetitia and her group went hiking in the Ozark hills of the Woods Memorial Conservation Area before returning to Cuba to visit the Crawford County History Museum. After viewing the murals, some in her group commented about how imaginative Cuba’s citizens were, a point supported later at happy hour by the bartender’s story about a young local couple named Billy and Grace.