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Hit the Road, Jack

Time for fins, flames, fuzzy dice at celebration of historic Route 66.


Won't you get hip to this timely tip:

When you make that California trip.

Get your kicks on Route 66!

--Bobby Troupe, 1946


The 1969 Plymouth GTX was "a hot, hot car," Steve Henthorn remembers with all the sentiment of a first crush. Growing up in San Bernardino in the late 1960s, Henthorn and his buddies lived for Friday and Saturday nights, when they would pile into the Plymouth muscle car or a '64 Ford Fairlane and cruise the portion of Route 66 that cut through their town.

This weekend, Henthorn, 48, not only gets to relive those glory days with about 2,500 car enthusiasts, he will also share them with his wife and three boys at the annual Route 66 Rendezvous.

The four-day event is one of two family-oriented celebrations this weekend honoring the "Mother Road," the first paved highway to connect Chicago to Los Angeles. (It was commissioned as a U.S. highway in 1926 but wasn't completely paved until 1937; it was decommissioned in 1985, replaced as an interstate by a newer set of transcontinental roadways.)

On Saturday, the foothill town of Duarte hosts the fourth annual Salute to Route 66 parade and picnic, an event that takes place entirely on a stretch of the historic highway.

A contingent of 140 vintage cars, marching bands and community groups will make its way down Huntington Drive, beginning at 9 a.m. The day will culminate with a picnic in Royal Oaks Park.

In keeping with the 1999 theme, "Swingin' on Route 66," Mercedes Ellington, choreographer and granddaughter of Duke Ellington, will do grand marshal honors, along with Rose Parade float designer Raul Rodriguez.

Festivities in the park follow, with food, games, a swing band and a display of about 100 buffed vintage vehicles. The grand marshals will stick around to sign autographs.

In San Bernardino, the celebration is spread over four days, beginning today. A seemingly endless chain of "raked" (front end dropped, rear up) or "slammed" (low to the ground) automobiles will be parked or cruising along 30 blocks of the old section of downtown, surrounding Court and 3rd streets.

One entire block is reserved Saturday and Sunday for the Cruisin' Kids Town section. Activities there include soccer kick contests and virtual reality games in the Chevrolet Soccer Interactive display; the "Rad Riders Bicycle Stunt Show," which includes a bike safety test and a helmet giveaway; and a Lego area where kids can put their imaginations to work to build their own jalopies. A work area sponsored by Home Depot will allow kids to build and take home a project, such as a toolbox or a birdhouse. There will also be rides and games for youngsters.

There's something for everyone at the event, but the spotlight will be on the chrome, fins and flames. In honor of the 2,448 miles of Route 66, the cruise is limited to 2,448 pre-1973 vehicles.

The 30-block area will be closed to regular traffic, leaving plenty of room for the Cruising and Show & Shine events all four days, and the Open Header Contest and Open Header Cruise (Saturday only). The Firestone Burn Out contest, also set for Saturday, will burn rubber at the National Orange Show Speedway ($5 admission).

On Sunday, the Firefighters' Competition on 3rd Street pits firefighters from surrounding communities in hose-cart and bucket-brigade contests. Demonstrations of a hook-and-ladder truck and the jaws of life will follow, along with a Pee Wee Big Wheel Race for kids.

'It's About Nostalgia'

The event is "a throwback to a simpler time," said Henthorn, in his first year as executive director of the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's about nostalgia, people talking about cars and listening to the bands--it's healthy for the family."

Expect to see a healthy dose of fuzzy dice--but many participants take it a step further.

"You see surfboards hanging out of the car, drive-in trays with sodas and hamburgers--they really get into it," said Shelly Wong, director of operations.

Also adding to the nostalgia, classic rock and swing bands are set to perform on two stages all four days. The ongoing music from the '50s and '60s features the No Limit Band tonight, Rumbleking on Friday, the Yardogs and Jan & Dean on Saturday, and Westside Latin on Sunday, among others.

Preceding Jan & Dean's performance on Saturday night will be the duo's induction into the Cruisin' Hall of Fame. Other inductees this year include the GTO, Motor Trend magazine and drag racing pioneer "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.

"Last year we inducted 'American Graffiti'--that's what it used to be like here," Henthorn said. "It was a pretty good place to grow up."


Route 66 Rendezvous, 3rd Street and Arrowhead Avenue, San Bernardino. Today, 4:30-11 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Kids Town, Saturday and Sunday. Free. (909) 889-3980.

Salute to Route 66, Huntington Drive, Duarte. Parade, 9 a.m. Picnic, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at Royal Oaks Park, Royal Oaks Drive and Las Lomas Road. Free. (626) 357-3333.

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