London's route 66 kicks off from bus stop Z outside Romford station. It's not quite Chicago, but a great big puddle at the side of the road makes a temporary substitute for Lake Michigan. A driver pulls up at speed beside the kerb, splashing passengers in both bus shelters with melted slush. The dream bus to Leytonstone is a long time arriving.
Clickety click, our carriage arrives. The windows look steamed up, but closer inspection reveals that the exterior glass is merely filthy. We head under the railway into the shopping centre, past capacious pubs and folk lugging gift-stuffed carrier bags. At the first stop two teenagers alight, having deliberately taken the bus for a journey they could have walked in three minutes flat. It isn't junk food that's making our younger generation obese, it's free bus travel.
Romford's ringroad is choked with Saturday shoppers. Our bus enters the logjam on Mercury Gardens, then takes a full quarter of an hour to inch round to the next stop beside Romford Market. If only the driver would open the doors and let us out early, we could walk up the pavement and catch the bus in front. Jobsworth, not a chance.
North Street aids our escape, nipping up a bus lane that's wholly unnecessary at this time of day. Then we're at the junction with Eastern Avenue, the A12 arterial, whose four-lane dual carriageway will speed our passage for the rest of the journey. To begin with there's a full mile of farmland which somehow nobody's ever built upon, so no bus stops. But at Whalebone Lane the council stock begins, clinging close to the inside carriageway, as ribbon development takes hold. There'll be no chugging slowly around housing estates for us, we're scything straight through, occasionally pulling into a layby to allow passengers on and off.
To be honest, this route 66 isn't proving quite as atmospheric as a spin down its Midwest namesake. No prairies, no dustbowls, just the occasional sports ground and hospital to break the residential monotony. We don't even have the joy of pulling into Newbury Park's starksemi-cylindricalbus station, because that's trapped on the other side of the central reservation and woefully underused. But we do link to one, two, three, four, five Central line stations as the journey continues. The 66 is Redbridge's gateway to underground escape.
The clientèle aboard our bus churns over, becoming more ethnically diverse with every passing stop. We get our first pushchair, which Mum dumps in the wheelchair space before plonking down to ring a friend on her pink smartphone. But then, horror of horrors, competition. A genuine wheelchair user is attempting to board, heralded by a beeping siren and extended ramp. Mum shifts her offspring into the corner, completely blocking the backrest, and leaving barely enough room for our new wheeled passenger to edge alongside. Then she sits down and starts texting, oblivious to the disgruntled face staring at her through the rails. I secretly hope that the pushchair will want to disembark before the wheelchair, because that'd be bloody carnage, but it is not to be.
After successfully negotiating the Gants Hill and Redbridge roundabouts, it's only at Wanstead that we finally escape the A12's arterial monotony. It takes ages to turn right into the High Street, not helped by an over-cautious learner who's uncertain how filter lanes work. This is a proper high street, unlike so many others in East London, with a traditional butchers and a womenswear shop called Judith of Wanstead. The 66 has only been diverted this way for a year, bringing a bus service to the old people's homes along New Wanstead for the first time. Great for them, an extra five minutes stuck on board for us.
A quick spin round the Green Man roundabout and our road trip draws to an end. Nobody celebrates by getting off and bursting into song, but then Leytonstone station is hardly Santa Monica. Alas, in the absence of an open-topped Cadillac and a rolling highway, a seat aboard route 66 will have to suffice.