Wednesday, 5/9/01 - More Route 66 Into Missouri
Determined to see more of Route 66 before I got to St. Louis, I left the Tulsa NE KOA on some side streets to pick up the historic route. With an Oklahoma Route 66 newspaper that listed sights and route county by county, I decided to first check out the big blue whale.
The blue whale was the remnants of a water park from days gone by, sitting in a large pond and still brightly colored. I had actually passed it and traveled for about ten minutes before I realized that I'd missed the landmarks, but convinced that I had to see at least a few of the oddities along this path, I did a U-Turn and made my way back to take photographs.
Shortly after, some signs along the road told of the largest totem pole in the world, although the guidebook said it was at least 8 miles off of Route 66. Still, the photographer in me urged me on and I turned down a side road and drove on and on until I finally saw signs pointing the way to a parking lot for the totem pole.
The totem pole was part of some very large and whimsical sculptures created by a man who lived in the adjacent home decades ago as a project to entertain his family. The totem pole was quite impressive, towering over the small house and other colorful structures around the yard.
I tried to stop for lunch at a little diner back where the side road met Route 66, but it was closed for the day with a sign saying they were feeding everyone at the local sporting event. Next to the diner was another Route 66 landmark, the Top Hat bar, so I snapped a quick shot of it.
I got back onto Route 66 which began to change names as I hit the border of Oklahoma and Kansas, then took the tiny stretch of Route 66 in Kansas through Baxter Springs, then hit the state line for Missouri.
Sadly, I soon discovered that most of Route 66 through Missouri has been obliterated by I-44, and although you can pull off the Interstate in various spots to ride a few blocks of the historic byway, it was a pain in the neck to pull off and on the Interstate.
I even pulled off to a tourist center in hopes of finding a Missouri version of the county by county guide that I had found in Oklahoma but no such luck. Even the women at the counter seemed to have very little interest in or knowledge about Route 66. I was truly disappointed.
I did see a sign for the Jesse James Museum, and having a secret love for the wild, wild West, I pulled over to check it out. Too bad the billboards didn't say "Open Weekends Only" like the small sign on the front door of the museum stated. I took a few photos anyway, then got back onto I-44.
We stopped for the night at the Lebanon MO KOA which had a great BBQ sandwich on the menu for dinner. Not all KOA's provide meals, but after the long, hot drive, it was such a relief to find this one did. They also had a very large dog walk area and the Berts did some exploring.
Later that evening, I noticed a VW van setting up with the pop-up triangle top. How cool! I made a note to stop by in the morning, if they were still there, to see it.
Thursday, 5/10/01 - And Then Into St. Louis
In addition to dinner, the Lebanon KOA also offered a choice of breakfast, and I opted for the breakfast bisquit. Then I saw the VW van pull up and a man walk out. He stepped into the KOA office as I was taking care of my breakfast order.
"You're in the VW van," I stated the obvious.
"Yeah. Which one are you in?"
"That old Apache down the way," I said proudly.
Turns out he was from Hawaii and had bought the VW in the Mid-West and was now driving it back to the California coast in order to ship it back to Hawaii. We sat outside on the picnic benches and talked over breakfast, about travel, about working and living, about life in general.
As I went to return to my Apache, he called after. "Aloha!" he said. "Yes, definitely Aloha." I said back.
Then I got into the Apache and took it to a nearby mechanic for its regular oil change. I'm being very careful with that engine, every step of the way. I had them call a locksmith for me to fix the back door lock again. Can't be too careful about security. After that, I got back on the road.
Arriving in St. Louis hours before my evening book signing, I decided to go straight to the bookstore anyway and hang out in the parking lot or in the store. Then I noticed a fitness and massage place next door and went in to see if, by chance, they had an available massage appointment. Luck would have it that they did, and I spent the next hour getting a massage, particularly on my lower back which seems to take the brunt of driving the Apache.
After that, Kathy, the woman who is helping to organize the St. Louis Webgrrls chapter, met me and took me to dinner to meet several other businesswomen from the area. Afterward, we all went back to the bookstore for my signing.
Kathy offered that the Berts and I could stay at her house, and I followed her at night through some busy suburban streets to her duplex. Her big yellow lab Otis was relegated to the master bedroom as the Berts took over the joint. Kathy and I had a glass of wine, and then I turned in for the night.
Wednesday, 5/11/01 - And a Detour, Because I Could
As I left St. Louis, I realized that I hadn't taken photographs for a while and saw the gleaming silver arch ahead of me. I pulled out my digital camera and held it out the window as I drove by the monument, snapping shots and hoping I'd get a good one.
I didn't think I had taken my eyes off the road, at least not for too long, but when I glanced back at the highway in front of me, all of the cars were stopped up ahead. I felt my heart lurch as I hit the brakes, trying to remain calm and compensate for the fact that I was carrying a massive beast of a vehicle over my tires. The tires screeched, the RV swerved a little, but then I eased it to a stop with enough room to spare in front of me and the brake lights of the car ahead.
Everything inside the RV flew around, fell down, toppled over, or whatever else it could do if it wasn't tied down. The Berts were totally fine, thank goodness, with Ernie under a mound of feather blanket on the sofa and Chewie tucked under blankets and towels in his bed between the driver and passenger seats. I was a little shaken, realizing how in a fast moment, everything can change if you aren't paying attention. Yes, I also realized that no landmark or monument is worth risking lives over.
Traffic began to move slowly, and I looked at the highway signs to discover that Indianapolis was that-a-way. I quickly called my friend Lisa in Bloomington - don't worry, I have a handsfree cellphone - and left a message saying I was thinking of taking a detour and instead of going to Illinois, I might go to Bloomington.
As I waited for her return call, the turnoff for Indianapolis was coming up, and I finally made an executive decision - or more like a road wanderer's decision - to just take the turnoff and go to Indiana. I figured that if Lisa was too busy with work to have a visitor, I'd just loop back around to Chicago. What's a little detour when you're living on the road?
Lisa finally called to say she was indeed very busy with work, so I told her I'd camp out in Terra Haute and she should call me in the morning if her workload eased at all.
Then we settled into the Terra Haute KOA. Turned on the TV that evening, something I try not to do too often in order to make sure that I read and write more, but happened to catch the local news to discover that I had arrived in Terre Haute at the same time Timothy McVie's execution was being postponed.
All local news channels had indepth coverage of how the postponement of the execution was going to have a devastatingly negative effect on the economic wellbeing of their city. Cameras panned over workers setting up bleachers and restaurants that had already prepared large quantities of food to feed to the onlookers who were expected to swarm the city within the next few days. Business owners expressed dismay that the national media would now vacate the town and then when/if they returned, they'd have to gear up all over again.
Life in America can be strange. And somehow, every once in a while, I end up in the middle of it.