[The next nine days’ entries will be typed on the fly with minimal copy-editing or rewriting as time, energy, and hotel wi-fi access permit. Our photos, of which there are typically too many each year, will be uploaded and posted sometime after our return home.]
After driving 570+ miles from Indianapolis we’ve arrived safely in Topeka for the evening at a six-story hotel with only one working elevator, a short-handed staff, a passkey that worked exactly once before malfunctioning, and a wi-fi network with an easily guessed password, for which I’m grateful so I don’t have to add one more phone call to the staff’s burdens.
Today’s drive was planned as a nine-hour burn-through rather than a series of sightseeing escapades. Our ultimate goal is Colorado, for which Kansas is our way station. That’s not to say Kansas won’t have its share of highlights, but most of those weren’t planned for today. Despite construction sites the first leg of the journey through west Indiana and all of Illinois went smoothly until we entered Missouri and had to compete with aggressive St. Louis drivers in their natural element. In Illinois we stopped once at its former capital Vandalia to see their Madonna of the Trail — one of several such monuments nationwide — and to lament the disrepair of what once must have been their former main street, too common a sight in formerly bustling small towns.
Lunch was in St. Charles at a small national chain we don’t have in Indiana called Smashburger, which specializes in cooked-to-order burgers on four different types of buns (including wheat and pretzel). My St. Louis Burger was just fine, and the Smashfries (topped with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic) were above-average for a burger joint. In a shocking turn of events, my finicky son declared their non-greasy fare the best burger he’s ever had. We relished this moment of positivity for all it was worth.
The second leg of the trip was marred by an I-70 accident in Columbia, MO, that bottlenecked traffic for a while and somehow ended with a delivery truck lying on one side and having its other side torn off. We pray no one was seriously injured in what must have been one horrific action sequence. We exited for a while and avoided the blockage momentarily, searching in vain for a roadside attraction whose directions were apparently obsolete. When we returned to the interstate, several more minutes of patient sitting were necessary until drivers resumed inching forward. We whiled away the minutes by watching a small girl in the van in front of us tearing tiny handfuls of stuffing out of her poor scapegoated dolly and tossing them out the window, letting them drift away like so much unwanted dandelion seed.
Fortunately Missouri allowed us one successful sightseeing stop in Independence at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. The obstructions in Columbia delayed our arrival until fifteen minutes before closing time, but the staff, going above and beyond in the name of courtesy, allowed us access to the central courtyard — burial site of President and Mrs. Truman, as well as their daughter and son-in-law — free of charge. I would’ve bought something from their gift shop in gratitude, but they didn’t seem to have a single “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” mock newspaper anywhere in stock.
Dinner in Topeka was at Bobo’s Drive-In, as seen on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Despite their brief TV fame, I was surprised that a Saturday night found only three other cars in the lot. Their sandwiches were acceptable and affordably priced, though we had to forgive them for forgetting one of our burger topping requests. Half my onion rings had fused in the fryer into one unified mega-ring. My son, already taken aback at the concept of eating dinner in a car like primitive cultures of the distant 1960s, began having unhappy flashbacks when he realized their side dishes were held in the same paper food baskets as his school lunches. I was fine with my own experience in general, but it was a far cry from the sky-high bar set by our own beloved Mug-‘n’-Bun Drive-In back in Indianapolis.
Today’s most irrelevant note: the Missouri Department of Transportation is abbreviated “MoDOT”. As a Marvel fan, I couldn’t help imagining an alt-universe version of MODOK whose sinister plans involved world domination through infinite road construction and the ability to blast killer potholes in any flat surface.