For our last day on the road, we had almost no stops planned to break up the expected monotony from Webb City to Indianapolis. We didn’t have the luxury of free time for a full-length visit to, say, the St. Louis Zoo because of mandatory chores that had to be squeezed in Sunday evening regardless of discomfort level. Every interesting short-visit southern-Missouri attraction we’d read about was either closed on Sundays or farther from I-44 than we felt compelled to stray. We threw caution to the wind and hit the open road anyway.
We did see one attraction in Webb City before heading out to the interstate, a giant statue of praying hands, positioned on an isolated hilltop. Our other sights and stops were mostly surprises, and fell in line with motifs from the first eight days, each recurring as follows:
Disappointing restaurants. Despite a lovingly provided breakfast, by late morning I found myself fatigued and starving anyway. I left the interstate on the west side of Springfield in search of additional breakfast protein and coffee, my usual cure-alls for such morning conditions. I approached a McDonald’s drive-thru at 10:35 knowing that our stores back home serve breakfast until 11:00 on Sundays. Before we reached the speaker, two young employees ran up to each menu board and concealed the breakfast section. At the speaker, I was informed that breakfast had just ended. My mood failed to improve in light of this news. Thankfully the Hardee’s across the corner was more than happy to serve me breakfast. Not long after, I regained total control of my safe driving skills. I wish I could’ve left them a tip.
Restaurants we don’t have back home. All our nearest Shoney’s locations were shut down two decades ago. Although they had a great breakfast buffet, I didn’t mourn the loss because the last time I’d visited them, their spoiled bleu cheese dressing left me sick for a day. I’m pleased to report the Shoney’s in Rolla induced no such physical trauma, though I wish I’d ordered something more creative than a burger. After this week, I’m kind of done with burgers for a while.
Gift shops. Thirty miles before you reach Redmon’s in Phillipsburg, the billboards begin boasting of the “World’s Largest Gift Shop”. The store in question is a full-size warehouse, filled with a combination of Route 66 merchandise, local arts-‘n’-crafts booths, and tons of leftover toys manufactured to the highest Dollar General standards. It may well be larger than world-famous Wall Drug, but it lacks their intensive signage, peculiar huckster’s charm, and free ice water. Redmon’s has a separate “Candy Factory” building that’s also prominent in those same billboards, but we were disinclined to investigate it.
Replicas. On the campus of the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, MO, is a small-scale recreation of a portion of Stonehenge, carved from granite with a super-science water jet. I’m unsure why the job was never finished. Perhaps the sculptors were punished for too much frivolous water usage during a time of drought. Unfortunately parking is scarce and inconvenient around the curve where it’s exhibited, so we had to settle for a fleeting glimpse on the go.
Vehicular accidents. Traffic was slowed on I-44 in mid-afternoon due to an accident at MM 151 that somehow resulted in a tractor-trailer being split in twain and set afire. Later at MM 200, we passed a car flipped on its side atop an embankment fifteen feet above the interstate. Still later in a construction zone near St. Louis, a hubcap flew off a westbound car and landed on our side of the median. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed so many drivers sharing the same bad day in separate incidents.
Encores. At my wife’s request we stopped a second time in Vandalia, Illinois, to check out something she noticed on our first visit but failed to view up close — a tiny area labeled Lincoln Park, sandwiched between two decrepit former businesses. It’s a small patch of grass and foliage with a statue of Lincoln seated on a bench, as well as an expository sign that my wife read but I didn’t.
Befuddling political signs. If anyone can tell us what was meant by a lone sign in the middle of an empty field proclaiming “OBAMA GAS USE (POND SLIME)”, we’d love to know. We think.
In all, the day was hardly a total bore, but I felt a deeper sense of appreciation in hindsight for what splendid diversions Kansas had offered us. As with the other lengthy driving bouts earlier in the trip, our visually unstimulating moments were balanced with audio entertainment, courtesy of my son’s MP3 collection. My Plan A had been to rely on the luxury of satellite radio, but I was touched that he’d gone to great lengths to create the digital equivalent of a series of mixtapes for us, and just for the occasion. Besides, radio was more interested in keeping “Call Me Maybe” in heavy rotation for preteens instead of catering to us. Our marathons were assembled like so:
Sunday the 8th, from Topeka to Denver: movie scores from all the popular favorites. Driving through western Kansas was disconcerting at times when the most recognizable segments from Jurassic Park — those originally accompanied by miraculous, majestic dinosaurs cavorting across lush greenery — were instead providing background music for miles of empty brownish fields populated by the occasional moo-cow.
Friday the 13th, from Pueblo to Hutchinson: The nearly complete oeuvre of Linkin Park. The tonal disconnect between miles of low-key pastoral settings and, say, “Bleed It Out” was an effective way of keeping me awake and on my toes. This really didn’t bother me as much as it would other listeners my age. I could sense my wife’s eyes glazing over at times, though.
Saturday the 14th, from Hutchinson to Webb City: Over five hours Owl City, including the latest EP, Adam Young’s older works under the stage name Sky Sailing, and a few solo efforts from the nice lady who sings with him on album tracks. It was a veritable comprehensive boxed-set that kept our spirits up through the long backroads of southern Kansas (including one genuine dirt road) and the skeletal remains of Route 66.
Today the 15th, from Webb City to Indianapolis: Nine-hour Japanese pop/rock marathon. Much of it was over my head or outside my fields of interest, but I’ll cop to bopping along to infectious tunes by Momoiro Clover Z, Stance Punks, Noanowa (their insanely contagious “Have a Good Day!” is the anti-“Call Me Maybe” in my book), Orange Range, Stereopony, Psychic Lover, and JAM Project. When my son first proposed the music schedule, I wasn’t sure this was the right soundtrack to conclude a vacation. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling a little extra triumphant reentering Indiana at long last while escorted by SUPER SONIC FULL SOUL DYNAMITE.
We arrived home about 8 p.m., elated to find our possessions intact, avoiding direct eye contact with the poor lawn, annoyed at the package left on our porch Lord-knows-how-many days ago, and physically ready for immediate bedtime. Alas, chores and tasks needed to be done, least of all this conclusion to acknowledge that we’re alive, home, and hoping to work our way back up to “well” in short order.
Nine days. Five states. 2,887 miles. 828 photos to sort. One mountaintop. Fourteen stops for gas. Ten tons of San Diego Comic Con news-skimming to catch up. Innumerable sights and memories.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate the encouragement. 🙂