Day One continued onward from Vandalia, out of Illinois and into Missouri. We’ve seen bits and pieces of St. Louis in the past, so we didn’t schedule a stop within city limits. Instead we headed west to St. Charles, where we stopped for lunch at a chain unfamiliar to us called Smashburger. It took us a few minutes to discern their road sign from afar because it looked like a GameStop. When we noticed that the strip mall had two such logos, we looked more closely and realized only one of them was a GameStop.
Smashburger distinguishes themselves with burgers cooked fresh using a specific method reminiscent of the old McDonald’s procedures that were in effect circa 1988, before they switched to faster-cooking clamshell grills that curtail service times but never tasted the same way. If you’re among the few who live near a Smashburger, this is nothing exotic to you. To us, coming from a state as yet unreached by Smashburger, it was like a supercharged Steak-‘n’-Shake with even better toothpick fries, which can be ordered plain or topped with a mixture of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. Different stores offer a variety of bun types such as egg, multi-grain, jalapeno, or pretzel (my Day One choice, seen below).
Further west, we stopped in Columbia, MO, and wandered the campus of the University of Missouri, where fans of Roadside America swear exists a Beetle Bailey statue. I’m not a big fan of the comic strip, but it’s extremely rare that we hear of an attraction having anything to do with comics of any kind. My hobby simply doesn’t inspire much in the way of tourism. Since beggars can’t be choosers, Beetle made our Day One short-list. This would become a non-issue, as the statue was nowhere to be found. Either it was relocated elsewhere on campus or our directions were flawed. We did spend a few pleasant minutes strolling around the perimeter of a serene golf course, but that’s not how I envisioned our time there.
Returning to the interstate became a challenge because of an accident less than two miles west of our exit. Eventually we passed, but patience was the virtue of the moment, to say nothing of simple road safety.
Thanks to the traffic bottleneck, we didn’t reach the town of Independence till after 4:30, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum until 4:45. Closing time was at 5:00, but the staff graciously permitted us entrance anyway (gratis as an unexpected courtesy!), long enough to visit the gravesites of President Truman and his wife, Bess.
The gravesites are located in a well-gardened courtyard in the center of the complex. His site is much more approachable than other Presidents’ resting places that we’ve visited in past years.
Beyond the flowers, the courtyard also contains an eternal flame (see also: Arlington Cemetery), the graves of their daughter and son-in-law, and a few architectural flourishes.
We ended Day One in Topeka and fetched dinner at Bobo’s Drive-In, as seen on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives:
Parking was mostly in the back. For 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the place was shockingly deserted, only a few other cars on the lot. Despite the lack of crowding, service wasn’t speedy by any definition, and my son’s plain cheeseburger was brought to us decidedly not-plain. My chicken sandwich was adequate, though perhaps ordering a tenderloin would’ve been a truer test of their drive-in mettle. Final score for the day: corporate franchise restaurants 1, mom-‘n’-pop diners 0.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]