For some reason, I awoke feeling renewed. It was almost as if my misery, anxiety, and sense of loss were relieved by sleep. Then again, I felt like it wasn’t just sleep—something was rejuvenated, rebooted, and the sun was our guide for the day. We took too much highway in Missouri and ended up taking too few side trips.
The entire day was overcast and Kyle and I were in one of our hurries—a hurry to the west so we could feel some accomplishment. But in our haste we missed a lot on the Mother Road, forsaking the parts of the original byway and the access roads for the highway. Also, we woke up so early to make our getaway from The Redwood Motel, by the time we got to Litchfield, Missouri, nothing was open. We were then molested by a pair if Illinois finest. Kyle and I continued on to cross the state border into St. Louis, where we visited the Gateway Arch together, and then separated to take in the city. I was feeling so beat—rain had let loose, the area around the Arch was all commercial and boring, and the Mississippi River smelled like a jock’s sweaty, dirty feel being set on fire. Kyle and I met back up around lunch and took in O.T. Hodge Chile Parlour. It was O.K., if you like Hormel chili. I was done—I had to leave.
John’s Modern Cabins is one of the most famous road relics on Route 66. The buildings have been allowed to decay for over 30 years, with most of the cabins on the verge of no longer being salvageable. Some of the cabins, ironically the newer ones, are piles of rubble with energy inefficient refrigerators and random piles of rusting metal collapsed in junkyard forts. The “main” cabin that holds the neon sign with its brains blown out still stands with the red paint chipping off, the metal crumbling into detritus and remnants of glass tubes hanging off the face of the sign like old scars.
The main cabin with the remains of the neon sign.
The first time I went to John’s Modern Cabins, in 2005, the main cabin was in a good enough condition that it could have been picked up and shipped to the Smithsonian. Now, it’s head has been bashed in and the walls left to rot in the Ozark rains. Continue reading →
The sides of barns from Oklahoma to Illinois demand you visit her. Billboards beckon you for miles at a time along Route 66 and Interstates 55, 44 and 70 to explore her insides. She’s one of the first landmarks in the world to advertise her name on the backs of cars courtesy of the bumper sticker. Mermec Caverns is no mere cave—it’s origins as a shelter harken back to the Osage tribes who used her to stay warm during harsh winters or keep dry during severe storms well before Europeans came to steal, rape and rob the lands.
The ballroom of Meramec Caverns. Don’t let the neon and the tiled floor fool you—the tour is an impressive spectacle of the power of nature.
When French explorer Philipp Renault came to the New World, the Osage told him about a cave whose walls were lined with veins of gold. in typical colonial fashion, Renault when to the cave to claim his riches, only to find the gold veins were really saltpeter. So, O.K., it wasn’t gold, but saltpeter could just as easily be mined for it’s high demand in the use of creating gunpowder. In 1720 Renault named the place Saltpeter Cave and for over a century Saltpeter Cave was used to produce gunpowder.
This has been a messy summer, and due to certain events, my 2012 road trip had to be put on hold. I will not only be delaying the trip, but I’ll be chopping it up into smaller routes that will be more manageable in terms of time. All of these mini-trips are a lead up to the finishing of my creative nonfiction novel, Dispatches to America. SO, I’ll be brave and layout the times for the future trips now and cross every appendage on my body that none of these plans change.
Downtown Clyde, Ohio, a few years before the publication of Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson.
My first trip down Route 66 started in July of 2001. I traveled the Mother Road with my friend Kyle — his fictional name—who was also looking for a classic cross-country adventure. We were two guys on the open road with a crappy minivan and limited amounts of dough leaving Philadelphia in the middle of a typical swampy summer to see the sun set over the ocean. Kyle and I planned this trip about a year in advance and spent much of our time preparing by reading books about Route 66 and studying maps—I even dove into Kerouac’s On The Road.
Our adventure was not typical. In fact, Kyle and I hit town after dying town in a pre-9/11 America, each small town celebrating it’s last hurrah before the World Trade Towers disintegrated to the ground and thousands of people died, followed by hundreds more who now suffer with the health affects of all that debris and pollution.