Archive for September, 2012

Last of Missouri, All of Kansas, Bit of Oklahoma

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Day 8 — Monday, September 24

Happy Birthday to my late Mom, who would have been been 88 today.

Now, a wee rant about signage.  Missouri has terrible signage.  We managed to avoid mishaps after leaving Branson, heading back to Rt. 66, but if I had $1 for every false turn across MO, it would pay for a night in a luxury hotel.  Add highway construction to poor signage, you have places that would make a priest pray for help.

That said, I’m loving the Missouri 66 sights.

First stop, headed west on MO 66 was the vintage Sinclair gas station, Gay Parita, in Paris Springs.  The 66 book says that owner Gary Turner is eager to meet you and may talk your leg off, but the station was closed as we passed through.

Red Oak II is a hoot and worth every minute of a 23-mile detour between Paris Springs and Carthage.  The 66 book warns that it won’t be on any road map, and it wasn’t.  With patience and sleuthing, we took a series of country roads off 66 and finally found it.  Red Oak II is a village of homes and buildings, inhabited by a few real people (4-5) and a lot of cardboard cutout people, even a plywood dog.  The village has a general store, diner, filling station, church, school, mock boot hill cemetery with no one under the headstones, blacksmith, sheriff’s office, and more.  Red Oak II is the creation of local artist, Lowell Davis, who has spent 20 years building the village.  He moved original buildings from Red Oak I, which no longer exists, and lives in a house with an attached log cabin with his wife Rose in Red Oak II, and continues to add to the town. We stopped a tall, dashing man to ask a question, and so we met the former Mayor of Carthage, MO who lost his wife three years ago and has poured his heart, soul and wallet into a striking man cave of a modern semi-log cabin home.  He was moving in that day and invited us inside.  Big wow: massive stone fireplace, equally massive chandelier of horns, great vintage furniture, interesting details everywhere, and a chef’s dream kitchen with everything built for his 6′ 3″ frame.  The village is open daily, no charge but donations welcome, and it is a sterling site of Americana.

In Carthage, we snapped a photo of the Boots Motel, a small hotel with covered carports for each room, doubtful that today’s SUVs and trucks would fit.  Although Clark Gable once stayed there, now it sits silent waiting for a new owner.

GOODBY MISSOURI, HELLO KANSAS

Kansas has only 13.2 miles of  Rt. 66, but those miles are full of great places.

The Motor Mouth lady started our day in Galena.  Melba the Mouth is one of the 4 Women On The Route shop which serves as a welcome center, pit stop, gift shop and snack bar.  The morning we stopped in, a group of 8 Czechoslovakian bicyclists had just rolled up.  Melba talked and sign-languaged to us and the Czechs that she is one of 4 ladies who opened the shop in 2006; the 4 women are Melba, sister Renee, Judy and the late Betty Jean Courtney.  She told us about how the rusty tow truck out front made them famous.  Seems Disney came into town, spotted the tow car, and spent an hour talking to Melba while five white limos sat in the parking lot.  The tow truck became Tow Mater from the first “Cars” movie.  Galena town folks insisted that Melba and partners get rid of the eyesore tow.  Melba got rid of it.  Then she got a call from Drew Knowles, Rt. 66 champion and author of “66 Adventure Handbook”.  Knowles told Melba to get the tow mater back asap because “it’s money, honey.”  Melba got it back, parked it proudly, and now everyone in Galena loves the eyesore.  Melba can talk faster than any single person I’ve ever met, including auctioneers.  Letterman or Leno should invite her.

A few miles away in Riverton is the former Eisler Brothers Store, circa 1925, recently purchased and renamed the Nelson General Store.  Forrest Nelson, 90, welcomed us.  His late brother-in-law and wife owned the store for many years.  His son took over “only 30 years” ago.   Luscious hanging baskets and pots of flowers run along the store’s parking lot.  What used to be the front porch is now an overhang with complimentary coffee and chairs for 66ers and visitors.  Inside: shelves packed with old wares, an ancient Coke tub, and equally ancient soda fountain that sports a sign ‘no diet, sorry’.  It’s a current-day mini-mart with a deli counter that serves homemade soup, sandwiches and desserts, and the best 66 gift shop we’ve seen to date.  The store serves as the de facto Kansas Route 66 Association.  Some 66 Christmas lights called my name and I had to buy them, thinking they will find a place in our guest bedroom or guest bath.  The Czech cyclists were resting with water bottles on the porch as we left, and a tour bus of UK tourists left lots of money in the store’s antique register.

A bit outside West Mineral, we found Big Brutus, the second largest power shovel ever built, 16 stories high.  One scoop could fill three ra

Sideways to Branson

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Day 6 — Saturday, September 22

Beautiful Saturday in Missouri, clear skies in the Ozark Mountains, as we headed south for Branson for a weekend side trip off Rt. 66.  On the map it looked easy to take the freeway west to Springfield, then south to Branson on another freeway.  As I wrote earlier, it took five attempts to get it right.  Frustration to the max.  A tiny nugget of paranoid fear lingers in my brain after that interchange, and I’m already worried about doing it again on the way back from Branson.

But we did get to Branson and headed straight to Wyndam’s condos on the edge of town.  Ah, the luxury of staying somewhere two nights, and luxury it was with two bedrooms, two baths, plenty of space, full kitchen and washer/dryer for the growing pile of dirty clothes.  Now I pause to thank the condo donors, Dee and Roy McKinnis, hubby Steve’s brother and sister-in-law in Keller, TX.   A gazillion thanks, dear ones!

Our first Branson outing was the Scenic Mountain Train, a two-hour trip through two tunnels and over two trestle bridges slicing through the Ozarks.  Our particular train had 5 cars for a dinner trip and a couple of observation cars for non-diners.  All 5 dining cars were full, folks enjoying the white linen, crystal, china, silver, bud vase and a three-course dinner.  But I think the six of us in the observation car with snacks and sandwiches had more fun because we were upstairs in a large car with big windows and plenty of room to move around and photograph — until dinner finished and a steady stream of diners came up hoping for a seat and better view.  It was a lovely ride through the rolling mountains, forests, sweeping views and sudden outcroppings of limestone and dolomite, and also great fun to meet the conductor, stewards and fellow travelers.  The train pulled back into the station as dusk faded to a soft sunset.

We checked out the historic downtown and immediately parked the car when we saw a “wine, beer and gastronomical delight” shop, .   Surprise, a shop that could hold its own in any large, sophisticated city.  The owner hailed from Normandy, France, a young man with a charming accent and encyclopedic knowledge of wine.  We tasted, we bought, and we finished the evening with a few glasses back in our comfy condo.

Day 7 — September 23 — Sunday in Branson

Did lots of laundry.  Lunch at Granny’s for ‘home cookin’ which turned out to be heavy on salt, sugar and breading.  The best thing about it was a green salad.  Everyone in the restaurant was supersized with matching plates.

While friend Anna tried to buy a house cross-country via cell phone, email and fax, I headed to the Titanic Museum.  Branson has a half-size replica of the famous Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.  Well worth doing.  Many, many rooms of exhibits, memorabilia, stories and re-created room cabins and dining rooms of passengers in first, second and third classes…the spectacular grand staircase with its crystal chandelier and carved wood…walking through a door that emerged onto a dark deck, cold and windy, a sky filled with twinkly stars…the wealthy John Jacob Astor suite with its sitting room, bedroom and bath.  When you enter Titanic, you receive a card with a passenger name, an actual Titanic passenger. Near the end of the exhibit, you can check if your passenger lived or died.  I was Edith Evans, a young woman traveling with her family to America in first class. I died, age 36.

But I came back to life when I left the Titanic, eager to see one of Branson’s shows.  Branson is like Las Vegas probably was 50 years ago, one long strip of theatres, restaurants and souvenir shops.  The town is full of star theatres, way too many to count.   Normally Monday is when theatres go dark without performance, but in Branson, shows trickle to a handful for Sunday evening.  Had we known, we could have gone to 10am performances or 3pm matinees, but only five choices for Sunday night.  We picked “Legends”, a Dick Clark theatre featuring impersonators of famous performers.  We rated the George Strait 3 on a scale of 1 as worst and 5 as best.  The Aretha Franklin had great vocal range and hit all the scat/doobie do’s so 4 for her.  The Blues Brothers were crazy great, so 4.8.  We expected Elvis to be the best, and he did look the part, but the voice didn’t cut it, 1.5.  Somebody else was so bad my mind has blocked out the name.  We left before the finale when all the performers sing together.

The brightest spot of the day was a too-short visit to Dick’s Five & Ten store.  This is some place.  Each aisle is dedicated to something specific: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, kitchen, bath, hardware, car, baby, greeting cards, toys, food, old-fashioned sweets, and candies including pick-a-piece for .10 each.  And boy howdy do they have collectibles: Star Wars, Batman, Sponge Bob, Betty Boop, Elvis, Rt. 66, a little of this, a lot of that.  It’s a place you could browse for an hour and still not see it all.  Everyone who walked in lit up like a kid on Christmas morning, and every person left with a bag and smile.  A couple in front of me paid cash, $124 and change, for two medium-sized bags of something, followed by a Hispanic couple with a dozen plastic backscratchers, each a different color.  Great store with great stuff, nostalgia for sale.

Branson is not for people who don’t like crowds or country cooking with its calories, cholesterol and salt.  High end shopping, not so much.  Souvenirs, oh yeah.  Family fun, check.  Cocktails & booze in general, only in restaurants or liquor stores, not a single theatre serves alcohol at performances.  Like Vegas, it feels like a place for several days of fun and shows, but I its autumn leaves and Christmas lights extravaganzas probably would be spectacular.

West from St. Louis

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Day 5 — Friday, September 21 — St. Louis to Springfield, MO

Big icon day.

The morning started with the Shoe of Shoes at the Brown Shoe Company headquarters in West St. Louis.  This enormous woman’s pump consists of hundreds of silver lame cast metal life-size shoes welded together.  The city used to be so well known for its shoes that at one time folks used to describe St. Louis: “first in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League.”  When I peeked inside the pump, it was full of leaves and a few gum wrappers.

Headed due west, we stopped in suburban Kirkwood to see a Frank Lloyd Wright residence, one of the five structures he designed in all of Missouri. It was set on a hill under pines and a long drive back from the main road, another work of art in brick, glass and angles.

On to Bourbon’s Water Tower, with the word Bourbon in huge letters.  There must be thousands who wish it really held a good, stiff bourbon.

The town of Cuba has wonderful murals.  They cover the front or sides of numerous buildings in the main crossroads.  Known as “Mural City”, the murals depict eras of growth in Missouri.  This is a great stop.

West of Cuba, we found Fanning’s World’s Largest Rocker.  The rocker sits in the parking lot of a general store, with inviting rockers on its front porch.  We met three locals enjoying soda and coffee in those rockers who wanted to know what our license tag was.  They’d been looking at it as I pulled in, turned around for a better angle, hopped out for a photo, and finally parked.  Of course we stood and chewed the fat a while.  The store had great 66 memorabilia; several items jumped out and insisted we buy them.  At the rear of the store was a thriving archery supply and  practice range, a seemingly odd combo, but somehow it all seemed to fit.  The locals waved goodbye as we pulled out.

Rolla’s well-known Totem Pole Trading Post was everything you think a trading post might be.  It had 66 souvenirs, antiques, collectibles, art, pottery, guns, quilts, samurai swords, jewelry, rooms chockablock.  It seemed to have everything.  No trading, just one reasonable purchase, a Rt. 66 license tag.

The Rolla to Springfield part of 66 roughly follows the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears, the forced march of Native Americans from their Georgia lands to Oklahoma.  We searched for a particular site west of Rolla, a stone gateway and art works by one man who felt impelled to create a rock gate and loose stairway for Indian spirits to climb to their creator.  It took forever to find, not well marked, but it was worth the effort.  It stretched up into a hill on private property, a series of terraces, steps, wells, containers, all made of rock dug from the property and stacked.  The site spoke volumes.  It spoke sadly because it needs repair and upkeep.  Crossed fingers that someone saves this special ‘trail of tears’.  It’s a spiritual place that lingers in your mind long after you leave.

The sun was setting as we watched for Frog Rock on the outskirts of Waynesville.  Townfolk decided the rock outcropping looked like a frog, so they painted it green and now it really looks like a frog about to hop off a small mountain.

Night fell and we slept in Springfield.

St. Louis Day

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Day 4 — Thursday, September 20

A full day in St. Louis, dubbed “Gateway to the West”.  Room service brought piping hot oatmeal with apple slices on trays, complete with flowers, a nice start for our busy day.

We three ladies headed to Collinsville in East St. Louis to see the Cahokia Mounds and Woodhenge, where Native Americans lived and built a sophisticated trading city 900-1400 AD.  No one knows what happened to them — famine, plague or predators — but they left a physically beautiful and historically fascinating site.  Its striking visitor/interpretive center is free.  That morning it was flooded with two school groups having a ball, but they were pin quiet during a 15-minute film tracing the civilization’s evolution, the 2,200 acre site and its 65 tribal mounds.  You can walk through its re-created lifesized village, climb the mounds, and a few minutes nearby, puzzle over Woodhenge, a vast circle of aged wooden poles, probably for ceremonies.

Next up, still in East St. Louis, the Chain of Rocks Bridge.  This bridge used to bring Route 66 traffic across the Mississippi River, but newer highways serve that function now.  Today the Chain of Rocks Bridge is billed as “the world’s largest pedestrian and bicycle bridge.”  We walked to its center for a photo, and once you step on the bridge, the city and rest of the world fall away.  Peaceful, beautiful, windy.

Back into the city, straight to its famous arch and along the river we went, primed for a paddlewheel boat ride on the Mississippi River.  Its horn blasted and we chugged off.  It felt pretty cool to be on the Mississippi looking at the city and land from the water.  During our hour ride, we passed numerous freight barges, some as long as 2-3 football fields.  A nice experience, but I was disappointed the paddlewheels didn’t move;  the boat was powered by engines.

We finished the day with a ride to the top of the famous Gateway Arch.  The shining stainless steel arch is simple but stunning.  Designed by Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, it soars to 630 feet.  The trip up is by a tram that operates like a cog train; you ride in egg-shaped pods which seat five people.  It takes only 4 minutes to the top where you can walk a long corridor with narrow windows that give a nearly 360 degree view.  The trip down is even faster, 3 minutes.

At dusk, we dropped Dee at the Amtrak Station for her train back to Ft. Worth, and we returned to the beautiful Union Station Marriott for our last night in this historical hotel.

Abe Lincoln & MO (as in Missouri)

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Day 3 — Wednesday, September 19 — still in Illinois

We started the day with honest Abe at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.  The city is full of Lincoln sites, but we concentrated on the museum and library.  The museum, built in 2004, houses the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts in the world.  Splendid building, well designed, geared for the common man.  An introductory movie used three screens and holograms to show his life, his famous quotations. and re-enactments of historical events.  Great high-tech techniques brought one of America’s most loved presidents to life.   We walked through a replica of the cabin where he was born, then exhibits that followed his law and political career to the Presidency, finally his assassination.   Next door is his library, housing papers, books, and considerable ongoing research.  The museum and library are downtown, across from a welcoming park anchored by the former train depot.

Moving on to another great building, this one in Carlinville, the Million Dollar White Elephant Courthouse.  It’s handsome, took more than two years to build, 40 years to pay for, costing more than 10 times its original estimate.  Many of its iron doors weigh over a ton, and all interior trim is made of either iron or stone.

The best stop of the day was Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton.  It pays homage to another 66 spot, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas with Caddies planted hood down in the earth.  The Rabbit Ranch has a row of VW rabbit cars stuck in the ground, and Rabbits in various states of repair, rust, and disrepair sitting around a large yard.  A small shop has — guess what — live rabbits.  Henry is nuts about rabbits, rescues them, and sells 66 souvenirs and all things rabbit.  Fred the Red Rabbit, a real and soft as silk rabbit, holds down the sales counter and allows himself to be petted.   The Rabbit Rance is definitely one of a kind.

We zigged a little off 66 to find Collinsville and the world’s largest ketchup bottle.  Built as a water tower, the bottle is 70 feet tall and stands atop a 100-foot base.  The biggie bottle sits atop a hill, at the former Brooks Foods plant.  Built in 1949, local legend says that red-headed offspring may result if a pregnant woman passes too close to it.

As the afternoon wound down, we crossed the bridge dividing Illinois and Missouri.  I planned to take a photo of myself at each state line, but no way at rush hour with cars whizzing and only inches between the bridge barrier and cars.

At dusk, we pulled into St. Louis, Missouri.  Enter Anna, longtime friend from Easton, Maryland.  She was waiting for us at the downtown Union Station Marriott Hotel.  This hotel uses the former train station’s grand hall as its hotel lobby.  Wow, it’s a looker with a beautiful stained glass set in the towering ceiling, chandeliers, hand-carved wood, and marble floors. The former train tracks have been converted to restaurants and shops one floor under the lobby.  Lovely rooms, and all the service staff were wonderful.  Wish we could say the same for the front desk which made mistake after mistake with our rooms and bill.

Anna rested while Dee and I hotfooted it to the opening concert of the Pulitzer Series, under the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.  This series is devoted to presenting music like an “informance”, with the performers explaining the piece before playing.  The series, sponsored by the Pulitzer Foundation (yes, that Pulitzer as in Pulitizer Prize), is held at an art space designed by Tadao Ando.  The building is ultra modern, spare, all concrete, wood floors.  The concert hall has stadium-like seating for 200, but the acoustics are superb, so live and rich that people must whisper in the lobby two rooms away from the hall.  That particular concert featured two pianists who played facing each other, their pianos fully open, and audience members could stand at a railing and look down at the stage.  The program included Ravel, Debussy, and the contemporary John Adams’ “Hallelujah Junction” which flowed, ebbed and crescendoed in that superb setting.  Great evening.

Blastoff Start from Chicago

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Let’s set the stage.  Friend Maury flew home to New York City Sunday afternoon.  New friend Erica prepared for foot surgery Monday.  Sister-in-law but like a sister, Dee, arrived by train mid-afternoon Sunday from Ft. Worth, Texas, a 23-hour trip.  While Dee napped,  I did a fast survey of the mammoth Chicago Art Institute, lingering the longest in the Impressionist rooms and the new wing’s modern art.   Dinner was an easy choice: Chicago deep dish pizza streetside at an Italian outdoor cafe, people watching as a side dish.

Monday, September 17 — Day 1

We hopped out of bed to start the Route 66 journey.  You have to start at legendary Lou Mitchell’s Diner, like the one in the old TV series, “Alice”, and right behind the Route 66 starting marker.  We went in style, in a limo, totally by accident.  When I asked for a cab, a chauffeur asked where we were headed.  He heard Lou Mitchell and told us to jump into his sleek black Cadillac limo.  And off we went with Louis, Mr. Personality Storyteller.  He said we could pay him whatever we thought fair.  Good on ya, Chicago.

Lou’s is one of those places everyone loves.  The waitresses have been there for ages and they got lip, great fun lip.  Ladies, as soon as you enter, you get complimentary mini-boxes of Milk Duds, and only ladies get them.  Now that’s a way to start the day!  There’s 66 signs everywhere, old photos, mementos and a huge case of fresh produce and fruit at the front.  Darla was our waitress.  Starting the day with another dame with the initial D was the second good omen of Day One 66.

The raisin toast is homemade.  The coffee was good.  The portions, big surprise, were huge.  My one scrambled egg covered the plate and was an inch thick.  We sat back with happy tummies, then Darla brought the clincher, a tiny cup of vanilla soft-serve ice cream.  She suggested we put a tad of their homemade orange marmalade over the ice cream for that old-fashioned orange Creamsicle flavor.  Did it, loved it.

Since it was Dee’s first trip to Chicago, we did a trolley tour.  It was a beautiful Autumn day with a breeze, perfect for sitting atop a doubledecker trolley and seeing the city. Too soon, time to leave.  We checked out and did the big city litany of shelling out money.  The valet parking was $46 per night, yes $46, not a typo.  Tip the valet who brought the car up from underground parking.  Tip the porter who collected our bags from the room.  Tip a different porter who took our luggage from the lobby to the car.  Mere persons cannot use luggage trolleys, only porters and bellmen.  No, mere people must tote their luggage or pay, and because I am a crazy person on a six-week road trip, I had a mishmash of bags and a cooler.  No brainer: I paid.

The Great Gods of Travel blessed us with good directions from the hotel and we whizzed out of Chicago with no problem.  Open road, so in went the CD:  “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”  Some long driving, some heavy rain, dark earlier than usual, and hotel check-in at 9pm.  So much for trip plan to get off the road before dark and settle down for R&R.  Little did I know this scenario would become more or less normal.

 Tuesday, September 18

The real deal day, the start of the 66 icons.

In Joliet, Illinois, we stopped in front of its downtown Rialto Theatre, turned on the car flashers, and asked at the box office if we could take a fast peek into the theatre.  It looked gorgeous through the locked glass doors, marble and gilt galore.  The box office gal steered us to the administrative offices upstairs, and I worked some word magic.  Bingo, a staff member would give us a quick tour if we each contributed $5 to its restoration fund.  OK!  When she saw how impressed we were — and how could you not be with its dazzling architecture and lofty floor plan — she took us into the theatre, turned on all the lights, let me stand center stage and sing off-key, opened the dressing rooms, led us to the Green Room where performers relax, and most especially, a stairwell and walls covered with signatures, wishes and autographs of every famous performing artist you can think of.  The quick peek turned into a half hour, and we thank Sandy for the impromptu tour.

Pushing on through Illinois, the next stop was our first icon, the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, one of three “Muffler Men” in Illinois, fiberglass, hollow and mighty impressive.  In nearby Odell, we visited the Standard Gas Station, lovingly restored and manned by an elderly volunteer couple. The little town of Pontiac was a goldmine.  We ate at the Old Log Cabin Restaurant, where 66 signs and memorabilia covered every surface, including special fabric backs on dining chairs.  The waitresses twisted our arms for homemade pies, blueberry for Dee, butterscotch for me.  Pontiac also boasts the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum.  It was amazing: four floors of museum with plenty of display reading, memorabilia galore, a Volkswagon van stuffed with 66 items easily numbering in the thousands, but the best was the Forties Floor, typical rooms from the 1940s and a wartime USO theatre with instruments sitting on the stage and recorded music by Big Band greats.  As if that weren’t enough, there was an adjacent series of shops full of terrific antiques and collectibles.  Next up: Atlanta with another gigantic muffler man and murals done by signmakers who call themselves Letterheads.

We raced dusk to find Lincoln, which claims the world’s largest covered wagon.  It sat in front of a Best Western Hotel, convenient for two tired gals.  The hotel recommended the local Blue Dog Cafe for dinner, which sported dozens of dog photos, paintings and one giant blue plastic dog over the bar.  There were lots of locals, classic home-cooked dishes, and really nice folks who took care of us.  I sp0tted several pieces of German chocolate cake on the counter, my favorite cake in the world, and asked that they save me one.  No, those were for the waitresses from a customer celebrating a birthday in the restaurant.  When the birthday folks left, I asked where they bought the cake.  A pert woman, daughter of the birthday man and a flight attendant, told us where to go, but when she heard how disappointed we were that the cake wasn’t for sale, she insisted that her son cut two pieces for us on the spot.  We ate every delicious crumb.  As we left, the waitress called out, “Goodnight, sweeties.”

Chicago and Illinois are full of wonderful, gracious, and helpful people.

Status & more to come

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I’m not writing every day because I’m having so much fun.  My husband and friends say I can pack more things into a day than most humans.  My mantra seems to be:  ooh, one more thing.  So when I hit the hotel room 7, 8, 9 pm after a jam-packed day, and maybe the wifi isn’t working right, my brain and body are so happy tired that I fold my tent and sleep so I can do the same – -or more — the next day.

Today is Saturday, September 23 and I’m in Branson, Missouri.  Blogwise, I’ m still in Chicago soaking up Chi-town esprit.  Hang in there with me.  Next blog will be the formal start of The Route 66 Adventure.  Promise!  Stay tuned…

Three Fun Guys in Springfield, MO

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Today I got lost in Springfield, Missouri while trying to get to Branson.  On the map it looked simple:  go south on the interstate.  Well, there was construction and after two misses that landed us on the same business street instead of the southbound interstate, I stopped at the nearest building, an Applebee’s Restaurant.

I was rescued by a trio of really nice guys.  Here’s a shoutout to The Guys: bartender Justin the Pro, the dark-haired cutie Kool Kat, and the blonde, blue-eyed kissin’ cutie.  Guys, I wish I could say your directions did the trick, but somehow I messed up again, third time was not the charm.  Fifth try, directions from a Sinclair station lady, finally got me to Branson.  I never had so much fun getting lost or laughed so hard at helpers.

Yo to Springfield, MO,  better signs, please, please.

Last words to the guys: leaving Branson Monday am to continue my Rt. 66 adventure,  moving on to Joplin and Oklahoma.  If the 65/60 interchange defeats me again, I’ll look for you at Appleby’s.  Thanks again from the Arizona blondie!

Chicago, my kind of town

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

How do I love Chicago?  Let me count the ways:  

  •  hanging baskets of flowers and curbside planters so lush and colorful a master gardener would weep with joy
  • extraordinary architecture both vintage and cutting edge
  • the river that winds through the city
  • expansive Lake Michigan that gives the city a downtown beach (take that, NYC)
  • sidewalk cafes spilling out of great restaurants
  •  and hundreds of other things.

Driving into Chicago was the one thing I worried about for this trip.  Turned out I had reason to be anxious, hitting Chicago outskirts at 3:00 pm on a Friday afternoon.  I inched along for an hour and was beginning to wonder what sane person would choose a traffic nightmare on purpose.  But I took a deep breath, moved across four lanes of wall-to-wall traffic to the nearest exit and actually figured out how to get to my hotel.  Jubilation!  I’m happy to say that leaving the city later on was fairly easy.

My second trip companion also arrived that afternoon, friend Maury from New York, for a Chicago weekend.  We hit Chicago running and eating.  Dinner was at Graham Elliot of Iron Chef fame.  Chef Elliot does essence food with a capital E.  I really liked his staff in jeans, black t’s and black kitchen jackets.  Dessert was oatmeal light like a souffle, topped with puffed and toasted grits, juicy raspberries on the side.  Those teensy grits were the size of sesame seeds and they were memorable.  We met Chef Elliot briefly after dinner.  He  wore jeans, a plaid shirt and  sneakers and his hair had that cute, quirky peak.  He looked and acted just the way he does on TV.

My favorite experience was a city architecture tour by boat.  The skyscraper was invented in Chicago after the Great Fire destroyed most of downtown, when planners realized they needed to build up and fit tall buildings into specific spots.  Seeing the skyscrapers from a river view was great perspective.  The new Trump Tower is a triple level of graceful curves in shining charcoal blue.  An expert guide gives you history with a little humor  and points out plenty of architectural details.  It’s a terrific way to learn and see a lot while enjoying the weather and a breeze.  I would take it again in a heartbeat because no two guides do it alike.

Speaking of architecture, Chicago is full of buildings by the masterful Frank Lloyd Wright.  He’s the architect who turned design on its head by scorning boxy plans and Victorian excess.  Wright wanted his buildings to look like they grew out of their sites naturally, using clean lines, angles, natural light, and blending indoors and outdoors seamlessly.  

I love his work and couldn’t wait to see his famous Robie House and the FLW bonanza in Oak Park.  Nothing disappointed.  The Robie House is considered the best example of his revered “prairie style”…extensive use of wood interiors, built-ins, his signature art deco-like windows, sleek lines, spaces created within spaces, quiet nooks mixed with open rooms for family  and gatherings.  Decades later, this house remains classic — still modern today.  Ditto all that for his home and studio in the toney Oak Park area.  This neighborhood is a treasure trove of Wright designs.  You can buy a map and amble the streets.  Wright’s homes are easy to spot — each makes a statement but looks natural in its space.  And if other styles appeal to you more, Oak Park has plenty of grand mansions and Victorians.

Enter Erica, Maury’s longtime friend and a Chicago resident for 30 years.  She loves the city like crazy, and it was great fun to share some of her haunts and hear a local’s take.  Plus she says “swell” which is, well,  swell.

Exploring with a good friend, meeting a new friend, in a great city, so very swell.

Indy’s Indian Treasure

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Friday, en route to Chicago in pouring rain, I whipped off the freeway to look at the Eiteljorg Museum in downtown Indianapolis, considered among the top 10 Native American museums in the USA.  This museum swells out of the ground organically.  Indian flute music welcomes you.  The collection focuses on Native American and Western art…a wide assortment of Frederick Remington and Charles Russell bronzes and paintings, a stunning variety of baskets and pottery, and many other beautiful works of art and Native spirit.  I have wanted to see this place for years, especially to see how it stacks up with Phoenix’ Heard, the LA’s Autry and D.C.’s American Indian Museum–and it more than holds its own.  

Note:.  The name is pronounced:  eye-tull-jorg.  The  j is a gh sound like John.  Mr. Eiteljorg loved the Southwest, especially Santa Fe.  His collection and appreciative eye are a credit to Indy.

Leaving Indianapolis, I found a jazz station on FM radio.  Indy’s annual Jazzfest was just starting.  Jazz and Indianapolis never occurred to me before, but it all fit perfectly that day.  Hour by hour on my way to start Route 66-ing, I learn something new about America.