After a whole week in the city of Mobile and the Riverview Hotel, it was now time to leave this pointy-topped tower and take load after load of clothes, presentation materials, equipment, and parade loot back down to the truck to resume our cross-country travels. Just for fun, we started our outbound trip with a quick loop through the white-tiled tunnels under the Mobile River, then started northward at the beginning of US 45 and on past the filling "prayer-conditioned" churches busy on this Sunday morning. Up through the Mobile suburbs (and unholy traffic signal timing), and out to the kudzu-covered vistas of open Alabama highways. About an hour out, we pulled off at the general store in Fruitdale for a quick break, and then into Mississippi and a very long stretch of high speed 4-lane cruising on the route 45 expressway, as the truck's occupants dozed to make up for the previous night's abbreviated sleep (well, all but the driver, we think).
A while later, once (almost) everyone was rested, we scooted off in Scooba, where the old general store was closed for the day but the BP was open. Then again onward northward up 45, as Richard tried to steer between the rumble strips and the towns and miles flew by. The absence of shoulders and the high travel speeds made the route somewhat unforgiving in terms of driver inattention, and one form of entertainment was the occasional growl (and sometimes a cloud of dust and gravel) kicked up by an errant vehicle operator. A couple hours more driving (we were moving fast, but not really seeing much) brought us to the northern reaches of this tall state, and into the town of Tupelo.
The US Constitution is quite clear: "no title of nobility" shall be conferred in this American republic. Yet Tupelo was the birthplace of a member of American royalty - it was here that the King of Rock and Roll brought his swingin' hips into the world. The tiny white shotgun shack still stands, now surrounded by a park, chapel and (of course!) gift shop celebrating how Mr. Presley's modest beginnings shaped him into the cultural and marketing empire he is today (over 30 years after he inconveniently stopped breathing). We swung on the porch and strolled the displays, while Duncan plopped himself into the cool rushing waters of the "Fountain of Life". We were a bit concerned that all the yellin' and splashin' might not be within the rules, but the staff just smiled and drawled: "Let him play - he's only gonna be a kid once."
After saying farewell to Elvis, we cruised over to the classic angular lines and colorful signs of the Dairy Kreme stand, and as we savored our frozen treats while motoring north out of town, we speculated as to what trajectory Elvis' career might have taken had he not met his end back in '77. Would he be doing infomercials, or experimental albums? Vegas? Branson? As we pondered where he might have gone, we found ourselves entering a new state of awareness - Tennessee. We departed our old friend US 45 (see ya in Michigan in a week or so!) and turned onto US 64, where several miles with the trees above our heads and the sun in our faces took us westward toward our next destination. We considered a stop at the neon-clad "Route 64" burger joint just west of Bolivar, but instead kept rolling as we traveled "Tenne-scenic" highways and backroads as we steered to avoid the bustle of the Memphis metro area. A few miles on I-40 eastbound kept us on course for our westbound travels (it makes sense on the map - really) and on through Whiteville and off yonder, as the black smoke from the burning fields of harvest stubble obscured the late afternoon sun. Then a trip around the "squared-about" in Brownsville and over to the Sunrise Inn motel, which looked to be a nice place to spend the evening. It was clean, friendly, and economical, and the buffet next door let us sneak in to get a bit of to-go goodness before closing time.
But what was that gigantic towering pile of twisted metal looming behind the motel...?
Tupelo - where Elvis began
As we mentioned in yesterday's entry, when we pulled into the motel in the twilight we spied some sort of looming metal monstrosity lurking behind our lodgings. In the morning light, it looked much friendlier, and so we explored this galvanized wonder. The Mindfield (aka Mindfield Cemetery / Mindfield Alley) is an artfully arranged tangle of structural steel towering high into the air and spreading across a creek and a vacant lot behind the motel and adjacent shops. Started by Billy Tripp in 1989, this iron-enhanced icon depicts the arc of Mr. Tripp's life and also honors his parents, portrays his favorite causes, and stimulates pondering of other philosophical and metaphysical issues as one's eyes follow the girders and rivets of the structure.
After we cleared our minds of the Mindfield, stuck the Tennesticker on the map, and waved bye-bye to the motel owner and his granddaughter, we headed out of historic Brownsville up TN route 19 (the Tina Turner Highway), then turned off on some other side roads on our way northwestward across the hills and dales of western Tennessee. We opened our door in the small town of Gates for a short break at Miss Evie's Home Cooking (and gas station), where we were very tempted to fill up on the meat and veggies (but weren't hongry yet) but instead filled up on 87 octane instead. One observation by Suzanne: given all the BBQ, fried pie, produce, and burger & root beer stands, Tennessee seems to resemble a really big state fair midway in the variety (and presentation) of the mouth-watering wealth of foodstuffs available.
But other states await us, and so we veered onto highway 51 up to Dyersburg, a flip-around onto the I-155 freeway, and over the very very full channel of the Mississippi River and into the "Bootheel" of Missouri. Our first visit to MO for this trip lasted only about a half-hour or so as we rolled the roads of Dunklin County and kruised the streets of Kennett (proud hometown of Sheryl Crow). Then over another river - and "what did 'Tenna see'? The same thing 'Arkan-saw'!" (another new state and bad joke for Duncan's benefit). Now ready for lunch, we pigged out in Piggott, where Donna's Country Kitchen on the town square treated us friendly and fed us done good. Then the Arkansticker went on the map on the tailgate and out of town and on into Missouri for the second time, as Duncan insisted on wanting to watch the movie "Cars" on his mom's laptop for the 378,426th time. We will admit that even though we are getting rather, um, familiar with this major motion picture, the sound on the truck's stereo is impressive, and even entertains the driver who is instead focusing on a different picture on the big windscreen in front. (And did we mention that the brown on white historic US 66 shield seen in the movie is the Arizona one designed by Richard himself? :)
As we made our way farther away from the Mississippi River flatlands and into the Ozarks, the roads got hillier and wigglier, and the speed dropped commensurately as our high-center-of-gravity vehicle swerved 'round the curves. This also had the effect of getting Duncan's head out of the movie and back into the road trip experience, as we all went "wheee!" over the belly-wiggling whoop-de-doos and lil' Dunc yelled "more hills! more hills!" as US 160 looped and blooped its way across the Ozarks. Ambling through Alton and wandering through West Plains, and then onto highway 14 and across the many graceful arches of the Twin Bridges. Further yonder, the gentry of Gentryville welcomed us into the general store as they played cards at the table by the front door, and we browsed the displays of snacks, rocks, and other goods. The atmosphere in the store was most congenial but somewhat carcinogenic, and so we adjourned outside for a bit of country fresh air and for Duncan to run (and run and run...) around the grassy hillsides and orbit the oak trees.
Now for the final push to our next destination. Refreshed and de-smelled, we turned west on 14 and north on the fast US 65 freeway, rolled 'round Ozark and the meccae of Bass Pro Shops andLambert's Cafe (another home of projectile baked goods as what impacted us back in '05), and on into Springfield and over to the historic rock-walled coziness of the Rail Haven Motel. This Route 66 landmark has been serving Mother Road travelers since 1938, and we moved into our recently remodeled 2-room suite (Dad has dibs on the top bunk! :) for a several-day break from our travels. Later on, as the sun was setting and neon was a-lighting on the streets of Springfield, we moseyed down old Route 66-1 to a date with dinner at a classic white-enamel Steak 'n Shake restaurant. The burgers, beans, fries, soups, and salads were very good, topped by some serious shakes (and a cherry on top, of course). Then back to the room after a very quick supermarket restock, an a peaceful beddy-bye at the Rail Haven.
Crazy sights, whoopsy roads, many states
"Beep - beep - thump" is not a typical way for Richard to begin his day, but that's how this morning started as the alarm dutifully notified him that it was 6 AM Central, and he sat up in bed - and misjudged the clearance to the ceiling from the otherwise comfy top bunk in which he was resting. Now almost fully awake, he prepared for his next round of meetings and set off on Route 66 a mile or so to where the AASHTO Technical Committee on Geometric Design was awaiting. The "Green Book gang" was busy debating details of the next edition of roadway design guidelines for all kinds of roads, streets, and freeways, and one of their items of agenda was to hear from Richard how the task force on US Bicycle Routes was coming along. Just after a good lunch (the perfect time for an awake and attentive audience), the presentation was loaded, the room was ready - and the projector failed. Fortunately, we had a spare projector from last week's meetings back in the motel, and so an urgent trip back to the Rail Haven (and a visit with the rest of the family - they're doing nothing and enjoying it thoroughly) salvaged the situation. Now projecting triumphantly, Richard was able to convey the task force's progress to the assembled engineers, and the day was satisfactorily saved.
After the meetings adjourned, we all strolled over to an interesting Springfield dining experience - Gilardi's, a fine Italian eatery tucked back behind the stately historic houses of Walnut Street. The service and cuisine were most befitting of a fine dining experience; however, Duncan was feelin' most rambunctious after being cooped up all day, and so we did our best to let him release his energy in endless orbits of the end tables without (much) disrupting everyone else's supper.
Once back at the Rail Haven, Duncan still seemed to need a bit more romping, so we lit out past the brightly-flitting fireflies to the front of the hotel to take a look at the classic cars and gas pumps out front. As we perused the fine lines of the Fords, a nice lady walked up and asked if we were traveling 66. Turns out we had finally met Tonya Pike, an e-mail acquaintance for several years who also works at the Rail Haven meetin' & greetin' travelers from all over the world - including the large group of Norwegian motorcyclists sharing the motel with us this evening. We talked for quite a spell about all sorts of road-related subjects and characters, but a late evening meant we had to hold off on the rest of the chattin' until tomorrow. So back to the room and into the beds (watchyer head!) to rest up for 'MO' fun tomorrow.
Busy day of meetings and fun
More meetings for Richard today (and what's new about that?) - only this time, they started right after 7 AM, yielding additional wonderful benefits of fatigue and sleep deprivation. He definitely recalls attending, but doesn't recall too many actual details.
So let's jump to a more fun part of the day. The meetings wrapped up in early afternoon, and Richard rejoined the family to sample a couple of the interesting places in and around Springfield. First step was a drive south of town on the US 65 freeway down to Ozark and a place that looked most intriguing - well, let's just say that any place with hundreds of classic old pop machines and gas pumps out front has to be somewhat interesting. Nostalgic Restorations was just that, a store where very experienced artifacts of the 20th century modern age get new paint, some TLC, and a renewed lease on life. Although we didn't pick up a shiny soda dispenser to match our happy yellow '62 Squirt Vendorlator at home, Duncan did acquire another streamlined car to add style to his collection.
Across the street from this den of dispensary is that Lambert's Cafe, famed through much of the nation for good food and flying rolls. We'd eaten at the one in Sikeston before, and enjoyed it greatly. However, the suppertime crowd waiting for a seat was spilling out the door and onto the porch, and so we decided to forego a return trip to Lambert's and set off to forage elsewhere.
Our summer evening wandering through Springfield brought us to the door of another most amusing eatery that looked like it might satisfy both our need for food and for fun. It's not every pizza joint that has an indoor go-kart track, and so we entered the Incredible Pizza Company and its '57 Chevy in the foyer and commenced to chomp on (not too bad) pizza and proceeded to spin, pound, bowl, scoop, and zip around all the fun and games. The Route 66-themed indoor mini-golf (historically and geographically inaccurate but still fun) let us travel 66 quickly while chasing our dimpled colored spheres, and the go-karting was excellent - well, until it took a crowbar, lubricant, and superhuman force to pry Duncan out of the vehicle after our brilliant 3rd place finish.
Although utterly exhausted after three hours of stimulation, we rolled north up to the real 66 for a downtown evening cruise 'round the square and back to the Rail Haven. Duncan was still rarin' for more fun, though, and it took a while for him to wind down. While Dunc was unspinning, Richard met up with Tonya again for some late-evening discussions regarding the historic highway outside our door, and everyone finally hit the hay very late but rather happy.
More incredible Springfieldperiences
After the long night previous, we took advantage of the late checkout policy at the Rail Haven, and turned north on Glenstone through the nerve-frazzling traffic of Springfield. A stop for Andy's Frozen Custard helped a bit, but it wasn't until busy Glenstone became quiet rolling county road H that we were able to reset into a proper relaxing roadtrip mood. Part of Glenstone also comprises Route 66, and in honor of this we gave Duncan a set of cars from the movie "Cars" that we'd found at a yard sale earlier. Duncan gleefully scrunched the cars together as the truck crunched over brand-new chip seal past the signs for the "Oovvda Winery" and on to the happy vistas of Pleasant Hope and then to the town of Halfway and beyond.
The county roads finally dumped us out onto 2-lane US 65, from whence we wandered into Warsaw, where the Double D Diner served up plus-size sandwiches while Duncan used the condiments as cones for his new "Cars" cars. Just northa Warsaw, the hills of the Ozarks give way to the rolling prairies, as we sailed through Sedalia and on by the Missouri State Fairgrounds. As we continued to roll up 65 under sunny skies, though, we did start to notice some mighty dark clouds roiling to the north. Just after we crossed I-70, these stormin' formations cut loose full blast on us with gale-force crosswinds and drenching rain. Our speed dropped precipitously as we plowed through the sheets of precipitation, and we were stopped completely for a short while where a tree had been blown down across the highway by this storm.
It was almost chilly in Chillicothe as we felt the bracing storm-cooled air and gazed beyond the raised berm of US 65 out onto the sections of this state that have been submerged by the record-level flooding that has been making the national news these days. We continued on from this sadly soggy scene into the far north reaches of this state that has hosted us for most of this week, and wondered if we'd make it out before day's end. That was fortunately not to be, as the sign for the Circle S Motel in Princeton beckoned us into its economical split-level rooms. Then a refreshing alfresco dinner in the cool twilight air at the Crossroads Cafe, and a nighttime stroll back to the room, with our way lit by the fireflies and the flashing beacon over the US 65 / US 136 junction.
Tasty times in a moisture-enhanced state
We awoke to the promise of cooler weather as the storms rumbled in the distance - and Richard awoke to the thunderous pains of a a spasming back that seems to had been thrown sometime late yesterday. We loaded out our stuff - slowly and carefully - and headed over for breakfast with the friendly locals at the Hometown Cafe just down the street from the town square. Once the ham, eggs, and painkillers were devoured, we turned north for the final fourteen miles of 'MO' drivin' and on into the great state of Iowa and its farm-like fragrances (is that you, again, Duncan?)
Several miles into Iowa, a jog in US 65 brings one to the nice little town of Lucas, where the playground looked most enticing to our little one, even if it was still a bit muddy from the recent rains. Other more enticing items were found down the main street at B&C Mercantile, where the proprietors opened up a bit early for us to sample some ice cream, allow Duncan to play in the garden and its jumbo-size rustic rocking chair, and obtain some country-charming gifts for folks near and far. But not all was joy in Lucas - we inquired as to why the community center across the street was so busy, and the reply was that a long-time member of the community has passed on and that we'd come by at the time of the post-funeral meal. We didn't get a chance to give our condolences, but we respected that so many cared so much as to pay their respects to a full life on this day.
Then onward up US 65 and in turn US 69, rolling past the syn-cow-nized swimming of the bovines in the very full water holes, and then watched the pastures and cornfields give way to the developments of Des Moines, the capital of this state. As we drove through town, our attention was arrested by the soaring pointy roof and giant sculptured sign of the Classic Frozen Custard stand, where three giant scoops of froozen goodness helped us keep a cool attitude as we made our way by the gold-plated cupolae of the state capitol building. The streets of downtown were still strewn with sandbags from the recent unpleasantness several days ago when the Des Moines River overflowed, but the bustle of this burg seemed to indicate that everything was somewhat back to normal now.
We've decided to name her "Gypsy". As we'd mentioned earlier, one of our traveling companions is a Magellan 3225 GPS unit, and many a time she's told us exactly where to go in her inimitable (and sometimes irritating) voice. She doesn't care for backroads much, it seems, and when we turned onto the I-235 freeway and headed north toward I-35 under the good-looking arched sign structures for some fast freeway flying we thought she'd be a bit happier. Alas, every time we depart from her predetermined route for a rest break or a fillup of fuel, there she goes again with the "When possible, make a legal U-turn" yapping - such as when we exited at Ellsworth for some low-cost (i.e. $3.73) gas in the shadow of the looming grain elevators.
Storms again enveloped us as we crossed the line into Minnesota,and we continued on the Interstate as the tires hummed and the wipers waggled. Once the rain let up, we pulled off at a MnDOT rest area for a bit of leg (and back!) stretching - but the planned game of kick n' catch the ball with Duncan was cut short when a squadron of skeeters saw us at a target of opportunity and dive-bombed with unpleasant accuracy. Then an exit north of Faribault to sneak into the Twin Cities area by the back way ("Gypsy, just shut UP!"), and a roll to a stop in the driveway of Suzanne's brother's house in the rolling fresh-built suburbia of Rosemount. We unpacked for an extra day's rest while Mike C. assisted Richard's aching backside by helpin' out with the haulin'. Then some decent takeout dinner and family conversation, and another good roadtrip day draws to a close.
Rockin' good times in Iowa and Minnesota
A rest day. Thank goodness.
We're now almost exactly halfway through our trip - and Richard finally has a day where he doesn't have to be up at an early hour. But between early-wakey habits and someone's throbbing back, we didn't sleep in too late (but did actually get some needed rest).
Nothing really on the agenda this day, other than relaxation and catching up on things like e-mail and assorted stuff. But the weather was nice and comfortable (when it wasn't raining, that is), and so we thought it might be a good idea to get out of the house for a bit of exercise and exploration. Duncan started up the tricycle and pedaled out onto the pathways of Rosemount, with his parents keeping a watchful eye behind. We ended up strolling to and fro on the curving streets, finally ending up where the asphalt of the subdivision's roadways - at least for now - gives way to plowed and planted fields. At this point, a neat pile of gravel had been plunked in preparation for more construction, and Duncan immediately saw the opportunities for some rocky recreation. He scurried up and scooted down the slopes, and adjusted many angles of repose with his scooping hands and thumping feet. Then onto the trike for many many orbits on the traffic-free asphalt, speeding so fast that the wheels lifted as he made his twisty turns.
And then back to the house, where Richard helped install a new surround sound stereo system (actually, all the flat-on-back work helped the ol' spine adjust a bit) as Duncan charmed the relatives with his wacky antics. After a most excellent dinner prepared by our sister-in-law Joan, we settled in for a bit more conversation as the Twins played on the TV (well, so much for the 10-game win streak...) Then upstairs to bed for another Minnesota evening.
Rolling along (and playing, and cuddling) in Rosemount
The morning began with an unexpected wet and wild experience, when Duncan joined Aunt Joan out on the deck behind the house for a bit of morning fresh air. With a little assistance, Duncan discovered how the "garden hose spray nozzle" worked, and proceeded to thoroughly clean the deck, table, chairs, grill, siding, windows, doors, Joan, and himself. He was liking this spraying stuff so much that he was getting ready to clean the carpets, big screen TV, and everything else inside the house too, but someone alertly and quickly shut the back door in time.
According to the calendar, we're now in the second half of the trip; however, the map is definitely telling us we have one more day of outbound travel to go. So we loaded up the truck, with our background music the plaintive wails of Duncan: "want stay here! waaant staaay heeeere!" And after we subdued the child, strapped him in, and waved farewell, off we set on the streets and highways of the Twin Cities. We headed north up I-35W to downtown Minneapolis, past the poofy roof of the Metrodome, and under the orange detour signs to the site of the new Interstate bridge over the Mississippi River which is replacing the one that so tragically collapsed last summer. Even on a Sunday, the crews were busy working to complete the segmental concrete span, and the crowds were watching as the cranes cranked and the tendons were tensioned.
Then out of town on I-35 and into the north woods, with brief interludes on the final north-end miles of US 61 (the "Blues Highway") for our obligatory Taco John's fix, and then a bit more country cruising for a bite of Dairy Queen to settle down the mild spiciness. A quiet afternoon's drive brought us up to the northern tip of Interstate 35 in the harbor town of Duluth, where the thousands of miles of the St. Lawrence Seaway stretching all the way from the Atlantic Ocean come to an end at the tip of a very large lake in the heart of the continent. From the overlook high above the ore docks and lift bridges, we gazed out at the blue vastness of Lake Superior and felt the cool breezes as they wafted off one of the largest bodies of fresh water on the planet. Duncan had been cooped up in the truck for several hours, and was feeling very rambunctious, and so a fun game of "Daddy Monster" allowed him to get his wiggles out on the steep grassy slopes while enyoying the sunny scenic vistas.
Departing Duluth, we swung over the harbor on the arch of the Bong Bridge (named after a local WW II fighter ace hero) and into Wisconsin on US highway 2 - many miles and many numbers from the stretch of US 98 we traveled in Mobile just a couple weeks ago. Two took us out into the green woods of far north Wisconsin, and back along the Superior shores in the city of Ashland, where the trivial matter that the main street was a gaping hole due to reconstruction sent on a zigzagging detour through other parts of town - which worked out well, as on our bypassing we found a market to snag a few foodstuffs we'll need while at the house in the U.P. Duncan, though, wasn't too pleased with the choice, as he vociferously commented that we should have considered stopping instead at one of those nice playgrounds that line the lakeshore in this city.
Once the goodies were stowed and Duncan was his happy self once again, we continued to toodle on Two for a while until the twin towns of Hurley and Ironwood appeared - which meant we had made it to Michigan. We curved around the lake in Wakefield as we turned onto M-28, and started watching for deer in the early evening sunlight - and sure enough, darned if they started showing up right on cue standing on the shoulder or bounding into the roadway. Fortunately, unlike our experience back in '06, they stayed out of our way, and we continued past those cute but somewhat noncrashworthy creatures. We crossed the Ontonagon county line and into the westermost point of the Eastern time zone at about 7:30 PM (make that 8:30 PM) with the sun still high behind us, and covered the final miles without incident. We completed the outbound leg of our travels as we turned into the long driveway and turned off the engine at the house at 9 PM, which gave us nearly an hour of light to unpack, unload, and get the empty and waiting house set up for habitation.
Sights (and splashes) of the north lands
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Latest Historical Revisionism 24 July 2008Scripting: Richard C. Moeur