Remembering the road, day 20

Day 20

This morning we awoke knowing it would be our last big road day. We’re to drive from Rolla, Oklahoma through St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus, OH.

With the morning sun we noticed that the EconoLodge wasn’t quite as fine as we had previously thought. The first sign was the mouse droppings on the sheets. Sign two was the overly flexible bathtub… I thought I might drop right through the floor. Sign three was the dried doughnuts and thick coffee. So it goes.

We headed out and made it to St. Louis in good time. We hoped to visit another Roadfood spot, but we weren’t able to find the street it’s one very easily, so we just pulled over at a Bob Evans.

The arch in St. Louis is pretty and it’s neat to see another icon of America. I didn’t get to go up it, but according to my brother, it’s something to miss. I’ll take his word for it.

Having crossed the Mississippi, the speed limit is back down to 65 at the most, and having gotten used to 80+ mph, dropping to the 60s feels very slow indeed.

The midwest is definitely the land of symbols. Everywhere you look are flags, “United We Stand” slogans and “Let’s Roll” banners. I don’t see nearly this much stuff back in D.C., where one of the attacks actually happened, and where people are still feeling threatened.

Illinois is also giving Texas a run for its money in terms of the world’s largest cross. It stands about 300 feet tall or so. How many of these things are there? And who makes them? There must be some company out there in the giant cross business. I would think it would be a small market, but apparently not.

We spotted a car from Hawaii today (had Hawaii plates). That accounts for all 50 states. It does bring up the question of how they drove across the Pacific, though. And should there be an Interstate in Hawaii?

While at a rest stop in Indiana, we came across the most bizarre thing yet. It was an all-in-one hand washing station. Often I favor the advance of technology, but it has to be an improvement. This definitely was not. It was a hole in the wall with a soap dispenser, faucet, and hand dryer lined up at the top of the wall with the hand dryer closest to the front. Using infrared sensors, the system detects when hands have been inserted into the hole, dispenses soap, runs water, and then dries your hands.

One of the two systems in the men’s room was broken. The other was so slow… and requires the whole sequence to run before restarting, that a line in the men’s room developed. Guys who had just finished emptying their bladders were standing there waiting for this ridiculous contraption to complete each cycle. Just what was wrong with a normal sink?

I slept past Indianapolis. I don’t think I’m the only one to do that. In fact, I think plenty of people living there are doing the same thing.

As we motored into Columbus, I realized that we failed to do a standard travel activity: making semi-trucks blow their air horns. So Cynthia, my niece Jane, and I got right to work. We managed to get 16 out of 20 truckers to blow their horns, and one out of one Buick, driven by my brother.

I found out today that my beloved Cleveland Indians traded their best pitcher, and possibly one of the best pictures in the American League, Bartolo Colon the other day. For roughly 50 years.. from 1949 to 1994, the Indians were the laughingstock of baseball. Then they got great and nearly won the World Series. But now it looks like a return to past and that sucks. Oh well, baseball is going down the tubes anyway thanks to spoiled millionaires… that is, the owners and the players alike. Bah.

Upon arriving in Columbus, we watched a number of hot air balloons float above the city in preparation for the July 3rd fireworks there. Roughly halg a million people gather along the Olenatangy River to watch the show a day early so that neighborhoods can have their own local shows on the Fourth. Once we got to my brother’s house, we picked up some Thai take out, watched the first half of the Harry Potter movie, caught a few fireworks being shot off in the city, and then hit the sack.

Remembering the road, day 19

Day 19

Today we fled New Mexico and sped through the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, stopping for the night in Missouri, a couple hours short of St. Louis.

We’ve mostly driving along I-40 which allows us to bypass the wildfires near I-70, but it also means we have to cut back north if for no other reason than I-40 is stopped at the Mississippi thanks to the barge that knocked out a bridge there. Besides, our destination is north of here, so that’s a good reason too.

Driving along I-40 means that we were frequently coming into contact with the history Route 66, the first highway to the West. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles (I think), Route 66 boasts many diners and motels, and various tourist traps to lure drivers into pulling over for a rest and a laugh.

In north Texas we streaked past the Cadillac Ranch where a series of Cadillacs are partly buried on end so that they appear to be growing from the ground. Shortly past that is the World’s Largest Cross (in the West). And indeed it is a big cross, surrounded by many other smaller crosses. It crossed my mind that the proprieters of the cross might become cross if someone were to write their name on the cross with a Cross pen. Perhaps that’s an issue that could be debated on Crossfire or become a plot point on Crossing Jordan.

Hours later we stopped in Elk City, OK, at another Roadfood eatery: Billie’s. Billy is the owner and cook. His specialty: onion burgers. Although I detest onions with every fiber of my being, I ordered a King Size burger along with fries and shake. After scraping off most of the onions, I quite enjoyed the burger, along with the enormous shake and the fries. Billy, meanwhile, let the phone ring while he made our order and the orders of people who came in after us and pulled up to Billy’s drive-through.


Once things cooled off a bit, we had Billy sign our book and asked him about his business. He said that for 42 years he ran a dry cleaner across the parking lot, but then OSHA cracked down on him, so he started up the burger joint instead. I don’t know what he did to get OSHA on his case, but with double-size shakes and meaty fries, he gets my support.

While we ate, I looked through the Elk City Eagle, the local paper in town. For 50 cents you get 8 pages filled with one or two locally reported stories, plenty of AP news, Family Circus, Marmaduke, the Bible Quote of the day, a page of around-the-town photos, and classified notices, such as “Guinea Pigs, $30 each.”

Once we finished our meals, we bade farewell to Billy and continued east through Oklahoma. The scenery in Oklahoma isn’t anything to sneeze at, but, in all honesty, it just isn’t as interesting as high snow-capped mountains, rippling rocky canyons, or lengthy vistas of natural beauty. No, it’s mostly rolling hills of small trees and bushes dotted with billboards, fast food restaurants, plain houses, and warehouse-style shopping depots.

So, to pass the time we’re playing games, listening to audio books and music, and trying to find amusement in the billboards. For example, at an Oklahoma toll station, the sign warned of a $103 fine. Who comes up with numbers like these? Was this debated in the state legislature? “I propose a fine of $100!” “One hundred dollars, that’s not nearly enough. I demand $103!” “Here here!”

Another good sign announced free 72-ounce steaks. What’s that? A free 72-ounce steak? Absolutely! You just have to eat the whole thing within some time limit and if you don’t finish it, you have to pay for it. By the way, how big is a 72-ounce steak? That’s four and half pounds, baby!

My nephew Truman is again with us today and he’s spent much of the drive planning our evening accommodations. By plotting out our course and our hourly progress, he has figured out where we will be likely to be when we’re ready to stop driving. Then we crosschecks that with a AAA book listing hotels and motels. By reading up on the options and looking at alternative locations he picks out a clean, inexpensive place to bed down for the night and have a free continental breakfast when we awake. He definitely has a future as a travel agent, or a NASA engineer.

I’m particularly enjoying the drive back as we reenter the land of humidity and low altitude, meaning I can breathe again. I had thought the dry air of the West would help me to breathe easy, but that proved to be wrong. How good it is to be able to breathe. Ahhh…

Tonight, as we drove through Missouri, we noticed that the gas gauge was getting a little low. Our goal was to get to Rolla, MO, and when we were about 120 miles away, we had less than 1/4 of a tank. Near midnight, when we got about 80 miles away, the light came on. When we approached the 60-mile barrier, Cyn encouraged me to get gas. Twenty miles later, we pulled into a gas station that was closed. When we were just 25 miles away, I assured Cyn that I was pretty sure we could make it to Rolla. We turned the A/C off. We hoped and prayed. Then a glowing neon sign beckoned us to pull over and gas up. Reluctantly, I did so, and Cynthia sighed a huge sigh of relief. Our tank holds 15 or so gallons and the pump pushed in 14.2 gallons. We had about 20 miles left to Rolla. It would have been close, but now we’ll never know.