Part 2 – Southern Illinois to Joplin, MO

Before I start today, I want to mention that my cousins have set up a FB page to document our Route 66 trip.  They’ve been posting a ton of pictures, and I thought that if you are following my travelogue, you might like to see those pictures.  So I’m going to post the link to their page, but with this request: they don’t share my politics (can you imagine?), so please be on your best behavior, and don’t leave any political comments that might aggravate anybody.

That’s my job.  😊

That being said, if you want to see those pics, you can find them here:  https://www.facebook.com/3-Cousins-Route-66-Road-Trip-2021-100348648887487

Day 2 was Sunday, May 2nd.  We got an early start under overcast skies, and ran into intermittent showers for an hour or two.  (This is when we discovered that the convertible top is not – strictly speaking, in the most technical sense – “completely waterproof.”) 

We drove through a series of very small towns, and I experienced a mixture of feelings, most prominent among them sadness for past glories faded and lost, alongside admiration of the pride and grit shown by residents who appreciate and work to preserve as much of the charm and bravado of past roadside businesses as they can.

In the tiny town of Staunton, we came across Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, which consists of a roadside arrangement of several dozen Volkswagens.   Henry was clearly inspired by the Cadillac Ranch in Texas – an arrangement of a line of Caddys, buried halfway into the earth at a sharp angle.  Henry’s version wasn’t as visually striking as the Cadillac Ranch, and honestly, didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  But I admire the kooky chutpah.

From there we cruised through the larger and more prosperous town of Edwardsville, home to Southern Illinois U (Go Salukis!), and then crossed into Missouri.   But not via the well-designed, efficient bridge over the Mississippi River, because where’s the fun in that?

Instead, we took old 66 down a winding, narrow road, ending at the Chain of Rocks bridge.  Built in the late 1920s, this long, steel trussed bridge has a 22-degree bend in the middle of it.  I’m no bridge-ologist, but even I know that building a bridge with a sharp kink in the middle was not a great idea. 

Fortunately, the bridges survives, and is open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Our timing was strange though, because we arrived in the middle of a long race of hundreds of runners and bicyclists that finished on the Illinois side of the bridge.  The structure – though too small for modern cars, is plenty big enough for a lot of pedestrians and bicyclists to cross simultaneously.

On the Illinois side, music was playing, and various booths were set up to provide refreshments and support and the chance to sign up for future races and pick up some swag.  A large, inflatable structure had been set up to serve as a Finish Line, and as the runners and bikers came across the bridge in small groups, they ran beneath it, and then made their way around a large circle and headed back onto the bridge for at least one more lap.

Behind some colorful tape, family members young and old all clapped and cheered and shouted encouragement to the runners.  One young mother clapped and hollered, “You’re doing great!  You’re awesome!  Keep it up!”

Her two or three year old son stood beside her, sticking his head out under the tape to see the approaching runners.  When he caught sight of the other most important person in the world, he started clapping maniacally, screaming, “Daddyawesomekeepitupawesomedaddydaddy!  AWESOME!”

Once the three of us realized that the racers weren’t in a ginormous pack that would trample us, we walked onto the bridge and followed it out to that insane bend in the middle.  Most of the bridge ran through tall trees that have grown up on both sides of it, so that we didn’t see the river at all until we were more than half-way out.  Then we turned around and went back.  I avoided the temptation to sprint through the finish line, and instead stepped off to the side of the bridge and skirted the crowd.

But if I had thought there was any chance that manic little boy would have screamed, “You’reawesomekeepitup! Awesome!!” for me as I passed, I would have hit that finish line like Bruce Jenner before everything went horribly wrong.

We got back in the car and retraced our steps and then crossed the Mighty Mississippi on the safe, modern, boring bridge.  We drove through St. Louis, and… yikes!  Let me just give a hearty, sarcastic congratulations to the unbroken string of Democrat mayors who have ruled St. Louis since 1949.  You’re doing a heck of a job, people!

Before the trip started, and we were all placing our bets on when the car might be most likely to shuffle off this mortal (radiator) coil, we had all agreed that the location we dreaded breaking down the most was the desert between Arizona and California.

But now, after having driven through east St. Louis on our way to the arch, there is new leader in the clubhouse!

But the arch was amazing.  It’s an impressive engineering feat, and the museum at its base was worth the time.

From St. Louis we drove out into the green, gently rolling hills of Missouri, through a succession of small towns.  We saw some impressive murals in tiny Cuba, along with a gigantic steel rocking chair alongside the road.   My favorite part of that – other than, Hey: giant rocking chair! – was a sign that revealed that the chair originally actually rocked.  But the owner realized that someone was likely to get killed by that monstrosity, so he had it welded in place.   Good thinking, liability boy!

We also saw Stubby Stonehenge in the small college town of Rolla.  It was carved to demonstrate the power of the school’s High Pressure Water Jetlab, and it looks about as goofy as it sounds.  But you’ve got to admire the Ameri-can nature of the accompanying plaque’s confident language:  “In ancient times, carving these stones would have taken years.  These stones were carved in a month.”

Take that, smelly and inefficient druids!  We’ll see your primitive carving tools and pulling boulders – and groin muscles – around the countryside with ropes, and raise you one High Pressure Water JetLab!

From there, we hit the road again, and stumbled across Uranus, a childish and tacky tourist trap in the form of a block of faux storefronts, gimmicks and a gift shop.  Also, literally dozens of rectum-related jokes, each worse than the last.  As I waited outside for my cousins as they bought some fudge – don’t ask – I was startled when I turned, and for a moment I thought I’d run into Elizabeth Warren.

But it was only a cigar store Indian.  #wemustneverstopmockingher 

And if you think I’m the kind of lowbrow who would comment on the totally unsurprising outcome of meeting up with a politician in Uranus, you have offended me deeply. 

Our last drive of the day took us to Joplin.  After supper, we drove downtown and saw the site of a gunfight between Wild Bill Hickock and Davis Tutt.  Tutt had beaten Wild Bill in a poker game, winning his watch as well as his money.  When Tutt showed up the following night flaunting Bill’s watch, Hickok warned him not to do it again.  Tutt did, they had a duel, and Hickock shot him dead, in downtown Joplin, where a plaque tells the story.

Three days later, a jury found him not guilty, giving me two thoughts:  1. We used to have three-day trials in this country.  2. Showing off a watch you’d won in poker game was once satisfactory for a successful “he needed killin’” defense. 

I’m not saying that that is a better justice system than we have now, with recidivist criminals released over and over again, trials that take years, and convicted killers dying of old age on death row.

But I’m not saying that it’s not. 

The only damper on the end of our second day was that the muffler on the Caddy got louder as the day went on, and then something broke, and it began to drag on any bump over three inches tall. 

And if any of you are thinking that we may have damaged our tailpipe in Uranus, grow up, people!

Next up: from Joplin, MO to Oklahoma City