Thursday, May 8, 2008
I’m alone again, as I often end up when I travel – which might bear closer examination. Am I bad at selecting travel partners? Are they wrong to select me? Or is it just that, at one time or another, we must all face the world alone and the road is the likeliest place to discover that? After all, neither of us could have foreseen that my friend Stephanie would get bronchitis.
Now that my ailing partner is gone, I’m determined to conquer the tallest manmade monument in the United States, the Gateway Arch.
Although I feel bad for Steph, who flew home yesterday, my solitude has lent me an unexpected buoyancy. Maybe that’s only because I, too, am packing it in. I’m eager to go home, another unexpected feeling. Instead of finishing Route 66 in Los Angeles, I’m going to take a detour from Saint Louis to Denver, where my husband waits, and make a stop near Kansas City to visit my mother. But first, now that my ailing partner has left, I’m determined to conquer the tallest manmade monument in the United States, the Gateway Arch.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Last night, Steph and I were more lost than we’ve been yet on this road trip, when our car tripped over the brick and mortar of Saint Louis, Missouri’s oldest district: Laclede’s Landing, perched on the Mississippi River. As sunset bathed the brick in yore, olden, and ago, Steph used her cell phone to call her husband in Utah and asked him to book us a room for the night on Hotels.com. He booked us at the WS Hotel and Spa, just three blocks from us, more cheaply and easily than we could have in person.
“No one could have done that on the original Route 66,” I said.
Steph passed this on to her husband, then relayed his response, “He said ‘That’s right, you guys are cheating, and he’s hanging up now.’”
Our car tripped over the brick and mortar of Saint Louis, Missouri’s oldest district.
We ate dinner at Hannegan’s Restaurant and Pub, where I had a delicious Irish stew with puff pastry topping, while Steph ate soups and salads in hopes of fending off the ongoing ailment that seems determined to choke the breath from her lungs.
Heading south on Route 66 from Springfield, Illinois, Stephanie and I take a detour at Glenarm to see an old covered bridge to nowhere. The red, wooden, barnlike structure with the white-fenced ramp was built in 1880. If you’ve watched The Bridges of Madison County, you get the idea. The bridge crosses Sugar Creek, a peaceful spot bordered by trees, where wagons once rolled through to continue down the dirt road on the other side. Now it’s like one of those haunted houses with doors that open onto walls: I walk across the bridge to a dead end. This is no longer a path to someplace else, just a scenic backdrop for picnics. So it is that past gives way to present: forgotten but not gone.
This covered bridge in Glenarm, Illinois was built in 1880.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Stephanie and I spent last night at the Springfield, Illinois Route 66 Hotel, with vintage autos parked in the lobby, and a V8 engine revving in our room — Steph snored and coughed with a vengeance. I suspect my sick travel partner will soon abandon this road trip. “California or bust” is one thing, but “California or die”? Not so much…though I am beginning to understand how the Donner Party could eat each other.
Stephanie and I spent last night at Springfield’s Route 66 Hotel, which has vintage autos in the lobby.
Steph’s lighthearted sarcasm about the tackiness of Route 66 is starting to smack of complaint, things like, “Y’know, there’s a reason they replaced this torn-up road with a freeway!” When I ask if she’s depressed, Steph says, “It’s not depression. It’s resignation.” In her defense, my responding to every inconvenience with “It’s an adventure!” is probably about as helpful as Shirley Temple tap-dancing for a migraine-sufferer.
Monday, May 5, 2008
When the Interstates muscled across the American West, Route 66 became a detour. Today, Route 66 features detours within detours. Isn’t the best stuff in life off the main road? Before Stephanie and I continue south from Wilmington, we make a side-trip to Kankakee to see the first prairie style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
We pass a fifties-style root-beer drive-in.
Our guidebook only says it’s on “Harrison St. at the river.” We ask around town and receive vague directions. We pass a fifties-style root-beer drive-in with an orange-and-white striped awning. Remember when American optimism was Popsicle colored? Just past that, we turn and find the Bradley House where the street dead-ends at the Kankakee River.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Stephanie wakes with a cold and a fever of 100-plus. She wants to sleep it off so we can still hit The Mother Road this afternoon. We’re planning to take Route 66 all the way to L.A., but now I’m wondering if we’ll ever make it out of Chicago.
The Clarke House is Chicago’s oldest, built in 1836.
I leave Steph snoozing while I hit the Prairie Avenue Historic District. This is where the city’s millionaires lived in the late 1800s to early 1900s. A few of these grand old homes survived the Great Chicago Fire. The Clarke House is the city’s oldest, built in 1836. I’d hoped to peek inside the charming Greek Revival, but Sunday tours are at noon and two, too late if we mean to leave town by 1:00.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
In keeping with our Route 66 theme, I have a less than highbrow goal in visiting the Art Institute of Chicago: I’m here to see that creepy icon of nostalgic Americana known as American Gothic. So I figure hitting the museum an hour before closing will give Steph and me plenty of time. We lose 15 minutes buying our tickets and navigating a vast maze brimming with more classic enticements. No problem. I do what I always do at museums: head straight to my must-see choices first, and don’t deviate until that task is finished.
I’m amused to learn that the artist’s models were his sister and his dentist.
American Gothic is more interesting than I expected. I planned to stand here, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and chuckle to myself while adding one more bit of kitsch to our Route 66 checklist. But in truth, Grant Wood’s painting is a work of real skill. Seeing the actual paint, I find myself appreciating the crease in the old man’s brow, the lock of hair slipping from his spinster daughter’s severe bun, the folds of his sleeve, the cameo at her throat. The description educates me to notice the houseplants arranged in the window behind the daughter as a symbol of her feminine domesticity, and to recognize the father’s pitchfork as a symbol of his masculine role as a worker of the field. I’m amused to learn that the artist’s models were his sister and his dentist.