Getting Kicked by Route 66: Part 10 – No Getting Sick in 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.

After dinner, we discovered that our hotel is in the midst of transitioning into an apartment building, so we ended up in a studio apartment where I slept on the couch, so Steph could cough and sweat alone in the queen bed. When I called the front desk to request blankets, a man informed me I’d have to wait until 11:00 p.m. I told him to skip it, threw on a fleece, and curled into a fetal position to squeeze myself into the couch, which was more of a love-seat really.

Meanwhile, Steph’s husband did another online search, for a doctor willing to see Steph the next day and give us a verdict on two questions: 1) What’s wrong with her, and 2) should she continue traveling? It seemed certain the answer would be, “You’re very sick. Go home.” If so, I’ll have to decide whether to press on alone, and if so, how far. Part of me is tired, deflated, and ready to pack it in. It has been gray, rainy, cold, and windy for most of this trip, the most dismal spring I can remember and a reflection of my mood. Our Route 66 trip may not make it another mile south, but it has certainly gone south.

In the morning, we drive to a doctor’s office in the nearby suburb of Clayton. Steph breaks the news to me over pancakes at the IHOP: she has bronchitis and a sinus infection. The doctor has given her two prescriptions and two choices: 1) take her medicine, rest for two or three days, then continue on her way, or 2) take the meds but keep traveling, and feel like crap for five more days. Steph decides on unspoken option 3: go home. We’re already behind schedule, and if we add two or three more days, the rest of our trip will be rushed. But Steph describes the real reason in three words: “I feel awful.” Steph’s husband goes online again, to reserve her flight home.

Did I mention it’s raining again?

When Steph hears that there’s no toilet inside the top of the arch, she decides against taking the tram.

After a trip to Walgreens to pick up my friend’s prescriptions, we drive to the Gateway Arch. We walk slowly, very slowly, from the parking lot to the arch – Steph laboring for every breath as we get soaked in the rain, me laboring under the guilty feeling that friends don’t let friends sightsee sick. When Steph hears that there’s no toilet inside the top of the arch, she decides against taking the tram, as her coughing fits have been so violent they’ve almost caused her to throw up a couple of times. She doesn’t want to throw up inside the arch, not to mention cough on everyone in one of the tiny tram-cars.

Instead we stay inside the Museum of Western Expansion, beneath the arch, and watch a National Geographic documentary about the Lewis and Clark expedition. The film is excellent, with wide-screen views of unspoiled country that suggest the West that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark saw in 1804. I feel a lump in my chest at the realization that there are few unknown frontiers left. Still, I don’t regret missing out on those days, because a woman like me would have had few chances to join an expedition. I’m no Sacajawea. I could barely find Saint Louis.

After the film, I take Steph to the airport, where she apologizes for the dozenth time. I assure her that getting sick is not her fault, and that bronchitis is too serious to ignore. I’ll admit I’m more relieved than upset by the end of our doomed expedition together, and I’ll suspect she is too. The love is still there, but it’s grumpy love – Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy – you know, all the most annoying dwarves.

The Blueberry Hill Café is popular with Route 66 enthusiasts even though it wasn’t around during the Route’s heyday.

On my own, I drive to The Loop and hit Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and music club popular with Route 66 enthusiasts even though it wasn’t around during the route’s heyday. Chuck Berry still plays here live once a month, but the 86-year-old icon of rock-and-roll isn’t here tonight. The atmosphere is still vibrant, as I wander nine rooms filled with American memorabilia: nostalgic neon, 1930s-to-50s advertisements, sexy Wurlitzer jukeboxes, and photos of famous musicians who’ve played here – Bob Dylan, Melissa Ethridge, Natalie Merchant, Rob Zombie, and of course Chuck Berry, to name a few. I’ll admit it’s not as much fun by myself.

Blueberry Hill’s burgers are award-winning, and mine lives up to its reputation. The blueberry pie a la mode is the first good pie I’ve had on this all-American trip. Thus restored, I decide to return to the arch tomorrow, hoping for sunshine and good views, but determined to go even if its pouring. The frontier may be gone, but not the can-do spirit that once pushed Americans west. We’ll see if I have enough of that spirit left to push all the way – alone.

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