Wednesday, August 27, 2003

83: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS

6: NUCLEAR PHYSICS AND THE DEVIL'S HIGHWAY


DAY 6
Santa Fe/Los Alamos/Espanola/Chama/Pagosa Springs, CO/Durango/Cortez/Monticello, UT/Moab

Time to start heading north...but first a sidetrip to Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project. It was worth the trip just for the scenic drive along New Mexico 566. Discovered Chevy Cavaliers don't like putting on speed while going uphill, but the car never overheated. Stopped at the Bradbury Science Museum, home of atomic-age artifacts.
One amusing, yet still frightening one in light of recent paranoia, was this notice...



Models of Fat Man and Little Boy were on display...not the originals, but similar casings from the period. Most of the museum was gung-ho about the benefits of nuclear physics, but efforts were made to show the downside.


Not a buh...

Drove back to US 84 and grabbed lunch at a Subway in Espanola. We were stuck behind a family who we suspected had never stepped foot in a Subway before, or were used to everything going to their picky, picky standards. The mother asked questions about the content of half the sandwiches, then discovered anything could be turned into a salad. She kept insisting on 3 slices of cheese on the side and some extra bread, in a tone that suggested her family's life depended on this. The workers were relieved when they took our order, making snide comments about the folks ahead of us while they were still there. All this time, the line grew...

Not much to report on the next leg, other than the scenery, which was beautiful.


One of the lesser examples of the scenery along US 84

Quick pit stop in Chama (dash off e-mails), then we crossed into Colorado. Endless construction until we hit Pagosa Springs, where the power went out in a grocery store. Drove along US 160 in on-again/off-again rain until it was time for dinner in Durango. Looked like a resort which would have been interesting to stop in if we had time other than dinner. Eat we did, at an Italian place called Mama's Boy. Another winner...garlic soup, mmmm...

On the road for a few more hours. At Cortez, we hopped onto US 666 - "The Devil's Highway" - which I imagine some fundamentalists pressured the government into changing. According to this article, seems the road has been hexed over the years (though I found it a nice highway to drive along at dusk into Utah). As of a few months ago, the highway is now known as US 491...though US 666 markers remain for the timebeing for the transition.


Lead us not into temptation...

(OK, the liquor store was not on 666...but it was close enough).

Drove into Utah in the dark, unsure of what kind of landscape was around us. Drove into Moab late and managed to get one of the last rooms available at a Microtel. Place was unusually active for a small town around 10pm (later learned Moab was a resort town, a gateway for rafters and mountain bikers). Followed what was becoming a pattern on the trip - quick dip in the pool, then lights out.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

81: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS

5: DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SANTA FE?


DAY 5
Tucumcari/Santa Rosa/Pecos/Santa Fe

Decisions needed to be made about how far west we would go at this point. When I left, I figured there would be enough time to reach Las Vegas, then head north on US93 into British Columbia. Some quick math proved this route might make time tight towards the end of the trip. We'd likely arrive in LV on a Friday night, which might have been pricey. At first, thought about going as far as Flagstaff, then shortened that to Gallup. Subconciously, we may have also wanted a day where there wasn't so much driving involved.

Drove through Tucumcari, which is nothing but hotels, active and abandoned. Out of town, all you could was a landscape that was bare except for the odd shrub. Drove along I-40, since parts of old 66 faded into the dirt. Stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at another 66 landmark, Joseph's.



Though it has been around since the 50s, it recently adopted the symbol of another (now defunct) 66 landmark, the "Fat Man" from the Club Cafe down the street. Another culinary hit - huge servings of Mexican food, along with a regional staple, frybread (which is literaly that - chewy bread that has been fried, with a top like phyllo pastry, great drizzled with honey). Amy's dish was colourful - enchiladas wrapped in blue tortillas.

Rather than drive to Albuquerque, we went on an old alignment of 66 (now US 84) north towards Santa Fe. The landscape changed again, with the first signs of interesting rock formations. Desolate, but interesting to look at.

Decided to stop at Pecos National Historic Park...needed to stop somewhere for a stretch. Glad we did, as it was a park full of ruins of past pueblos and Spanish missions.


Some of remains you can walk through at Pecos

While at Pecos, thought about our plans. Since neither of us wanted to push on much further, we decided to head into Santa Fe and get a hotel room (it was only 3pm). Being early, we'd have time to look around the city.

Turned out to be one of the best ideas of the whole trip.

Santa Fe has been described as the least American looking city in America. The architectural style is different - everything from homes to chain stores have the colonial adobe theme going. Fascinating to look at. After checking in, we headed downtown to get some gift shopping in before everything closed. Amy bought a pile of jewellery, while I bought some coasters to match my copy of the Beach Boys album "Surf's Up". We lingered in a gallery dedicated to animation legend Chuck Jones...though the cartoon they showed was from one of his rivals, Tex Avery (and a classic it was...1949's Bad Luck Blackie). We rested for awhile in the plaza, then headed off to find dinner.


Downtown Santa Fe

Good time to bring this up: one of the biggest disappointments on the trip was the lack of regional retailers that weren't connected to any of the national giants. Almost every "different" grocery store I had to check out turned out to be a variant of Kroger - it became a running joke. Everywhere we went, the stores were all the same. This was true of Santa Fe, though all the national chains designed their stores to match the rest of the city, resulting in the oddest looking Targets, Borders, etc we'd ever seen


Target a la adobe

On the way back to the hotel, we found a grocery store that wasn't connected to Kroger, Lowe's. We noticed a ritual specific to the Southwest in the parking lot - customers lined up with large bags of chili peppers waiting to be roasted. Inside, found all sorts of oddball Mexican/Southwestern foods, from every type of dried chili imaginable to Coke bottles imported from south of the border. We loaded the back seat with goodies.

We ate Indian for dinner...of the Asian variety, not Navajo or Apache strain. Another thumbs-up meal.

A quick dip in the pool, along with trips back and forth to the laundry room, brought the day to a close. Wait...there was the "Mondo" show of people doing bizarre tricks with their naughty bits on MTV or a similar channel. Strange sights to lull one to sleep...

Friday, August 22, 2003

in the meantime...

A quick break from the trip chronicle...

One positive side-effect of the blackout's aftermath - it's been much easier to adjust back to work. Monday and Tuesday were half-days, while the rest of the week has been on reduced lighting and air conditioning, allowing me to wear shorts to work.

Went to the CNE Tuesday afternoon with Mom and Amy. It was opening day, but not too busy. The ride operators were generous with ride time, especially on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Picked up the last thing I needed, compact discs, which were going for $5. One that I suspect will get a few spins at future dinner parties, if I don't hide it, is one of the discs played often in second year at Arts House...


I see it now...group singalongs of Slow Cars, Fast Cars. Rock on Chicago...

Made one fatal error - don't go on spider/octopus like rides immediately after digesting large quantities of Caribbean food, Honeydew and water. Now I know how a egg feels when it's scrambled. Stumbled off the ride in a stupor towards the nearest bathroom. Compounded that by going on another ride after. Suspect the sun fried what was left of my brain.

Naturally I'll be back next week.

POSTSCRIPT
Aug 24th - alas, it appears there will be no more music from Mr. Willis.
79: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS

4: WALTZ ACROSS (THE PANHANDLE OF) TEXAS


DAY 4
Edmond/Oklahoma City/Yukon/Canadian River/Clinton/Erick/McLean TX/Groom/Amarillo/Tucumcuri NM

Day 4 began with a quick trip through Oklahoma City. One recommendation - drive towards the state capitol from the north - it's an awesome sight (but one with no parking along the way). Passed out of the city, stopped to snap pix of an old bridge on the outskirts, as well as Yukon, OK's main attraction...

Now, Yukon's claim to fame is as the hometown of Garth Brooks. Thankfully, no memorabilia was in sight.

Next main sight on 66 was the pony bridge over the Canadian River, with at least 38 trusses. The river was nearly dry. Then came Clinton, home of the Route 66 Museum. We stopped, took the tour, then picked up souvenirs. We started to the notice the landscape change, as the land grew dustier and vegetation sparser. Shrubs began to dominate.

Final stop in Oklahoma was Erick, whose main intersection is named after its two most famous sons - singer/songwriters Roger Miller ("King Of The Road") and Sheb Wooley ("Purple People Eater"). The town has seen better days, as this shot of the largest building downtown indicates.



At least Erick had a few businesses open...which is more than can said about the next town we stopped in, and our first in the Lone Star State, McLean. The only signs of life were at a small grocery store. Otherwise, the town looked like this.



We had seen abandoned businesses through the trip, but it didn't hit us so hard until McLean. This was the effect of the interstates. You could have mistaken the place for having been abandoned after a disaster. This would be the story for the rest of our tripalong old route 66/I-40. Heck, even saw abandonment like this occuring on the last leg of the trip, where the 400 extension is beginning to replace Hwy 69 through northern Simcoe county and Muskoka. The replacement? In small areas like McLean, nothing.

Couldn't resist taking this shot near Groom, TX...


The town's other claim to fame is a giant cross to the west of it whihc claims to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It wasn't that impressive, so we didn't stop for it. Crosses are a dime a dozen, but how often do you see perilously leaning water towers?

Next was Amarillo, where we stopped for dinner at a legendary tourist spot, the Big Texan.


The Big Texan's claim to fame, which we didn't see anyone test, is its challenge to finish off a 72 oz steak, with side dishes, in an hour. We settled for daintier cuts, which proved excellent. It may have been the most expensive meal of the trip, but it was worth every bite. Discovered another tasty treatment for okra - diced, fried and battered like mushrooms. Amy appeared to be in steak nirvana. Somehow we had room for a giant strawberry shortcake, freshly made at the front of the dining room.

Warning: this is not the place to go if (a) meat disgusts you, (b) hundreds of mounted animal heads scare you and (c) you don't want anybody singing country songs to you (never got around to us...I probably would have asked for somebody like Ernest Tubb to stay with the Texas theme).

On the way out of Amarillo, we stopped at the legendary Cadillac Ranch.


A few people were mulling around, though nobody was out spray-painting the cars.


The tools of the artists at the Cadillac Ranch

Nightfall came, along with the search for a room. We followed the old tourist billboards from the 50s... "Tucumcari Tonight!"

what we did on our holidays 3: oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day

DAY 3
Springfield, MO/Joplin/Kansas/Miami, OK/Vinita/Tulsa/many little Oklahoma towns/Davenport/Arcadia/Edmond

The third day began with a quest for a money order to pay off the cops back in Bourbon. Tried a bank first, but the over-enthusiastic teller told me that they wouldn't sell me one unless I had an account there. It was the strangest layout I'd ever seen in a bank - all of the officers had desks in the open in the middle of the floor. I wound up at a check-cashing place where (a) no questions were asked, (b) the fee was much less than the bank would have charged and (c) I didn't have to go searching for stamps to mail the darn thing. Once this was taken care (along with a brief stop at a supermarket and a Big Lots), we left town.

Instead of Meramec Caverns or walnut bowls, all of the billboards along I-44 led travellers to Ozark Village. Again, had to see what the fuss was about.

Ozark Village, the Famous Papgain Center

We didn't go in after taking one glance in the window - so much junk crammed in with no room to move. Besides, we were scared by what a "papgain" might turn out to be.

Our last stop in Missouri was Joplin, where Amy bought a stack of cookbooks, taking a 5-4 lead over me. Next came a brief journey through Kansas, which we would have missed completely had we ventured back onto I-44.

Hello Kansas!

Goodbye Kansas!

You're seeing as much of Kansas as we did. The only town 66 goes through is Galena. Before we knew it, we weren't in Kansas anymore.

Oklahoma proved far less tacky than Missouri. One of the first towns was Commerce, which I expected to be buried in memorabilia for its most famous son, 50s Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. There wasn't much on 66 indicating sites, shops, etc. All I noticed was a baseball field in his honour. Next came Miami, with had a beautifully restored movie theatre...

Waylan's Hamburgers

...and a great old hamburger stand sign.

Outside Miami was one of the one of the few surviving "ribbon road" stretches of the highway. Rather than pave the entire road when it was built in the 1920s, a one-lane strip was paved, with gravel on either side of it to allow vehicles to pass. The stretch near Miami (spometimes called "the sidewalk highway") is in lousy shape, but fascinating to drive, especially to see some of the old turns half-buried in grass.

Sidewalk Highway Portion of Route 66

The white lines mark the edges of the paved portion.

God Answers Knee Mail

The biblical billboards disappeared, but odd church signs continued to crop up, like this one near Tulsa.

After a quick bypass of Tulsa, we drove for a long, pleasant stretch along 66. Our stomachs started to rumbled, so we stopped at a BBQ pit in Davenport.

Dan's Bar-B-Que Pit

Another great meal...this place had a BBQ buffet, loaded with smoked delights. One oddball item I fell in love with - pickled okra. The apple cobbler was also delicious.

Odor Street

Next came Arcadia, home to a legendary round barn. It didn't grab our attention, but this street name did. We'd love to know the story behind this moniker. Little could top that, so we called it a day in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

what we did on our holidays 2: deep in the tacky heart of america

DAY 2
Bloomington-Normal/McLean/Springfield, IL/Cahokia/St. Louis/I-44/Bourbon/Meramec Caverns/Rolla/St. Robert/Lebanon/Springfield, MO

Began the day with the first of several hotel breakfasts in a row where make-your-own waffles was among the options. Couldn't resist a tiny taste of the other soon-to-be-staple, sausage gravy and biscuits, a dish definitely not found on this side of the border. It looks like somebody's healthy sneeze, and old folks love shovelling it away.

We finally drove onto an old stretch of 66 at the south end of Bloomington-Normal. The Illinois portion of the old highway is one of the least exciting, hugging I-55 close as it passes cornfield after cornfield. The odd town and attraction pop up, such as the much-written about Dixie Trucker's Stop in McLean. It was under renovation, but we caught a look at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. Snapped shots in other towns, but didn't take a lengthy stop until we hit Springfield.

Springfield, IL is full of sites devoted to its most famous son, Abraham Lincoln. The only one we visited was his tomb, which dominated an attractive cemetery. All of the trappings made it difficult to suppress wisecracks, mostly stemming from the horror his party has evolved into (there was a time where "Republican" wasn't a word to be instantly mocked on the left side of the slant). Might have been all the signs requesting total silence while in the tomb room. But hey, it's Lincoln we're talking here. If it had been, say, Millard Fillmore's tomb with the same requests, the story would be different.

We got lost south of Springfield but found the freeway and 66. A brief side trip to a well-marked covered bridge didn't turn out to be much (you couldn't drive across it), other than seeing teenagers petrified by snakes underneath.

Cahokia Mounds

Next stop was Cahokia Mounds, outside St. Louis. The interpretive centre was closed, but we walked around the grounds. I don't think the mounds thrilled Amy, who wasn't going to walk up any of them. After a quick walk down one trail, we hopped back in the car and drove across the Mississippi into St. Louis.

Ted Drewes Custard

All of the books and tourist guides I read urged any travellers to stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a 66 landmark for ages. Their claim to fame is the "concrete", an ancestor of the Dairy Queen Blizzard which is served upside down to prove its thickness. On the way, we passed this building...

Bradburn's Parent Teacher Stores

We turned around and stopped by. It was a branch of a small chain of educational supply stores, like Scholar's Choice. We couldn't stop laughing at the irony (my sister's a teacher, as was my father...I'm the only family member not employed by a school board).

Ted Drewes proved worthy of the hype. Each of our hefty concretes (I had roasted pistachio, she had Heath Bar) vanished quickly.

Outside of St. Louis, the onslaught of billboards for Missouri's tourist traps began in earnest. Ozarkland. Branson. Meramec Caverns. Especially Meramec Caverns , Stanton, MO. In the old days, barns for hundreds of miles either side of it were painted with signs for this cold, natural but highly commercialized wonder. Today, it's billboards like this one...

Meramec Caverns (1)

We couldn't resist driving by. We might have gone in if i hadn't been for a hefty admission fee. Still, on trips like these you have to see what all the hubub is about.

If Missouri billboards aren't out to capture your wallet, they're on a quest for your soul. Have never seen so many biblical signs. Believers in other faiths need not apply around there. The funniest were the inevitable ones beside adult video stores, battling for onlookers eyes with the pleasures of the flesh.

Once beyond the reach of Meramec, the signs were mostly for walnut bowls. See if you can figure out why these need so much hype (at least 100 miles either side of Lebanon).

We alternated between 66 and I-44, with the old road in patchy shape most of the way. While I had been a speed demon through Illinois, I wasn't straying far from the limit here, lest we miss another cheesy sign or trap. We had just passed through the unremarkable town of Bourbon when I saw lights flashing in the rearview.

I switched into panic/heart attack mode as Amy tried to calm me down. The officer pulled up and gave me a short history of 66 through the area, then noted this was a stretch notorious for fatalities where the speed limit had recently been dropped from 50 MPH to 40. He kept apologizing for having to write me a ticket, but he was instructed to target everyone by his superiors. Took my license, then walked back to his car for an eternity.

I didn't remember seeing any reduced speed signs, or anything marking a speed change as new. It also seemed strange that he didn't take my insurance number down. There were all of the apologies. I was feeling like no matter what I'd done, I would have been trapped one way or another.

He came back to the car and handed me a summons for a court date in late August. However, I could mail in the fine, which left me $83 US poorer. More apologies, then I was allowed to go. Still couldn't shake the feeling this was more a donation than violation.

Our opinion of the state didn't improve in Rolla. We tried looking for someplace to have dinner, but everything was closed. Power outage. Not that there was much to choose from even if the juice was flowing - looked like a depressing place. Instead, we wound up at a small BBQ pit in St. Robert, the Sweetwater. Now this was the type of dining experience we were looking for. A small place whose cooking area was larger than the seating area. Could have eaten outside by the smoker, but rain threatened. We loaded up on the standards - Amy had big meaty ribs, while I had a combo of pulled pork, brisket and smoked turkey. All delicious...

Drove a bit further, past more signs for walnut bowls. We drove by the place, but it was closed for the day. We carried on until we reached Springfield...

Wrong one again. We passed a strip of seedy-looking hotels that had been advertised for miles on the freeway, before settling on a Clarion at the south end of town. All we knew was the sooner we were out of Missouri, the happier we'd be.

Monday, August 18, 2003

what we did on our holidays 1: headin' to the mother road

After years of daydreaming and months of obsession, the long-pondered roadtrip across the continent became reality Aug 3, 2003. The plan: in two weeks, drive down old Route 66 as far as Las Vegas (Los Angeles was too far), head north along US 93 into Canada, turn east at Banff, then take the Trans-Canada Highway back to Toronto. With my sister along for the ride, here is the story of that adventure...

DAY 1
Detroit/Ann Arbor/Irish Hills/Coldwater/Indiana/South Chicagoland/Joliet/Bloomington-Normal

The trip began with a gargantuan breakfast at Louie's, a sandwich nook on the east side of Detroit. I hadn't been there for a few years, since my father passed away. We went there for excellent bean soup and ham sandwiches. One thing that had changed was the decor - there were now booths. Our booth was barely large enough to hold the food we ordered. I ordered pastrami and eggs - the pastrami was piled high on a separate plate.

From there, we stopped in another of our usual hangouts, Ann Arbor. Arrived just as stores were starting to open. Dropped a pile of money at Encore Recordings, where compact discs go to die (their inventory is ridiculous - the front counter is buried in discs waiting to be processed, but at least they let people look through them). Went on a soul tear, picking up the likes of the Isley Brothers and Joe Simon, along with an album of ba-ad celebrity recordings (Hollywood Hi-Fi, featuring the immortal warblings of folks like Jayne Mansfield and Dennis Weaver). Also picked up several cookbooks at Borders, which required numerous reshufflings around the trunk over the trip.

From A2, we headed down US 12, through Michigan's tourist trap heaven, the Irish Hills. If mysterious hills or prehistoric forests are to your liking, this is your kind of place. Home to folks like these...

Sand Lake Volunteer Fire Department

None of the traps made us want to stop, so we carried on through Coldwater, then down to Indiana. Hopped on the Indiana Toll Road, passing the names of the places my mom goes to with her cousins every year (giant flea markets and craft shops). We flew along until we reached suburban Chicago, where every road we tried to go down was clogged—partly heavy traffic, partly local flooding. US 30 looked like a good alternate, but we ended up in one jam after another, passing dead shopping malls. Maybe we would have been better off to go into the Windy City (though we did pass through one sweet little town, Frankfort, on a stretch of the old Lincoln Highway).

Lincoln Highway Marker

By the time we hit Joliet, our stomachs growled. Hit a local eatery (something that began with a B...help Amy!), where we snarfed down decent broiled fish dinners. Hopped onto I-55 (the modern day replacement for Route 66 in Illinois) and drove to Bloomington-Normal to find a hotel. We flipped through one of the handy hotel coupons books you can find along any major US highway. Settled on a Signature Inn, which was a nice place for $49 (fridge and microwave in the room), but proved to be the only place we stayed the entire trip that didn't have a pool!