Sunday, July 20, 2003

For me, Route 66 conjures up images of ‘57 Chevys, full service gas stations, and soda fountains. All things I have no experience with. Our Route 66 trip, however, was very familiar, because it reminded me of all the family vacations I went on to and through Missouri. At the same time, it was very different — it was me & Angela, travelling with every piece of technology we could fit in our SUV. The gadgets were nice, but it was sharing it with my wife that made all the difference.

Here, finally, are a few highlights from our trip, in no particular order…

We set out Thursday night with two laptops (one with MapSend software), a GPS receiver, an iPod, and only a vague notion of what we wanted to see and do on our trip. I had studied the maps at, and had them open on my laptop for most of the trip. That gave us a good idea of what roads we needed to follow to stay on the original 66. It still wasn’t easy, though. Thank goodness for all the “Historic Route 66” signs along the way. In St. James, MO, we bought a Route 66 map at a travel information center. The gentleman running the place thought it was overpriced at $5.00, but by that point, we thought it was a bargain.

When one learns the Port of Catoosa blue whale was built as an anniversary present, it conjures up two thoughts. The first thought is that the wife must have been pretty surprised. The second is that she probably wasn’t all that surprised, because, how do you hide something like that? I hope she at least pretended to be suprised. Regardless, that’s a lot of wrapping paper, that’s for sure.

Also just outside of Tulsa is the world’s largest totem pole. The Native Americans don’t make ‘em like that anymore…

Route 66 took us briefly through Kansas. Not much to write home about, but it was the source of one vivid memory: parked on the side of the road, taking pictures in front of the “Welcome to Kansas” sign, while a van with canoes tied to the top honked at us as it passed.

It was probably the most relaxing long drive I’ve ever taken. There were moments of confusion as we tried to stay on Route 66, but for the most part it was a leisurely drive through lots of interesting small towns. No traffic, no tolls, and no rush.

Driving through on Friday, we expected to see lots of small town Independence Day celebrations, but I suppose most of them didn’t start until later in the day.

In Springfield, MO, we finally came across a Fourth of July party/church revival. This thing was huge — entertainment stage, games, food booths, and more. Hats off to the parking lot attendant who happily kept waving people into parking “spaces,” blindly blocking almost every avenue of exit. Seemed like a nice gathering, but the sun was hot, and we had road to cover, so we kept going.

Hats off also to the good people of the Springfield Police Department. Watchful yet merciful, they make the streets of Springfield a safe place for out-of-towners to drive with their husbands.

Somewhere in the middle of Missouri, about the time the awards banquet at the Mensa Annual Gathering was supposed to be over, I decided to see if maybe, just maybe, they had already posted the winners, and if maybe, just maybe, I could access it from my phone’s web browser. I connected to the Internet without any problem, and I used Google‘s search to find Mensa‘s site. The great thing about using Google from your cell phone is they have a WAP gateway that allows you to view just about any site that comes back as a search result. Sure enough, the results had been posted, and our group won four awards!

We stopped in Rolla for supper and decided to stay for the fireworks show and the night. The show was really good — a private picnic table with a perfect view of the fireworks was better than we could have imagined. The pre-show was pretty good too, with the bar across from where we parked shooting fireworks over the top of our car. Scary, but nice.

The next day we continued on to St. Louis. Good grief. Their downtown is a nightmare. Probably why they did poorly on the “Drivable Cities” survey. Of course, it doesn’t help anything when they close down the major highway ramps because of their Fourth of July celebration. Angela was navigating with the Mapsend program, but it was still tricky because of all the one-way roads. We first worked our way down to the riverside, and parked near the President Casino. We decided to go in, validate our parking, and get something to eat. Their buffet wasn’t anything special — a nice “build your own pasta dish” bar, but everything else was just ok. We did have a nice view of the air show, though. I had never seen a Harrier jet in real life. It was amazing to watch it hover over the Mississippi River.

We decided to head over to Illinois to find a place to spend the night. It took driving several miles in the opposite direction to find an on-ramp to the highway that would take us across the river. We followed the billboards to the nearest group of hotels. Rooms were scarce, so we ended up paying more than we hoped. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, and one of the first things they did was ask us to fill out a survey. They are considering offering high speed Internet access, and want to know how people would like to access it. Well, WiFi, of course. When we got to the room, Angela headed for the jacuzzi, and I opened up my laptop and, just out of curiosity, I opened Net Stumbler. Poof! My wish had been granted. The signal was weak, but it was there. WEP was disabled, so I was able to log on with no problems. I almost put on their survey, “The way you have it now is fine.”

We went back to St. Louis just long enough to have some frozen custard, drive in circles, gamble a little, and drive in circles some more.

The next day, we headed home. We took the Interstate for the way back. Just outside of St. Louis, we decided to stop at Purina Farms. We wanted to go because their brochure claimed we could, “…cuddle a couple of cats…,” which, when sung to the tune of, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, cats were restrained behind a cargo net and, by all appearances, sedated, so there was no chance of cuddling. It was a nice enough place to look at dogs and cats, but there was very little petting or cuddling that could be done. Also, the Purina people are missing a bet — I looked around their gift shop, and saw a couple of things I would have bought, if I knew that some portion of my purchase went to support animal charities. I’m betting that small gesture would greatly increase their sales.

We continued on home. Somewhere outside Joplin, traffic on the Interstate came to a full stop. It was at this point that I realized just how much I had enjoyed our drive on Route 66. Seeing no end in sight, we got off at the next exit, turned on the GPS and the laptop, and plotted an alternate course. When we met back up with the Interstate, traffic was clear, and we continued on.

Just so you know: Steak ‘n Shake is not a fast-food place. In fact, they are the exact opposite: an excruciatingly-slow-food place. And the food is not worth the wait.

We made it home. We were tired, but it was a good tired: We had made another fun and exciting journey together. One day, we’re going to cover the rest of Route 66 — whether we’re carrying 12 gadgets or none won’t matter. What matters is that we always find our way, together.