Friday, March 21, 2008

Day 2 - St. Louis, MO to Joplin, MO


Route 66's fortunes have gone from non-existent to up to down and, recently, back up again with the resurgence of interest in all things classically American.

Tiny towns along the way -- who saw their own fortunes fall when the new interstate highways passed them by and eventually led to Route 66's decommissioning -- are now doing their best to recapture the glory days of old. I like to call the emotion they appeal to as "lostalgia," that wistful feeling for an America that used to be but is almost entirely no more.

Cuba, Missouri is one such town, and deserves credit for appealing to lostalgia in an original way -- with murals. An even dozen of them to date with more on the way. This picture above is one example. From a distance, it almost looks real -- especially with that sharp Dodge Dart parked in front of it.

But look closer and it seems this mural commemorates a time when hollow-eyed zombies roamed the streets.

Now, I mentioned floods yesterday. After leaving St. Louis we soon found out that the news stories were just the beginning. Our much-anticipated visit to Meramec Caverns was cut short when workers from the Missouri Department of Transportation informed us that water as high as the top of our car was covering the road.

Here's an example of what we saw at nearly every bridge we crossed, taken in Devil's Elbow, Missouri. The photo really doesn't do justice to the raging rapids threatening to overtake the pavement. It was like this everywhere.

Missouri is Bible Belt country. We saw evidence of this at almost every turn, where billboards proclaim that Christ is Lord, or quote favorite Bible verses, or, in the case of this one positioned directly across from an adult bookstore, remind us that pornography makes the Baby Jesus cry. And little girls turn into sluts.

The sun didn't come out until we'd had lunch at this place. Inside it was decorated in black and white floor tiles and pictures of classic cars, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. There seems to be a tacit understanding among the natives that these things all go together.

Route 66 is lined with ruins (more on that in the next post). We happened upon the remainders of this structure some time in the afternoon and couldn't resist exploring it. We later found out that it used to be a funeral home and casket factory.

A few more miles down the road and we ran into this charming reproduction gas station, presided over by Gary Turner. Gary and his brother built the station on the same ground once occupied by a similar station called the "Gay Parita."

This is Gary. He spends his days inside the station, dressed in a vintage Sinclair Gas uniform, regaling Route 66 travelers with tales of the old road, hand-signing photos and recommending places to visit along the way. Gary is the one who told us the stone building used to be a funeral home.

Gary gave us directions to a place called Red Oak, a small town purchased in its entirety by a local artist, which was supposed to be filled with found-object art and amazing flying machines and all kinds of wonders and curiosities. We couldn't find it. But we did find this.

Our last stop prior to turning for the evening was the Precious Moments Chapel. We were both saddened and relieved to find that it was closed for the day. I don't know if I could have handled this much earnest cuteness.

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