Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Route 66 - part six

Through Missouri and into Kansas.

One of Route 66’s, indeed, America’s, most famous attractions is Meramec Caverns, a splendid example of highway hucksterism. 

Signs for the caves were - and still are - on scores of roadside billboards and barn roofs. The caverns also claim to be where the first bumper (fender) signs (tied, not stuck, on bumpers) originated in the Thirties. Until they fell off, the free bumper signs promoted the caverns across the United States and, no doubt, into Canada.

This one - a sticker - is probably from the Sixties or Seventies.

The caverns were Jesse James’ hideout and reasonably impressive. Not easy to take decent pictures with a little point-and-shoot in caves 70 feet (21 metres) high.

There’s a light show while Kate Smith (a recording - she’s dead) sings ‘God Bless America.’ It climaxes with the U.S. flag projected on stalagmites or stalactites, well, rock. Sorry, missed the flag, but, you saw one in the Memorial Day parade. 

By the way, those bumper stickers? I wander around the parking lot looking.

In a bumper sticker loving country (‘I support motherhood/our troops/frozen custard,’ ‘Impeach X, Y or Z’) not one. Turns out you now have to buy them. $1.99, thank you very much and have a nice day. And you can hardly read it.

Quick stop at a traditional diner by the side of I-44. In the Thirties, they were mass-produced and a familiar sight. Even updated, I love ‘em.

On a strict schedule, I must pass on the Route 66 Vacuum Museum in St. James. Having just bought a new vacuum to replace my ancient Hoover, I’m quite interested in vacuums. 

The brochure somewhat defensively states, ‘… as long as there are vacuum cleaners, there will be people who are curious, interested and, yes, even love vacuums.’ The museum houses 588 of them. 

Through the Ozarks and past Joplin, Missouri, where once Koronado Courts, featuring homey cottages with attached garages, welcomed tired motorists.

This is 'tornado alley.' Last week, Joplin marked two years since a tornado killed 161 people. Notice a few piles of downed trees still to be carted away.

Route 66 does a quick, thirteen mile jog through Kansas, bringing me to the little town of Baxter Springs.

Which reminds me that, until now, I never knew the name for Phillips 66 gas came from Route 66. Near today’s service station is a delightful ‘cottage style’ station, now the town visitors’ centre.

I make three Baxter Springs discoveries. 

a) In 1876, Jesse James robbed a town bank. 

b) A teenage Mickey Mantle was on a local baseball team called the ‘Whiz Kids’ in the 1940s. Soon, he was a step or two up with the New York Yankees. 

c) Baxter Springs, with 4,200 residents, has 16 well attended churches. Not only is this ‘tornado alley,’ it’s also the ‘bible belt.’ No Episcopal churches. A wobbly Anglican, I might have difficulties here.