A ride through the rain, a beer at The Night Owl, & a start…

Through the dark and the rain, we started our trip north at the intersection of I-70 and US Highway 51. Again, I’d never had any occasion to have ever been on any portion of this road, so I had no concept of its significance at that time. Suffice it to say, it’s another long and historic route between Louisiana and the far reaches of Ironwood, Michigan. It basically cuts right up through the middle of Illinois, with several well-known—and many not-so-well-known—towns along the way: Carbondale, Centralia, Patoka, Vandalia, Ramsey, Oconee, Pana, Macon, Decatur, Bloomington-Normal…OK, you get the idea.

But as we traveled through the rainstorm, over unfamiliar highway, Dad and I had some pretty good conversation. All these years later, I can’t really remember much of what we said, but I have very good feelings of that trip that was just Dad and me! I may have forgotten a lot of what we talked about as we worked our way northward on US-51 through the stormy night, but I haven’t forgotten Dad saying that it was time for a beer and a burger when we approached the Night Owl Tavern on the outskirts of Macon an hour or so into our trip.

The warm and welcoming roadhouse had stood there on the bend on US-51 for many, many years, and this would be my first of many stops whenever I would travel home from southern Illinois. That first time, however, was just Dad and me. It was so good to relax and savor the greasy burger and fries and the icy long neck beer—I think it was a Schlitz—and begin to believe that everything would work out for my fledgling career. With so many miles yet to travel, regrettably, we couldn’t stay there too long, and we paid our bill and got back on the highway for home. Regardless of the quick stop at the Night Owl in Macon, Illinois, it will forever be a reminder of a special time shared between my dad and me—no one else!

The remainder of our drive took us on up to Bloomington-Normal, where we joined up with Route 66 on which we’d travel for many miles, paralleling the under-construction Interstate 55. I honestly don’t remember much of any of this portion of the return trip home as I’d finally given into the world of sleep. After all, it had been a long day, and even more than the physical state of tiredness, I was mentally drained.

When Dad gently shook me awake in our driveway at some ungodly hour, I woke up and thanked him for driving all that way and getting us home through the dark and stormy night. I will always hold his love and special care in my heart for that exceedingly long day traveling with me. Plus, he had to go to work at the usual early hour in just a short time. My love for my dad will never be diminished, and that event in my life was a prime reason.

As things in life tend to occur, this day turned out to be well worth all of the hours and miles that my dad and I spent driving to “get me that first teaching job.” A few days after arriving back home, and caught up with my sleep, I received a call from the Mulberry Grove principal who said that the Board of Education and Superintendent had been impressed with me and what I would bring to their school and offered me a job. At that very moment, I knew that everything was good and that I couldn’t wait to share the exciting news with my dad when he got home from his job. 

There was so much ahead of me now, but I’d at least gotten my foot in the door. My teaching career had some direction toward the starting line now, having travelled those famous highways.

Discovering a highway & unexpected career direction. . .

I don’t really recall where I first became intrigued with all things “Route 66,” but I’m thinking that it probably came about during the many times I actually drove lots of miles on a great portion of the Illinois segment beginning back in the 70s. Of course, at the time I really didn’t realize the significance of the highway’s history between Chicago and St. Louis.

Upon graduating from Kent State in the summer of 1973, I was ready to head home to the suburbs of Chicago and while away the days until I heard from the superintendent of schools in an Indiana town in which I was certain I’d be teaching in one of the middle schools.

After all, I’d met with him a couple of times, and there had seemed to be a mutually good feeling between the two of us, and, more importantly, that he seemed eager to offer me the position—sooner than later—as soon as I had all of my requirements and a degree all secured. Now, everything had finally come together. It would only be a short time before I received the call with all of the details, the contract would be in the mail for my formal signature, etc., etc. 

I’m still waiting!

The famous line, “The best laid plans of mice and men, oft’ go astray,” was about to be perfectly illustrated as the summer wore on. I didn’t worry too much through the rest of June, but when the 4th of July came and went, I began to have that queasy feeling that things weren’t quite right. What was going on?

Realizing that teaching positions were probably being filled  pretty quickly in preparation for the new school year, I had to step up and find out exactly what was going on. I placed the long distance call from my parents’ home in Illinois to the superintendent back in Indiana.

When I reached him, I didn’t want to sound overly concerned—although I was all of that—so I simply told him that since I hadn’t heard anything pertaining to the teaching position we’d discussed earlier, that I was calling to find out where I stood in being offered the job.

The silence on the other end seemed to extend for a long, long time. In reality, it was only a few seconds before the superintendent replied that the position was being given to another candidate, and I wouldn’t be offered one.

Even though my stomach now had churned itself into a total maelstrom of sickening nausea, I managed to eke out a question as to why I had been passed over, especially since I had been led to believe that I would be getting the job during our previous two, positive meetings.

His answer was something about my student teaching evaluation (another story for another time, by the way!) and that I wasn’t right for the English teacher position after all. He didn’t care to go any further to clarify for me any of this, and when he wished me luck in my future endeavors, I was left confused,  shocked, and worried.

This late in the summer, would I be able to find something, especially since I was pretty much unfamiliar with any of the school systems in the state of Illinois? I only had lived there during summers after we’d moved from out of state after high school graduation. Whatever lay ahead, I knew I best get cracking and begin a search for SOMETHING.

And so that’s kind of where my travels on Illinois’ stretch of Route 66 comes into the picture. I vividly remember that  first time out there, in unfamiliar territory, driving the five-hour trip back from southern Illinois through a steady rain storm with my dad, following a job interview with the principal, superintendent, and the entire Board of Education earlier that evening. 

At the time, I didn’t pay any attention to the road or what it eventually would come to mean to me. I was only focused on landing a job. Would the one I’d interviewed for that night, the one so far from familiar surroundings, be where I’d begin my career?

After what had happened with the Indiana job falling through, I wasn’t willing to speculate one way or another as we clicked off the miles through the rain on Route 66 to get back to Chicagoland.

In the next post, I’ll explain how that distant job interview came about and how things eventually came together and just how The Mother Road would weave itself through it all.

Until next time. . .

The highway calls…

One of the things I’m most counting on to “get back to normal” as soon as possible, is the opportunity to get out on the highway and roll onward—whenever and wherever—I please. At this writing, in early January, surrounded by snow-covered lawns and icy sidewalks, I long for the pleasant days ahead that are just perfect for road tripping! Even though I’m still awaiting “official” word regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, and when I can receive it, I’m mentally making plans for dates and destinations once so many restrictions are lifted.

The Mother Road–Route 66…Somewhere in Arizona…2017

If I listen carefully, I can hear Route 66 calling…shouting… out to me—and so many other travelers—that it’s been way too long away! As old friends, the road and I will eventually enjoy a wonderful and rewarding reunion.

No, I won’t be making the entire trip from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, this time. We did that in September of 2017 and still cherish the many memories of the people, places, and character of The Mother Road. Because of time constraints, there was much we missed on that trip, a prime reason for my intention to make the whole drive again—sometime, just not yet.

Living outside of Chicago, the legendary eastern point of the legendary highway, I’m in a perfect location. First, as soon as I’m able, I will drive the whole of Illinois’s portion of 66, ending at the famous old Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis. Because access to the bridge site was closed during our 2017 trip, we weren’t able to get out to it to walk across it, since it has been closed to car and truck traffic for several years. The thought of being able to get back there, when the days are warm and sunny, helps me put up with this cold and snow and ice.

Besides renewed adventures on Route 66, there are other miles to click off, on other roads and highways, such as US-6, the route I enjoy driving from Illinois, through Indiana, ending at my mother’s in Ohio. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to make that drive, and much has changed for all of us in that time. I know, the Turnpikes and Interstates are quicker, but they’re nothing more than a necessary evil in my way of thinking! Because of my absence from all of these old, familiar roads, I believe I’ll see and experience the “things” along the way in a whole new perspective! I’m eager—even anxious—to do so!

Until next time…
The winter outside…from our toasty sunroom!

The road ahead in 2021…

Greetings!

As usual, I have been absent from posting here since writing about my impending “graduation” from cardiac rehab on December 14. To be sure, that all happened as scheduled, and I was ready to hit the next Phase. I took advantage of the three sessions offered at the hospital’s Health and Wellness Center for no charge, and liked it so much, I took a membership for the new year. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed going there and getting an hour’s worth of cardio workout on various machines as well as strength and balance with weights and bands. As I tell anyone who asks, “It’s all good!” So my recovery is moving along swimmingly.

Like everyone else, I’m glad that 2021 finally arrived. With all of the sad election outcomes and the turmoil in our country over the COVID nonsense, we can only hope that a new year will include new answers to old problems. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll all come out of all of this so that we can get back to some sense of “regular” living. 

I was thinking the other day just how glad I am that one of my true loves is reading, especially since I watch very little of what is on TV. There are certain shows that we both enjoy, but I could certainly live without them, as I have for unusually long time periods because of the delays in production, etc. And what’s truly amazing is just how many books there are, sitting on my shelves that have yet to be read. It’s almost as though when I bought–or was given–a book, and I placed it on a shelf, that I knew I’d eventually get to it. This past, strange year has really offered me many opportunities to finally get into those that were unread. It’s been, as it always has been, my favorite way to pass time. So many people can’t see how I can sit still for such stretches to read as I do. By the same token, I can’t understand how someone could enjoy painting a house, or puttering around under a car. I suppose that’s the spice of life that makes us all unique.

In closing, I am happy to report that just before I sat down to write, the mail truck pulled up, and I quickly scurried out to the box to see what she’d left for us. Besides the standard junk mail and other waste, there was my Winter Edition of The 66 News, the newsletter for members of the Route 66 Association of Illinois. Skimming through it, fired me up to make plans to be able to once again “hit the road,” something that was out of the question this past year. But I am seeing a glimmer of hope for the road ahead—in so many respects—and that can’t be all bad! I hope your new year is off to a good start and stays that way!

Until next time…

Happy birthday to me…

I’ve been away from this blog for far too long, and what better time to jump back into posting some poignant and cogent thoughts than on my birthday? Yep, I’ve reached another milestone in this life, and it’s a terrific day outside to add to the occasion. At this writing, a few minutes past 10:00 A.M. Central Time, it’s sunny, clear, and 73° with a most delightful breeze. To say the least, it was perfect for my early-morning coffee on the deck, one of the few times I’ve been able to do so this “spring” with all of the chilly and rainy weather that’s been the rule rather than the exception here in northern Illinois.

The farmers have been desperate to find a “window” to be able to get their fields prepared and planted in time for a fall harvest. Usually by this time each year, corn and soy beans are sprouting up from the good, rich soil. It is doubtful if the field directly behind us will even be planted this year. It has become pretty much an overgrown wasteland. With the warmer dry weather lately, I look out each day to see if any tractors are getting going to break it up and get it planted. Alas, nothing yet!

Weather issues aside, we have spent several weekends “out and about,” mostly for family events: High school graduations in Omaha and West Lafayette; a three-day visit to see my mother in Ohio. 

In early May, I set out one Saturday and took part in the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Red Carpet Corridor event between Joliet and the central Illinois town of Towanda. The gorgeous day provided a wonderful backdrop for driving from town to town along the famous old Mother Road. The day brought back many memories of 2017 when we drove the whole route—Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California.

And, of course, there have been the grandsons’ baseball games to attend, and the annual NASCAR weekend over in Brooklyn, Michigan. Again, it was a fun time, with the exception of having the big race rained out on Sunday. As always, that’s the chance one takes. Seems as though we’re hitting more rain issues every year. Mother Nature enjoys playing spoiler with us.

With summer about to bloom again, it’s time for me to get a move on and finish my writing projects that have lain dormant for too long. It’s time to continue my water exercise program I began in May at the YMCA three days a week. It’s time to go for walks and find those smiles once again. It’s time to bring this blog back to its original intent when I launched it a few years ago. It’s time to make this birthday one of re-emphasizing that life is good.

Happy birthday to me!

“That guy” who lives in the past…

IMG_4349It’s mid-June already, and life here in northern Illinois keeps rolling right along. It seems as though those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have definitely arrived, and the constant whirring of our air conditioner is the background “music” as we go about our daily living around the old homestead.

 I quietly “celebrated” another birthday a week ago and have been busy attending the grandsons’ baseball games a couple of times each week. As before, I’m doing way more reading than writing, but I keep intending to make amends in that department—soon! 

As these summer days settle in around us, I find myself harking back to last summer and those two magnificent trips we took: Alaska cruise in August; driving Route 66 in September. And although I am trying to avoid being that guy—the one who constantly lives in the past—I do have very fond memories of that Alaska trip.

IMG_5472For sure, I wouldn’t mind being on board that magnificent Holland-America ms Noordam once more, plying the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay. And the long day’s bus ride out of Seward up to Denali National Park on that dreary and rainy day, wouldn’t be so bad right now, either. The splendid views of the magnificence of the entire area rest prominently in my mind’s memory right now.

 I find myself flashing back to our wonderful Route 66 Journey of last September (not many weeks after we returned from the Alaska trip) and wishing we were just preparing to do it all over again. I often lose myself recalling all those twists and turns on the “old” stretches of highway, the weather-worn, rusty neon signs and forgotten roadside businesses we encountered all along the way. 

IMG_6049I have several Facebook friends and Route 66-themed pages I follow every day, and I love seeing many of the same photos of the same places we experienced. Each one, familiar now, evokes so many wonderful memories.

Perhaps another journey along the Mother Road in the not-too-distant future is possible. After all, there are things we missed or didn’t have enough time to enjoy as thoroughly as we would have preferred. I’m afraid, though, that my traveling “partner” is not hot on that idea, as she feels that once was enough for her! We shall see…

I can’t, however, rest solely on last summer’s delightful road adventures. At this writing, I’m only a month away from another adventure, this time with our two grandsons. On Sunday, July 15, as soon as the boys are finished with the baseball tournament they’ll be wrapping up that day, we’re setting off for the territories once more! This time to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day trip in a covered wagon on the old Oregon Trail. 

I suppose that it’s only fitting that we spend some time this summer experiencing another of the famous roads so full of historic importance in the great land of ours. Lots of miles ahead, but I’d not have it any other way.

farm against sky
Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

The Roads We Traveled…

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Sunset at Ft. Myers Beach

It’s a new year.  In the immortal words of the immortal Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

Hard to imagine it being this far along on the old time spectrum, but I guess I should count my many blessings that I’m upright and taking fluids to enjoy it all. And I could be like so many others and lament this past year, but I happen to believe that it wasn’t such a bad one at all—for so many reasons.

Perhaps our year could best be summed up by calling it Going Places. Looking back now, on this very frigid second day of 2018, it’s pleasing to remember those places.

In February we hooked up with a tour group for a week’s trip to New Orleans, another place I’d never been previously. It was the week heading into Mardi Gras, so we avoided all of the craziness we would have relished in our younger and foolisher days!

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Bourbon Street-before the madness!

But by week’s end, we were both ready to move along to Florida to visit friends in the incredible place known as The Villages and then on to Ft. Myers to spend a week with our daughter. As always, we enjoyed the lure of the road as we did our best to avoid interstate highway travel whenever possible.

August rolled around, and with it, our trip to Alaska. Flying to Vancouver, we began our adventure with fifteen other friends. Boarding the ms Noordam two days later, we set out for the Inside Passage with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Glacier Bay was next, followed by our leaving the ship in Seward for a ten-hour bus ride up to Denali National Park, where we had a brief “sample” of the total beauty of the place.

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The good ship ms Noordam

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the train trip to Anchorage on the McKinley Explorer, with the VistaDome cars and outstanding luxurious accommodations. We saw Mount Denali for mile after mile, clear and pristine off in

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Mount Denali

the distance.

A couple of days in Anchorage, and then it was time to get on the plane to return to Chicago, tired and filled with memories made with good friends and new traveling companions to treasure for a lifetime.

Not long afterwards, September was special as well, because we finally made the journey west on Historic Route 66—The Mother Road, a long-held dream of mine.

It was just the two of us as we pulled out of our little northern Illinois town on a foggy and chilly September morning and wound our way through so many small and often-

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Signs of yesteryear

forgotten towns. The old road remnants, the faded signage of roadside motels and eateries that once served travelers of the great road, and the ever-changing landscape were what made our auto trip a three-week adventure never to be forgotten.

December found us once again “on the road” with a bus trip to Branson, Missouri, for a week. It was wonderful to be a passenger and not have to do any driving on this journey, and we shared many laughs and good times with our fellow travelers.

And so the year just past was pretty darned good for us. As we look ahead, our annual drive to Florida is fast approaching the first week of February. Later, in July, we are going to set out on the Oregon Trail for a three-day, wagon trip along the original road. I guess you just can’t keep us from experiencing all the historic American highways!

Here’s to many happy moments—and travels—to all of you in the year ahead, wherever your roads may take you!

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Santa Monica Pier-End of the Line on the Route 66 Journey

 

The frozen, waning days of 2017…

 

When last I posted, I had every intention of continuing on a regular course of discipline to bring my Route 66 adventures to a suitable conclusion. Well, that didn’t happen, and there are but a few remaining days of 2017 in which to do so. For better or worse, here goes!

On September 15, the third day on the road, our plan was to make Oklahoma City to spend a couple of days. Thus, we enjoyed a continuous array of roadside remnants and classic old neon signage from days gone by.

Here is a sampling of the day’s sights:

 

Day 2 on the Mother Road…

IMG_5887Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lunch and gas in Springfield, Missouri. (Not a very pleasant sounding combination, if taken in the wrong context!) Nevertheless, we took care of both “necessaries” and worked our way through the city that held quite a bit of early Route 66 history.

And soon we were once again out on the old highway and traveling through lovely bucolic surroundings.

This delightful stretch of road offered old barns and remnants of various businesses of yesteryear. The “Modern Cabins” neon sign caught our attention at Greystone Heights, where we pulled into the lot and said hello to the nice lady who told us to take as many photos as we’d care to.

A few miles from here, we came upon Gay Parita Sinclair Station at Paris Springs. This stop was another of the many like it where we met the folks in charge and were appreciative of their generosity and overall kindness. Carolyn enjoyed cold watermelon, while I refreshed with cold ice water. The photos here show what a wonderful piece of Route 66 it is. A must visit for travelers!

Our first detour came a little later as a bridge was completely out, routing us several miles south. Nothing to do but follow the orange detour signs and enjoy the ride.

We worked our way back north and rejoined Route 66 just outside of Carthage at a Flying W Store and gas station. We stopped here to snap photos of the unique piece of art on the corner of the lot: the “Crap Duster,” a flying manure spreader! We learned that this unique artwork had been done by artist Lowell Davis, a local guy known for creating wonderful things!

The entire area seemed to be full of terrific Route 66 “stuff.” Old motel signs, remains of motels themselves, gas stations, etc. And we couldn’t wait to see what was ahead in the town of Carthage.

And sure enough, we were soon face to face with a classic Route 66 motel, Boots Court, famous for its neon and architecture. We could see that it was open for business and even gave a thought to get a room there for the night, but we still had plans to make it to Joplin before stopping.

We rolled on, and were in Joplin by the time we’d designated our daily stopping time: 4:30. By this time, we were both a bit road “weary” and ready to stop and unwind and update our writing. Carolyn was sending daily “update” e-mails to a large group of friends from home, and I was scribbling in my little orange notebook. (Which rests beside me as I put these blog posts together.)

After some reconnoitering to get our bearings in another new city, we found a nice place to spend the night. The Econolodge offered just what we needed. Clean room, swimming pool, complimentary breakfast, and good location to where we’d pick up Route 66 in the morning. After a wonderful steak dinner at the nearby Longhorn Steakhouse, we returned to our motel. Carolyn wrote her update; I swam.

Realizing that we were really and finally doing this trip, I felt a sense of adventure as to what lay ahead, while at the same time thinking back to the wonderful places, people, and things we’d come across these first two days. What a wonderful trip it is—and will be!

Gettin’ our kicks westward on ’66…

Continuing west…

Thursday, September 14

Checked out of the delightful Wagon Wheel Motel at 8:30. Another splendid comfortably pleasant sunny morning! We were in for a very wonderful day discovering the roadside treasures along the winding and rolling Missouri route.

Our destination for the day was Joplin, near the western end of the state. We had no lodging reservations, but we trusted that there’d be something once we got there.

IMG_5785After breakfast of our usual egg and muffin and coffee breakfast, we were once more westbound. Soon, we were treated to a giant rocking chair near Fanning. It was way too big to climb up and “sit a spell,” but we did capture some fine pictures of the big creation.

As was the case in Illinois, the interstate super slab was never too far away from old Route 66. Fortunately, there would be very few occasions on this day for us to be on I-44. Instead, most of our miles involved traveling along the “outer” roads, what “frontage” roads are called in Missouri. And so onward we wound.

As the road and landscape around and ahead of us opened up, we came upon more “big stuff.” A giant dripping neon faucet near St. James, and across the way at the Mule Trading Post was the Big Hillbilly.

When we came into Rolla and the Missouri University of Science and Technology, we learned that it is the home of the first nuclear reactor in Missouri. Nearby, we passed a small replica of Stonehenge that had been carved with high-speed water jets. Those techies are quite proficient with their skills!

IMG_5820After a short—but necessary—drive on the interstate, we once again exited and drove through some of my favorite stretch of Route 66 roadway. This 4-lane 66 through Hooker was the very first on Route 66 in Missouri. “Hooker Cut” had been built in 1941-45 for wartime traffic to Ft. Leonard Wood. It was a delight to see and drive this stretch and enjoy the gorgeous hilly landscape.

IMG_5821Before long, we’d come to “Devils Elbow,” named for the bend in the river that caused frequent logjams. Tucked way down below very tall tree-lined bluffs, Devils Elbow featured a neat looking BBQ and Bar, a narrow steel bridge, a small market, and post office. Up the hill lay an old Route 66 pullout where we enjoyed the scenic view to the river valley below before continuing up this original piece of Route 66.

On we traveled, through Buckhorn, where another roadside treasure greeted us: The giant bowling pin, right next to the sign for the ADULT SUPERSTORE! A good morning chuckle for the both of us.IMG_5858

A good portion of the rest of the morning was given over to simply enjoying the countryside and the numerous twist, turns, and hills we came to. On into Lebanon and some wonderful old businesses and signage. The Munger Moss Motel (1946) is an outstanding example of what old Route 66 was—and is—with its wonderful vintage sign and motor court behind. Would love to spend a night here next time through.

And so on we went, passing a couple of old Meramec Caverns Barns and a 1926 railroad overpass, through Phillipsburg, Conway, and Niangua. Soon, we entered Marshfield, home of Dr. Edwin Hubble, Astronomer, and famous for the Hubble Space Telescope.

A quick tour around the town square to see the model replica of the telescope, we decided it was time to find a place for lunch, and Springfield wasn’t that far ahead and would certainly have much to choose from. It would be a good place to stop for a while, have lunch, and fill the tank up once again.

Next: Springfield to Joplin