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route66Sign.gif (1961 bytes)Route 66 Trip '99        Alex, Baker, John, and Rachel
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   e-mail us on our trip!
Day 1 - Illinois
Day 2 - Missouri
Day 3 - Kansas/ Oklahoma
Day 4 - Oklahoma
Day 5 - Oklahoma/Texas/New Mexico
Day 6 - New Mexico
Day 7 - New Mexico/Arizona
Day 8 - Arizona/California
Day 9 - California
Day 10 - California
Day 11 - California
Day 12 - California
Day 13 - California / Nevada / Utah / Wyoming
Day 14 - Wyoming / Colorado
Day 15 - Colorado / Nebraska / Iowa / Illinois

Day 2 [7/22/99]
From: St. Louis, MO
To: Carthage, MO
Total Miles: 291 
Sites Seen: Meramec Caverns, David, Rita's(Jane's) Cafe in Cuba, Devil's Elbow, Mark Twain Nat'l Forest
Today's Entry By: Alex Franke

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After the difficulty we had staying on the road yesterday we decided to start out on the interstate (passing by some uneventful parts of 66) and get to the Meramec Caverns early. Leaving Jane’s at about 9:00 a.m., we hit the road and reached the caverns by 10:30. Parking the van in a somewhat populated parking lot, we left the comfort of the van’s air conditioning and entered the sweltering Missouri heat. We went inside a smallish building with a sign marked "tours."  Inside we were surprised to find a huge mall and the comforting feel of air conditioning.  The building was built on the opening of the cave and most of this shopping area was actually inside the cave. Walking into the cave towards the ticket purchase counter we noticed that it was getting much colder and that there was, in fact, no air conditioning; instead, the cave was giving off sixty degree air. We passed by dozens of slot machine type, money-losing devices. After losing some money we bought tour tickets for $12 apiece. At such a steep price we hoped it would be worth it. We had no idea what we had coming.

Rachel and I ran out to the car for sweatshirts before the tour started. Upon our return our tour guide, David, took our tickets and guided us through a turnstile. David was certainly no older than we are and probably a few years younger. I would describe David as an intelligent weenie who is bored with his summer job and so doesn’t make a lot of effort to make the tour good. Little did he know that his lack of interest made him all the more amusing to us. He grabbed his flashlight and began the tour.

route66Sign.gif (1961 bytes) The floor was perfectly level and covered with lunchroom tiles, and the cave walls were lined with orange and white lunchroom chairs. Right in front of the turnstile was a small wooden shed with a neon sign above it that said "Jesse James' Hideout." Inside was a dusty replica of a still and an oddly positioned mannequin who was, we gathered, supposed to be Jesse James. The cave itself was relatively dark and the sides were occasionally blasted with multicolored floodlights. Guided by David, we continued across the tile floor into what we were told was a ballroom. We didn’t believe it until we looked up to see a disco ball hanging twenty feet above our heads. Our thought was, "what a great place to have a prom." Next we saw a twelve-tiered lunchroom chair pyramid. At this point it didn’t seem worth questioning why the chairs were there; I just wondered how they got the chairs up twelve levels. David guided the group over to a swinging pendulum and proceeded to deliver a series of poorly scripted "jokes" about the function, or lack thereof, of this pendulum.

"This pendulum was created tobeacompass that would tracktheearthsmovement, and itwasbuilt by highschoolstudents. There are four othersintheworld, but this is the only one thatwasbuiltunderground, and the only one that does not work." David continued to tell us about its faults as the four of us first tried to understand what he was saying and then gave up and started laughing. Now the tour group had thirty people or so but it was very obvious where the laughter was coming from. The more we tried to contain it, the louder it got.

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David: "It doesn't matter what you call them, it all means the same thing."
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The gang enjoys a tasty lunch at Rita's (soon to be Jane's) Cafe on Route 66 in Cuba, MO.
We left the tile floor and the tour proceeded through many cave tunnels with stalactites and stalagmites. At the underground river where Jesse James escaped, there was a statue in the water holding a lantern. David made sure to inform us that that was the last time he would be mentioning Jesse James on the tour. Around a few more bends David stopped us to say, "Now, hereinthisnextroom is supposedly whereLassiefoundTimmywhenhegotlost in a cave. Make sure to keep up because the lightswillturnoutbehindus as we continue through. Ifyougetleftinthedark just squeezeacan." We had been hanging towards the back of the group so we wouldn’t have to laugh at Dave to his face, but now we scooted ourselves ahead so we wouldn’t get left in the dark. Rachel asked where these cans were that we were supposed to squeeze if we got left in the dark. John was the only one to understand that David had actually said "scream as loud as you can," not "squeeze a can."

As we entered Lassie’s cave each of us stopped in our tracks as we saw the cardboard cutout of Lassie that someone had placed in the distance. With a bright floodlight on her, Lassie was protecting the cave, and she reduced us to tears of laughter.

Next we climbed "exercise alley," so called because it was an upward-slanted cave path. At the top were an onyx mountain and a beautiful stalactite/stalagmite room that was ruined by ugly splashes of colored light. Up some more (64) stairs was the "wine room" that had grapelike formations on the walls, and a "wine table."  Look it up.

route66Sign.gif (1961 bytes) At this point it had been about an hour and we were led back down some more (probably 64) stairs into a theater. The walls and ceiling of the theater were cave and there were tiered levels of benches. The reason for the theater was so guests could sit and appreciate the "curtain" that was formed by joined stalactites and stalagmites. Once again colored floodlights covered the walls and ceiling. David got us all to sit down so he could tell us about the curtain. After explaining nothing he said, "and without further ado, the Missouri Waltz." At that point he pressed play on a machine that was embedded in the cave wall and sure enough we were blasted with music. After the waltz David reported that the curtain was used at some point for a concert of sorts, and Kate Smith sang God Bless America from "stage right." "And now without further ado, Kate Smith." David turned out all the lights and pressed play again. On came Kate Smith. She sounded much like Beverly Greenberg might sound recorded on a fifty-year-old record. As Kate sang at us David proceeded to create a light show for us. He did this by franticly flipping on and off about ten light switches which controlled all the theater’s floodlights. The emotion of the cave experience gathered in all of our stomachs and was shot out in the form of laughter so strong that it was silent. The vision of David, which we could only catch in the snatches of light that he was creating, excitedly presenting his show, which you know he had been thinking about all day, was too much for us to take. The real problem was that we didn’t understand how the other people on the tour didn’t find this hilarious. This was the kind of laughter that builds on itself, and we all managed to keep it quite until the moment when the rendition ended and the locals all held a silence filled with patriotism when Rachel emitted one high pitched cackle , that set the rest of us off. The song over and the lights back on, David told us to gather our things and follow him towards the exit. As we waited to file out, he walked by us to lead the group. As he passed he looked right at Rachel and said sarcastically, yet somehow demeaningly, "Thanks a lot for laughing, like it was sooo funny." Unfortunately, this sent us, particularly me, into another laughing fit, and as we filed out we tried to figure out why he was so mad. Rachel was sure that it was her fault, and Baker thought it was because we didn’t have respect for America, or God blessing it. John and I didn’t know what to think but no one wanted to be the first to go through the exit turnstile where David was waiting to say goodbye. As we exited he said, "Thanks again for laughing at me," and smiled in kind of a playful way. We all felt bad that he thought we were making fun of him, even though we were. After spending some time in the gift shop we considered giving him a fruit roll up as an apology gift but decided to drop it. We stripped off our sweatshirts as we reentered the Missouri heat and pulled away, satisfied that we had gotten our twelve dollars' worth.
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The "Ki-boots"
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What exactly is Alex doing?
Leaving La Jolla National Park, we decided to stick with 66 for the rest of the day or at least until we couldn’t stand it any more. We found our way back to the Mother Road without much difficulty. We are always happy to find historic Route 66 markers but lacking those we feel comfort at the sight of train tracks which we know run along the old road and the old telephone lines which are only about twenty feet tall. As we whisked down the road trying to follow the book's directions, making sure to hold our breath as we passed cemeteries, and listening to the styling tunes of Snoop Doggy Dog, we discovered the great state of Missouri. Baker phrased it correctly when he said, "Where does Missouri get off being such a gorgeous state?"

Route 66 took us through Cuba, MO, where we decided to eat lunch. We drove by a small, authentic looking diner with a sign saying EAT. Because that is what we wanted to do we went into "Rita’s Café on Route 66." We each ordered a meal for less than three dollars from Jane, who we found out was the new proprietor of this eatery. Jane was in her mid twenties and very nice in a kooky kind of way. She was rather hyper, which she explained was because she was so tired. She asked for drink orders, got distracted, and had to ask again. She gave us a look like, "What are you gonna do." After clearing up the drink thing she apologized by saying, "Short. Small Brain," describing herself. Before Rachel got too offended that Jane thought short people were dumb I explained to her that I think she meant that she had a short-term memory today so her brain didn’t work. When Baker ordered both fries and onion rings she said that she called people like that porkys. She was obviously very distracted but realized that she was entertaining us with her insanity. John, Rachel, and I left the Café and Baker stayed to go to the bathroom and take care of our $14 bill. When Baker returned we could tell that he had had another experience that he needed to report. He had accidentally gone into the kitchen while looking for the bathroom and had run into Jane. He said, "Oh, I was looking for the bathroom." Jane then retorted, "No use peein’ in the kitchen. People’ll make a fuss."

We continued on our way following old 66 which brought us into Devil's Elbow, which is where we really discovered the beauty of Missouri. Devil's Elbow was a tiny town with no center to speak of, but it did have a nice old bridge crossing a slowly flowing river. We drove over the bridge and saw a gorgeous view. Just past the bridge we decided to stop and walk back. The river was down in a canyon of sorts and the walls of the canyon were draped with luscious green vines, and the antiquity of the bridge made the whole thing beautiful. After a few minutes of gazing, the heat got the better of us and we hopped back in the van.

We spent the rest of the afternoon rolling over the foothills of the Ozarks. The valleys in the road were so pointy that once we reached the bottom of them the up side of the hill looked like a vertical wall. We avoided bottoming out the car, and successfully created many tummy butterflies and giggles.

At the end of the day we rolled into the Boots Motel, labeled in our book and the itinerary as the Booth Motel. It looked a little sketchy from the outside but the rooms were spacious and "squeaky-clean," as a sign outside said. We hopped across the road to the Bam-Boo Garden for dinner (a rather depressingly empty Asian restaurant), and got some Braum’s ice cream for dessert, which we ate in the park. We returned to our rooms, planned for tomorrow, wrote a few postcards and hit the hay.