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
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 Janes 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 vans
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 doesnt 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.
||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 didnt 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 didnt 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.
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.
|David: "It doesn't matter what you call them, it all means
the same thing."
|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 wouldnt
have to laugh at Dave to his face, but now we scooted ourselves ahead so we wouldnt
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
Lassies 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.
||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 theaters 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
didnt understand how the other people on the tour didnt 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 didnt have respect for America, or God blessing it. John and I didnt 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.
|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 couldnt 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
"Ritas 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 didnt 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. Peoplell 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
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 Braums 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.