|Sunday, August 4, 2002... Greetings
from El Reno, Oklahoma, half an hour west of Oklahoma City.
Covered a lot of ground today, shooting over 50 photos destined
for the Web site -- but I didn't forget my readers'
concerns. For those of you considering a Branson
vacation, you'd better hurry if you want to catch
"The Promise: The Epic Musical on the Life of Jesus" --
it closes for the season on August 24. While this would seem a
natural for the Easter or Christmas seasons, it plays only May
through August. But don't worry: if you miss Jesus in
Branson, Mike Radford's Remember When Show ("God,
Family, Country - Celebrate All That's Good in
America!") will be back from its summer vacation September
3. At the Welk Champagne Theatre, the Lennon Sisters star in
"A Salute to Burt Bacharach," while Legends in Concert
presents Blues Brothers, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Cher, Marilyn
Monroe, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain impersonators.
Other seasons' "legends" include Charlie Daniels,
Liza Minnelli, Garth Brooks, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Neil
Diamond, Reba McIntyre, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and the
Andrews Sisters. Make your reservations now!
The notion that someone is being paid money to impersonate Charlie Daniels wasn't even the morning's most depressing thought. That came when I learned of the regional breakfast specialty at McDonald's: a sausage biscuit with white cream gravy. Just the thing to lure patrons who otherwise shun McDonald's fare as too healthy...
In central Missouri, 66 crosses the northern fringe of the Ozarks. Huge, billboard-laden gift shops at major Interstate exits offer a wide selection of "hillbilly" items If I had driven instead of flying, I could've completed my Christmas shopping in about half an hour. While the non-Interstate terrain is much prettier than its Illinois counterpart, the hills and curves make it a much trickier drive.
"John's Modern Cabins," the site of one of last spring's featured photos, has been adopted by a 66 devotee who has posted a brief history of the cabins along with some impressive legalese to warn visitors that they explore at their own risk. I risked. In Utah or Nevada, a place like this could survive for decades with no visible decay, but the Missouri moisture is decidedly less hospitable.
Sign in front of a strip club near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri: "Cold Beer, Hot Women Equals Home of the Happy Lap."
Billboard for a Mexican restaurant near Lebanon, Missouri: "Where Everything's Authentic Except the Water." Later on I encountered a chain of Mexican restaurants called Gringo's. The line for clues forms to the left...
From Springfield to the Kansas line, the route reverts to Illinoisesque dullness. 66 runs well north of the Interstate, which killed off every business along a 30-mile stretch except the Mickey Owen Baseball School. Several farmers fill the void with (self-)righteous Scriptural guidance on signs tacked up in their fields. This is Assemblies of God country, the same denomination that produced Attorney General Assho...Ashcroft. I don't think I'd be welcome here...
Kept the radio tuner busy dodging anything that called itself Today's Hot Country. Most overplayed oldie: Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes," encountered on five different stations. Most pleasant surprise: Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road," sandwiched between Hendrix and the Stones on a classic rock station.
66 spends thirteen miles in Kansas, the highlight of which is a vintage-1920s bridge which was recently repainted by the local Route 66 society. The bridge paving used to display the Route 66 logo, but someone with an extra can of white paint had obliterated logos. While stopped to photograph the bridge, I encountered a German couple who had flown to Chicago to drive 66.
Both Missouri and Oklahoma have primaries in the near future. Signs for the various candidates adorn every vacant lot and half the front yards. In Missouri, a candidate for state representatives is named Angst -- I don't think he'll be happy if he wins -- while in northeastern Oklahoma, a Democratic candidate for District Attorney is named Kort BeSore. Think of the bad puns if he wins...
In northeastern Oklahoma, 66 moves from mining into farming country. Like similar communities across the Plains, many of these towns are dying slow deaths, witih half their businesses boarded up. A decade ago, Quapaw, Oklahoma painted murals on a number of its downtown buildings to spruce up the place, but now the peeling paint sends a different message. On the brighter side, several buildings are being restored specifically for Route 66 tourism...while on a really dark note, Luther, OK was hosting a tasting festival for Oklahoma wines. Somehow I doubt that a region which owes most of its wealth to underground mineral and petroleum deposits is prime territory for wine grapes...
This section also includes this original 1922 paving of Route 66 south of Miami, Oklahoma. The highway department didn't have enough money to pave this two-lane stretch as planned -- so instead of paving only part of the distance, it paved a single 8-foot lane in the middle of the road. It worked fine so long as there was no oncoming traffic. If there was, both cars would drive with their left wheels on the pavement, their right wheels in the dirt. 66 soon bypassed this segment, but it remains in use -- a later highway department even built a bridge to carry it over the Interstate.
Poetic Justice Dept.: former Cincinnati Reds owner/national embarrassment Marge Schott, who once said "Everybody knows [Hitler] was good at the beginning, but he just went too far," has been hospitalized...at Jewish Hospital.
Breezed through the downtowns of both Tulsa and Oklahoma City this afternoon, taking full advantage of the weekend emptiness. I won't be as fortunate tomorrow. Experience has taught me that most of Amarillo can be skipped, but Albuquerque's sprawling Central Avenue is a must-drive...and I'm likely to hit it around the afternoon rush hour...
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