Sunday, June 14, 1992...
So far, so good -- I'm on schedule, and if everything goes according to schedule (ha!) I'll remain so right into Beverly Hills. In fact, this morning I was ahead of schedule -- was on the road so early that the Springfield-area sights I wanted to see weren't open yet.
I began with a visit to the Oak Grove Cemetery, home to both Lincoln's tomb and the Illinois Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. The Memorial's typical of the genre: black marble, modern design, lots of names. The tomb's not so typical...but then again, Lincoln was hardly a typical President. It's a huge mausoleum, topped with an obelisk and ornamented with Civil War soldiers and a ring of states' names (including Alaska and Hawaii). Lincoln, his wife and three of their four children lay inside; Lincoln's buried under 20" of concrete as well as a massive headstone to prevent grave robbery.
Then, en route to rejoining the 66 caravan when they reached Springfield, I visited the area around the old State Capitol. I would have gone in, but saw a sign for the Lincoln-Herndon law offices; I was barely inside the door when an elderly Illinois State Historical Society woman implored me to watch the slide show which was just starting. After the uninspiring slide show, I and the others were ushered upstairs to see the law offices themselves. None of the furniture anywhere in the building is original, but that didn't stop her from talking as though we were viewing Actual Holy Relics. Some of the others asked questions, which she answered in a plodding, overlong manner. I realized I'd never make the 66 gathering if I waited for her to explain the federal courtroom below, so I tried to duck unobtrusively down the stairs. Not only did she ask where I was going, but when I tried to stop on the second floor to take a quick photo, she leaned over to order me to continue straight to the first floor. What the hell did she think I was going to steal -- their replica artifacts?
First 66 stop: the Cozy Drive-In south of Springfield, a landmark since shortly after World War II. A Cozy Dog is a hot dog completely covered in a special batter; as we soon discovered, that batter made very good doughnuts, too. Inside, the Cozy Dog's walls are covered with articles about Route 66. Rob Waldmire, the hippie who created all the wonderful Route 66 maps and postcards, is the son of the owner; he came by his love of the road honestly. We continued past Our Lady of the Highways, a Virgin Mary statue and Hail Mary erected Burma-Shave style, at which one of the other participants told me he wanted to drive the Lincoln Highway! (Someone else's car also had a Lincoln Highway sticker in the window.)
Then we assembled at the drive-in just north of Litchfield; it bills itself as the last operating drive-in on Route 66, but another one's operating in Crestwood, IL, not even a hundred miles south. While our parades through small towns might be fun to watch, they are a royal pain in the ass for participants. We sat around in 90-degree heat for half an hour, then alternated between sitting motionless in the road for no apparent reason and creeping along at 3 MPH. This one ended in downtown Litchfield, where a local car show and picnic awaited.
After wandering around for a while, I decided to check out the Chain of Rocks Bridge for myself instead of taking the bus -- found the area with little trouble, thanks to the numerous maps and directions I was carrying, but was stymied in my attempt to walk on the bridge. The road's blocked about a quarter-mile away. It's easy enough to climb the barrier to approach the bridge, but there's also a chain-link fence in the way. I could have climbed over with no trouble, but thought there might be a reason for the fencing...
Reached Granite City, last stop on the tour, by 3:30, half an hour before the tour group was scheduled to arrive. After 15 minutes of reading in the car, I decided to continue into Missouri; I'd heard the speeches yesterday and doubted this one would be more interesting or less time-consuming. With the Chain of Rocks Bridge out, the best alternative routing of 66 passes over the McKinley Bridge, connecting a grotesque area of southwestern Illinois to an unrenovated, ugly area of the St. Louis waterfront. Maps and directions in hand, I turned southwest.
I passed the Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand without eating; I might have felt guilty, except that at least thirty people were already ensuring Mr. Drewes' continued success. The neighboring Baskin-Robbins looked deserted... The Coral Court motel in Marlborough is everything the books had promised, too -- a huge, sprawling complex of units with private garage. Once clear of greater St. Louis, the old road's mostly swallowed by I-44, but by jumping from one side to the other I could find the remnants of many former roadside businesses. Missouri's done a good job of marking 66's path with Historic Route signs, though I understand many of them are being stolen. I reached my motel in St. Clair around 7:00. Tomorrow morning it's on to Meramec Caverns!
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