The Big Drive

Day 7 - Salina to Boonville, Missouri


Salina, Kansas - 12:00 p.m. Leave late, due to late-night chatting and later-night writing. Slept soundly, though, from 3 to 9. In fact, I've been successfully sheep-counting in nearly every city. Guess that's the good thing about travel-- it's dependably tiring. Grab McDonald's for light lunch-- three-quarters of a double burger, plain, and Diet Coke. Spent half-hour, earlier, at a downtown fire station, a fabulously photogenic, almost art deco brick building with all five (apparatus) bay doors open. Every unit-- aerial, pumper, two ambulances, two chief's cars-- is "in the house," looks freshly washed, and is conveniently facing the sun. Mind you, the outside air temperature is, by now, 95 to 100 degrees, so I'm sweating like a pig. Who knew photography was so perspiring? Oink. Best feature of said firehouse? Either the oversized, rounded, "Salina Fire Dept." letters curved across the office roof or the three-story hose (drying) tower with numerous multicolored lengths hanging over a 1999-looking American LaFrance "quint." (An aerial ladder that's also a pumping engine.) Makes me silly. 

Just Can't Wait To Be On The Road Again - Freeway by 12:20 p.m. 166 miles to Kansas City, where I hear ev'ry things up-to-date. My AAA tour book notes a KC toy and miniature museum that's open today (Sunday) from 1 to 4 p.m. Can I cannonball it and get there in time? Sure, let's try. Lots of other attractions in Kansas, too: The Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene (the dog not the bus company); The Eisenhower Presidential Library, also in Abby; Boot Hill in Dodge City (site of famous shoe-throwing episode); ye Old Fort Hays in Hays; Big Well in Greensburg, reportedly the deepest hand-dug well in the world. Well, well; The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center Hutchinson (allow three hours minimum); Rock City in Minneapolis; Big Brutus in West Mineral, once the world's second-largest electric-powered mining shovel (ceased operation in 1974); and all the airplane stuff in Wichita, the "general aviation capital of the world." 

True Story - Yours Younger was once a cadet in the United States Auxiliary Air Force, also known as the Civil Air Patrol. This was back in Minnesota, when I was 12 or 13. We met and drilled at a church in Hopkins. Didn't get to go on any actual search-and-rescue missions-- had moved to NC by then-- but participated in at least one overnight outdoor exercise. 'Twas during the winter and I vividly recall riding in the back of a cramped, canopied Dodge Power Wagon (4x4), flap flapping in the freezing wind. Also recall pitching a tent on an incline that time, causing a certain person's feet to slide out during the night! Mile Marker 273. Russell Stover plant. Ummmmmmmm. Chocolate... 1:05 p.m. Exit for Manhattan. No sign of World Trade Center. Also the exit for Kansas State University. Terrain has become both hillier and more rocky. Way more interesting than west Kansas. Pass Fort Riley. Rows and rows of desert camouflage-painted support vehicles on my left. More work zones, damn them. The state troopers like staking them out, though. Will I make it to Kansas City in time? 

Tuna Out - Have been catching myself "tuning out" when flipping through radio stations. Then, minutes later, realize that I'm listening to rap or some Britney Spears-style pop or, for the umpeenth time, some country artist's cover of the Gatlin (or is it the Statler?) Brothers' "Flowers on the Wall." 1:15 p.m. Long work zone, I discover. Wonder how this'll impact my driving time? Would love to pull over and take a nap, too. Must... keep... moving... forward. Brian Setzer's "Gettin' in the Mood" on the CD player; the Glenn Miller standard ("In the Mood") with Setzer-penned lyrics, a spoken rap in the middle (!), and a rockabilly-ish shuffle-beat. Some of the guitar notes sound like car horns, so the dang thing fools me every time. (Other notable covers on "Vavoom" include another Miller standard "Pennsylvania 6-5000," also with lyrics, Duke Ellington's "Caravan," as an instrumental, and the Bobby Darrin standard-- and personal karaoke favorite-- "Mack the Knife".) 

The Death Of A Child - One of the stories told to me last night is still on my brain. Mom driving down a Kansas road, with one year-old daughter and dog. The animal's loose; the child's fully secured. No seat belt for the parent, however. Down the road is a truck, apparently moving. Dog starts vomiting, both on car and child. Mom looks down. Truck ahead is not moving, but stalled. No flares. No orange triangles. Mom looks up as her vehicle collides. The roofing materials being carried by the truck are not properly secured and fly through the windshield, instantly killing the child. Mom walks away, albeit severely battered and bruised. 'Tis a remarkable chain of events, almost Rube Goldberg-like in the step-by-step causing of an automotive fatality. For want of what nail was this particular kingdom lost? Caring too much about puke? Choosing to transport both daughter and dog, after sending her other child ahead in another car? Mom still thinks about these things, though the accident happened years ago. (She describes her deceased daughter's presence as a "distant numbness.") 

Living In America - For myself, 2300 miles of highway has provided plenty of opportunities to "look down." To grab this or touch that. To catch a falling object or reach for something needed at the next stop. As all drivers have experienced. And, if we "slip up," the typical consequence is rarely more than a slight steering correction. Or a wee bit of breaking. Or maybe an abrupt swerve. (Usually accompanied by rumble of tires upon shoulder.) Makes me wonder about people and cars. We're taught to drive so very, very early; cultured to think driving is the most important milestone of early-adulthood. As invariably reckless youths, we experiment with speeding, swerving, short-stopping, and fast-starting. Same with driving under adverse or "influential" conditions. By our late 20's (or later), we're way less adventurous. But too often, also complacent. "Looking down" becomes habit, be it driving home from work or crossing the country on cruise control. Maybe we all need to think about death more. Pretend that every second is one second before an evasive maneuver; imagine that the next mile is your last mile. Maybe, just maybe, we'd all drive more attentively. (Pour Moi, at home, I have a pair of police radios in my car. Hearing daily reports of accidents with injuries and/or fatalities makes for an excellent realty-check.) 

Toll Booths - 1:54 p.m. Topeka and where the Interstate merges with the pay-to-play Kansas Turnpike. Sing "Kansas City" (couple lines only) to the toll attendant. (You're given a ticket and pay when you exit.) The second half of Kansas has passed faster than the first. More cities; better scenery. Blink and the last toll booth is ahead. $1.25. Sing entire first verse of that other KC song from "Oklahoma" to the now-smiling toll attendant. Blow into Kansas city at 2:50 p.m. 166 miles in two-and-a-half hours. Not bad. Average speed: 66 mph. And that includes a stop at Turnpike service center. 2:40 p.m. Arrive at the toy museum at 3:15 p.m. Leave after thirty minutes. Not enough "boy stuff." Not enough "newer" stuff, either. Most of the trucks and trains and planes are from the '20's and '30's and earlier. Cool Cracker Jack toy exhibit, though. Before hastily leaving, I get a personal tour from a museum volunteer after asking her for directions to "the best place in town to buy die-cast." While walking quickly, I also define "die-cast." (She's a doll collector and doesn't know.) Also plug my Web site.
 
Reminds Me Of Minneapolis - 3:20 p.m. Driving through residential neighborhoods on well-planned cross streets. Short signal lights. Stop signs more frequent than stop lights. I like that. Familiar architectural styles. Familiar everything, in fact. Feels like I'm back in the Twin Cities. Find toy store. Sucks. Get directions to second toy store nearby. Shuffle from West 71st to West 63rd. Find it. Sucks. (Meaning, doesn't sell die-cast fire trucks.)  Chart course final destination-- Country Club Plaza, AKA "The Plaza." And conveniently just up the road. 'Tis an outdoor shopping center that was designed in the '20's, by some Paris-inspired guy. Spreads several blocks. Ornate as all get-out, with curved roofs and raised towers and water fountains everywhere. Mosaic tile. Wrought-iron. Gold leaf. It's all there and more, baby! The shops, however, are utterly unremarkable; the same, upscale national chains that they have in Raleigh. And everywhere else. ('Cept for FAO Schwartz, which isn't quite everywhere, but is overrated anyway.) Unequivocally dull and increasingly unpleasant, on a hot, hundred-degree Sunday day. 5:45 p.m. Bolt.
 

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Shades Of The Devil's Advocate - 6:28 p.m. Kansas City, Kansas City here I go, after driving through the deserted downtown and snapping the requisite skyline/skyscraper/Convention Center photos. (Plus a couple shots of Fire Station #19, happened upon on Broadway. Also happened upon independent record store. Good selection, but high-priced. Messy as Hell, too. Can't these non-chain, college town-style stores afford at least one monthly visit from a maid?)
 
6:33 p.m. Encounter enormous traffic jam on I-70, heading east. Concert? Sports event? Gruesome, multi-vehicle accident? (Prefer the latter.) Look at map. Stadium ahead. Take Emergency Bat Detour north on I-435 to east Highway 78. Enter Harry Truman's hometown, Independence. Stop at Steak 'n' Shake for dinner (chicken fingers, fries, shake, Diet Coke) and to collect thoughts. Also stop at K-Mart to purchase a replacement sheet for covering the front seat. (The original is confiscated by the Kansas City Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team.) Also spot what looks like a Krispy-Kreme restaurant. Never seen that before.

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Show Me - 8:10. Back on the road. Now in Missouri. Crossed between states a couple times while trying to find toy stores. (KC, Kansas and KC "Moe" are separated by a single street: State Line Road.) 8:15. Spot strangest personal plate seen so far, from VA: WROCK ON. Huh? Having decreasing success with cheapo CD player and built-in FM transmitter. Turn to headphones, which work fabulously. Why didn't I think of this before? Terrain in Missouri is hillier than in Kansas. Crappier road surface, too. Speed's the same. 70 mph, too slow. Pass billboards for truck stops, strip joints, bbq, fireworks, adult bookstores, and Alma's Farm Fresh Meats. Beef, pork, and elk. Also pass sign for NASCAR speedway. Well, shoot, I'm gonna miss it. Full moon, too. Can feel ass hairs growing as we speak. 9:11 p.m. First sighting of a Stuckey's sign! And did you know that Missouri highways have letters instead of numbers. Really! 9:35 p.m. Sample a rest stop. See cutting-edge technology in action: combination touch-less sink and hand-dryer. Cool. [ Insert video clip of similar discovery in Beavis And Butt-Head Do America. ] 10-something. Getting tired. Pick a city, any city. Boonville. Days Inn. $45 for a single. Wash, write, sleep. 

Total mileage today: 275 or so 

Total mileage total: 2500 plus 

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros


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