Visiting with my law school friends left me in a lively state of mind, wondering what the road next had in store. I didn’t intend on writing about Missouri, and frankly, thought my 2 day trip through the state would be mostly forgettable. But really, I smiled through the length of the state and I’m not entirely certain why. I left Chicago on Route 66 and drove through Missouri almost entirely on what John Steinbeck famously nicknamed the “Mother Road.” I live very close to the western finish of Old Route 66, which ends a few blocks north of the Santa Monica Pier. A brass plaque is posted near the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Boulevard and marks the official end of the “Main Street of America.” I know many people obsessed with the history and lore (or is it lure?) of Route 66, many of whom have taken road trips on segments of the old Route. However personally I’ve never really given it much thought. But now, I think I get it. The kitsch and the over-the-top fun signage, hotels and stores along the road just simply….Made. Me. Smile.
One of my favorite Route 66 discoveries involved the Welcome to Missouri Rest Stop. I almost squealed out loud when I spotted the sink and wished there had been someone there with me to share in my excitement. The sink is this space age-like ridiculously cool thing where you hold your hands in one place and first it squirts soap into your hands, then it sprays warm water, and then it blows warm air. It reminded me of a fun LA memory. A few years ago I went to a cocktail party at Kenny G’s house in Malibu with my friend Kim Goldman. At one point Kim came running into the room, grabbed my arm and dragged me into Kenny G’s bathroom to see his $10,000 toilet. The thing had so many bells and whistles (including different rinse cycles, temperatures and drying cycles) that I was afraid to use it. But damn, it was cool.
The first night I stayed in St. Louis. Determined to get some writing done I had planned to hole up in my hotel room all night with my laptop. I walked Yoda along a path surrounding a pond filled with hundreds of geese. I swear the geese were playing with us. A group waddled onto the path in front of us and then squared off their stance and stood staring us in the eye. Yoda was standing behind my right leg as if to say that I needed to protect him, and really, it began to freak me out that these ballsy geese wouldn’t budge. So Yoda and I made a long, wide circle around them in order to get back to the hotel. When we arrived in the lobby, the night clerk, Dean, introduced himself. Dean loves dogs. And Dean loved Yoda. When my fridge didn’t work Dean helped me move to another room one floor down, and then proceeded to lay on my floor and wrestle with Yoda for a good 20 minutes. He asked me to bring a toy to the lobby when I brought Yoda down for his evening walk so that he could play with him some more. I complied, and then was surprised to see that he had gone out on his break and bought Yoda some beef jerky. The good stuff. I know this sounds uneventful, but really, it’s interactions like these that are some of my favorite parts of this road trip.
The next day I began my drive to Branson. Again, Route 66 (which was actually at this point Highway 44) didn’t disappoint. For the most part I didn’t stop, however when I spotted a trio of large teepees just East of Exit 242 I knew I had to explore. I backtracked and made my way to what turned out to be the Indian Harvest Trading Post. It’s a store (in a teepee!) run by a friendly Native American couple that sells merchandise made by 12-20 tribes.
I bought Yoda some buffalo jerky and myself a dream catcher to hang from my rear view mirror. Dream catchers are meant to be hung above a sleeping person, and they catch and hold the bad dreams and let the good dreams or important messages through to the dreamer. Although I don’t intend to fall asleep at the wheel while driving Princess, I figured I certainly could use a boost with all the daydreaming I do during long hours on the road. Now my new dream catcher hangs along with seeded necklaces given to me by women from the Shopibo Indian Tribe when I was in the Peruvian Amazon, and prayer beads blessed by Amma. The left side of my dashboard has a purple dashboard Ganesh brought back to me from India by a very special yoga teacher, and a good luck crystal I bought on a road trip a couple years ago in Ukiah, California. Of course, don’t forget about my most important dashboard adornment of all: my decade-old Post-it note that says “I Welcome Change.” My dashboard is becoming so eclectic that it seems to fit right in with the kitsch of Route 66.
Continuing on to Branson I was struck by the nonstop signage for Branson shows which started a good 2 hours before I arrived in town. I actually tuned in to two different Branson radio stations during my drive. My smile continued because so much was just over the top corny. And yes, the corniness grew when I arrived in Branson. It struck me as a junior Las Vegas for silver-haired folks. I drove the strip and took pictures from my car, not once tempted to get out and walk around. Of course, I did wonder once or twice if I’ll feel different about Branson in 30 years. Perhaps it will be a future road trip destination instead of simply an overnight stop. Maybe I’ll be venturing there in my 70s to see a Lady Gaga or Pearl Jam tribute band.
Missouri taught me my most recent lesson of the road: simple lighthearted fun is everywhere if you just open your eyes and look. Each day can really be an adventure if you let it. I am pretty certain that this same canon will apply when I settle back into everyday life. Just keep your eyes and heart open, be in the moment, and seek out the playfulness that each day has to offer.
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