Night 28: Ruby Slippers

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
1
31
Trip End Jul 18, 2012


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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Night 28: Ruby Slippers

Today we drove a little over 500 miles. The total for the trip was about 7600 miles. Weather today was very hot and humid, topping at 102 in St. Louis. Weather was cloudier as the day went on. 

"There's no place like home! There's no place like home!" Passing all those billboards for Wizard if Oz museums in Kansas yesterday has got Dorothy on the mind. Except, I spent the day getting away from Kansas, not Oz.

Today, like yesterday, was dominated by the urge toward home. We passed very familiar territory most of the day. Days like these I use the GOS for pacing and not for guidance. It would've been pointless anyway. Since they redid I-64 in St. Louis the GPS gets lost there.

We started late, so late I was worried we wouldn't make it to the St. Louis Zoo before it closed. The KC Zoo at Swope Park is nice and one of the only things to do in KC, but the StL Zoo is among the top two in America (with Omaha's Doorley Zoo.) StL Zoo is more than a zoo. It is a garden and a beautiful place to watch time float by. But how much time would there be if I was leaving KC at lunchtime?

We loaded up on local junk food in Kansas Coty. I got a Winstead's double steakburger with a side of 50/50 (half fries, half onion rings.) it was even more satisfying since they were closed last night. Seems KC has a different idea about what "late night" means than we Chicagoans. The burgers were great. They melted in my mouth with flavor. Kansas City knows how to cook meat and meat byproducts. I have memories as a kid of eating what KC people call "burnt ends," that is fatty garbage meat from the end of a brisket. The garbage meat in KC is better than prime meat anywhere else, in my opinion.

Jessica had classic KC BBQ from Oklahoma Joe's, which serves out if a Shamrock gas station and is considered among the top five BBQ places in a city known for BBQ. I knew it would be good when I saw a stream of morbidly obese people filing in and out of the gas station. And it was! The beef brisket was cut super thin and full of smoky, sweet flavor.

We raced along the Missouri River through the productive and beautiful hills of the Katy Trail. I have very fond memories of previous rambling here, but we had no time to stop. Our destination was the zoo 200 miles away. 

We made it to the Dogtown neighborhood of St. Louis in time to enjoy two hours of zoo. I always park across I-64 from the zoo near Turtle Park. The park is full of huge statues of turtles. Kids climb all over them a d I must admit, they are wonderful, happy-inducing pieces of public art. (I heard KC has a similar park called Penguin Park, but we had no time to find out for sure.) we climbed over the turtles and goofed around. I said to Andrew as I leaned against a 50 foot long reproduction of a snapping turtle, "Boy! I sure am glad there's no turtles around here." He pointed sheepishly and laughed, "Dere's one dere, Daddy!"

Soon we crossed Tamm bridge and were in the zoo, passing the new south entrance and the Hermann Fountain, full of sea lion statuary. More fake animals!

We did see real Galapagps tortoises, only slightly smaller than the ones in the park across the interstate. We made a beeline got the brand new pinniped exhibit in the middle of the zoo. They were working on it for over a year and I missed seeing the sea lions at this zoo. They always made lots of noise. Plus, I haven't seen s sea lion in over a week since I was last in California.

The new exhibit us very nice and allows visitors to walk through abtube under the water to see how harbor seals and sea lions swim. They were doing a lot if swimming too since it was about 100 humid degrees. I never saw Andrew sweat so much on this trip. We filled his brain with sugar and ice to keep him going. He asked to see the awesome giraffe exhibit all the way across the zoo, but I steered his interest to closer animals like the prarie dogs (which I saw in the wild yesterday) and the grizzly bear. The visit to the cold penguin and puffin house was a stroke of genius.

The zoo was empty. It was late. It was Tuesday. It was hot, even for St. Louis. We left as the zoo was closing and drove around Forest Park taking in the beautiful Victorian views. Out on the north end of the park we cruised past mansions and then the cathedral and universities. The homeless and ne'er-do-wells filled the streets too. 

We hit Market Street and Union Station just in time for the furious rush hour, when thousands try to cross the bridges into Illinois after work. We sat for an hour waiting for our turn to enter the MLK Bridge. As I passed into Illinois, I noticed the fuel light was on. I could feel the car begin to stall. That meant I had to do the unthinkable and exit in East Saint Louis for gas.

East St. Louis barely exists. There is a casino and nothing else. Most people who could have moved out. Gangs and drug dealers roam the lawless, abandoned, non-paved streets. The authorities don't care. Trees were growing through the walls of buildings on the main drag.  It is second only to Camden, New Jersey, on the list of places I do not want to stop.

I rode around. The GPS directed me to several ghost gas stations. Finally one existed where the GPS said it would be. I put in a few bucks and hurried to sit in traffic again. IDOT, in its infinite wisdom, shut down 2 of the 3 lanes leading to the main route into Illinois.

When I made it through the bottleneck, we stopped for Culver's at our usual post-StL place in Collinsville. Inside a magician was trolling for business by offering kids free balloon animals. He was pretty good. Andrew got a dinosaur and an alien, complete with helmet. We also got free jokes, but the punchlines were a birmobvious. Like: "If you look to your left and right and see two Illinois governors, why should you worry?" 

I trucked it home. The sun went down as we passed the legendary truck stop Mecca of Litchfield. We rode through Springfield and Lincoln and Bloomington and Pontiac. Strangely, we saw the cheapest gas of the entire trip in our own state at Dwight. ($3.19)

Soon the smell and lights of Chicago surrounded us. We were back home paying tolls automatically, displaying our city sticker and hearing the melodious voice of our terrible mayor on the radio. 

We crawled into the house. My how the weeds have grown! My how the drought-striken grass has not grown! We will unpack in due time and clean out the van when we clean out the van. There is a lot of business to catch up on before our next trip to Plum Lake in Vilas Co., Wisconsin. 

But to take off those ruby slippers and not have to pump an air mattress is a relief. Tonight home feels like the vacation.   
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