On Wednesday morning we bade farewell to St Louis and drove to Chicago.
It’s not the first time Hoff and I have hit the two-lane blacktop in the States. In 2011 we spent about three weeks driving from Dallas to Los Angeles via Amarillo, Albuquerque, Monument Valley and Arizona. It gave us a taste for seeing the US by road and now we love it.
This country was made for driving. Wide roads, lots of lanes and in our experience, no slowing for road works every 20km (I’m looking at you, Queensland). Plus the billboards alone are enough to amuse you for the vast majority of the trip.
It was amazing how quickly we fell back into our old driving routine of 7 years ago. We have a very clear division of responsibilities.
My responsibilities are:
- Plotting the route
- Finding cool/interesting/wacky/weird stuff to see along the way
- Taking photos of said cool/interesting/wacky/weird stuff seen along the way
- Administering drinks and snacks
- Music selection and volume control
- Climate control
- Manager, coach and captain of Team Hoff for the License Plate Game
As driver, Hoff’s responsibilities include:
- Staying on the right side of the road and trying not to endanger our lives.
So the License Plate Game. This started back in 2011 and on that trip we managed to see license plates from 44 states, including Hawaii and Alaska, and we are determined to go one better this time. I don’t remember how it started that trip but I do know that for a while I thought I invented the game. I’ve since learned that I didn’t, and in fact, I probably heard about it at some point in my childhood when I read Babysitters Club Books exclusively to the exclusion of any other written material. I’m quite sure some of those girls’ shenanigans have fused with my childhood memories in more ways than one.
Hoff gets quite into it and at more than one point I’ve been concerned that his competitive nature in license plate spotting is encroaching on his ability to do his one job: get us where we’re going safely and in one piece.
Our first stop for the day was the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and vantage point for the St Louis Arch down the Mississippi, which turned out not to be a stop at all because we missed a turn. Not to worry though, we drove parallel with the bridge for a good few hundred metres, which was the next best thing.
Our disappointment at missing the bridge was somewhat assuaged, however, by our next stop: the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois. I love giant roadside architecture (their words, not mine). This particular piece was saved from demolition by a preservation group back in 1995 and subsequently restored to its former glory and I just love the idea of a group of people getting behind something simply because they know it’ll make people smile.
Next stop was Springfield Illinois and the Cozy Dog Drive In, apparently the home of the hotdog on a stick and definitely an enduring landmark of the Old Route 66. We stopped here for some soup and not surprisingly, a hot dog and then headed over to Abraham Lincoln’s home and neighbourhood. The whole town really hangs their hat on being Abraham Lincoln’s home, which is not surprising really because it seems to me like there are about 45,000 towns called Springfield across the US (plus one notable fictional one), so the place needs to distinguish itself from the crowd somehow.
Post-Springfield we hit a bit of a quiet patch so we amused ourselves by marveling at the flatness of the terrain, commenting on how eerily the distant weather patterns looked a lot like those in Twister, trying not to become too concerned that said weather patterns did look a lot like Twister and spotting each town’s water tower marker.
Eventually, we pulled off the highway at Gardner, Illinois next to see a preserved two-cell jail, which is another classic Route 66 pit stop. Apparently it was more often used for drifters, to give them a roof over their heads, not hardened criminals, but Hoff and I just used it to get some super-cool photos.
Finally, we stopped in Wilmington at the Gemini Giant, which is essentially a giant robot statue outside a diner that may or may not be open anymore. I’ve actually walked past the place and it’s still not clear. But it’s a giant Gemini statue, so, you know.
And it was after this stop that Hoff said to me for possibly the fifth time that day, “so, what is this, again?”
It’s a giant robot, Hoff. It’s a tiny two-cell jail. It’s a 170-foot catsup bottle. It’s the home of the hot dog on the stick. Each and every thing in and of itself is a little nutty and certainly not a reason to re-route your entire trip, for example. But on the whole, it’s a pretty fun day. It’s the sum of its parts. It’s weird, kitchy and iconic. You’re welcome.
So next, on to Chicago. Can’t wait to toddle around there.