Sunday, October 27, 2013

US Route66- Day 3, Sept 19, 2013 Thursday. Meramec caverns and Blue whale

I woke up around 7am. I had a good night sleep. I've noticed that my sleep doesn't get bothered by the location or type of bed. I've seen people who do not sleep comfortably when sleeping in their friends place, or motel beds or on the floor. Thankfully, I get a decent continuous 6-8hr sleep no matter where I'm sleeping. The only thing I can think of is the temperature. If its too cold and I'm not properly covered in blankets, I can't sleep. When I stay in hotels, I usually turn up the temperature a bit and keep the room warm and then tuck myself under the blankets. Ah, the peaceful sleep that I get.
Today's first attraction, Meramec caverns, was mere 10miles away from my motel. I left my motel around 9am. The cavern is inside Meramec state park so it was a very pleasant drive when I exited the highway. Flora and fauna on either side of the road and overcast weather. Perfect. The cavern was the hideout of robber Jesse James. I don't know much about him except I saw the movie "The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford" and I liked it. Brad Pitt was amazing in it.
I went in there and got my tour ticket. I still had 10mins before the tour would begin. I saw only old people in there. I thought of taking a picture of mine in the cavern and asked an old lady who was also waiting for the tour to begin. Her body was shaking a bit all the time. I've seen this condition in old people. As soon as I saw it I knew I've done a mistake. But kind as she was, she obliged and took the phone from me, and tried to take a picture of mine. I checked the picture and it was hazy. I thanked her nonetheless. She didn't knew that she had butchered the pic.
In we go with the tour guy. The place was beautiful. Typical cavern with water streams here and there. They had done a good job with the lighting and stuff. It was pretty cold too. They say it remains at 65F round the year.

The cavern was alright. Lighting was good. Good location. Enjoyed my visit. There was a musical light show at the end which was good. 
My days attraction included the cavern and Blue whale and 4hr of driving between them. So I headed off to Catoosa, OK, for a visit to the blue whale.

The whale is a whale made out of tins and wood, in a pond. Its nothing special except that it has been there for a while alongside 66 hence became a famous stop for travellers. Something to cheer their kids while they take few minutes off from driving. The pond was dirty with some fish and few tortoises knocking about. The sign said its a catch and release pond. I don't think I'd like to fish in this dirty water. I don't think I'd like to take to dip in it either even though it had sliding boards into the water. The whale is painted blue which I don't know why. I've not seen a blue whale in real life or in tv and I don't know if they are this stark blue. I just had to swing by this place because it's like the Illinois Giants, something symbolic of 66. 

I then drove to Tulsa, OK. I decided to stay in Trade Winds Central Inn which was a bad idea. The room that I got didn't have a working TV so I switched rooms. The next room had the same problem and so I moved to another one. Thankfully this one had the TV working. TV wasn't a big thing for me. Its just for one night and I can definitely manage but I thought if I'm paying money for it, I should have the option. In case if I get bored, I'd like to turn it on and browse. The money included that. It took me an hour before I finally got to undress, and relax. Took a shower, setup my clothes and laptop, put my phone on charge and turned the tv on. It was already 9pm. I thought I should leave if I intend to have some dinner as most of the places would close in this small town. By the time I was out it was 9:30pm and I was driving around looking for a decent place to eat but everything was closed already. Just then Ritesh called me. He was out in Omaha for work that week and on his way return, his flight got cancelled due to bad weather so he took a rental and decided to drive. That was a bad idea because he had already started to feel sleepy. He called me up to chat a bit and get over his sleep. I kept him engaged for 15-20mins. I pulled over for a 'subway' sandwich and kept talking to him while I put my order. I then wanted to get into some bar and have a beer. Pulled into one nearby. I don't remember the name but it wasn't what I had expected. The place was barren with 3-4 dudes chilling out. Pretty depressing. Since I'm here already, I ordered a Guinness. Finished my drink and left and behold. rain and thunderstorm. Drove to another bar but it was even worse. From the outside, I could see, there was nobody in there except bar tender and a couple. Frustrated, I decided to go to a nearby strip club.
In my time in US, I've been to couple of them. Going alone to such places definitely sucks and gives out a signal that your life really sucks. With friends, its a different deal altogether. Plus, in my opinion, small town strip clubs are different than bigger cities in the sense that they are cheap plus the girls don't show attitude. They seem to be humble and understanding. Cities like in Chicago, the girls are kinda rude. If you don't give out enough money, they won't even bother. Anyways, its a nice experience to see strip clubs across the country, big or small town. This was a small one with $10 entry fee. The girls were okay. Not breathtaking or raunchy type as in Chicago. When I'm in Tulsa, I didn't even expect much so I was quite happy. Had a drink and a lap dance. Not a bad climax to a day of mixed experiences.
Came back to the motel. I had a pair of 25lb and 30lb dumbbells loaded in my car and I thought I'll give a break to my car's suspension for the night. I took them out and kept them in the room as the room was on the ground floor and my car parked right in front of it. My car must definitely be happy. 

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Friday, October 25, 2013

US Route66- Day 2, Sept 18, 2013 Wednesday. Illinois giants and Springfield

This was the most eventful day if I consider the number of attractions I ticked off. I had already beaten the Chicago traffic so I knew I have plenty of time to cover most of the sights. Getting stuck in traffic around major cities in US is in my opinion the worst way to waste your time. Its frustrating. I hate it. I'm moving like a snail, and smoking gas like crazy. A quarter of gas tank burned and I might have only moved 5-7miles. Not to mention the pollution. I cannot roll down my windows so I'm totally on the mercy of my car air conditioner. Did I mention the gas wastage? There have been occasions where I was stuck. After I've bought my car (pre owned '07 corolla) I offered to drive my friends to Chicago auto show and boy will I ever forget the worst traffic I saw that day. It was 2hrs before I picked up speed above 20mph. Horrible.
At the end of my 66 trip I was stuck in LA's traffic, around 5pm. The matter was made even worse by an accident on the highway. Anyways, glad to have beaten Chicago traffic on this day.
With goodbyes to Siddharth, I left Bloomington and the first stop was Atlanta's Bunyon Giant.

Second of the trilogy checked. Nothing special here too. Just the
Bunyon Giant
usual giants one would expect after seeing the first one(Launching pad). This one is Red and Blue though. There was a park near the giant with murals painted on the wall and various signals depicting
aspects of 66.
Atlanta is a small town. I was there early in the morning so did not see much crowd. Took some pictures to remind me I was here and a wee bit stroll.
It was cloudy today. I like a weather like this. I don't like bright and sunny. The sun is always on the eyes. But I find the scene much more beautiful when its cloudy. The darker the clouds the better it is. Its not too hot or cold. Just the optimum. Moments before a thunderstorm is the time I'm talking about. My eyes don't hurt, I don't need shades, neither am I sweating. Perfect day for me. Although the sun did come out after few hours but until then,
I couldn't have asked for a better day for a drive.

I usually prefer to take a long drive in such weather conditions but
unless you are with your girlfriend or wife, this drive is missing
something. May be it brings out the romantic side of you. May be its the rain thats romantic. No wonder that poets usually write about dark clouds, rain and winds when describing love. I don't recall bright hot sunny day being compared to anything romantic.
sweat and heatt is always associated with irritation and frustration in my mind.

Lincoln Tomb, Springfield, IL
Old state capitol, Springfield, IL
Lincoln Home, Springfield, IL

After the Atlanta Giant, I drove to Springfield, capitol of Illinois. I had few attractions lined up to see there. First stop was the Lincoln Tomb. Its a cemetery and of course Lincoln's grave is there too, inside the Tomb. Some sculptures, paintings, a huge US flag and tall Tomb. More than the Tomb, I enjoyed sitting in there and enjoying the weather and calmness. It was peaceful, away from traffic and noise. Cloudy weather was cherry on top. It made it even more enjoyable. Not too cold not too hot. Just perfect. As much as I wanted to stick around for few more minutes, I had to get going. I like to think as if there is some place which can be even better than this so I move on. It is this feeling that drives us all. May be that has led us out from the jungles into the present human civilization and I agree its better. The other day I heard on some podcast about a tribe in Papua New Guiana which has been untouched by modern civilization. They still live in jungles, dressed up in leaves, hunting for food and what not. One may ask why someone from this tribe didn't think that I should seek a better life than this and ventured out to the world. It would have taken one man from the tribe to be adventurous and then the whole group would have followed. I'm not saying to leave jungle and start living in the city right away but a touch of modern world is a good start. Instead of walking, they could use the wheels, a bicycle  may be. Instead of stone, use a sharp metal to hunt etc. They are different than the Amish people though because the Amish live by a choice. They know there exists automobiles, electric bulbs, highways and runways but they choose to live a life like theirs. I'm sure the tribe in Papua isn't the only tribe. There may be thousands more. I think may be its a matter of time. When they encounter food shortage because their hunting methods are no longer effective, may be they'll come up with something which is one step closer to modern world.

Next stop was the Old State Capitol building. It used to be the administrative offices back in late 1800s. It wasn't too exciting. I mean what exciting stuff can one expect here anyways. At my age the bars, pubs, clubs, tennis courts, soccer fields hold the excitement. And I did notice a huge number of oldies visiting places like these. Post retirement folks, yeah this is decent place to hang out and spend the weekend. Plus they relate to old things better than me since they were lived closer to this era. I hurried myself to seeing my next sight, which was Lincoln's home.

I was kind of frustrated at this place. Its free of charge so thats good but they have a strict policy that if you want to see the house, you have to accompany a tour group. One cannot just visit the house of their own. This was ridiculous. The next tour wasn't going to start for another hour or so I didn't know what else I could have done but wait. I thought of having lunch but feared that I might miss the tour and then would have to wait another hour. I just don't have time to waste around. Time is more than money. I like to say that I'd rather spend my time sitting at home watching nonsense over internet than be stuck in traffic jam. That in my opinion is the worst way to waste your time. I hate it even more when I'm in the driving seat.Anyways, so I waited for my time. The tour guide comes along. She is in her late 50s. She opens the lock on the main door and lets us in. We were 8-10 people in the group. I was the only one bringing down the average age of the group. Everybody else were between 55-65 age group. It was awkward to say the least. The next frustrating thing was that you've to stay with the group. What the hell!! This old lady would visit one room and start giving a lengthy history lesson about the room, the drapes, the carpet, the chairs tables and mirrors. How long does one take to assess a room? Hardly 5 minutes? Right, but you cannot move on to the next room because this lady is still flapping her lips and my God, everybody else are deeply listening. I noticed the men in the group becoming restless after 10 minutes of lecture but the women were listening like there is an exam tomorrow. And boy, did they have questions after the lecture. Did the future first lady used this mirror to comb her hair? Are you kidding me! The tour took 1 hour 30 mins. When it would have hardly taken me 20-30 minutes to wrap up, I (wasted) spent and more than hour either side of it.
Had I been the authority here, this is my 2 cents to make a visit worth everybody's time. This is free of charge, so no need to spend government money on tour guides' salary. Secondly, for people who really want to take a proper tour, sure, keep few tour guides handy but there must be option for people to explore the place of their own. We are all adults here and know we are not to touch or spoil the things in there, but to make the point clear some placards, notice or poster doesn't hurt.
After the house tour, I went straight for lunch as I was dying of hunger. Found out a lunch place using google maps. I'm a foodie and like to try new things but I'm not too fussy about it. I don't like to remember a restaurant and menu if I had an excellent lunch or dinner there. Eat and move on.
Next stop was Lauterbach tire Giant. The last of the three. As I mentioned earlier, I had to be here else the first two wouldn't have mattered. This completed my trilogy.

So far so good. Next stop was the Country Classic car museum. There were two dudes working on a car in a garage there. I think they own the place. I asked them where the entrance was and headed in their pointed direction. There were 4-5 huge sheds holding all sorts of car, from Chevy to Ford, from 1920s to 1990s. Almost all of them were for sale. I think the dudes outside repair a car, make it drivable for may be 5000-10000miles at least, and sell them. I liked this place. Not too much crowd and at your own leisure pace, you can see the cars and take pictures.

Some people do get a thrill out of driving these vintage cars. I haven't driven one although I would definitely like to try one day. I am just not enthusiastic enough so haven't really gone out of my way to get me a rental or something. Automobiles have become such an integral part of American life that it is common to see people's interest in Auto shows and museums. It was only appropriate that I stop by one such place and see how the automobile has evolved over the years, in terms of design and performance. In India, a car is a luxury. In US it is a necessity. I think slowly, young crowds are finding the motorcycles to be more convenient and affordable than a car. It has been in India, in fact, even a small nuclear family can do away with a 2-wheeler. I like 2-wheelers more than car personally but because of safety issues I stick with car here. For office commute only I think I'd prefer motorcycle. There is one paragraph in 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' where the author describes how he likes driving a motorcycle compared to car because you are totally connected with the outside world. There is no door or glass window to separate you. This I couldn't have agreed more and the thought has stuck with me ever since.

My quota of today's attraction was done so I found out a place to crash for the night. Super8 in Sullivan, MO seemed alright. I usually check in google maps about motels and their ratings and reviews etc and this one wasn't bad but some reviewers had described some horrible experiences there. Still, I went in there and I must say that this was the best motel experience of my whole trip. The room was big with clean bathroom, TV and other essentials. I threw my stuff in there, took a shower and headed for the nearby sports bar.
The place was called Boomer's Sports bar. Decent place. Not many people were in there partly because it was Wednesday. There was one girl and one middle age dude serving drink. There were couple of folks sitting around a table and sipping beers while 2-3 were sitting in the bar and smoking. Back in Chicago, I had never seen people smoke inside the bar. Usually there was a designated place outside but here they were smoking inside. I guess the place wasn't too sophisticated. I took a seat in the bar but soon I realized my mistake. There were two dude sitting on either side of me and guess what, both were smoking. It was obnoxious. Smoke from both side and I was inhaling it all. I don't like the smell of smoke that much. Its funny because I do smoke but very very rarely. I can practically count on my fingers how many times I've smoked and how many cigs. I take good care of my body and try to stay fit and smoking is definitely something that I avoid. However, when you are in the company of friends and having a good time in a bar/club and if a friend is smoking and asks for company, you can't say no. So my smoking is restricted to social occasions only. I don't smoke when I've no reason to. I don't get cravings for it, which is good and hopefully it should stay like that.

After picking my Guinness, I excused myself to a nearby empty table. Much better. Ordered some fish and chips as I was starving. The girl there was beautiful. And she was the only female there! I wanted to take a picture with her but feared that the other server might be her father and may not see this gesture friendly. Plus everybody else in the bar seemed to know each other and I feared they might gang up on me, beat me up, rob me and what not. Its silly I know but when the mind wanders off, it can think of impossible extremes. I summed up my courage. When she dropped the check, I asked her if I can have a picture with her. She obliged instantly and guess what, the other server came out and ... offered to take the picture. I didn't ask her if he was her father or not. I got the picture that I wanted, paid my money and left. Went back to hotel and crashed. It was a good day. Looking forward to Day-3.

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