the long vacation, part 1
Ana and I set out on the 12th for the Golden West to go visit friends in Wyoming. We loaded up clothes, foodstuffs and dietary supplements, a really useful road atlas and lots of other goodies into the Prius.
Of course I took a bike. I found a way to fit Belle in behind the front seats with her wheels and pedals removed and the drivetrain covered in plastic to spare the upholstery. The floor pump got stashed in the truck along with my cycling duffle bag stuffed with jerseys, shorts, helmet and shoes.
We got off to a later start than we planned, but made up time as we went along. First we drove towards Augusta to find I-20. We had lunch at a California Dreaming, which was the high point of our chain restaurant dining experiences. From there we headed for Birmingham, where we had much better success with the local Irondale Cafe. Don't know the name? They used it as the setting of the film Fried Green Tomatoes. The meal was excellent, too.
Driving across Alabama, I kept thinking that the place names lent themselves to being used as names for fictional characters. "Eastaboga Ranborn" has a certain ring to it, and "Leeds Moody" sounded to me like something from Dickens. We laughed about it and headed on to Tupelo, birthplace o' Elvis, where the first of a series of hotel rooms awaited us.
The next day was the Hell day. Between trying to find accomodations and working out the schedule, we found ourselves confronted with many long hours on the road. We crossed over into Missouri, where basically we drove the length of the state from south to north to St. Louis.
We were about halfway up when hunger knocked. The luckiest moment of the day was when we missed the Ruby Tuesday in Sikeston and saw Lambert's
. I'd seen the billboards advertising it as the "Home of the Throwed Roll," but hadn't though much about it. Ana decided that the presence of many motorcycles suggested the food might be pretty good, so we stopped.
This is the place Cracker Barrel wishes it was. In business since 1942, written up in assorted magazines, Lambert's is all you can eat Southern goodness. We ordered the smoked pork chops - which convinced us that I need to buy a smoker in the very near future. The wait staff would periodically emerge with trays of hot-from-the-oven yeast rolls and call out, "hot rolls!" Patrons would raise their hands and catch them as they were tossed the length of the dining room. Somet
imes a patron wouldn't realize one was en route - when a guy in the next booth looked the wrong way, Ana got hit by one. Periodically other servers would come by offering black-eyed peas cooked with onions, skillet-fried potatoes and our favorite - fried okra.
On to St. Louis, where we encountered bad traffic and much construction. To cap it off, a squall line descended upon us, dumping heavy rain and hail. By this point, we had negotiated the St. Louis area and had turned west to drive to the other end of the state near Kansas City, before turning north towards Iowa. I never thought we'd be cheering to reach Iowa, but we did, and loudly.
Lincoln Nebraska is a surprisingly pretty place, even at 2:00 in the morning. We drove through much of the town, somehow managing to pick our way through the various detours, until we reached our hotel.
Friday came and we were off, rolling down two-laned Nebraska Highway 2 until we picked up I-80. We'd gotten an email from our host warning us of the dangers of altitude sickness and urging us to hydrate heavily, so we did. As a result, we stopped at every rest stop the state had to offer.
For the first half of the state, I felt like an exercise in geometry. I could look dead ahead or back in the rear view mirror and regard the vanishing points of the highway on the horizon. My stagecraft professor might have dug it, but I wasn't so sure. After a while, the cornfields were gone and the prairie grass took over. We climbed steadily through the afternoon into ever more barren surroundings.
Lunch was in Paxton at Ole's Big Game Lounge and Steakhouse
, where decades worth of big game trophy heads oversaw our meal. What can you say about a place where you're greeted by an enormous stuffed polar bear and every table is watched over by a moose or elk or elephant head? PETA types wouldn't dig it, but if you could get past the taxidermists gone wild ambience, they had an amazing buffalo burger that made the drive worthwhile. Good thing, too - there was nothing else out there.
We took a couple of pictures of downtown Paxton - a post office, a garage, a tiny library, and three or four bars - and decided it was fun to visit but surely hell to live there in the winter. Back out to I-80 we went, into terrain straight out of "About Schmidt."
On again, out into the serene wasteland that is western Nebraska, climbing still and headed for Cheyenne, Wyoming. A few hours later, we arrived at Dameione and Troy's, dropped our luggage and stashed Belle in the garage and immediately were whisked away to a party.