Today, I bid farewell to my long misplaced friend from high school band, the only one, to my knowledge, who actually has made a living playing music.
My plan was to hit Kansas City today. Just as I got out of what I thought was the Greater Saint Louis Area, there was a traffic jam on Interstate 70. According to Google, I could be in Kansas City in about three and a half hours. I asked Google for alternate routes. It had no ideas.
Since I had no real reason to get to Kansas City, I just headed south and figured I’d find something that headed west. For a while I rode on an access road that paralleled I70 close enough that I could see it. By the next exit, the traffic was moving again, but I headed further south. The next thing I knew I was on the Lewis and Clark Trail. I don’t know much about them or where they went, but I was pretty sure that they headed west, so that sounded good. I decided then to stick with their route. Given my preconceived notion of the flat plains of Missouri, the route was surprisingly curvy, the hills rolling. It didn’t seem that different from the country roads of Alabama or Tennessee. I think that the flora might have been different, but, focusing on the forest, I was unable to see the trees.
At some point I found a sign that indicated there was some kind of park or recreation area. I drove up the road a few miles and found some little camp sites that looked like they’d be a good place to park for the night. The problem was that it was 2PM and I hadn’t gotten out of Chesterfield, the western suburb of St. Louis where I’d been staying, until after 11:00. Encouraged by my discovery that there were parks, I decided that I’d continue west, following the route of my now good friends Meriwether and Bill, and at 4PM would drive until I found the next such parking opportunity.
Somewhere in making that plan, it occurred to me that I know almost nothing about parks, city, state, or national. Though I did buy a National Park pass before I went up that arch in Saint Louis, and have heard of, say, “Yellowstone,” I don’t think that I have spent the night in a park in the past thirty five years, and that was in a cabin. I did lose a couple sleeping bags and a tent in the fire, but as I thought back, I realized that I’d only used those camping tools in yards or fields of people I knew. Thinking further, I realized that with the exception of one night in an RV park and a few nights stealth-parking on the streets of New Orleans, the same could be said for my life living in a van. And, now that I think about it, the New Orleans trip was before I moved out of the house. That’s right. For nearly sixty days I have had no domicile other than a VW camper and had yet to spend a night on my own. (OK, maybe I spent a night or two parked where my old house isn’t, but whatever.)
I have this fantasy about meeting a vintner and gaining permission to park on the edge of a vineyard. Here was one of what is sure to be a long line of disappointments. This place, which also purports to have a brewery, is not open during the week. To learn this, however, you have to walk all the way up to that house in the background and read a faded sign.
I saw this sign. I had to take a picture. Note the Alabama (well, Birmingham, now) area code. Some people in Alabama want people in Missouri to know about Our Lady appearing somewhere. Even after looking at the web site, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.
At one point I saw a large dome in the distance. It turned out to be Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri. Since I am not a third grader, and don’t have ready access to one, I had to ask Google to discover this a couple days ago. My Missouri-dwelling host, who’s child is not yet in school, couldn’t help.
So on I went, at about ten til four, Lewis and Clark’s trail crossed over I70, which would have been a much easier way for them to get to Kansas City, if that’s where they were headed. Just after I crossed over the interstate, I saw a sign for some nature preserve, but it turned out to be a red herring. I did see where the Budweiser horses grow up, though.
Google promised another winery in Booneville. It turned out to be in the middle of town, not a vine in sight, and closed. I drove a bit further, and found the Booneville Isle of Capri Casino Hotel. I’d heard that, like many Wal-Marts, casinos allow overnight parking. (Yes, this is Common Knowledge in the RV-owning world.) As I tooled around the parking lot, I saw a pair of septuagenarians sitting in folding chairs outside an RV that was taking up about eight parking spots. I asked them whether one needed to do anything to gain permission to park there, they sort of shrugged and said that it was one of the good things about casinos. (I mentioned the common knowledge thing, right?) They went on to say that they didn’t know whether there were some kind of rules about just how long one could stay, they’d stayed for at least a couple days before without a problem.
I parked in the shade of a tree, and, not wanting to use my jar just yet, went inside to use the restroom. While I was there, I thought I’d see just how cheap the drinks were, and ordered a rum and tonic, which set me back $2.25, $3.25 with tip. After I learned that the slot machines wouldn’t accept actual quarters, I stuck a fiver in a dollar machine, played the two dollar max bet and won $30. I lost my other three more dollars before banking out my thirty bucks, printed a receipt of some sort, which I subsequently put in an ATM-looking thing, which gave me a twenty and two fives, and headed back to Walden.
Not a bad day.