27 March 2009

Roadtrip '09, DAY 8: More globetrotting!

Tal & Sera's Big 2009 RoadtripDAY EIGHT - Friday, 27 February.
Destination: Sikeston, Missouri -- Pear Tree Inn.
Miles traveled: 185.4

Morning in our Harrah's "Veranda" hotel room! It was around 8:30 when we awakened, and the weather was much improved from earlier, the storms having already moved east out of the area. According to WMC-TV 5, we had a nice - if cool - day ahead of us, but the weather would again start going downhill this evening, with a good chance of snow -- especially toward the north! (We also realized just how ugly the weather was in Memphis, as Channel 5 had a news story about a church fire, ignited by lightning hitting its steeple)

We got ourselves showered nice and clean to seize the day before us. Last night, I told Bolivar that I'd give him a call after we woke up, to set a time to meet both him and J-Lo for breakfast. Our agenda had us then going northward to Sikeston, Missouri and eating lunch at Lambert's Cafe. We'd probably make a quick journey to and from Cape Girardeau before having supper at a place called La Villetta with an old friend (okay: old flame), Lynda and her significant other, Mike.

[Now, you might be wondering why we didn't instead go to Sikeston from Cave City, Ky. and then southward to Tunica. After all, that would have been a shorter route. Ahhh, but there was the matter of the cost of hotel rooms in Tunica. Weekend rate at Harrah's (and most of the other casinos in the area) run well into the hundreds, $180 being par. However, the Sunday-Thursday rate at the Tunica casinos are the real bargain: $40-50! So, we did a 'fishtail' path and chose to drive an extra 150 miles instead of spending an extra 150 dollars. I mean, gas isn't $4.00 these days, it was less than two bucks.]

I called Bolivar and thought that 10:30 would be an ideal time for us to meet for breakfast. There was a McDonald's near I-55 in Southaven, and that looked to be roughly 45 minutes from our hotel.

Seraphim bought some Harrah-tastic coffee before checking out. Instead of enlisting the bellhops, we analyzed our luggage situation and determined we could do this ourselves with 1-1/2 trips (2 trips for me, one for Sera). So we loaded ourselves and made it down to the lobby and breezeway, where Sera waited as I went to get Rupert. Driving him under the breezeway, we loaded him up, and then went back to the room to retrieve the remaining stuff -- and my "bonus" Diet Mountain Dew from last night.


It was 9:45 when we left Harrah's and made our way northward to US-61 and over to I-69, then north on I-55. Today was going to be yet another day of world travel, too. Yesterday, as you know, we experienced not just "France" (Paris, Tenn.) and "Italy" (Milan, Tenn.), but also "Egypt" (Memphis, Tenn.). We'll have an encore tour of Egypt, and today we'll see "The Netherlands", and "Spain."

I turned on KXJK-AM 950 out of Forrest City, Ark., still doing a classic hits format and sounding as good as ever. Some of you know I have a fetish for well-engineered AM stations still playing hit music (one might be able to count the whole of them on one hand today). It's good to be able to hear those kinds of stations in 2009. I used to listen to KXJK in the '80s, especially while still in Pine Bluff, always wondering the same thing: Why can't OUR station sound as good as that??? They sound so good, so clean, so tight, that one would logically think they were listening to a Memphis station. Nope, this station comes from St. Francis County, Arkansas, a fairly depressed area economically.

We got to the Mickey D's at around 10:25 and waited for B&J. Ahhh, but what's this next door?? DANVER'S?? Hmmmm, and it IS pushing 10:30. Egg McMuffins be damned, I want me some roast beef!! Sera (who understands her husband's addiction to Danver's roast beef sammiches) agreed that it would be better than yet another meal under the Arches.

It was pushing 11:00 when our friends got there, and they too liked the idea of a change of venue. Sooooooo, Danver's it was.
The great Bolivar and J-Lo, in person.

Hard to believe we go back nearly 23 years. What a long, strange trip it's been.

The best-laid plans of mice and Glecks happily go astray

I knew this wouldn't be a quick visit, and didn't want it to be. And quick it wasn't. We stayed at our table and talked it up until realizing that the day wasn't getting any longer. Goodbyes were said at 1:30 (!), and we zipped through Mempho without any delays or traffic congestion. Plans had to be reconfigured -- we'd be doing well to hit Sikeston by 3:30-4:00, certainly too late to partake of Lambert's and leave enough room for Italian food. A decision had to be made, and it was to forego the Italian for now -- neither of us wanted to pass up the (rare) opportunity for catching Lambert's famous "throwed rolls." I'd call Lynda when we got up there, and lay our reasons on the table, hoping they'd understand and go for Lambert's instead.

You see, things in Sikeston have changed since the days when Lambert's was a simple local cafe with a famous gimmick. Lynda no longer feels enthused about the place, and her sentiment appears to be shared by many of her fellow Sikestonians ... it's a sentiment those of us in Savannah understand with The Lady & Sons. When we first moved there, TL&S was a popular hole-in-the wall restaurant in City Market. Paula Deen was a local celebrity, and that was it. Then came Food Network and national fame, followed by a new location of TL&S and the long lines. It's now a 'tourist place', shunned by the majority of the locals.

And so has become Lambert's in the hearts and minds of Sikeston, Missouri. Lambert's is big and now goes for those traveling through on I-55 and 57. As we figured it, though, "We're tourists, and how often can we get those luscious yeast rolls??"

Highway 61 INTERSTATE 55 Revisited (or: "It's Flat-tastic!")

Leaving Memphis, we crossed Old Man River into Arkansas on the I-55 "old bridge" (the one that parallels the two railroad bridges ... it's the one Orlando Bloom crosses on his road trip in Elizabethtown).
"BUCKLE UP FOR SAFETY" sure beats hell out of what used to
be at the bottom of this sign: "HOME OF PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON"

Ahhhhh, Arkansas. I-55 doesn't make but a 72-mile trip through the state, every square inch of her concrete and asphalt flat as a pancake, except for the few "mountainous" areas - in the form of artificial hills for overpasses. I was impressed with the now-completed improved US-63 interchange (Exit 23). The road to Jonesboro is being upgraded to freeway status, and when finished, my college home will have itself an interstate connection: I-555.
The signage at Exit 23 never fails to warm my heart.
...even if it's in the new-style "clearview" font.

I love the terrain of east Arkansas nearly as much as the mountains. Seraphim made the remark that it looked like somebody had Photoshopped the mountains out. It did feel a bit strange driving the delta after many days spent in the rugged terrain of Appalachia. I-55 through Arkansas and the Missouri bootheel is a complete study in the whole of Delta culture, from the Mississippi flavor (Greenville, Helena, Tunica, West Memphis, Marion) to the 'northern' half (Jonesboro, Marked Tree, Blytheville, Caruthersville, Sikeston). Both halves seem a world apart. You have to experience it to understand.

As for the terrain in this area ... you have to see it to believe:
Toto, something tells me we're not in West Virginia anymore.....

This is as flat as it gets! However, people who travel between the Midwest and the South via Interstate 55 might get the impression that all of Arkansas is this flat. Nope. Less than 100 miles to the west of this freeway, the terrain makes a dramatic change, and one enters the high foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

Arkansas, like West Virginia, offers some amazing mountain views, especially along US-62/412 traversing the top portion of the state. We traveled that highway early in 2006 during our weeklong Arkansas getaway, including visits to Eureka Springs and Hot Springs.

This ain't mountains, though. But .... what's that in front of us? Holy crap! A hill!
"My word, I can see clear up to Cape Girardeau from atop this mound!"

I've always loved the way high-voltage power lines in the Delta form an awesome perspective in the distance:
The 'power' to mesmerize.

"Show Me" the world!
"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.
I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." - Willard D. Vandiver

Just north of Blytheville, we bid fond adieu to Arkansas as I-55 enters Missouri. The interstate crossing isn't much to see ... it's too bad they didn't find a way to re-create for I-55 travelers the state line on 'the old highway', US-61. An archway, built in 1924, portals the Arkansas/Missouri line on 61. It's seen below: (photo credit)
This is on the Arkansas side, looking toward Missouri. Inscribed at the top of the arch is "ENTERING MISSOURI" This is yet another example of what people miss by not exploring the old highways. I first discovered this archway one Sunday in 1987 while driving with Lynda back to Jonesboro from Sikeston, and taking a 'different way' (or, as Mom would say, "Dawdling!"). Back then my roadgeek self might've been 'in remission', but my heart still skipped beats when it appeared before me.

So we are now in the area of Missouri called 'the bootheel', a world of its own - rather detached culturally from 'upstate' parts. It's more kindred with Tennessee than even Arkansas ... or especially Cape Girardeau.

Side note: At college, I learned very quickly when meeting fellow students from the bootheel -- attending under Arkansas State's "75-mile rule", allowing those in other states within that range to pay in-state tuition -- NOT to include as an icebreaker that I used to live in Cape. Most in the bootheel feel about Cape Girardeau the way most rural Georgians feel about Atlanta. Long story, much of it political. We'll leave it at that.

Shortly after crossing into Missouri, we saw the first billboard for Lambert's:

Get yer catcher's mitts ready: just 66 more miles to go!

Ice, ice baby - redux
As terrible as the trees looked in middle Kentucky from the ice storm in January, things were ten times worse in the bootheel of Missouri. I was amazed to see any treetops left at all! Yes, it was that bad. Tree limbs were piled everywhere -- in front of houses, all over the two rest areas in the bootheel, and even along the interstate itself. I was told the area was buried under as many as three inches of solid ice!

One of the first towns in Missouri along 55/61 is our first world stop. We're now tilting at the "windmills" of Holland, Mo.
This image Sera captured, with the disfigured tree, is a sad one. It's looking from the interstate toward the village of Holland. The exit on 55 carries another nearby town name, Cooter:
Yeah, Cooter. Dunno if they have a road named after Ben Jones, though.

Road geek note: "E" is indeed the designation for that roadway. Missouri has a network of minor-grade 'trunk roads' marked with letters instead of the usual numbers. It's usually a single or double-letter arrangement ... and, yes, there are some Route PPs or Route TTs. In Sikeston, Routes AA and H intersect, making for an amusing sign assembly: one direction it's "AA"/"H" and the other "H"/"AA."

Speaking of which, anyone want to 'take on me' in a game of highway Scrabble?

What was that name again??

Anyway, our next town was Hayti (pronounced "hay-tye"). While passing through here, a restaurant was brought to mind from long ago. I could not remember the name of it to save my life. I think it might've been the on-premises restaurant from Drury Inn's earliest days ... "Papa D's" comes to mind, but I'm not sure that was the name. At any rate, "Papa D's" (?) was a Denny's-like family restaurant in the region.

[edit: Very close. It was called Papa D Family Restaurant].

This is where Lynda and I always ate with her parents in Hayti on those weekends in college she 'went home.' Lynda didn't have a car at the time, so I'd meet her folks in Hayti - about halfway between Jonesboro and Sikeston - and they'd always treat me to dinner at this restaurant both the Friday night I brought her, and Sunday afternoon when I picked her up. They graciously did this as 'appreciation' for saving them the trip all the way to Jonesboro ... but I was glad to do it, not just to "be the good boyfriend", but -- yeaaaah, okay -- there were a couple of ulterior motives in the mix: 1) Missouri had lottery and cheaper gas (average of 59.9¢ a gallon in 1986-87, versus 74.9-ish in much of Arkansas), and - most importantly - 2) I was in range of listening to a very cool AM station: KYMO-AM 1080 out of East Prairie, Mo.

Was that a gasp of shock I heard from you, the reader? Talmadge Gleck, drawn to radio stations? Yeah, perish the thought. But it was true. KYMO was a favorite of mine while living in Cape Girardeau, and I've referred to it a few times in this space. Imagine a small town of barely 3,000 people, with a 500-watt daytime only AM station. Typically, such operations are country, with a very 'hick'-sounding presentation. But not KYMO -- big-ticket JAM "Priority One" jingles, '60s-style "wall-of-sound" audio with reverb in the chain, and a hard-leaning top-40 format, at times bordering on pure album rock. It still amazes me today how such a big sound could come from a one-lung station in such a tiny town. Yeah. What's more, KYMO held out with a live rock format until 1991. Since then, when KYMO-FM signed on, they've been satellite oldies. Oh well.....

As I pondered the restaurant's name, I changed the radio from KXJK - beginning to show signs of fading by now - over to AM 1080, which today simulcasts the FM (105.3). While it lacks the uber-compressed 'bite' from its old-school days, KYMO still throws out very clean audio. Great sound for an AM station. And, gawd love 'em, those same great JAM jingles.

The Marston, Mo. exit along I-55 had a Pilot station, and we figured to give the coffee another try. Certainly this couldn't be as bad as back in Tennessee. We stopped and filled up to the tune of $1.75/9. I got me a DMD, Sera got a Pilot-tastic Trucker's Coffee, and both got a one-dollar scratch-off. I busted, but Sera copped two bucks.

The weather was a shade on the nippy side in Southaven. Missouri, though, was another story. A brisk wind was rolling through the bootheel, and it was very, very c-o-l-d. The kind of weather foretelling one mean snowfall in its future.

It's New Madrid's fault!

From Marston, our next world stop was sunny "Spain" -- New Madrid (pronounced "MAD-rid") has notoriety as being the epicenter of one of the most destructive series of earthquakes ever to hit the U.S. in 1811-12. There's a museum in town, with a working seismograph. The "New Madrid Seismic Zone" is highly active, and depending on who you talk to, the area is way overdue for a major quake.

And when it happens this time (as opposed to 1811, when the population was sparse), it's going to be nasty. Unlike California, with its mostly rocky terrain, the bootheel is nothing but soft ground. Ever hear of liquifaction? Yup, if and when The Big One hits again, much of this area is going to literally turn to quicksand.

It's a sobering thought: This entire region sits on nothing less than a geological timebomb.

'Miner' change of plans.....

We pulled into the breezeway at Pear Tree Inn (originally the Drury Inn - built in 1973, first location of the entire chain) in Sikeston at just after 4:00. Well, not really Sikeston -- technically, the area of US-62 and I-55 is in the small community of Miner. ANYhoo, our 'freebie' room was on the third floor, with no elevator. It being zero dollars, I couldn't complain; Seraphim, on the other hand, was feeling a sore knee. Aye yi yi. So we kept her trips up and down at a minimum. I unloaded much of Rupert, and we got ourselves settled into our room.

And, wouldn't you know it, FREE WI-FI in their rooms. Woo hoo! This is Drury-tastic!

Due to our modified schedule, a quick run to and from Cape Girardeau wasn't going to be happening. We'll save that for next time.

I called Lynda, and explained our change in plans (hey, Bolivar and J-Lo were very much worth it, right?). Lynda and Mike had no desire to eat at Lambert's, although she understood where we were coming from. They were going to eat at La Villetta, and after we finished up at Lambert's, we'd meet them all at 7:00 at Villetta for drinks and conversation.

Both of us figured it prudent to go ahead and beat the long lines at Lambert's by hightailing it over there. The restaurant is just down US-62 (E. Malone St.) from the motel, and we got there about 5:15, and a wait time of practically nada.

Tree limbs aside, Sikeston looked good as ever. It's a down-to-earth small city of 17,000-ish in population. Plus - to my knowledge - it's the only city to have three U.S. highways with consecutive numbers: US-60, 61 and 62!

Think fast! Here comes another!

Lambert's food was good and Lambert-tastic as always. The yeast rolls .... they're evil and must be wiped out of our lives and memories. Probably more Points™ than Weight Watchers can even count. But -- say it with me -- "We're on vacation, dammit!" We're going to partake, by gawd.

A little background, for those who are curious. Lambert's Cafe was the epitome of a small town mom-and-pop eatery ... your basic meat-and-three affair. Their specialty were the giant yeast-rolls, served with dinner and sometimes given out to folks waiting in line for a seat, as the original Lambert's location had a very small seating capacity.

One Sunday - late '70s, maybe? - the line queue was longer than usual, and some folks were standing around talking, keeping the guy with the roll cart from getting to those toward the end of the line. One hungry gentleman yelled at the guy, "Just throw me the damned thing!" Which he did. Another in line said, "Throw me one, too." A third said the same thing.

A tradition was born. The employees - all dressed in blue oxford shirts with red suspenders - come around with those two heavenly words: "HOT ROLLS!!" You make eye contact with one of them, and they'll toss one your way. Another blue-shirt usually isn't far behind with a rolling tub of sorghum molasses, but personally I like mine with butter ... which they have in abundance on your table:
Hucares? I do.

Lambert's is still a family-run business, and have since expanded to Ozark, Mo. (outside of Springfield) and Foley, Alabama - north of Gulf Shores. And Seraphim and I have eaten at all three, thank you (Foley = 2001; Ozark = 2006; Sikeston = 1998, 2006, 2009). What I miss is the presence of patriarch Norm Lambert. He also threw rolls and got into the whole game with the rest of the employees. "Ol' Norm" passed away in 1996. He was a true independent spirit ... and I remember eating there in 1992, during the presidential race. Norm made his political leanings clear for all to see:
If only Ross had won.....

I love how that guy thought. I miss him ... but I can always say I caught some rolls from Norm himself. Lambert's is a great legacy from my days with Lynda: my first weekend up there in 1986 - the proverbial "bringing home to meet the parents" - her parents took us out to eat, and Lambert's was the place. From that night forward, I was hooked.

After our meal, Seraphim bought a lime-green Lambert's T-shirt, and I a "Throwed rolls" cap and a 'stress ball' in the shape of a yeast roll. Then we drove west down Malone to where La Villetta sits. It was about 6:30, and we thought to see if they had arrived early. Lynda and Mike were just going inside when we drove in.

A most surreal evening

It was the first time I'd seen Lynda since October 1992. She looked fantastic, and in good spirits (not just the alcohol kind, either!). Yes, Lynda is indeed an "old girlfriend." She was my longest relationship while at ASU, we were together from Fall 1986 until I made the ghastly mistake of 'dumping her' for someone else in May of '88. Again, those close to me know the story and how Old Bitch Karma took up for Lynda's broken heart and soon dealt me my comeuppance, but that's neither here nor there.....

Lynda and I reconnected much the same way Seraphim did with her 'first love' "Jimmy." You see, there's a spooky parallel involving Lynda and Seraphim: Both were unceremoniously ditched in favor of supposedly newer and shinier "trophies." Only difference: in Jimmy's case, Sera got dumped for ... another MAN. Yup, Jimmy crossed the field to play for the American League.

Unlike my own dating years (an earthquake is smooth by comparison), Lynda and Sera never had much of a history ... Jimmy was Sera's first, and I came along a decade later. And I was Lynda's "Jimmy."

ANYhoo, a couple years back Jimmy wrote Sera an e-mail apologizing for what he did to her years ago, and the two 'reconnected' and are now fair-weather friends. Jimmy's now living in Kansas City (want more 'spooky'? The woman I dumped Lynda for ALSO lives in KC!), and has a happy life 'playing for his team.'

It led me to thinking about Lynda, and how I've always carried a heavy burden of guilt for how I did her dirty. I wrote her, apologizing ... and she wrote back, telling me about her new love, and how happy she is today. I'm glad for her.

I told her about my own crazy life since 1988 (and especially 1991-1997!!), about Seraphim and how I wanted 'another chance' at someone with Lynda's qualities. I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it. Of course in Sera I found those qualities, and then some. Lesson learned.

Sitting at the table with Lynda and Sera ... wow. In my line of vision were the two best women I'd ever been romantically involved with. Two bookends separating a bunch of largely unpleasant literature in my life.

Both women got along famously, and Mike was putting 'em away ... making toast after toast after toast. Lynda's boyfriend was getting plenty sloshed (thankfully SHE was going to take him back home!!). We all had good conversation. I even had one (1) beer. The first drop of alcohol I'd had in at least a year. (ref. "We're on vacation, dammit!") All told, this evening was a fun, if highly weeeeird stretch of time.

We left La Villetta about 10:30 to a very cold rain. The temperature was hovering at 33 degrees, and the forecast called for snow by morning. Snow, in fact, would be following us all the way to Georgia, if the folks at the National Weather Service called it right.

After we got in the car, my wife said something which cracks me up just thinking about it now. She poked me in the shoulder as she said, "I like Lynda a lot .... WHY DID YOU DUMP HER??!!"

After we got back to the motel, Sera went to bed and before I did the same, I booted up the laptop and caught up on some e-mail and various Facebook capers.

Tomorrow was going to be a long day of driving. We must be rested up. G'night, all.

To be continued.......


Dead skunks spotted and/or smelled: 0

Bob Evans restaurants passed: 0 (had we gone to Cape, that number would have been "1")
Diet Mountain Dews consumed: 2 (it was a light day!)Beers uncharacterally consumed by Talmadge: 1
Great-sounding AM stations listened to today: 2Countries "visited": 4 (Mississippi, Egypt, Netherlands, Spain)
Rolls caught and consumed at Lambert's: 3
Trees still fully intact after the ice storm: 4, maybe?

1 comment:

Jingle said...

Road trip is itself a big adventure, your post tells that you have really enjoyed the trip, thanks for sharing us about your adventure.