Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
Road trips would never be the same without the opportunity to stop at local diners, dives and drive-ins (OK…I gotta give credit to Guy Fieri). Food is such an important part of a road trip. Obviously, no matter where one drives they always come across the chain shops like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc. With those places, the food you get is always the same.
But, for me, the real joy is stopping at a local Mom and Pop shop or local Drive-In and trying out the fare. Someplace well known in that little town or region, but maybe not known anywhere else.
My good friend, singer/songwriter/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain did a song a few years ago called “Mom and Pop Don’t Work Here No More” in respect for these places that are quickly becoming a dying breed. (see the video)
“There used to be more flavor in this country that I roam I feel like I’m a stranger, no place to call my home I can eat the same cheeseburger from New Mexico to Main The same darn cup of coffee, just to link in someone’s chain No, mom-and-pop don’t work here no more”
So, when I am on the road I really make an effort to find the local places to eat and I have found many of them across this wonderful country of ours. For example, there is “Cozy Drive-In” in Springfield, IL which supposedly is famous because of its creation of the corndog.
Then there’s the place in Missouri called Lambert’s Cafe that is famous for its “Throwed Rolls.” Or how about the diner outside of Natchez, Mississippi that looks like an old 1930s black woman servant on the outside and service homemade sandwiches on homemade bread with deserts of homemade pie and cake? And how can I forget “Hillbilly Hotdog” in West Virginia or the unique burger joint called Fat Smitty’s that is plastered with dollar bills in Washington. And what about The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas?
Along the road there are always the burger joints, the ice cream places, and the roadside cafés. One never knows what they will get in some of these places. But, chances are the food will be much better than what one will get at a fast food chain place.
And each of these local places has their “speciality,” such as the Ku-Ku burger at Waylan’s in Commerce, OK on Route 66.
I recall visiting the “Tightwad Café” in Tightwad, MO. Amazing breakfast made for a king and not a miserly tightwad. The only indication that it was a “tightwad” type of place was that they only took cash — no credit cards.
But check out the food. This giant breakfast was very affordable and kept me filled up for a good part of the day.
Of course, there are the barbecue places. Oh yes, the myriad barbecue places across this country. I have had barbecue in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, one of my favorites was in Paris, Ontario in Canada!! And they’re all different and wonderful.
One such great barbecue place is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kansas. The café is inside a gas station and people are always waiting in line out the door to get their famous barbecue. And when I finished, my friend Brad Sweeten, and athletic director at one of the high schools in Kansas City, Missouri, took me to a local ice cream place that makes ice cream cones as tall is the Empire State building.
Honestly, I could write about the dozens and dozens of places I’ve visited over the years. Every single place has its own personality and tasty cuisine.
Following are a few of the photos of the diners, dives and drive-ins that I visited over the years. I have dozens that you can read about in my blog. I only have room to include a few. One piece of advice though… don’t go looking for a sandwich in Sandwich, NH. Been there…failed that. No sandwiches in Sandwich.
A weekend in St. Louis/Kansas City – Jan. 14-17, 2010
January 14, 2010: ROADTRIP!! After quite a hiatus on road trips, I finally took one. Nowthat I am working for iHigh.com(was until 2012)I do have occasion to take a trip or two for support. In this instance Iwas to travel to Kirkwood High School in St. Louis to Live Stream a basketballtournament on January 15, and then travel to Kansas City to Live Stream a largewrestling tournament at Center High School. Naturally, along the way boththere and back I made some side trips, as is always my custom, but in this case I did not veer too far off the beaten path.
My first stop along the way was in Santa Claus, Indiana. Yes, there really is a Santa Claus, Indiana and I believe it is the only town named Santa Claus anywhere. According to the Wikipedia article about Santa Claus, the town was established in 1854. In 1856, when the town (then known as Santa Fe, pronounced “fee”) was working to
establish a Post Office, the US Postal Service refused their first application as there was already another Santa Fe, Indiana. Several town meetings were held, during which the name Santa Claus was selected. Currently the town claims to have the world’s only post office to bear the name of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is a small town, but does have an amusement park a unique shopping center and Santa Claus statues everywhere.
After filling my eyes with Santa Claus and filling the car’s tank with fuel, I was back on I-64 heading west to St. Louis. The drive was fairly
uneventful. I had to be at Kirkwood High School in time for an evening basketball game which was part of the Denver Miller
Tournament, in honor of the former Kirkwood basketball coach. The
funny part of the story is that one of my college roommates from BYU back in 1978 had graduated from here and also had been a kicker. I searched the high school for any sign of Ray Heyman’s name and actually found it on a plaque of football lettermen from 1973. Ray is now an attorney in Arizona and doing very well.
After the game, I headed off to the hotel for the night.
January 15, 2010: I was up early the next morningto head to St. Louis to meet one of my friends who had moved from Lexington. We headed out to a diner in St. Louis known asGoody Goody Diner. As with all other adventures I take, I look for interesting locations to chowdown and this one was a doozy!! Located on Natural Bridge Rd., it appearsto be in the industrial part of town. The Diner has been around since 1948and has gone through numerous hands. It is purportedly in the samelocation as the original A & W Root Beer stand in St. Louis, which was opened in1931. The A & W had car hops and the tradition continued with Goody Goody dineruntil the early 1970s. Currently the diner is owned by Richard and LauraConnelly. Richard’s father purchased the diner in 1954 and it has been in the family ever since.
The diner has typical diner fare, but they also have their own specialties. They are famous for their “Wilbur” omelet, which is filled with hash brown potatoes, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. Then it is covered with chili and Cheddar cheese. It also comes with sides…I ordered the grits and an English muffin. The omelet was FABULOUS and really not too costly either. My friend Steve tried the fried chicken and waffles. That looked pretty good as well.
After a good meal and some time with my friend Steve, I was back on my way Kirkwood for another game. Along the way I visited the quaint town of Kirkwood and drove to the Laumeier Sculpture Park which had some large art. It was a pleasant diversion. The Laumeier Park was established in 1972 and over the years has grown to over 105 acres. It was one of just a few open air art museums in the world. I took numerous photos of the art work. Following are just a few samples. There is a map of the entire outdoor park/museum
After the little drive I then went and videoed the basketball games and then drove most of the evening to Kansas City, arriving there shortly after midnight.
January 16, 2010: It was another early day forme…to bed at 1 AM and up at 6 AM. This entire day would be spent atCenter High SchoolinKansas City to coordinate and manage live streaming a 16 team wrestlingtournament on 6 mats. We would be trying something not done before byiHigh…basically run6 Live Streams from one locationsimultaneously for nearly 9 hours. After wegot all set up and cleared up a few glitches, we were rolling. Center HShad provided some football players to assist in manning the cameras. Athletic Director Brad Sweeten worked with me most of the day in thecoordination and monitoring. It was a great success. We had somegreat stories, like the father in Afghanistan who got to watch or thegrandfather in Ohio who saw his grandson wrestle (and win the championship inhis weight class) for the first time ever. This is why I love my job!!
After the tournament was over, Coach Sweeten and I headed to a local restaurant to enjoy what Kansas City is famous for…Barbecue. It was great and so was the company. Finally, by 11 PM I was back in bed at the hotel. The next day would be an early departure to head back home via a few more places.
January 17, 2010: I would head back home toLexington today, but once again would hit a few back roads and catch a few morebits of America as I like to see it. My first stop was heading north into Kansas City for a drive by the art museums there. Like St. Louis, there issome interesting out door artwork…more specifically giant shuttlecocks (orbadminton birdies). In July 1994, Shuttlecocks, the first outdoorsculpture commissioned for the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, was installed in theKansas City Sculpture Park, which is part of theNelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The shuttlecocks were created by internationally known Dutch artistsClaes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggenand were a gift to the Museum. Altogether there are four shuttlecocks, each 17 ft. 11 in. high x 15 ft. 1 in. crown diameter and 4 ft. nose diameter, located in different positions on the grounds of the museum. Oldenburg and vanBruggen have done all sorts of large and whimsical works around the world. I sure hope to see more in the future!!
There were a number of other unique works of art surrounding the old and new sections of the art museum. I did not venture in as it was still fairly early on a Sunday morning, but I did see a couple more interesting pieces. The first of the pieces to catch anyone’s eye is the gigantic “Spider” sculpture by French artist Louis Bourgeois. This eerie bronze sculpture was built in 1996 and sits at the entrance of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. It stands over 11 feet tall and really is spooky.
After seeing just a few of the works of art at the sculpture parks in St. Louis and Kansas City, I am determined to get to others in the U.S. on my travels in the future. I hope to see the Franconica Sculpture Park
in Franconica, MN and the Porter Sculpture Park near Montrose, SD (which I did see in 2012), among others.
After the interesting venture into art, I headed north to Independence, MO, site of some Mormon Church History. Along the way I came across the somewhat famous and unique Leila’s Hair
Museum. I have seen this place noted in Roadside America and also on Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Well, I found the place, but it is closed on
Sundays. The only sign is the one below…it was in a plastic folder taped on the door.
Also on my drive thru Independence I came across this all painting.
Independence is the home of President Harry Truman and this wall painting depicts the famous Chicago Tribune article that mistakenly proclaimed that Dewey had defeated Truman. The mural sits on the side of the Welch, Martin and Albano law office in downtown Independence.
From Independence I then drove to Liberty, MO. My main objective there was to see the Liberty Jail Historic Site, where Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was held. Unfortunately, I pulled into Liberty at 8:30 AM and the Visitor’s Center didn’t open until 9, so I didn’t get the chance to go in. But, it was nice to finally get there. Joseph Smith spent almost 5 months in this jail while awaiting trial and received three revelations (Sections 121, 122 and 123) which are included in the Church’s Doctrine and Covenants. One of the scriptures has always been inspirational to me: in D&C 121:7-8 “. . . if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” Joseph Smith suffered some tortuous times in his life and this was definitely one of them.
Not too far from the Liberty Jail are some interesting murals on the Clay County Offices. On one corner is a painting that appears to depict Lewis and Clark. Then there are some unique ceramic murals that adorn the walls of the office building. Each ceramic mural, originally installed in 1984, depicts figures and events from Clay County’s past.
After the visit to Liberty, my next stop was in Lexington, Missouri, famed for the Civil War Battle of Lexington. I drove by the visitor’s center but did not have time to go in. That’ll have to be on another trip.
Click here for a brief of history of this battle. The town of Lexington had a few other notable things, including a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Perhaps the most delightful thing about driving the less beaten paths of America are the rustic and natural sites along the way. As we speed by on the freeways we miss so much. Here are just a few of the things I saw along the way home from Lexington, MO to Lexington, KY.
And finally, along the road I came across a flock of Flamingos. As a true Trailer Park Troubadour Flamingohead, I could not pass up the opportunity to capture a few shots of these silly pink birds at what appeared to be a Biker Joint.
Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?