(previous installments of this series here)
Friday morning, we slept in. Of course, sleeping in for me (and Michael as well) meant waking up around 8:00 instead of 7:00. I took my time getting ready, puttering around my hotel room with mediocre coffee and a few of our remaining thumbprint cookies. Looking out the window over downtown Columbia, I was thankful. Thankful to have this time on the road and thankful to spend it with my friend.
We got rounded up and headed for breakfast at the Broadway Diner, but they were slammed. “I stopped standing in lines when I left the Marines,” Michael had remarked on a few occasions, plus we wanted to get on the road, so we looked for an alternative. I was very pleased to get a thumbs-up for Waffle House, which has been a reliable favorite of mine for many years. Turns out Michael felt the same way! As we pulled up beneath the familiar yellow-and-black sign, I noticed a hearse in one of the parking spaces. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign. In any case, our breakfast was delicious; though, at one point, Michael looked very concerned and pointed with his fork: “Oh my God. They’re taking a body out of here!” I didn’t need to turn around to look for myself; I raised an eyebrow and waited for the tell-tale sparkle in his eye and sly grin.
Our end-point of the day was St. Louis…but since we had no event that night, our timetable was flexible. We skirted the edge of Jeff City and essentially followed the Missouri River all day. The landscape around Big Mo was beautiful and lush. The soil is fertile near the river and we were treated to many crop-filled vistas as the road weaved around limestone bluffs and dense groves. We made a stop near the town of Steedman, at an abandoned pony truss bridge over Logan Creek. Time had weathered the old wooden deck down to shreds; Sam will be happy to know I did not venture onto the span myself.
The town of Hermann was our next stop. The Gasconade County courthouse was a shining beacon on the bank of the Missouri, the crown atop a community established by German immigrants in 1837. Today the region is responsible for roughly 1/3 of the state’s wine production, which is well-represented in the shops along main street. I wandered a bit and marveled at the old town architecture, including the grand courthouse. When we left town, Michael surprised me with a selection of local cheese (Jersey Supreme and Havarti) which sustained us throughout the afternoon. I’d never had either before and was very pleased.
Washington was next, where I took photos of a terrific old Dutch Hotel neon sign in addition to a brick ghost sign for Falstaff beer, once Busch’s greatest competitor. We crossed the Missouri River on a grand cantilever bridge, alongside a new crossing under construction. I certainly hope the old bridge remains for a pedestrian crossing or something, but, in my heart I know they’ll probably demolish it. A real shame.
Near the village of Defiance, we walked around the family homestead where Daniel Boone died in 1820. In addition to the four-story stone manor (built by slave labor), the area contains an entire village of historic buildings that have been relocated to the site over the years. It gave me a good sense as to what the landscape would have been like in the Donner days. Michael pointed out the Boone family tree in the visitor’s center, showing me the members of the Boone family that had traveled with the Donner Party for a time on their journey west. Liliburn Boggs, the sixth governor of Missouri that was hunted by the Mormons due to his infamous extermination order, had married Daniel Boone’s granddaughter and was a name I’d recognized back in Independence.
Shortly after leaving the Boone House, we transitioned from the Missouri Rhineland to the Greater St Louis metro. Michael exited the freeway in Rock Hill, the suburb where he grew up. We were back on old Route 66, where we pulled over at the intersection of Manchester and Berry. It was on that street corner where Michael got his first journalism job: slinging newspapers. A stone’s throw away sat the home where Michael lived from his birth in 1945 until he was a freshman in high school. It is the very same home that he talks about in his story about his mother offering work to drifters, as they may be “angels in disguise”. That story was part of the first speech I heard him give.
We continued to weave around the area and I was treated to many excerpts from his childhood: gatherings in Tillis Park, playing ball at the local church, seeing movies at the Hi Pointe Theatre, and more. The afternoon full of young memories, each one recalled with a specific smile… one that recalled Christmas morning, when a child opens a present that contains something strongly desired. “This has all changed,” he would say before rebuilding the world around us with words to represent those lost days.
It had been a good day’s journey; we checked in at Union Station hotel at around 5:30 and enjoyed a quiet dinner on-site. I learned that St. Louis is famous for a few staple dishes: toasted ravioli, pork steak, & gooey butter cake. I had two-out-of-three and decided to wait on the cake; hopefully I’ll get a bit before we leave town in a few days. The end of our day found us sitting in the grand lobby, people watching as an occasional light show was projected on the arched ceiling above us. It was a good end to another day on the road.