Showing Myself the Show-Me State

The last two days in Columbia, Missouri have been work days.  That being said, I made sure to maximize my time when I’m not in the office, and as I hoped I’ve been able to visit some of the small towns around here and experience a bit more of Columbia itself.  Here are some highlights!

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I can’t resist a good diner, so when I saw a tiny one in the center of town it became #1 on my list of places to visit.  I went there for lunch on Wednesday, and boy was it good!  The Broadway Diner has been around in some form or fashion since 1949.  Their signature dish is called “The Stretch” – which is: hash browns topped with scrambled eggs, chili, cheddar cheese, green peppers and onions.  It even has an upgrade that douses the whole thing in gravy and bacon.  I opted for something less debilitating and enjoyed it nonetheless.  It was interesting to see the young college crowd and the old timers co-mingling so seamlessly.  Several nights a week are 24-hr affairs; I’m sure they’ve seen it all.

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After work, I drove west.  I’d discovered an abandoned truss bridge on Google Maps several weeks ago, and after a 35 minute drive I stood on the wooden deck of the Imhoff Bridge.  It was built over the Lamine River, near the town of Blackwater, in 1908.  It was closed in 2013 due to safety concerns and has remained closed much to the chagrin of local farm traffic.  The deck was still in good shape, so I crossed and took photos.  As I made the return trip across the slats, I just froze.  I don’t know what it was specifically, but I was suddenly aware of my height above the river.  It wasn’t anything unusual, but it reminded me of the first time I’d crossed the Avant Bridge back in Osage County; the fear was immediate and palpable.  The emotion passed after a few moments, thankfully, and I continued my crossing.  Aside from that brief moment, it was very serene.

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My friend Judy Walker had told me if I was ever nearby, I HAD to stop in Boonville.  It was only a few miles away, so I followed her advice.  To my great amazement, there was a gigantic railroad bridge crossing the Missouri River in town!  It hasn’t carried a train since 1986, but was designed so the middle section raised up to allow large boat traffic through.  It was glorious!  The town is working to restore the bridge for use in the Katy Trail State Park.  More on that in a moment.  I took a few minutes to walk around downtown while I was there;  it’s a quaint little place!  I’ll have to return here.

Dusk was approaching, so I headed back towards Columbia.  I coasted through the communities of New Franklin and Rocheport, wishing I had more time…so I decided to come back the next day.

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Lunch on Thursday was another goodie:  Booches Billiard Hall.  I thought it was odd when a pool hall was recommended as a good lunch spot, but when I walked in I understood.  Booches has been around since 1884!  At some point, they expanded their billiard business and started offering food.  The establishment features a delightful wooden bar up front and multiple pool tables in the back.  Cash only and their menu’s about as flexible as the Olympia Cafe from Saturday Night Live.  Cheeseburger!  No fries, chips.  Their burgers were featured as one of the Top Ten Burgers in America by USA Today some years back.  Can confirm, it was truly delicious.  I don’t fault them for keeping it simple.

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After work, I set out westward once more.  I stopped back by Rocheport so I could walk around their tiny business district.  It felt like a New England town somehow, though I can’t exactly explain why.  A few blocks away, the Katy Trail skirted the edge of town.  The trail is 240 miles long and follows the old MKT Railway line through central Missouri.  It started with an abandoned stretch of rail in Columbia in the early 80s and has expanded every few years as more right-of-way becomes available.  It crosses several old bridges in the countryside and goes through one tunnel…conveniently close to downtown Rocheport!  I loved getting to explore it and touch the blasted rock walls for myself.

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I had plenty of daylight left, so I continued to Sedalia.  I knew nothing about the town except that they hosted a big State Fair annually.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived and discovered their downtown was FULL of great old Victorian architecture and a few neon signs!  I also didn’t know that Scott Joplin, the famous ragtime musician, taught piano lessons there.  They have a big annual festival in his honor.  There was so much to see!  Of particular note is the Sedalia Trust Building, built in 1886.

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I was hungry again, thanks to my walks, so I drove around until I found something local and unique.  I found exactly that with Kehde’s BBQ, which serves out of an old train car!  The burnt ends were delicious and I loved gawking at all the little details of the interior.  It reminded me a lot of the Southern Belle, a train car restaurant in Heavener, Oklahoma.

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Once again, dusk was approaching.  Clouds had moved in, too, so night was coming quickly.  I left town on a different highway and didn’t really plan on stopping.  I did find a cool arch bridge near Otterville!  That was a lucky find.

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As I weaved down the rural Missouri highway, I noticed the clouds starting to light up.  There was a break in the clouds near the horizon; as the sun was setting, it was poised to shine just a little more light on my evening.  Suddenly, the wisps of cloud lit up in the most beautiful way; I pulled over near the town of Pilot Grove to bask in the glow.  I felt lucky to have been in a place to experience the beauty of that fading light; I only wish Samantha could’ve been with me.  I can’t wait to see her tomorrow!

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Winding Through Missouri

When I hopped on the highway this morning, I didn’t head to the office like normal.  At least, not to MY office.  My employer sent me to Columbia, Missouri to do some job shadowing at a satellite office.  I love traveling for work!  Though I was sad to leave Samantha behind for a few days, I was excited to explore parts of the Show-Me State that I hadn’t seen before.

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I spent most of the morning on familiar lanes; I paralleled Route 66 all the way to Springfield.  From there, I ventured north.  The separated four-lanes of I-44 faded in the rear-view mirror and I turned miles on comfortable two-lane blacktop for the rest of the day.  There’s so much more to see when you hop off the interstate!  It’s also easier to make a U-turn when something comes up out of nowhere, like an old neon sign in Buffalo.  For a short time, I was the only sign of life at the little motel…snapping photos while locals gawked from their pickup trucks.  Downtown Buffalo was nice, too.  Interestingly, their high school mascot is the bison.  Logical, yes, but redundant.

Although the sights felt new to me, I was pretty sure I’d been through Buffalo once before.  For a few years, my father lived at Lake of the Ozarks while selling wholesale grocery shipments.  As I continued north and east towards the lake, I would occasionally see something that tripped a faded memory.  I even inadvertently took a detour to get gas and drove right by his old office!  That was over a decade ago, though, and I travel a lot differently now than I did then.

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For example, previously I had no interest in Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  This time, I made a point to stop and explore the ruined “castle” on-site.  Funnily enough, the giant mansion was built by a man that made his fortune as a wholesale grocer at the turn of the 20th century.  It was completed in 1922 but only lasted twenty years before burning to the ground.  The sandstone skeleton still stands, overlooking the lake in a beautiful, expansive park.  I gotta come back in spring!

On the other side of the lake, I made a quick stop in Osage Beach.  I’d seen photos of a motel sign there that featured a revolving door, which I had to capture!  Just as I finished up and got back into the car, someone came out of the office and started coming directly towards me.  I sat and waited to see if it was going to be a “Howdy!” or a “Scram!” but they stopped half-way and went back into the office.  Crisis averted, I guess.

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I was met with a surprise in Eldon; I turned a corner and suddenly this HUGE neon sign greeted me alongside the highway.  There was even a sign on the roof of the building to go with it.  I buzzed happily around motel/restaurant, waving at the housekeepers as I took my photos.  I wish I’d been hungry!

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I breezed through Jefferson City (known as Jeff City to the locals) and arrived in Columbia in the early afternoon.  I had a ton of daylight left after check-in, so I hit the road again.  A friend of mine had clued me into an abandoned service station near the town of Mexico, about 45 minutes away.  I found it just as the sun emerged from the day-long cloud cover; what happy timing!

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I still had a little time, so I continued north to another spot I’d marked.  I weaved down an unmarked gravel road (thanks Google Maps!) to a small bridge over Long Branch Creek, near the town of Rowena. The span was a bedstead pony truss, meaning it’s square on the ends instead of angled, and has been in the Ozark countryside since 1910.  The creek bubbled contentedly as I hopped around and the daylight faded.  I had one more mark on my map on the way back to Columbia, so I set my coordinates and skedaddled.

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That final stop was the Old 63 Diner, on the north edge of town.  It opened in 1989 and closed in 2015, though it looks like it could’ve closed yesterday.  Just about everything was still in great shape; even the interior was still fully assembled.  The Archie Comics characters on the doors were barely faded and nothing had been vandalized.  Really, the only thing that has really depreciated is an old Burma-Shave sign set facsimile in the back.  It even had a faded Route 66 shield attached, though Columbia is many miles from the Mother Road.  It’s a shame the place is no longer operating; it looks like it was dearly loved.  As I circled the building, I saw a dark neon sign that said, “How Sweet It Was!”  Indeed.

Since the diner was kaput, I had to find a different dinner option.  I’d completely avoided downtown Columbia when I’d arrived, so I went that direction.  I didn’t realize it’s a FULL ON college town: bike lanes everywhere, ample public transportation…and TONS of young people not paying attention to traffic.  I finally found a place to park and enjoyed a meal at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing Company.  It was a tasty & refreshing way to cap an entire day of travel.

I’ll be here until Friday, and hope to take a few short side-trips in the evenings.  We’ll see…and, so will you!

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Route 66: Green Miles

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I am very excited to announce my next photo exhibition!  Opening Night is Thursday, March 2nd at the Circle Cinema.  It starts at 6:00 PM and features photographs I’ve never printed before.

At 7:00, I’ll be presenting my ‘Allure of Route 66’ presentation in one of the theaters.  If you didn’t make it out to the Central Library last month, this presentation takes you on a virtual road trip down Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica.

I can’t wait to share it with a whole new crowd!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to my companion, my partner, my girl Friday. You hold me up when I want to fall down, encourage me when I’m disheartened, and calm me when I’m upset. She’s goofy, generous, gorgeous…but above all she’s kind. Her creative heart inspires me daily.

I’m so thankful we found each other. If you’ve not taken a look at her stunning steampunk creations, check them out!

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I am lucky to have a supportive partner in life, and in my business too. Rhys challenges me, believes in me, and cheers me on. I hope you each have someone, or many somoeones, like this in your life. Celebrate them daily.

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I’m making him something special and I wanted to share it with you–it’s still in progress but I was happy when this serendipitously came together. I found transportation tokens that spell out his first name, Rhys, and a fishing lure with his last name: Martin!

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Yellow

Since I’ve had a pretty light travel schedule lately, I thought I’d do something interesting with the photographs I already have.  I back up all of my photos on Google Photos, which has an appropriately great search function.  I posed a question on Facebook last week asking folks to submit words or phrases I could use; it returned some fun results.  In that vein, I’m going to post a series of photographs that were ‘discovered’ using a specific color.

Today’s post is ‘Yellow’.  I’ll caption each one to give some context.  Enjoy!

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Timber Creek Bridge in Beckham County, Oklahoma.  This is on old Route 66 as you approach the Texas border.  It sits alongside I-40 and is easily visible from the highway.

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Utica Square in Tulsa, OK.  It opened in 1952 as the city’s first ‘suburban shopping center’.  Today it’s nestled in the heart of midtown and is the home for several upscale shops.

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Bill’s Jumbo in Tulsa is one of my favorites.  They make ’em the same way they have since they opened in 1960. They’re always busy and often run out of meat before official closing time.  Cash only & takeout preferred..they only have seven bar stools.

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I love going to DragonCon in Atlanta every year, as the creativity of the cosplayers always leaves me stunned.  This is an Iron Man made out of boxes, one of a troop of boxy super heroes that also attends annually.

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The sodium-vapor street lights in Barnsdall, Oklahoma give their entire main street a yellow glow at night.  Most small towns in Oklahoma employ the same cost-effective type of lighting.

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La Posada in Winslow, AZ was built as a Harvey House Hotel and rail station back during Route 66’s heyday.  It was brought back from the brink of collapse and restored wonderfully.  It’s a great place to stay (complete with an excellent restaurant).  The walls act as something of a museum for the architect (Mary Colter) and the grounds feature a delightful public garden.

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One of the first architectural tours I took in Tulsa was of the Will Rogers High School.  It’s a beautiful Art Deco structure with a lot of nice flourishes inside.  This is their gymnasium.

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You never know what you’ll encounter when you take the back road somewhere.  This old Ford lived up to the mocking acronym (Found On Road Dead) between Tulsa and Sapulpa.

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My beautiful wife poses for me in front of the daffodils at Woodward Park. ❤

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I was walking to my room in Phuket, Thailand when I looked over and saw this pillow sitting in a windowsill.  This was the day before I joined a group of tourists to see Phang Nga Bay and the island where James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed.

 

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Onward and Upward

This last week was full of activity.  Most of it wasn’t particularly planned, either.  It’s amazing the kind of trouble you can get up to when you leave yourself open to new possibilities.

Wednesday was a big day.  It was the six year anniversary of my father’s passing, so I took the day off work.  I also had a mid-day presentation at the Central Library in Tulsa, something I’ve been planning for weeks.  The Tulsa City-County Library has an annual series of presentations called ‘Travels with Tulsans‘ and I’d been invited to kick off the 2017 season with a talk about my travels along Route 66.  My wife and mother beamed proudly from the crowd of about 50 as I showed photographs and talked about my experiences on the Mother Road.  I ran over my 45 minute time allotment a little, but when I finished I received a hearty applause from friends and strangers alike.  A few folks even came up to me afterwards to tell me about their Route 66 experiences, which is what it’s all about.  I recorded the whole thing at home afterwards, which is linked at the end of this post.  I’ve already had a few folks approach me about giving it again elsewhere; that’s an exciting prospect!

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Once everything wrapped up at the library, I picked my brother Tyler up from his house and we headed to Pawhuska.  Considering the anniversary, I wanted to spend some time with him and visit Dad’s hometown together.  It was a good drive through Osage County, full of memories and laughter.  When we pulled into the cemetery, those memories came with tears instead.  Recovery took place at The Mercantile, the Pioneer Woman’s restaurant/shop that I wrote about here.  The food was just what we needed:  hearty, delicious, and reminiscent of time long past.  On the way out, I picked up a bag of coffee to enjoy on my own time back home.

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That coffee was the only thing I planned to enjoy during the weekend.  Friday evening, though, other plans began to take shape.  My best friends Kristi and Maggie reached out to see if Samantha and I would join them at the Women’s March in Oklahoma City.  Although Sam and I had talked a bit about potentially going, we hadn’t really planned on it until they asked.  So, early Saturday morning, my coffee went unmade and we hit the interstate, bound for the state capital.

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By the time we saw the Capitol Building in person, it was 9:45 AM.  The overcast skies threatened rain but the crowd was huge!  By the time the invocations began at 10:30, there were about 12,000 fellow Okies listening intently.  Several faith leaders presented prayers and messages of encouragement before the crowd took a walk down Lincoln Boulevard, chanting and holding signs.  Everything was very peaceful; the message was one of equality, human rights, and community activism.  The march in Oklahoma City was a sister march in support of the larger march in Washington DC; in fact, there were hundreds of sister marches in cities around the country and around the world.  I’d never participated in something of that scale before.  You can see all the photos I captured of the march here.

That wasn’t the end of the weekend, though.  Sunday morning was a peaceful affair and I finally got to enjoy that delicious Pioneer Woman coffee. Raindrops tapped on the windows and covered the streets as I set out once more, this time for Chandler and the quarterly meeting of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. I drove Route 66 all the way from Tulsa, appropriately enjoying the old familiar road and clearing skies.  I arrived with a notebook in hand, prepared to takes notes so that I could report anything of note back to the Tulsa Route 66 Commission.  No sooner had I put my notebook on the table than the President of the association approached me.  The position of Tulsa County Representative was up for election and he asked if I would be interested.  A few minutes later, a motion was carried that made me a bonafide representative in Oklahoma’s Historic Association.

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At that meeting, another conversation took place that brought the week full circle.  A man I’d met in Missouri last year, Michael Jones, was present. He’s been working on opening a vintage memorabilia shop on the route in Sapulpa.  He shook my hand said something that made my heart skip: “I knew your father.”  It turns out that Michael Jones had seen a photo I’d posted of Dad and something clicked.  He had worked with Dad back in the Price Mart days, calling on him as a representative from several grocery companies like Carnation and Hershey.  “He was tough, but you knew where you stood with him,” he said with a smile.  I smiled back with great pride.  We talked for a few minutes about the Food Show events we both attended in Springfield, Missouri decades ago.  We may have even met each other back in those days.  Everything was different now, sure, but we are all a sum of the actions that came before.  What a lovely coincidence!

It’s a small world when you get down to it.  Do what you can to make your world one worth living in.  Now, as promised, the video version of my Route 66 presentation.  Enjoy!

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Having an Ice Weekend

All last week, the local weather stations have been warning Tulsa residents that a potentially crippling ice storm would arrive this weekend.  The big question mark revolved around the actual temperature: in every weather model, Tulsa sat RIGHT on the freezing mark.  So it could be a big mess or it could be no big deal at all.  Turns out…it was no big deal.  Although we had some ice buildup on tree branches and other elevated surfaces, the roads were fine.  That meant I could do a little driving!

Friday night I stayed in town, going to a few places that I thought might look cool with a slight glaze of ice.  Although I didn’t find any place that really showcased the winter weather, the slight fog gave a nice noir quality to the neon lights:

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In the last few weeks, the downtown skyline has had a few (old) new lights turn on after a long absence.  The spire on the National Bank of Tulsa Building, commonly known as the 320 Boston Building, has had its lighting restored.  From 1964-1973, the lighting was used to alert Tulsans to weather conditions.  If it was green, weather was good.  If it was red, storms were coming.  I’m not sure what the blinking signifies, but, it was cool to see:

A block away, more rooftop lighting has been restored.  The pinnacle of the Philtower, shaped somewhat like a lantern, once again shines brightly with multi-colored neon.  I had no idea those lights were even up there!  I’m eager to get some good shots of it up close, but for now my zoom lens will have to do:

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On Saturday, more ice had built up on the trees and power lines.  I decided to take a short drive north to see what I could see.  As I left Tulsa city limits, a destination came to mind.  There was an old truss bridge north of Dewey that sits right on the edge of a hill, surrounded by trees.  That would look GREAT surrounded by icy branches!  Perhaps even the bridge itself would be visibly iced.  I turned the music up and set my destination, sixty miles away.  As I crossed into Washington County, the countryside turned into this beautiful crystalline landscape.  It started raining a bit but the roads were still not slick at all.  I thought for sure my idea would pan out.

When I entered Bartlesville and drove through Dewey, I noticed something disheartening.  The ice was diminishing.  By the time I turned onto the county road that lead to the Mission Creek Bridge, there was very little evidence that it had even been cold enough for ice.  It just looked damp.  Alas, the bridge itself just looked drab among the dormant treeline:

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I headed home, disappointed.  I’m very hard on myself in these situations; I could feel the seed of anger in my stomach, a harbinger of negative self-talk that usually comes when I miss a photographic opportunity or make what I feel is a poor decision (even when I didn’t really have control over the situation.)  However, it’s a new year.  I’m committed to stopping that nonsense and treating myself with more respect.  My trip didn’t pan out?  That’s fine.  I gave it a shot.  It was not the end of the world.  I made a decision to smile instead and enjoy the drive.

When I returned to the frosted fields south of Bartlesville, my imagination stirred to life again.  Because I wasn’t stuck in a loop of self-depreciating muttering, another location surfaced in my memory.  After crossing back into Tulsa County, I turned off on another county road.  A few miles later, I was rewarded with a beautiful sight.

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Built in 1912, this old through-truss bridge spans Bird Creek near the town of Sperry.  It was bypassed years ago but is still easily accessible on foot.  The overgrowth surrounding the truss was delightfully icy, as was the steel construction itself.  The rural silence was only broken by the crunch of ice beneath my feet when I stepped on encased patches of grass.  I stood for a while and marveled at the frozen steel lattice, barely noticing the cold.  It was well worth the trip.

Sometimes, things work out.  Other times, though, they don’t.  And that’s okay.  Over the last year, I’ve been beating myself up something fierce any time I miss a beautiful sunset or make a decision that I end up perceiving as a “waste of time.”  No more; that’s no way to treat myself.  Even if I hadn’t come across the second bridge yesterday, it was a beautiful drive in search of creative expression.  As my Route 66 friends say, it’s about the journey…not the destination.

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