I haven't even passed through two of the seven states, and my adventures on the road have already hit full force. While in the Land of Lincoln, I met a guy who pummels people and digs through garbage for a living and another guy who is taking a leisurely stroll across the United States (I prefer to use my Road King). My home state of Illinois wasn't bad for a start to the journey. But my Missouri experience would make even Kerouac proud. I can't get into the particulars of the events ... as my mom will end up reading this. To give you a hint, close your eyes and imagine a voluminous, unclothed, female alligator wrestler. Offensive? Mom, you better stop reading now.
The Mississippi Valley is known for wooded rolling hills, the Ozarks and hillbilly hotties. Following the original route over the Mighty Mississippi will probably put you in jail. The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is now for pedestrian use only. St. Louis Labor Day traffic was a nightmare. I planned on checking out all sorts of cool places but got fed up with trying to park near the St. Louis Gateway Arch and headed out toward greener pastures.
A Pain In the Arch
Do you have extra time to spend? Well, don't waste your time going up in the Arch. The kids will drive you nuts, and you can't see crap out of the windows at the top due to too many vandals scratching their name in the glass. Almost like the golden arches but with dirtier windows.
Route 66 is closed through the former site of Times Beach, Missouri. The town was completely destroyed due to dioxin contamination and is now home to the Route 66 State Park. They couldn't afford to pave all of the country roads back then, so they sprayed oil on the gravel. Unfortunately, the oil they used near Times Beach was contaminated. It contained the same toxic substance that makes Agent Orange so bad.Town shut down in '85. State park opened in 1999.
There are many places along the Mother Road that claim to be the hideout of Jesse James (the bank robber, not the chopper builder/TV celebrity); Meramec Caverns (www.americascave.com) is one of them. The initial plan was to stop by the cave and set up camp for the night. Then I saw it. A glorious Route 66 roadside attraction: the infamous Riverside Reptile Wildlife Center (www.riversidereptileranch.org).
A must visit. Just don't show up after hours unless you're ready to party.
This tiger had no problem crunching through the bones. I just wish he would stop staring a
I showed up just after closing, and a group of great folks invited me to stay for dinner. While the meat was grilling on the BBQ, Sally (name changed to protect identity ... actually, I forgot it) gave me a behind-the-scenes tour. I played with venomous snakes, petted a tiger, fed a huge lion and stood in a room with 50 hungry alligators.
Back in the front of the ranch, Sally gave me my first margarita-like substance of the night while cars whizzed by just a few feet away on the Mother Road. Sally was great and so was everyone else, but folks are a bit different out here. At the table sat Sally's big boyfriend, a lovely girl with Down syndrome wearing a McDonald's uniform, another person who I suspect had Down's and a cool rock 'n' roll guy with epilepsy. I am not trying to put this group in bad light; they were great. They took in a stranger, fed and boozed him ... what's not to like?
The booze was the problem. For some reason, sometime around my second drink, Sally decided it would be a great idea to take off her clothes right in front of her guests. She's way over 200 pounds and 50 years old, missing teeth and was being fondled by some 82-year-old man who had driven up after the party started. Needless to say, I had stepped way out of my comfort zone.
The next thing I knew, I had had another margarita thing (or two), and Sally was wrestling an alligator (naked).Straight out of Deliverance. I thought I was surely going to die. I have photographed for magazines all around the world, in unbelievable conditions, but I had never felt this scared before.