Even with part of the evening spent at the laundromat our stay in Springfield was quite pleasant and restful. In large part this was due to the gentle rains that serenaded us through the night and the attention to detail, such as an overstuffed recliner in our room, at the best Western Route 66 Rail Haven motel.The only damper on the evening was an incident on the home front that necessitated a faster return trip. So we plotted a course that would combine speed and as much Route 66 exploration as possible. Counted among the many lessons learned from traveling over the years is the importance of flexibility. This particular trip had already been cancelled twice and the secondary plan of a return through Kansas to catch the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66 in New Mexico had fallen by the wayside weeks before our departure. So, early on day six, after our simple breakfast of oatmeal, juice, coffee, in the room, and fruit from the continental breakfast, we loaded the trusty Jeep, set out for the mornings book signing at Borders, and topped of the tank so we could make a speedy exit. From its inception, I had hoped this trip would be an opportunity to experience Route 66 as a series of time capsules and our first stop of the morning fit that bill to a “T”. I pulled into a little no name station and was immediately greeted by a smiling attendant who asked, “Fill ‘er up, mister.” A real live attendant who filled the tank, who asked if I wanted the oil checked, and who cleaned the windshield and the gas was only $2.45 per gallon, the lowest price found on the entire trip!As it turned out there were two Borders stores. The first store was the wrong one but I was still able to close a deal with the manager in regards to ordering Ghost Towns of the Southwesthttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr. The second store, the correct one, offers a clear example of why the subtitle of this blog pertains to the adventures of a starving artist. Maurie Salenger, the marketing director, had made arrangements with the store and had been informed that two cases of books were being ordered fort he special display of signed copies. The clerk at the front counter, Steve, was most professional and knowledgeable. Still, he was unaware that I was to sign books for the display. In fact he didn’t know where the books were. So, he checked with the assistant manager. Yes, the computer showed the books as being in inventory. No, they did not know where they were. So, he called the manager, Gary, at home. Well, we found half the books which were signed for the display. I then left some promotional material such as post cards and we rolled west on U.S. 60 with our eyes on Afton in the hope of catching Laurel at Afton Station. It was a warm and muggy morning with a promise of afternoon rain hanging in the air. Still, it was a pleasant drive filled with constant reminders of why I have always enjoyed Missouri and roadside stands offering fresh strawberries. As it turned out, on our second visit to Afton Station we hit the jackpot. Laurel Kane, the ever cheerful proprietress, Ron “the tatooman”, and Ron McCoy were all present as were a steady string of visitors.
I made it a special point to reexamine the towering Packard sign at Afton Station. In Kingman we have been working to finalize plans for the restoration of a similar sign and return it the front of the Old Trails Garage where it can again cast its gentle neon glow on Route 66 just as it did in 1930.We could have stayed all day but we had miles to make. So, we bid adios to the Afton Station gang, continued west on U.S. 60/Route 66, and turned south on U.S. 69 at Vinita. With the southward turn the plans for exploring Depew and catching up with Jerry McClanahan in Chandler went south as well. Never one for crying over spilled milk we focused on the task at hand, finding some place unique for lunch. In tiny little Chouteau we found that in spades. An Amish store promoting cheese and salami lured us from the highway but it was an older barn looking building with a sign that read, “Old Dutch Restaurant & Buffet” the drew us out of the climate controlled cocoon of the Jeep. My wife summed it quite well, it was as though we had crashed a family reunion and helped ourselves to the potato salad. The “restaurant” apparently was for evening meals. The buffet consisting of staple and basic farm foods – mashed potatoes, potato salad, fresh green salad, fired chicken, etc. was for dinner. The atmosphere was dusty, musty, and old, with locals discussing the exploits of cousins and farm prices.It was in the deserts and canned goods for sale that the place really shone. row upon row and shelf upon shelf of fresh cobblers and pies, canned cinnamon pears and watermelon rind, fresh salsa with peaches and garlic, were a gastronomic delightful for this old farm boy. One whiff, one bite and I was instantly transported to the front porch of my Aunt Violet’s house on Sand Mountain, Alabama, where we often ended a day on the farm by savoring a piece of fresh apple pie with home made ice cream as we sat on the front porch catching an evening breeze perfumed with fresh mown hay and honeysuckle. We caught up with I-40, but missed our Route 66 adventure, and found temporary solace in sections of U.S. 266. The interstate provided us with speedy passage through Oklahoma City and quick access to Route 66 at Yukon. Unsure of where we would end the day, a stop was made at a small supermarket that might have been a set for a grade “B” movie about small town America as a seedy, tarnished, backwater. The cashier was dressed in tattered clothes. The floor tiles were well worn. The parking lot was littered with battered trucks and well worn sedans. Still, the folks were friendly and we soon had our supplies for the evening and morning; muffins, apples, yogurt, whole wheat sandwich thins, lunch meat, fresh tomatoes, a bag of salad, and a case of bottled water. At check out we were informed the store was out of bags so with a smile on our face, suppressed laughter in our throat, and arm loads of food stuffs we wandered out to the Jeep and continued our westward trek alternating between Route 66 and I-40. The long shadows heralded a fast approaching sunset as we rolled into Clinton. This coupled with tired eyes and the goal of a very early start for day seven, led us to seek shelter for the night. This leads me to the only lodging of the trip that I can’t really recommend unless one is really left with few options. The sign at the Econo Lodge Inn & Suites on Neptune drive proclaimed a recent remodel and the lobby, though a bit musty, gave every indication that this was the case. Then the illusion was shattered. As per direction, we entered the west side door, stepped down five steps, followed the hall past the customer laundry, found our room, turned the key, and discovered that the air conditioner had been left on very a very long time. The room was an icy, musty meat locker. After a quick perusal, and turning of the air conditioner, we decided we could suck it up for one night rather than face the hassle of complaining, trying to get our $49.99 refunded. and seeking another motel. So we settled in for the night and prepared our light supper as we watched the weather report for the following day. I can say that after the laundry room was shut down things were surprisingly quiet, even relaxing. And then the skunks paid a visit to the garden that shaded our ground level window. The best was yet to come but the excitement about day seven of our adventure and the anticipation of what we might discover on the road ahead was the incentive needed for weathering the ordeal. Besides, good or bad we were on a road trip and road trips are about making memories.