By RICH FOLEY
I’m back from probably my last trip to Missouri and none too soon. Temperatures were in the mid 90s the whole time I was there, with nasty humidity besides. My four previous trips since 2003 were in either March or November, so I never noticed Aunt Sue’s house’s lack of air conditioning until this trip. Now 85° seems almost comfortable, but I’m sure I’ll readjust soon.
As usual on these trips, I had a weird experience at a motel. On the way west to help with Aunt Sue’s estate sale, I stopped for the evening at Terre Haute, Ind., at a national chain motel. The desk clerk, who bore a striking resemblance to Marilyn Manson (except the real Manson wears a bit more eye shadow), said they had a new crew of maids and no rooms had been cleaned up yet, even though it was after 5 p.m.
“Marilyn” said he’d take a reservation for me and get a room cleaned if I wanted to stop back a bit later. I went to dinner and when I returned at 6:30, a room was ready, sort of.
Everything seemed to be fine, until I tried to call my sister and found the phone wasn’t working. I carry a prepaid cell phone with me, but I try to use a phone card when possible since it’s much cheaper.
I went to the office and told Marilyn of the problem. He suddenly remembered that five rooms had broken phones. “I should have had a different room cleaned for you,” he said. Well, no kidding, Einstein. I had noticed some construction going on at the motel when I checked in and a building permit dated 2002 on the office window. Phones must be slated to be replaced later in their 10-year construction project.
Marilyn offered to let me move to a second-floor smoking room, but that idea didn’t excite me. Neither did just getting a refund and going elsewhere, as it was after 8 p.m. and I had already unpacked. Finally, he offered me a discount to stay in the room. After much figuring on his calculator, he determined the lack of a phone was worth $5.56, which he handed over in cash. I left the room only once more, to find the pop and snack machines were out of order, too. I returned to my room and barricaded the door.
Nearing Missouri on I-70 the next morning, I saw construction crews erecting a sign renaming that section of the highway in honor of former Illinois senator Paul Simon. The gigantic green and white sign even had a several foot long bow tie painted on it, a tribute to Simon’s favorite neckwear. I’m sure nighttime drivers will be a bit startled the first time they see a giant reflecting bow tie in the distance.
I reached St. Louis on a Wednesday and set out to find if rock legend Chuck Berry was scheduled to play in the neighborhood. He’d managed to avoid me four trips in a row, but this time I was excited to find his monthly appearance was that very night. Excited, that is, until I found out that this time, the show was already sold out. Would I like to purchase an advance ticket for Chuck’s concert on September 13th? I would not. Let’s just leave that score at Chuck: 5, me: 0.
On the first day of the estate sale, the local police had a surprise for us. After spending over two hours setting up, an officer stopped and told us it was against a city ordinance to have a sale in the front yard. She said her captain noticed us starting to set up a couple of hours before and told her to stop by and tell us we couldn’t do it.
I guess it was too hot out for him to stop and roll his window down and tell us himself before we did all the work. What’s even worse, we had checked to see if we needed a permit and no one mentioned the ordinance at the time. There’s nothing like needless extra outside work when it’s 95°.
Finally, it was time to return home and make one last trip through Illinois and past its interesting small towns, like Pocahontas (proud hometown of country singer Gretchen Wilson, check out the souvenirs at the Phillips 66 station). Then there’s Fayette County with the towns of St. Elmo, Vandalia (great tater tots at the Sonic drive-in) and Altamont (featuring the only Stuckey’s on the route).
There’s one town off of I-70 I didn’t notice on the map until after I’d passed it. Just west of the Illinois-Indiana state line is the creatively named town of State Line, Illinois. If anyone out there happens to be heading that way, could you stop and see if the local paper is called the Observer? And since it’s just a few miles from Terre Haute, ask them if Marilyn Manson is a subscriber.- Aug. 30, 2006