Last Wednesday, we returned home from a road trip. It was both tiring and great fun. The road trip started two days before the real driving started when I took Dianne to the airport, so she could fly off to Milwaukee and have more time for family and friends. I left approximately 36 hours after the 1 pm airport drop-off hugging and goodbye kisses scene ended.
My goal in driving all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Albuquerque was to stop at several civil war sites on the way and more on the way back. You have probably never heard of these particular battle sites because they cover relatively small engagements.
The car was loaded with two extra items: a box with all the ancient photos (lots of sepia) from my family generations back and a Lionel Train Set from Dianne’s family. The photos were going into storage in my sister’s basement so she and my brother can determine which of them and any of the other boxes of photos and slides from long-ago-family-days should be kept. The train set went to Dianne’s sister’s house for a future delivery to a nephew who collects model trains. Good to know model railroading is still popular in these internet first-person-shooter days.
The drive from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City is a little over eight hours. It is one of the most boring drives there is in our country. It is a straight shot on I-40 going east. Driving it is good practice for you, if you fear you will spend a bit of your post-life in purgatory. To make matters worse most of the interstate rest areas are closed and you are forced toward fast food joints and gas station quick-mart establishments for restrooms. I always feel obligated to purchase something, if I use a business’s public restroom. Peanut M&Ms are my go to purchase. With three stops that would be 900 calories while sitting all day at the wheel. I do not know where this sense of obligation comes from. Because I require a resolution, I blame Mr. Howard, my economics professor from my university days, for instilling guilt in me for adding an extra layer of work onto some low pay level gas station or fast food employee without the purchase for the service of supplying a public restroom.
Historic sites visited on the way to Milwaukee (in order).
Cabin Creek Battlefield. I tried the website driving instruction and landed in the middle of somewhere green. I tried GPS iMap version and landed in the middle of a different, but similar somewhere green. I tried asking Pensacola, Oklahoma locals and learned that they did not know there was a battlefield nearby or that the civil war came as far west as Oklahoma. I gave up trying to find the battlefield because an hour had ticked by and the day felt fleeting. Bummer.
Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum. Should be a model for small community historical centers. Area is on top of the nation’s largest super fund clean up site(s) due to the abandoned zinc and lead mines that catacomb hundreds of tunnel miles under several counties in the area or so a 200 to 500 hundred feet below the surface.
Fort Scott National Historic Site. Has the distinction of being the recruiting and training site for the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, which was the first colored regiment organized by a northern state.
Mine Creek Battlefield. The second largest cavalry action of the civil war and very few people have ever heard of it. Good walking trails.
Big Blue (a creek) Battlefield. Brown highway informational signs directed me into an industrial park with a commemoration stone. That was all I found.
Battle of Westport Visitors’ Center. Visitors’ center was the size of Dr. Who’s TARDIS on the outside with no hope it would be large on the inside. Plus a sign stated it was closed until 2pm and I was hungry.
Lone Jack Historical Society. I lost the game of civil war knowledge one-ups-man-ship to the volunteer staff member due to his home battlefield advantage. Favorite tidbit I came away with: the character Rooster Cogburn in the movie True Grit (John Wayne version) in one scene says he lost his eye in a little scrape called Lone Jack.
Battle of Lexington State Historical Society. Famous for the Rebel troops using hemp bales as mobile breastworks and rolling them toward the Federal fort.
Battle of Athens. The town of Athens, Missouri was near the Iowa border on the Des Moines river. The battle was fought in 1861 between the Missouri State Guard (Confederate sympathizing militia training to be soldiers) and the Missouri Home Guard (Union sympathizing militia training to be soldiers). Both groups were barely organized bands of locals with whatever weapons they had from home.
I discovered that gas station stores in Kansas and Missouri and Illinois carried Yoo-hoo chocolate drink in glass bottles. Those of you who know me are aware the high fructose corn syrup is something I am allergic to, but I gave in a couple times on the trip to enjoy this small, chocolaty bliss. Yeah, I paid for it, but it was worth it.
None of the hotels in Lexington had a vacancy and there were no vacancies to be found for forty miles. A little thing like graduation was happening that weekend for several schools and families had booked everything up for miles. Tired, I drove to a highway and interstate junction town that was out of my way, but smart phone hotel app technology had located a vacant room and reserved it. Good night’s sleep. Fresh start in the morning.
I grew accustomed to hotel free breakfast. Sausage patty or links, fluffy-yellow stuff labeled eggs in an hockey puck disc shape, a slightly green banana, and two yogurts of whatever brand was in the cooler. It made for a surprisingly long lasting breakfast, but maybe, my stomach prefers to simulate full for a long time when the food stuff is not recognized by the stomach with the same names as the eye places upon the food stuff.
To get to many of these small historic sites, I drove many US and rural highways. I saw plenty of down and out towns on the way. Some were showing the beginning signs of rallying as business was just starting to move in and take advantage of vacant factory sites or deals made with municipalities. Other towns were just heavy with despair and vacant buildings and overweight people. My guess is the overweight is from eating high carbohydrate diets, without much nutrition value—but I am guessing.
Illinois Route 2 along the Rock River from Rock Falls up to Rockford, Illinois is very pretty drive. Saw a bald eagle during a stretching break at a picnic area. He saw me, too.
Visited my Alma mater, Rockford University. I was lucky enough to catch the Alumni Director, Bernard J. Sundstedt, in and free. He and I shared a suite back in our school days for one year. We had a nice chat, toured the campus, and he pointed out to me how the university is upgrading itself into the 21st century and what its upcoming plans are for more upgrading—good fund raising ploy. I got to meet one of the current art professors (my degree is a BA in drawing & printmaking) and sit in on the tail end of a 101 drawing lecture about line and three dimensions from a two-dimensional space to summer school students.
This trip was for visiting people. Got to visit with my long time friend Christine, my sister Jean and her husband Earl, Dianne’s sister Kathy and Dianne’s mother Shirley, and Bob Lieberman and his wife Susan Hirst. Pleasant conversations were had with all people. Too much food was eaten at every meal. What are family visits for if not gaining a few pounds? I stayed away from drinking too much—a Milwaukee habit I lost over the years, which I doubt I ever had.
Note. Be wary of playing cards with Shirley (especially 500 Rummy for 5-cents a point). Put together Dianne and I shelled out $18 when the game was done. Ouch.
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Winslow Homer show was great. And is gone before I can give you a link to it. I guess we caught the next to last day of the Homer exhibition.
Woodland Pattern is still there, burning as a literary beacon for small press publishers and poets across the land. It is under new management and direction. We stopped in so I could meet the new managers, but they were away at meetings. Hopefully they plot to drag Woodland Pattern into the 21st century. Or at least to get the bothersome wet cat smell out of the building.
If you plan a visit to Milwaukee, we recommend the County Claire Inn. Good food in the pub on the first floor. Good rooms on the upper floors. An easy walk to lake front activities and art museum.
Historic sites visited on the way home.
Dianne road home with me—she also drove her share of it. So the book of photos and train set I ejected from the car were replaced by her suitcase and extra stuff. (Everyone purchases extra stuff when traveling, like t-shirts, don’t you?)
Our first stop was Springfield, Illinois for all things Lincoln. We met with our friends Don & Carol, who drove down from La Cross, Wisconsin to spend time with us and be baptized in Lincoln lore. If you ever go, visit Lincoln’s home as well as the museum & research library. (Dianne caught the Lincoln bug from me and my civil war studies. She knows more about Lincoln than I do by now.)
Jefferson Barracks. A descent civil war museum on the grounds displayed some rare weapons I had not seen before in person, like a Joslyn Carbine and Merrill Carbine.
U.S. Grant’s Home NHS. The more I learn about Grant, the more I like him and think he got a raw deal from the popular history. Still working my way through the last few captures of Chernow’s biography on Grant.
Battle of Carthage. The highlight here was spotting a hawk’s nest in the trees and seeing the whitish fuzz-ball young hawks waiting for food to be delivered. One of the adult hawks sounded alarm the whole time we were near their tree.
On our way to the Newtonia Battlefield site, we saw a sign for the George Washington Carver NHS and made a quick change of plans. Well worth it. Carver is a must know American. Way, way more than peanut butter to the man.
We met our friends Robert and Susan at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. I guess you are thinking to yourselves that NW Arkansas is not a fine arts place. Well, Alice L. Walton of Walmart money decided NW Arkansas is a fine arts place and made it so. It is well worth a visit.
Our last historic site visited was on the next to last day driving home. It was the cabin lived in by Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet. The young man who gave us the tour was very knowledgeable and wove an interesting story both of Sequoyah and the Cherokee people.
I have two reasons for stopping at so many historical sites when traveling by car. The first and most important is that I love history. In my case it leans toward the American Civil War, but any place the national park service thinks worth care-taking, I automatically think is worth visiting. The second is an acknowledgement that I cannot drive, drive, drive, drive, and drive all day long like when I was young. The stops give me a good break from the road and time to stretch and sneak in a couple physical therapy exercises.
Suggestion. When in a town, like Springfield, Illinois, that is hosting a six block long art fair while you are visiting, thus forcing you to an edge-of-the-city hotel, do not drive into the city center to see all things Lincoln, take Lyft or Uber from your hotel to avoid the hassle of finding and paying for parking OR worrying about that last beer or wine you drank with dinner.
I think every hotel room we stayed in had something wrong with it in the physical sense. I had front desk personnel fill out work-orders at every stop. Disappointing, for the hotels we stayed at—mostly of the brand Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn and Quality Inn which are all part of the Choice Hotels group.
Most amazing fact of the whole road trip: Dianne and I did NOT have a fight, barely raised our voices twice. Road trips are a true test of loving someone.
I am happy to be home. Home. Home. Home. Home. My bed. My humidity. My hills to bicycle. My studio where my physical therapy sessions have enough room to take place. (Hotel rooms were often too small for the full set of exercises, some of which need space.)
blatant plug, capitalism, greed *, avarice **
Robert told me how much he is enjoying my new book of poems, Layover. Take Robert’s word as a literary endorsement from a jazz promoter and purchase a copy.
* I am not trying hard enough to sell copies to have greed to be applicable.
** I used avarice just to use it, because I see it so rarely. It is twice as not applicable.