June 26. 2013
33 things for Bill Linden to do on Route 66
(For his 66th birthday journey with Mrs. Bill from Chicago to Albuquerque, N.M. For more on the Mother Road visit the home page of this blog.)
1. Breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, open since 1923 in downtown Chicago.
2. Golden brown chicken to go at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, 645 Joliet Rd. in Willowbrook (adjacent to I-55) —first excellent neon sign photo op. This iconic restaurant has been in the same spot since 1963. The late Dell Rhea was an executive director of the Chicago Convention Bureau and was instrumental in bringing the 1933 World’s Exposition to Chicago.
3. Twin Spin in Pontiac, Ill.—-Pontiac car museum (I still drive a Pontiac) and the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum, 110 Howard St. downtown Pontiac. Check out my old friend Bob Waldmire’s 1966 Chevy bus-house. You would have liked this R. Crumb inspired artist. I visited Bob in this bus as he lay dying from colon cancer in November, 2009. One of the last things he asked me to do before I left was to feed his birds.
Route 66 is for free spirits.
4. Funk’s Grove, get some pure “maple siriup” in this wooded grove southwest of Bloomington.
5. Remodeled Dixie Truck Stop, McLean, Ill. Say hello to the MegaBus passengers on their pit stop.
But don’t pick any up.
6. Have a homemade apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, rhubarb, boysenberry or sour cream pie at the Palms (opened 1934) in uptown Atlanta, Ill. (pop. 1,649, just five minutes from the Dixie). Heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer—father of Jethro from “The Beverly Hilllbillies” is the biggest named celebrity to dine at the Palms—to date. Bill Thomas brought the Palms back to life and is one of the great ambassadors on the Mother Road.
7. Photo op with the Bunyon Giant, across the street from the Palms. In 2004 Thomas spearheaded a drive to relocate the 19-foot tall Paul Bunyon fiberglass statue from a Cicero hot dog stand on ‘66 to Atlanta.
8. Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 6th St. in Springfield, the launching pad for Bob Waldmire and his family. They’ve been serving battered deep-fried hot dogs on a stick since 1950. The logo of weenies in love is irresistible—tee shirt time!
9. Say a prayer at Our Lady of the Highway, Raymond, Ill. (it can be seen between exits 72 and 63 on the west end of I-55 heading south). The shrine is a life-size marble figurine imported from Carrara, Italy. Late farmer Frances Marten installed this shrine in 1959. When I-55 was built in 1970 the state tried to remove the shrine. They failed.
10. Slow down and put your arm around your significant other.
11. Ariston Cafe, opened 1924 on old Route 66 in Litchfield. Don’t miss the prime rib of beef served on a hoagie with au jus. Good beer selection, too. Litchfield is a gem of a Route 66 town about an hour north of St. Louis.
12. Euclid Records, 19 N. Gore Ave. in the Webster Groves neighborhood just west of downtown St. Louis. Awesome collection of vinyl—you might find some Bobby Troup music here. I’m adding their phone number for my own future reference: 314-961-8978.
13. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, 6726 Chippewa St. (old ‘66) in St. Louis. Have a concrete with tart cherries and hot fudge. A concrete is basically a shake so thick that it can be turned upside down without falling out of the cup. I know our friend and fellow gypsy Al Solomon loves this place.
14. Take time to remember Route 66 is not about an agenda. Let the moments come to you.
15. If you are tired, rest a spell at the newly restored Wagon Wheel Motel., 901 E. Washington St. (Old 66), in Cuba, Mo., about 85 miles west of St. Louis. (Exit 208 on I-44). The Wagon Wheel is the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66.
The Wheel opened in 1935. The Chicago Daily Illustrated Times, the predecessor to our Sun-Times was six years old. The Wagon Wheel was one of my final road columns before the Sun-Times pantsed its travel section earlier this year.
16. Awesome photo op at the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Cuba, down the road from the Wagon Wheel. And how big is it? It is 42-feet-1-inch tall, 20 feet-3 inches wide and weighs 27,000 pounds. Free. Very cool grocery store and shooting range right next door.
17. Stop or sleep at the Best Western Rail Haven, 203 S. Glenstone (old ‘66) in Springfield, Mo. By now it is an eight-hour non stop drive from Chicago.
Elvis Presley stayed in room 409 at the Rail Haven. The Rail Haven got its name because of the quaint split rail fence that surrounds the property. There’s a nice outdoor pool for those hot summer days in the heart of the Ozarks. And don’t you go wandering off to Branson, down the road.
18. Amaze your friends with the fact that Springfield is the “Cashew Chicken Capital of America.”
There are more than 100 restaurants that serve cashew chicken in Springfield. I never get tired of sharing this story as told to me by the wonderful Lou Whitney, bassist-vocalist for the Skeletons, a popular pop-soul band based in Springfield. Whitney moved to Springfield in 1970.
Pensacola, Fla. chef David Leong migrated to “The Queen City of the Ozarks” after World War II.
In the late 1960s a semi-truck plowed off of Route 66 into the kitchen of the now-defunct Grove Supper Club where Leong was working. Whitney told me this story in the summer of 2001. To demonstrate what happened, the 6’4” raconteur stood up from behind a desk in his downtown Springfield recording studio and threw himself against a wall.
Like Dick Butkus hard.
Still standing Whitney said, “David was pinned against the wall and suffered minor injuries. He ultimately got a settlement.” Leong opened his own restaurant with the settlement and became the Ray Kroc of Cashew Chicken. His unique “Springfield” style consisted of Chinese oyster sauce, chives and/or chopped scallions.
19. Central Square in Springfield is where Wild Bill Hickok killed Dave Tutt in a shoot out after Hickok lost a poker game to Tutt.
20. Never bypass the 12 miles of Kansas on Route 66. (From Joplin, Mo. to Vinita, Okla.) I was once on a tour bus with Asleep at the Wheel on a Route 66 caravan and they did this. The residents of the few small towns along the way were pissed and vowed to never buy an Asleep at the Wheel record again.
21. Baxter Springs, Kansas has a sign advertising itself as “The first Cowtown in Kansas.” Don’t miss the rainbow bridges, too.
22. The Will Rogers Memorial is in Claremore, Okla.
23. Play Bob Dylan on the car radio. Lately I’ve been listening to a “Shelter From the Storm” demo where Zimmy made every word count:
“I was in another lifetime one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form....
But the spirit of the Mother Road restores your sense of totality. You understand your place in this traveling carnival of barkers, clowns and lion tamers we call America.
Here is Dylan’s alternate version:
24. Check out Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St., just off of ‘66 in Tulsa, Okla. even if you just walk by the place. Built from natural limestone, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys broadcast live from the ballroom from 1934 to the early 1960s. The Sex Pistols played here in 1978 and Hank Williams once passed out on a red vinyl couch in the office. I drove here once just to see Merle Haggard. Allow time in Tulsa. It is an underrated ‘66 town full of great architecture, shopping and diners.
25. The National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Okla. (just west of I-35.)
26. When the stars come out, pull over in a field outside of town. Get out of the car. Lay down on the hood of your car and look up to the sky. Make sure a hush falls across the plains. Make a wish.
It will come true.
27. U Drop Inn, 101 E. 12th St. (old 66) in Shamrock, Texas, newly restored example of some of the best Art Deco on Route 66. The U Drop Inn opened in 1936 and was refitted to be featured in the town of “Radiator Springs” in the 2006 Disney animated film “Cars.” The U Drop Inn was on its last legs when I did the entire Mother Road in 1991. I believe today it is a visitor center and museum.
28. Amarilllo, Texas. I remember this for great thrift store shopping. Like we need more “stuff.”
29. The Big Texan Steak Ranch, opened in 1960 at what is now 7701 E. I-40 in Amarillo. Eat a 72-ounce steak in an hour and it is free. Ironically, the steak ranch is just east of Memorial Park Cemetery. These guys should hook up with the big rocking chair back in Cuba.
30. Tucamcari, New Mexico—lots of motels and neon photo ops. Bonus points for being worked into the Lowell George road song “Willin’.”
31. Cuvero, New Mexico.
In 1991 I bought a turquoise ring at a Native American shop in this “ghost town.” I still wear it today to remind me of the circle of life (and to always check the air in your tires on a long road trip!). There is a quote in my new collection of oral histories “The Supper Club Book (A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition)” —-available at The Supper Club Book.com!!!t -which t is applicable to this ghost moment in Cuvero:
“No place is a place until things are remembered.”
32. Albuquerque—You have arrived. Remember to tell your passenger(s) that Jim Morrison of the Doors lived in Albuquerque. As a four-year old in 1947 he witnessed a car accident in the New Mexico desert that seriously injured a family of Native Americans. The imagery of “Crying Indians” haunted him the rest of his short life.
33. Don’t miss the beautiful restoration of the “Pubelo Deco” KiMo Theater, 423 Central Ave, N.W, for your trip will be something they make movies about. Stories with great songs, beautiful birds and happy endings.