Postcard From Missouri Rt. 160

The only place I had been to in Missouri was Branson so my knowledge of that state might fill up a thimble - the James-Younger gang was from Missouri as was William Quantrill, the famed guerrilla leader during the Civil War; and there's the arch in St. Louis; and the University of Missouri with their black & gold colors is somewhere in the state; and, um, nope, I'm drawing a blank now. Oh, wait, a little bit of trivia - the mean center of the U.S. population is in the town of Plato, county of Texas, Missouri. Just one of those useless facts that somehow found a home in my head. (Note to self: go to Plato, Missouri at the first opportunity!)  Missouri is just not an interesting place except maybe for those who live there. I don't think I've ever met anyone that was born in Missouri, at least not anyone who was proud enough to claim it. You never hear of folks from other countries say, "I want to come to the States to visit Missouri!"  You never hear anyone who say visiting Missouri is on their bucket list.

You may know Missouri is called the "Show Me" state. The most most likely legend attributes the phrase to Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia and in a speech there, declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." The version I like best though places the slogan's origin in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. A miner's strike had been in progress for some time in the mid-1890s and a number of miners from the lead districts of southwest Missouri had been imported to take the places of the strikers. The Missouri miners were unfamiliar with Colorado mining methods and required frequent instructions. Pit bosses began saying, "That man is from Missouri. You'll have to show him."

Rt 160, coming up on a finger of Bull Shoals Lake
Keeping with that motto, it was time for me to see some of Missouri for myself. From Branson we crossed an arm of Lake Taneycomo and headed east on US Route 160, a 1,465 mile long 2-lane blacktop stretching from Poplar Bluff, Missouri to Tuba City, Arizona.  We would drive about 90 miles of it. The Route 160 number may not be familiar, but the route itself might ring a faint bell in your memory if you are old enough to remember trucker songs by C.W. McCall in the mid-1970's. The portion of this road through Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado was the inspiration for his song, "Wolf Creek Pass."

Speaking of C.W. McCall, his real name was William Dale Fries, Jr.  In 1974, he was working for an advertising agency and he created a television promotional campaign advertising Old Home Bread for the Metz Baking Company. The advertisements featured a truck driver named C. W. McCall, who was played by Dallas, Texas actor Jim Finlayson. The waitress in the commercials named Mavis Davis was played by Dallas actress Jean Capps. The commercial's success led to popular songs such as "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep on a-Truckin' Café", "Wolf Creek Pass" and "Black Bear Road." The most famous of his songs was "Convoy."  Fries sang and wrote the lyrics and Chip Davis, who later was a member of Mannheim Steamroller, wrote the music. None of them were born in Missouri.

One of the old bridges crossing an arm of 
Bull Shoals Lake
At least along Route 160, Missouri is much prettier than I thought it would be. Considering I never really gave it that much thought, I guess that's not saying a lot, but still, it was nice. Bull Shoals Lake is interesting. It's a large lake located in both Missouri and Arkansas with numerous inlets and fingers. We crossed numerous old bridges and drove for miles beside portions of it. I always enjoy driving beside water. Maybe it's the old sailor in me feeling a little bit at home so near a body of water, even if it's just a lake instead of the open ocean. There wasn't much traffic at all and we passed through a good number of small towns that appeared to be inhabited, but seemed almost deserted. There were plenty of little stores that had gone out of business in these towns, attesting to the economic times we're enduring now. To me it feels like the heart and soul of the America we grew up with is being sucked out of existence and I'm afraid it will never return in my lifetime. It was a nice drive, but even with portions of the drive being beside the lake, I had to fight against a persistent depression.

We stopped for gas and a potty break in the small town of Theodosa. I was rather surprised to find the gas pumps were still of the old kind; old enough to not be able to take a credit card at the pump. Usually you have to go inside and pay before pumping, which is a big hassle if you are filling up and don't know how much it will take. Here though, the clerk inside the store looked out at me, waved and readied the pump to pump. After I paid the friendly lady behind the counter for my gas and we talked about the weather and the slow business, I made my way back to the restroom. Yes, restroom, not restrooms. No separate men's & women's, just the one. And I spied something hanging on the wall that I haven't seen in a gas station restroom since I was a teenager - a condom vending machine. 75 cents for two. Prices have sure gone up as they were 25 cents for two back when I bought, er, I mean, I heard they were 25 cents for two back when I was a teenager. OK, enough on that subject.

The Old Harlin House Cafe
The Mamma-woman had heard of an historic old house which had been turned into a cafe in Gainesville, right along our route. The Old Harlin House was built in 1912 and was restored in 2003 when it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The interior has been preserved to reflect the period. She wanted to stop. We stopped. They close at 2:00 after lunch and we arrived at 1:15. There were only 2 other customers in the place so it certainly wasn't busy, but our waitress seemed to be ready to close up and kind of acted like we were a bother. She wasn't hostile, but I sure wouldn't call her friendly. No "Hi, I'm (insert name here). How may I help you?" or "What can I get for you?" or "Can I start you off with something to drink?"  Nope, not from this girl. With a totally bored look on her face she asked, "What would you like?" She answered questions in a flat, monotone voice and never came close to working one of the few face muscles it takes to smile. Perhaps she had a fight with her boyfriend. Perhaps that is just her personality. If it is, I suggest she make an effort to change it or get a different job. I didn't ask her name or even try to engage her in a conversation like I normally do. I was already depressed enough. I ordered and ate an unremarkable steak and grilled peppers sandwich smothered in some kind of cheddar sauce. I can't remember what the momma-woman had, but the fact that I can't remember much about her meal, much less my own is not a sign of greatness. It was ok, but I've had better or at least as good at T.G.I. Fridays. Maybe dinner is better, but for lunch, don't go out of your way for it.

Our destination, a water-powered grist mill was just down the road now. So far, Missouri had proven to be visually pretty with some nice, friendly folks and at least one bored, unfriendly one. Nothing bad to say about it, but nothing particularly great or interesting to say. Maybe that's the reason you never hear much about this state. It's just kind of there, lukewarm, passing time, filling in space. Maybe that would change when we arrived at Dawt Mill, supposed to be a fun, happy place on the North Fork River. Come on back when I write about it later. I know, cliff-hanger. But it's late now and I'm tired from working all day. So off to bed I go, perchance to dream a wonderful dream. Don't let the bedbugs bite.