When I asked the legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, who was 83, what the key to happiness is for him, he immediately had an answer.
“Do you remember when you were nine years old?” he smiled. “Always be the person you were when you were nine.”
I definitely was nine years old Saturday, July 11th. Dodie thinks she was about twelve.
“It was the first time I laughed so much in one place in such a long time,” she said later.
St. Louis was depressing and felt unsafe. Tent compounds downtown and on the lawns of government buildings told me all I needed to know about their lack of government leadership. Spray painted statues and walls sent a message of anarchy as if it was welcomed. Tourists certainly aren’t.
We learned that the Jefferson Memorial National Monument which the Gateway Arch is part, is not “Jefferson” anymore. A couple of years ago is became Gateway Arch National Park.
Built in 1965 to commemorate westward expansion, the Arch stands 630 feet high and is also 630 feet wide at the base. Underneath it is a museum about the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. The other part of the memorial is the old courthouse, where the Dred Scott Decision ruled that a slave did not become a free man because he was taken into a free state.
We drove out via the old and historical Route 66. Originally, about 2,400 miles of highway snaked through eight states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally California.
Since the highway was decommissioned, Route 66 no longer exists on modern maps. In some places the physical road is actually unpaved and virtually impassable.
But when possible, and I have the time, it’s fun to follow some of the original road and enjoy the nostalgia. Because it wound through so many small towns, hundreds of odd little trading posts, motels and attractions popped up along the way. Although Route 66 faded into obsolescence, many of these pit stops remain.
Route 66 holds a special place in American history. It illustrated the evolution of the American road from unpaved dirt to superhighway. It provided an economic and social link between the West and the Midwest, offering an artery for millions of people to relocate and change their lives. Route 66 assisted in transforming the West from wild frontier to modern community.
Route 66 also showcases some of the most beautiful scenery in America. The longest drive I’ve ever experienced of the Route was in Arizona around Flagstaff, Sedona and the Grand Canyon regions.
In some states, Route 66 parallels the interstate highway and known as “Historic Route 66.” When leaving Wildwood, Missouri Saturday morning, we elected to travel on Highway 100 because of the Route 66 designation. The winding road and scenery forced a more slow, but relaxing pace southward.
We eventually caught up with IH-44 (with on and off Route 66 designations along the way) heading towards Branson.
That’s where the “Kicks” began. Even the roadside rest areas have the Route 66 theme. It was at one that I read about Andy Payne.
Back in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, Payne ran — and won — an event called the “Transcontinental Footrace.” It started in Los Angeles and ended in New York City. It covered 3,400 miles and the entirety of Route 66. Payne, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, won $25,000 for his 573-hour run. Today a statue in his honor stands in Foyil, Okla., along historic road.
Popping up like old Burma Shave or The Thing signs in Arizona, Mermac Caverns advertising is painted on barns and scattered on billboards along IH-44. Located near Stanton, Missouri, they bill it as “The Jesse James Hideout,” a disputed claim. There’s even a Jesse James Museum across the highway claiming he lived until 1951.
Although not as many signs as the Mermac Caverns, it was the Uranus Fudge Factory billboards that drew us to our 9 and 12 year old selves. Immature and hilarious, we laughed so hard it was impossible not to want to go in.
Uranus Missouri is definitely my favorite pit stop of all time. When pulling into the parking lot, we were greeted by dinosaurs, the “World’s Largest Best Buckle” (certified by Ripley’s), a space rocket, a sideshow museum, the Uranus Axehole, Mooncorn Creamery, Uranus Fudge Factory and more.
As soon as we walked into the General Store friendly staff greeted us with a rootin-tootin, “Welcome to Uranus! The best fudge in the world is right here in Uranus!”
Everything is just wacky. I’m sure the borderline humor would trouble some folks. We just went into pre-teen mode, got past the innuendo and just rolled with the humor.
Sure, it’s tacky and touristy, but we grinned, smiled and laughed the whole 40 minutes we were there.