Route 66 referred to as 'The Mother Road' was once the centrepiece of the United States highway system running from Chicago to Los Angeles. Immortalized in countless songs, stories and films, this road helped to usher in the era of the automobile, and still maintains a romantic fascination for travelers to this day. Although you can't go back in time, riding down Route 66 on a vintage Harley Davidson is pretty damn close.
I know that they are just objects, they don't have feelings or thoughts, but you spend enough time with something and you start developing a relationship with it. Bertha, I love you; here's to many more miles together.
As the wide-open sky, and twisty roads stretched out in front of me, I spotted this truck, sitting in a field in front of an equally worn barn. Despite being left to the elements, it amazed me that the quality and durability of things made long ago allowed this vehicle to still hold up after all these years.
After miraculously avoiding the rainfall, I was getting bored of the monotony of the freeway, so when I saw a sign that said 'Lincoln's New Salem' I took that as a message to get off the interstate in search of something. Unfortunately, the historical site was closed, but I was able to get to this statue of the great emancipator. It struck me as symbolic, that on a journey through the heart of the Confederacy, that I would eventually end up in front of a statue dedicated to the man who defeated it and by extension abolished slavery. While his party seems to have drifted quite far from his ideals and vision of the United States, I'm hopeful that that one day, our better angels will remind us that we all share a single fellowship of human kind, regardless of race, religion or creed.
To describe the vibe in the Denny's as being 'red state' would be an understatement, yet my server Tim was possibly the most flamboyantly gay dude I met on the entire trip. When I told him where I was from, and why I was on this journey, without hesitation he said 'take me with you'. I had to decline, but he was a nice guy, who you could tell really wanted to be anywhere other than hucking plates at a Denny's on the side of the freeway.
I left St. Louis early, and it seemed the moment I left, I was trying to outrun the first real storm of the trip. When the clouds finally got too close, I pulled off the Interstate and into a Denny's for some much-needed breakfast and also hopefully to wait out the storm. After getting off my bike, I looked to the left and this photograph pretty much took itself. Although frayed at the edges, with storm clouds overhead, America; you're still great, you don't need to be made great again.
After the show, I was riding back to my spot and rolled past The Courtesy Diner. Although these places always seem stuck in time, with elements of the 50's through to the 80's permeating the cracked vinyl stools and pitted chrome table caps, the food usually disappoints even if the aesthetic is perfect. As I was heading out, I saw Brian checking out my bike, and we got to talking. He'd met Christy at work "after he got out" and they've been together for a few years now. You can't help but smile when you meet a couple who seem genuinely happy with each other, and in Brian's words "every day with her makes me want to be better than I was." I liked these folks.
I've always maintained that one of the neatest experiences that you can have as a concert goer, is to catch a band that is on the cusp of significant success in a small or mid-sized venue. There's an electricity in the air, as you know that this is probably going to be the last time for a while that you'll experience this in such an intimate setting, and at the same time, the cynicism of success has yet to affect the optimism and connection between the band an audience. Catching Mt. Joy at the legendary Blueberry Hill was just such an experience, and I'm glad that I got it.
I booked my Air BnB close to this joint, as the reviews were stellar and it did not disappoint. One of the better collections of tables, meticulously maintained by Steve, who is also the owner and a very solid dude. We had a great chat about music and the connection between pinball and creative folk. An ex-roadie, he seemed to know every band that I mentioned, and I just wish that I had had more time to spend working my way through some great tables I'd never played before.
After "experiencing" St. Louis style "pizza" (seriously, it's like you are trying to ruin pizza guys), I checked out the City Museum, which is one of the most unique spots I've been to. Effectively a sprawling collection of repurposed industrial refuse turned into interactive art-installations it was well worth the visit, and a very cool example of how art, design, and sustainability can be compelling, interactive and accessible for everyone. Seriously, check it out. Also, this particular installation that I photographed had pinballs, so this post is even somewhat 'on brand'.
After all that gun play, I needed a snack and the Pint Size Bakery had good reviews on the internets so I headed over. This is where I met Naomi who was working the counter and an absolute ray of sunshine. Originally from Vermont, she described herself as a 'traveller' and was actually getting ready to head to New Orleans in a few weeks with her boyfriend. Turns out, she'd been all over North America, more places than me in fact, and it's just a shame that the cafe was busy and I didn't have more time to hear her story but it goes to show that you never where someone else has been, or what their backstory is until you ask them.
St. Louis and especially it's northern suburbs and neighbouring East St. Louis is one of the most violent areas of the United States. Given the nature of my trip, I thought that it only made sense that I experience this part of the culture and went to a gun range for the first time. Although I seem to have a degree of aptitude in shooting things, I failed to see the attraction of putting holes in a piece of paper and still do not understand how easy access to firearms makes us safer.
Eventually at the baseball game, I decided to sit in my actual seat which being the cheapest ticket I could buy was in the nosebleeds. Despite the game not being competitive, a lot of the fans in my section stayed until the very end, and they all seemed to know the usher Richard, giving him hugs and high-fives on the way out. When I talked to him at the end of the game, he told me 'we're like a family every summer, and I look forward to every game'. He seemed like a genuinely sweet dude.
Arrived in St. Louis just in time to catch a Cardinals game. Unlike Toronto, most American ballparks will have designated 'concourse' or 'standing room' only area's that have incredible views of the field, and even the cheapest ticket has access to these areas. That's where I met William, a lifelong Cards fan, devout Christian and absolute music nerd. We talked about our mutual love of southern gospel influenced soul music, as well as semi-obscure Texas singer songwriters and the Drive By Truckers. I joked that i wouldn't ask him about politics, but he didn't hesitate to let me know that as a Christian, Trump was doing the opposite of what he believed in. You know what, I really liked William, I never felt a sense that he believed his views were superior to anyone else's, and I appreciated and noticed that he seemed to genuinely want to hear my perspective as a commie heathen Canadian biker. We both agreed that universal health care rocked.
Almost like the once ubiquitous Chinese-Canadian family restaurants that seemed to be a staple of small town Ontario, it seemed the one constant I could count on, was being able to find an independent latino family owned and operated Tex-Mex restaurant within a reasonable drive of wherever I was. This spot wasn't anything out of the ordinary, which means that it was still pretty damn delicious. The places always seemed busy, and the clientele was almost always racially mixed. The duality and dissonance between the reality I'd see in these places each day, and the narrative on the news (often playing above the bar) was never lost on me.
After a pretty long ride straight through Arkansas, I wanted to hopefully pick up a few twisty backroads so I hung a right and ended up in Kimmswick. As I was rolling through, I saw the old truck in the background as well as a sign for a bike shop and figured I'd pull in. Unfortunately, the shop was closed, and just as I was about to pull away, Brian pulled in with a bike in his trailer that he needed safetied. He was surprised that I wasn't "packing" despite my plans to visit St. Louis, and when I asked him if he was, his response was "more than one." I told him that I couldn't imagine a life where I always felt I had to carry a gun with me, and he told me he couldn't imagine living in a place where that wasn't allowed.
I barely made it to the gas station, running hard on empty. Just as I pulled in, Devo pulled up beside me with her kids to also get some gas. We said 'hi' and she asked where I was from, when I told her that I was from Canada she seemed surprised that I'd ridden my bike all the way from there as the furthest she'd been north was Memphis. I told her that she might have some trouble crossing the border with her ride, and she told me not to worry as it was too cold in Canada anyways.
When I left New Orleans, my goal was to make it to the famed crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Purportedly this was where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for otherworldly guitar skills, and is considered to be the birthplace of blues music. While I'm not sure about all that, it was pretty neat to pull into the crossroads on an almost bone-dry tank in the nick of time as the sun went down.
"Standin' at the crossroad, baby, risin' sun goin' down" - Robert Johnson
Back in NOLA, an old biker named "Pops" couldn't believe that I didn't know about 'the trace', and insisted that I ride it for a bit. I'm glad I took his advice as it was absolute heaven to ride on a beautiful early summer day. Thanks Pops!
Was feeling hungry and love Mexican food (not to mention that it's usually South Americans who own and work in these spots in the US, and I want to support them as well), so when I saw El Sombrero I knew I had to pull in. The place was full, and it seemed that everyone knew everyone else. I asked for Horchata and the staff was surprised that a white dude knew what it was and asked for it. When I told them I was from Canada, the first thing they said was 'Trudeau!', and we both laughed after they said it. What struck me most was how diverse the patrons were, and how it seemed each time someone came in they had to say hello to pretty much everyone. Diaz, who became a citizen a few years ago; "this is my country, this is my family." The food was pretty damn good too.