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holiday road: days 1 and 2

We’ve been driving for a couple days now, taking our cross-country road trip out to the Southwest. It’s been fun heading west of the Mississippi, as I haven’t ventured that way before–not on the road anyway. We hit the trail hard our first day, shooting for Springfield, Missouri, nearly 8 hours from Chicago. We were making decent time out of familiar places, but decided to break in St. Louis to see the famous Gateway Arch. We thought it would offer a nice respite from the long drive, but did not expect it to add so much time to our first leg of the journey.

Music to set the mood

First, we hit the traffic into the city. Ugh. Once parked, the Gateway park itself was quite nice and welcoming. We strolled along the tree-canopied paths, which offered some nice protection from the sun and the [singlepic=455,200,200]The start of our trip103-degree heat. The famous Gateway Arch was at the end of that path. I snapped a few pictures, and Chris and Aidan made their way to the entrance–seeking air conditioning. I joined them, only to be greeted by a friendly park ranger who searched our bags and ushered us forward in line. After a while longer of shuffling forward, we were faced with a security checkpoint. After emptying pockets, removing belts, and placing all personal belongings into a plastic bin, we were directed to walk forward through a metal detector. Of course, I sent it into whirl of beeps and flashes. “Step back, sir. Check your pockets again.” Oh, my cellphone. I had forgotten it in the cargo pockets of my shorts. Another try. Beep, flash, whirl, once again. “Step back again, sir. What else do you have?” Have? I didn’t think I had anything else. I felt around my cargo short pockets–damn pockets everywhere. Then I felt it. My little pocket knife, deep in some obscure pocket within the folds of my shorts. “Well,” I said, “I have this, but I didn’t realize…” Three rangers came to the station to examine my contraband. They looked it up and down. Measured the blade. Examined the hinge. Flicked it open. “Sir, you cannot bring that in here. You can face a $300 fine for that, sir. I suggest you take it back to your car.” Alright, already. I didn’t even know I had it. It’s practically a pen knife, I thought to myself. I peel apples with it. While being “detained” at the checkpoint, mind you, my wallet, watch, bag, and belt had made their way down the conveyor belt, not to mention Chris and Aidan were well within the museum now. It was surreal. I felt like a detained criminal, now [singlepic=450,200,200]Inside the podnot allowed to see my family. I motioned to Chris in the distance, telling her I would return shortly. Off I went to the car to secure the dangerous weapon I had tried to smuggle into the federally protected landmark. A short 15-minute jaunt back through the 103-degree heat, and I was legal once again.

After my brush with the law, I was eventually reunited with my family within the museum at the base of the Arch. Chris asked if I thought we should bother going up in the Arch at this point, given the fact that the next ride to the top was 40 minutes out, and the “tour” took 60 minutes to complete. Drenched in sweat from my run to the car and back, and rather humiliated from the experience, there was no way I was leaving now. So, we bought our $25-worth of tickets and got in line.

They told us that our 25 bucks would buy us a 60-minute tour, but they neglected to tell us that 50 of those minutes would be spent waiting in line. The most interesting part of this adventure was the space-age, pod-like, tram ride to the top–“part elevator, part tram, part amusement park ride,” as the recorded voice described on our 4-minute ascent to the top of the arch. It felt like something out of Star Trek from the 1960s.

At the top, we found no relief from the claustrophobia of our pod. The space was tight, the air was stale, the windows were but small 4×12 inch slices on the interior arch wall, each fitted with double-pane glass. As we bumped our way through the cluster of strangers in the enclosed space, we witnessed one young woman have a panic attack–perhaps overwhelmed by the closeness, the lack of air, and the constant swaying sensation, as the arch bent to and fro in high-altitude winds. We looked out the window, snapped a picture, and headed back to our pod.

I can’t say that I would “do the Arch” again, but I guess we can say we did it now, saving us from a lifetime of what-ifs–about the Gateway Arch.
Aidan and Chris are calling me to the pool now, so I’ll finish this post later…
Ok, back to the room, now. Let’s see if I can finish this post before we hit the road again…

On day 2 of our trip, we woke in Springfield, MO and decided to go easy on the driving–just three hours, maybe, over to Tulsa, OK. That gave us time to pay a visit to another one of Missouri’s finest attractions–The Fantastic Caverns, the country’s only drive-through cave. This actually was pretty cool. We half expected (maybe three quarters) it to be rather cheesy. Come on, a drive-through cave? And yes, it was a little cheesy in places, but all in all it was interesting. This large cavern has quite the history–from speakeasy, to secret vigilante meeting place, to concert hall–it’s served many purposes. We learned about geology–stalactites, stalagmites, column and drape formations–and gained a real appreciation for how much time it takes for the cave features to form; one stalactite grows barely an inch in a hundred years. When one sees the massiveness of the larger features, this is truly awesome. The lighting, as you might imagine, was not quite conducive to photography, but I snapped one or two.

Ok, gotta run. We just hoteled in Tulsa, OK. Next stop: Amarillo, TX.

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