Day 1: June 19, 2008
Vandalia to Litchfield
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When I looked at my planned route, I saw that it passed through Vandalia, Illinois, and that I could make Wednesday's drive an hour shorter by ending it there. That sounded good and when I calculated that the drive time to a Thursday morning target, the Luna Cafe, was bumped by less than ten minutes if I started at Vandalia rather than Litchfield, I was sold. So I canceled one night in Litchfield immediately after booking a room at Jay's Inn in Vandalia. Some may recall that my last two attempts to book a room there as a walk-in were complete failures so the advance reservation was a definite requirement.

After a pleasant night at Jay's, I had breakfast at a place I'd noticed before but had never tried. The Chuck Wagon is just across the expressway from Jay's and today they served up one of the best western omelets I've ever had along with a gigantic pile of home fries for about six bucks. It's on the "approved" list.

Before leaving Vandalia, I visited a couple of new places separated by a repeat. The first new spot was a small but interesting collection of Lincoln related items at the Evans Library. The second was the Fayette County Museum which is housed in a former church. In between, I walked through the old state house which looked much the same as it did in 2006.

At the museum, I bought my own piece of the National Road. An issue or two back, the "Project" department of American Road Magazine covered some logs recovered last year from a corduroy section of the National Road near Effingham, Illinois. The logs were saved from a fiery end and some are being displayed in museums. One was cut into pieces and offered for sale to benefit the Road. If there was a website and a PayPal account, I'd probably already own a piece but there was only a phone number and I kept putting off the call. The Fayette County Museum has one of the logs on display (no photos allowed) and some of the pieces for sale. So I now own National Road "pavement" from the days when walnut was the material of choice.

My path west was on the National Old Trails Road alignment. In February, I photographed several abandoned sections along here onto a memory card that ultimately disintegrated on me. I didn't attempt to re-photograph every section today, but I did stop at this fairly accessible one in front of Nuby's Steakhouse.

A recent thread on the Route 40 e-group wandered into a discussion of Blue Springs Café so when the signs appeared a stop was almost automatic. The still digesting omelet precluded a full meal but I did manage a piece of the famous pie. I chose coconut cream and it was quite good. Perhaps not stop-the-presses best-in-the-world good but very good and the fame comes more from the rather silly mountain of meringue, anyway.

I had noticed "free wi-fi" listed on one of the roadside signs so carried in the laptop for an email check. Then, because of the still warm e-group chatter involving the café, I posted a message to the group about the high tech addition. When I did another email check after the coconut cream was gone, there was a response from group administrator Frank Brusca. There's something kind of cool about the whole discuss-see-eat-email sequence.

I continued on the path of the NOTR long enough to check up on the World's Largest Catsup Bottle but decided against the Cahokia Mounds stop I had considered. It was time to switch to the real target of this trip: Historic US-66.

In minutes, I was at the famous and favorite Luna Cafe. One of the less meaningful things that sets this place apart is the fact that it's the only place I can think of where I automatically order a Stag. Today the bar tender reached into the assigned cooler and came up empty. Severely disappointed, I settled for a Bud. They weren't out of Stag, merely cold Stag, so restocking the cooler was in order. In that process, a single cold bottle was discovered so I got my Stag after all. By the way, the $6.75 on the bar is what remained from a ten after paying for both beers.

On up the route, I stopped at Scotty's in Hamel; another great roadhouse with lots of history and ambiance. A few years ago, when the place was named to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame, something caused the owners to look closer at the Scotty's sign. Signs from a couple of the bar's prior identities were beneath it and those are now displayed inside along with other memorabilia.

Traveler, originally from Wyoming, has recently returned to his adopted home after a somewhat mysterious disappearance and more traveling. He does look happy to be back.

My last stop before Litchfield was at Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton. I could see some large cubes in the road as I approached and eventually realized that they were Volkswagen busses. These busses were actually campers on their way home to Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. I checked out the great looking setting that a recent volunteer project had produced for the Stanley Court-Tel signs and chatted with Rich and visitors. I also picked up my "Montana for President" button. The "Candidate Who Listens" ("I'm all ears", she says.) is also featured on a commemorative postmark for the Litchfield festival.

In Litchfield, my room was not quite ready at the motel so I decided to head out for a cold one rather than waiting the "10 or 15 minutes" I was told it would take. At the Ariston, I enjoyed a new-to-me O'Fallon IPA and some friendly conversation with Nick and staff while waiting. Outside, I ran into Ace Jackalope and his friend Greg photographing the Ariston's neon sign. Both were wearing Route 66 e-group name tags so, even if I had not recognized Ace's antlers, an ID would have been possible.

As we chatted, Ron "Tattoo Man" Jones pulled in with wife Roz and Joy Avery. Jim Conkle and Michael Wallis were not far behind and a roadie meet & greet was soon in progress. When the others headed inside, I set off to see if my room was ready.

It was. I moved in and did a quick email check and off loaded the day's pictures. The off loading wasn't so quick and was proceeded by a few moments of terror. I popped the memory card into my PCMCIA adapter and waited for it to appear on the computer. Nothing. I removed and reinserted then rebooted and repeated. Thinking of my disintegrating card full of pictures of February, I kept telling myself not to panic while imagining the worst. Eventually I realized that I was using a new card that I had purchased as I was leaving Cincinnati. Before the purchase, I had checked that the camera would support its high density (SDHD) format but had not considered the reader. I need to upgrade the PCMCIA card but for now I can copy pictures directly from the camera via cable. Whew!

Back at the Ariston, the crowd had grown. Lots of old friends and new faces, too. There was next to nothing formal about it but at one point owner Nick Adam did call for everyone's attention to introduce a couple from England. It seems they had arrived at the restaurant and innocently asked if "anyone knows anything about Route 66?" After a quick round of friendly laughter, the surprised Brits were chatting with the likes of Michael Wallis and Cyrus Avery's granddaughter Joy. That's Jim Conkle between Michael and Bill from England and Dean "Crazy Legs" Walker is visible on Michael's other side. Joy is in the center of the other photo.

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