Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Solo Southern Loop of 2009

The price of gasoline, which has been upsliding since its mid-winter, post-bubble lows of much less than $2/gal., makes me want to mutter gripes like Muttley. Especially during the last two weeks, when I was a more frequent buyer of gas than usual, along a route of roughly 3,000 miles.

During the spring, we planned two June trips. One for Yuriko, Lilly and Ann -- a visit to Japan, which began on June 4 and which will end the day after tomorrow. For me, a drive to Texas and back that began June 5 and which ended yesterday, though that description is a little too spare to capture the route I took, which was outbound from Illinois to Missouri, Oklahoma and the parts of Texas along I-35; and then a return by way of East Texas, Louisiana (Acadiana), Mississippi, West Tennessee, Jackson Purchase Kentucky and a long drive just yesterday from the southern tip of Illinois. All together, the loop beginning at metro Chicago ranged as far west as San Antonio, touched the Gulf coast in Louisiana, and proceeded northward by more-or-less paralleling the Mississippi.

Along the way, I wanted to visit as many people as I could. I saw my mother, both my brothers and my sister-in-law, two of my three nephews, both of my aunts, some relatives of one of my aunts, both of my first cousins, two first cousins once removed, and six old friends from high school, some of whom I've seen in recent decades, but others I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years. I met two of the children of two of these old friends for the first time, one a high school-aged girl, the other a baby girl only six months old. I even had a pleasant lunch with an editor of mine, one of the few not based in New York, but rather metro Dallas.

The other component of the trip, which should be no surprise, was to drive roads I've never driven, visit cities and towns I've never visited, and tour museums, historic sites, parks, churches, cemeteries, factories, and oddball attractions. I wanted to hear the dialects of the South and listen to the intense noise of the bugs at night. I wanted to find a store that sold Moon Pies and eat one.

I succeeded in these ambitions, though when planning the trip I naturally found more places to visit than I possibly could. Along the way, I shaved off destinations because I was tired, or wanted to spend more time with some of the people mentioned above. But I'm not complaining. I managed to pack in good variety, which is all I ask from the road.

I also planned it to be an inexpensive trip. Gasoline ended up being far and away the largest single expense, though I haven't tallied it up just yet. Everywhere south of Illinois, prices were around $2.50/gal. (add 30 cents in Illinois). I ate at few restaurants by myself, and on long drives especially, meals tended to be a sandwiches and grocery-store items at roadside picnic tables.

Of the 15 nights I spent away from home, I spent ten with relatives and a friend. I'd say that I sponged off them, but no. Reciprocity was at work. Anyone I stayed with would be more than welcome to stay with me and raid my refrigerator, as well. I camped four nights, with the most expensive site coming in at $13/night.

I paid for only one room. I got a late start leaving home on the first day, which always seems to happen, and packing for only myself didn't change that. So I was too tired by the time I got to mid-Missouri to want to find a campsite and pitch my tent in the gathering darkness. Exiting I-44 in Lebanon, Missouri, I saw a sign for an oddly named motel, and went to take a look.

The Munger Moss Motel lives off of Route 66 nostalgia. I can take that or leave it, but the desk clerk (and motel co-owner) was so personable and well-informed about the history of the motel -- vintage 1946, with an addition in the early '60s -- that I decided to stay. It was a good choice. I got one of the 1946 rooms, which had a TV but otherwise had a pleasant '40s sort of look. Small, but nicely appointed. And at just over $40 a night including tax, not too high a price to support Americana.

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