June 12 - Effigham, IL to Route 66 - Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site - Into St. Louis

Well I picked up Old Route 66 for the first time today....at Litchfield, IL after passing through the little towns of Pana, Ohlman, Nokomis, Coalton, Witt, Irving, and Schram City among others along Illinois Route 16.

From Litchfield I tried to follow the old route as best I could. I'm using a book called "Route 66 Traveler's Guide and Roadside Companion" by Tom Snyder. It tells you where to go, where to join the highway, and when there is a piece of old Route 66 to drive on. In Southern Illinois Route 66 is pretty chopped up. I departed Route 66 in order to visit Cahokia Mounds State Historical site.

This place was amazing! The very center of the Mississippian Civilization from about 900 a.d. to 1250 a.d. Centrally located on the North American continent, on the banks of the Mississippi River, close to the Missouri River......very well placed for travel along these water ways. The city is thought to have housed about 20,000 inhabitants at it's peak. Today what remains are the mounds that they built. One of particular interest is the largest, called Monk's Mound. It got this name because the first Europeans to arrive here and settle were a group of French monks who actually lived on the mound and planted gardens on it. Monk's Mound it a tiered, flat topped mound, a pyramid really, thought to have been built over several hundred years. It is very similar to the flat topped pyramids found in Mexico and Peru, but Monk's Mound is made of earth, rather than of stone and was built 200 years before anything in Mexico or Peru. There is strong evidence which suggests the people here had contact with people as far south as Mexico, and perhaps even migrated there when they abandoned Cahokia. I watched the movie at the visitors center and walked through the museum. It is large and extensive....amazing arrowheads and bone tools, all sorts of stuff. It looked like rain so I started out over the grounds to check out the mounds. There are close to a hundred still intact, there were many more, but farming over the past hundred and fifty years destroyed many of them.

It began to drizzle as I walked around. I checked out some of the smaller mounds first then made my way back to the car to drive down the road to Monk's Mound. I read a sign as I got out of the car next to the mound....it explained the danger of lightning strikes on top of the mound, as it is by far the highest point around.....and it really began to rain as I approached, thunder and lightning and all of that. I ran up the steps to the top of the mound as quickly as I could trying to beat the rain and lightning. I had my rain jacket on and was getting soaked. Thunder and lightning all around...I took some quick pictures and came back down. As I did, it cleared up and the sky was blue again.....weird, these Summer showers. Such conditions often make for good photographs, and I think I got some good ones of the mounds. To give you an idea of the size of Monk's Mound, look at the picture to the right. I have drawn a red arrow pointing to a Cadillac on the road in front on Monk's Mound. Look closely, it looks like a little white sliver. They didn't have bulldozers and backhoes back then...just imagine all of the people and baskets of dirt it took to build that mound.

One picture shows the tail of the storm just passing over Monk's Mound, just as I reached the bottom of all the steps, I looked up and that's what I saw.

I got back in the car and headed for St. Louis. It was about 4:30 by this time and the rain began again. I was entering St. Louis at rush hour, I did manage to get a pretty good picture of the city while going 65 miles per hour trying to keep up with traffic...."I think I can, I think I can." went the little Westy that could.

Traffic wasn't good. The rain was pouring. I got through the city and stopped for gas at a gas station at the intersection of I-44 and the beltway around St. Louis, 270. You know what I did? I decided I was going to get a hotel room, take a nice hot shower and get out of that rain. So I rolled down the street and checked into a Days Inn. The first time I've done that on the trip so far. What the heck. I went in and took that shower and then had dinner at a little local place there. I drove back to the hotel and called my brother to see what he was up to. So I'm getting out of the car heading towards the room and I see a place next door - Helen Flannagan's Pub. Well, I could just go in for one....couldn't I? So I did.

I walked in and a big guy about my age, maybe a few years younger walked over to me.
"You got I.D.?" he grumbled.
I pulled out my license and gave it to him.
"Okay man, thanks." he said and let me pass.

I really hate that by the way.....not people thinking I might not be 21, but the whole fact that you have to show your I.D. to enter anywhere. Go to Spain....little 5 year olds and their 3 year old sisters in strollers are in the pub with their parents, Germany, same thing, the French kids seem to be able to drink wine responsibly. South America's the same way. At least their parents have discussed it with them, have exposed them to it in such a way that it isn't thought of as this devil's drink. Keep it from a kid like it's the plague their whole life and then one day, when they turn 21, let 'em have it.....you're going to have problems...and we've got them. Just go to any college campus. Enough of that though, I could go on forever.....I guess we can thank our Puritan ancestors.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a Bass. The bartender brought it over and set it down. I looked around. It was a typical kind of place you find near the intersection of two major highways outside of a city. A mixture of people, some had just finished work, another few guys rolled in from the golf course with their golf shoes still on. To my right was a group of three people. A biker looking guy with tattoos and a long beard, a woman that looked as if she could have been with the biker guy, and then another guy with them....short dark hair. I heard him talk and it sounded like he kind of had a Mexican accent. Kind of Like Cheech Marin.

I just kind of listened to those three for a while.

The biker guy and the woman were apparently not together...technically, but they were talking about how much of a jerk her husband was. That he didn't deserve her.....So who knows...maybe they'll end up together after all, at least maybe for the night.

"You're too good for him anyway." the biker guy would say.
"Yeah, but we've been livin' together for so long and we got Stephanie......he's just such a jerk!" she would add.

The biker turned to the other guy...not really a part of the conversation between the man and the woman.
"Well, tomorrow we'll see if we can't get your bike fixed up."
"Yeah, great. I guess I'll have to make some phone calls and see if they can send me those parts from Milwaukee." said the dark haired guy.
"Yeah, sometimes you just gotta play the hand your dealt." added the biker.
They nodded to each other and took a swig of whatever they were drinking.

I had started to watch a motorcycle race on Speedvision when I finished my beer. The bartender came by and asked if I wanted another......yeah, what the heck, while I watch this race. So I got another.

Before long the biker and the woman left.
"Alright man, I'll come by in the morning to pick you up." he said to the other guy who was apparently staying at the bar.
"Yeah, okay, great. I'll see you in the morning." he said.
"Definently a Mexican accent" I thought....he looked about 40.

So when the biker and the woman left the bouncer kid who asked me for my I.D. went over and sat down next to the Mexican guy.
"So you're stuck in St. Louis huh man? Your bike broke down?" he asked.
"Yeah," the guy at the bar replied, "I was drivin' from California to New Hampshire with a few friends of mine for a Harley rally and I broke down. Luckily this guy (he pointed to where the biker guy had been sitting) stopped and helped me out. He put my bike in his truck and took me to the Harley shop down the street and then I checked into the motel next door, and here I am man." he lamented.
"Well man," the bouncer began, "things happen for a reason, you know? Like, maybe you were gonna be in a bad wreck and this prevented that from happening? You never know. By the way, what's your name man?" he asked.
"Oh, my name's Jesse man."
"Cool, I'm John man, nice to meet you." they shook hands.
The bouncer stood up as he saw a few new faces step into the bar...like the Gestapo checking papers, "Papieren! Papieren!"

"So you were drivin' from California huh?" I said to Jesse from my seat across the bar.
"Oh, yeah man, I was going to a Harley rally out East."
"Well I'm on my way to California right now." I said.
"Oh really?! Cool." he sounded excited.
"Yeah, I'm drivin' out old Route 66 all the way to L.A."
"Ohhh, no way! You're gonna have such a good time!" he was very excited.
"My name's Dave by the way, Dave Tobin."
"Oh, okay Dave, I'm Jesse, Jesse Meza." he replied.
"Meza? Isn't that Spanish?" I asked. I knew it was although he spelled it with a Z instead of an S. I knew his name was Spanish and that he was Mexican, but I asked anyway.
"Yeah, very good, it is Spanish, but I'm Mexican."
"Y hablas español?" I asked him.
"Ohhhhh, siiiiiii........Do you speak Spanish?" he asked.
"Si Señor." I replied witha smirk and nod of my head.

So from then on we spoke mostly Spanish.

"Man, you're gonna have a great time drivin' out there. You gotta go to a place in Arizona...uh, Seligman, Arizona, yeah, Seligman. It's a nice place, get a good steak, you'll like it." he recommended
He went on.
"Man, you speak really well....where'd you learn how to speak like that?" he asked.
And so I told him a little bit about how I learned Spanish, about Chile and Spain.
He just kept saying stuff like...."Wow.....que suave" "Que me asombra!" "I can't believe you speak Spanish."

We just got to talking.
I said that I thought it was good that he spoke Spanish because many first generation immigrants don't know how to speak Spanish. In the U.S. people just don't tolerate having to listen to another language.....people in the United States seem to insist that everyone speak English. He agreed with me.
I went on, "You have these first generation kids who don't know how to speak and then they begin to lose their identity."
"And their culture." Jesse added.
"And their roots." I added.
We nodded to each other, he wondered how a kid like me knew about any of that stuff and why I cared about it. after all I was Gringo to the bone, at least one might think that upon a quick glance at me.

I told him that I had studied that very phenomenon, the fact that Mexican Americans go to Mexico and don't feel comfortable because they are thought of as Americans, but they go to the States and the people consider them Mexican. Identity problems result and a whole group of people end up feeling alienated. He just nodded his head, like he's been living with that his whole life...and he has.
"You're right man." he said with a smile.
"So which are you?" I asked quickly, "Mexican or American?"
"Mexican!" he answered firmly with a nod. "I was born in Mexico and came to the states when I was five. My real name's Jesus, but when we moved to the states my grandmother started calling me Jesse. So I go by Jesse now.
"American." I said.
"Yeah, that's American." he agreed.
From that point on I called him Jesus.

We went on talking for a while. I was pretty comfortable with him, just talking about stuff. I had never had the chance to talk to a Mexican who grew up in the States, in L.A.
"So what were your parent's like Jesus? Did you speak spanish at home?" I asked.
"Yea, yea, we spoke Spanish at home." he kind of looked away, "My father......" he paused, "He wasn't a good one, you know? He used to be loud, he'd beat up on me a lot, a lot." he chuckled rather uneasily.
I kind of regretted ever asking the question.
He stared off the other way.
"He looked back my way, "It wasn't his fault though, you know? He just didn't know any better."
I figured I'd change the subject....another shot in the dark....
"So do you have a family?"
Oh yeah." he said, he just lit up when I asked about his family. "I've got two girls, my wife's American." he reached into his wallet and pulled out a family photo. It was a cute family. Girls about two and seven.
"Yeah, I love my family man. My wife's great. She's stuck through the hard times with me."

Here I come to a point where I'm not sure what to do. Jesus went into some detail regarding the "hard times" and I'd just as soon leave them there at the bar in St. Louis out of respect for his privacy. We had a great time talking. Tears came into his eyes more than once that evening when talking about his childhood, and growing up, and his family, and how much he loves his children and wife. They weren't beer soaked pitiful drunk tears, for we had only had a few beers between the two of us. They were tears from a man I believe has a good heart, who has had some hard times in life, who has gotten through them, and a man who is a better person as a result. These are the kind of people I think you can learn from if you give them a chance. I figure they are just things he doesn't talk to many people about. Why did he talk about them with me? I'm not sure, but I have become pretty straightforward when talking to people out here on the road...mostly so I can get the stories and share them with you. I just fired off questions, with a genuine interest behind them, because to tell you the truth I am learning more out here than I did in a lot of classrooms through life......I guess I'm in the biggest classroom of all right now.

As we were leaving the bar the bouncer guy came down to the end of the bar and wished us each well on our respective travels. I took a picture of him in front of the bar. I referred to him as "Big John" throughout the evening...his name was John and he was a big guy...plus a friend of mine from college, a bouncer also, at a bar at school was known as "Big John." There is a picture of my friend Jesus Meza here as well...flashing the big smile and peace sign. He gave me his phone number and told me to give him a call when I get to L.A.

It was a good night. I'm glad I decided to get a motel room, and I'm glad I went over to that little pub....and some part of me thinks Jesus is glad I went over there too.



The tail end of the summer shower.

Cadillac provides a sense of scale.

Looking west from the top of the mound.

St. Louis

Big John

Jesus Mezza
 
 
 

 
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