12 - Effigham, IL to Route 66 - Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site - Into
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.
in and a big guy about my age, maybe a few years younger walked over to
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.
too good for him anyway." the biker guy would say.
turned to the other guy...not really a part of the conversation between
the man and the woman.
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.
the biker and the woman left.
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.
you were drivin' from California huh?" I said to Jesse from my seat
across the bar.
So from then on we spoke mostly Spanish.
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
We just got
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
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.
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.