July 12, 2017
We left the house around 8:15 a.m., bound first to Hot Springs to visit a friend in the hospital. When we arrived, she was talking with a surgeon; when we opened the door to her room, he said, “give us a few minutes.” We waited for about fifteen minutes and decided to leave, inasmuch as we were bound for Tulsa and planned to go back roads, which would take us some time. Two hours later, we stopped in Mena, Arkansas to buy some bottled water. We also checked text and voice mail messages, discovering messages from another friend, saying our hospitalized friend won’t need surgery, after all; just stents and medication for now. Good news! We called and spoke to both of them for a bit, before hitting the road again.
By the time we reached Poteau, Oklahoma, we decided we were hungry. But Poteau wasn’t just a hunger-inducer; the place is littered with colorful sculptures of cows. After a little research, we discovered that the cows were the brainchildren of some community leaders who were looking for After stopping at a place we thought was a diner but was, actually, a coffee cafe, we settled on Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. Both before and after lunch, we passed a number of convenience stores that were unfamiliar to us: Tote-a-Poke. And after lunch, near Panama, Oklahoma, we spotted a loose black and white cow on the roadside, enjoying his/her freedom (we only got a glimpse) and fresh grass.
As we neared Tulsa, Oklahoma, the scenery began to look like suburban America. Bixby, Oklahoma could be mistaken for Plano, Texas or Frisco, Texas or any number of other suburbs driven by consumerism, greed, and capitalism gone awry. As we made our way to the motel where we’d made reservations while having lunch in Poteau, I questioned why I’d decided to visit a good-sized city with plenty of traffic jams.
We found out motel, checked in, and quickly learned it has a miserable wifi system. It drives me approximately crazy to be kicked off a very slow internet connection every three to five minutes. Crazy, I say. After losing my temper any number of times, we headed out to dinner. We ate at Molcajete, a truly wonderful little Mexican spot. We were the only gringos in the place. At one point, the waitress forgot to speak English to us and ask us in Spanish, instead, how we liked out meal. Good food! Good atmosphere! Thanks to the motel clerk for recommending it to us.
After dinner, we went back to the room, where Janine worked crosswords and read the paper, I read the paper and tried to surf the web, and half-watched the film, Con-Air.
When we went to bed, I found I could not go to sleep. By 3:00 a.m., I had been awake for hours. At some stage during pre-daylight hours, I finally slept, but only barely. The motel, a Best Western near the airport, does not deserve your business. It is a dump.
July 13, 2017
When I got up, I showered, shaved, and went down for breakfast. Janine had awakened in the middle of the night while I was still awake and had a hard time going back to sleep. Finally, she did, and she slept late. Once she got up and had breakfast, we talked about what to do during the day. I had planned to visit the Woody Guthrie Museum and the Gilcrease Museum, but the thought of fighting traffic bothered me. So we opted to hit the road: the day’s destination would be Manhattan, Kansas. With Janine as the guide, we wandered the back roads of Oklahoma and Kansas, rarely encountering much traffic. The roads were in good condition, the scenery got increasingly better, and my stress level (though ratcheted up for reasons I won’t go into here) finally declined.
On the way to Manhattan, we stopped to explore Emporia, Kansas for a bit. My primary goal was to visit Radius Brewing Company, but I had to do lunch first. We ate at BobbyD’s Merchant Street BBQ, which was decent but not exceptional. I was stunned and horrified when I learned that did not have any jalapeños available. After lunch, we crossed the street to Radium Brewing, only to find that it did not appear to be a tap room but, instead, a restaurant. I got the impression after peeking inside that one would feel out of place asking for a single beer; so, we left. I will go back one day, perhaps.
It felt good to be traversing rolling green hills beneath the enormity of the sky, a massive collection of high grey, roiling clouds from horizon to horizon and pole to pole. We got to Manhattan around 4:00 p.m. and immediately found our motel. After unloading our gear, we went for a drive, getting acquainted with the area. Before dinner, I wrote an email to the two managers of the TRIGA Mark II nuclear facility on the KSU campus, asking them some questions, the answers to which would be quite helpful as I write my novel. I hope to get a response.
When it was time for dinner, we went to the Little Apple Brewery and restaurant. Food was good, my ale was adequate. But the place seemed like a monument to greed and wishful thinking. We returned to the motel (after a visit to a liquor store near the brew-pub) with a to-go box, which I finished off a bit later. At the liquor store, we bought their remaining for bottles of Babich Sauvignon Blanc for my sister-in-law and a couple of bottles of cheap but drinkable wine for me, for later. Back at the motel, we lazed and went to bed early, though neither of us slept particularly well.
July 14, 2017
I awoke late, about 6:45 a.m. I took a shower, slipped on some clothes, and went downstairs for a breakfast of sausage, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. When I returned, Janine was up and had showered and was ready for her breakfast. We returned to the dining area, where she ate a healthier breakfast and I added some cherry flavored Greek yogurt to the meal. During breakfast, we decided to stay in Manhattan at the same motel for another night, versus going up the road to another place where we could have earned a $20 travel bonus; just not worth the effort. With that decision, the day became more relaxed almost instantly.
Our first exploration of the day began with a visit to the Manhattan Zoo. Typically, we are not people who seek out zoos, but the idea of a zoo in a community of fewer than 53,000 people was intriguing. So we visited. It is an interesting place. Not a monstrous zoo by any means, the place has greater variety than we would have expected. Tigers, leopards, anteaters, Asian wild peccaries, peacocks, all manner of exotic birds, otters, cheetahs, monkeys, gibbons, and on and on. As one would expect, the place was awash in children, but the screeching, in general, kept to tolerable levels.
From there, we visited the Flint Hills Discovery Center, which offered an extraordinary education in the history of the Flint Hills region, beginning with the VERY beginning millions of years ago and zipping right on up through the present. The first experience inside the very modern building was a “4-D” movie. The film was shown on an extremely wide screen and was augmented by smoke, wind, snow, odors, and an incredible sound system. I was impressed. And I thought it interesting that many of the words used in the narration echoed the words of a post I made the night before, in which I described the enormity of the sky and said “I have decided parts of Kansas are beautiful; parts of the state are emotionally draining, they are so beautiful.”
We decided to have lunch at the Tallgrass Tap Room, the food and beer establishment run by Tallgrass Brewing. I had a burger and a flight of five Tallgrass offerings, plus one other: 1863 Wheat; Eleanor; Carhop; Thunderclap; and Midwest Berry Crunch, and a non-Tallgrass offering, a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. After lunch, we slipped back to the motel for a bit, then headed out to Kansas State University, where we visited the KState Insect Zoo. In addition to an incredibly large collection of live insects (literally dozens of tarantulas of all sorts, plus monstrous beetles, flies, scorpions, etc.), the place has an exquisite exterior garden area, mostly native plants, I think.
The next stop was the Call Hall Dairy Bar, where we both had double scoops of ice cream. A huge group of students—an extraordinarily diverse group, ethnically speaking—was in front of us, making for slow going to get our orders in. No worries, though, as I found them interesting. I suspect they were from a class that had just let out. We sat and ate our ice cream while we learned, by Janine’s reading signs, that we could buy eggs and all manner of meats in the little store, which is run under the auspices of the Animal Sciences and Industry department of the university.
On the way back to the motel, we stopped at Walmart to buy odds and ends we’d been intending to buy, thence to the hotel. I planned to wash clothes in the single guest washer, but it was hogged by a woman who left her load in the machine for well over an hour after it finished; she also left a load in the dryer. I tried and tried to see if the machines were empty, but the evil, lazy woman left her clothes in the washer and in the dryer. I hope she was forced to iron all the clothes in the dryer in order to make them wearable. We ordered pizza for delivery to the motel; just too tired to go out again. After eating a monstrous amount of pizza and putting the remainder in the refrigerator, we talked about what we would do the next day. We reached a decision, as outlined in the following paragraphs.
July 15, 2017
After breakfast, we drove to Abilene, Kansas, where we took a two-hour ride on an excursion train, the Abilene and Smoky Valley line. The train is powered by an old diesel locomotive, which pulls an enclosed car (with windows that open and close, thankfully), as well as two open-air (but with canvas covers) gondola cars that have picnic style tables for seating. The train goes from downtown Abilene (across from the Eisenhower Presidential Library) east, through farmland devoted to soy beans, corn, wheat, and the like. We saw mostly corn and soy; the wheat crop had been harvested near the end of June. The train crossed the Smoky Hill River immediately before arriving at its stop in the town of Enterprise. Along the way, we saw enormous irrigation systems alongside the railroad tracks. I’ve seen them in fields as I’ve driven by in a car, but never quite as close as these were to the train. They are far larger than I thought, and I’ve always thought they were quite large. In Enterprise, the stop is at the Hoffman Grist Mill, a huge red barn of a building in which the owners mill grain and make baked goods and related “stuff” available to the tourists on the train. We did not buy any, so I cannot attest to its flavor or quality. We were told the engine would separate from the passenger cars in Enterprise, move along a siding, and reconnect on the other end, so it could pull the cars back to Abilene. Not long after we got to Enterprise, I saw three guys trying to move a switch that would allow the engine to switch tracks; the tried, then stood up with their hands on their hips, staring down at the switch. I concluded something was amiss. Sure enough, there was track damage, so the engine had to push us back to Abilene, rather than pull. When we got back to Abilene, we crossed the side street on the west side of the depot to have lunch at the Hitching Post restaurant. Afterward, we visited the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library, which was considerably more interesting than I had expected, and a much larger and more modern building that I had anticipated it would be. The museum’s films and displays were, in my estimation, easily on par with the Clinton library in Little Rock and considerably more impressive than the George H.W. Bush library in Bryan, Texas.
From Abilene, we drove the short twenty-plus miles to Salina, Kansas. Once we checked in to our motel, we went out looking for the brewery/restaurant I had read about, Blue Skye Brewery and Eats. I asked whether they had flights; the waitress said “no, but we let you have six-ounce glasses of each of four beers for $6.” Hmm, sounds a little like a flight to me, I thought, so I picked four of Blue Skye’s brews: Fire Engine Red; Muglers IPA; Jalapeño Cream Ale; and 6th Street Wheat. Janine broke the doctor’s rules and ordered a house specialty, The Beach, which was a cucumber-jalapeño margarita. All of them were quite good. We opted for an early dinner at Heart of Dixie restaurant, a Cajun place just across the street from the brewery. Eat there if you must; I was unimpressed, but it wasn’t horrible and I wasn’t poisoned. So what if the service was slow and inept?
July 16, 2017
The next morning, Janine allowed that her sore throat, which had been bugging her for two days, was getting worse. She suggested we head for home. So, after the motel’s breakfast, I filled the car with gas and hit the road. We opted to take the fastest way home, unlike our meandering trip thus far (we opted for back roads for much of the way from Hot Springs to Tulsa to Emporia to Manhattan). Once on the road, Janine spied a sign that intrigued her; it promoted a Swedish village in Kansas, a place called Lindsborg. We took a brief detour to drive around the town and discovered that, indeed, the place was awash in things Swedish, like architecture, Dala Horse figures all over town, and signs everywhere saying, “Välkommen to Lindsborg.” After our short diversion, we hit the road again and took the Kansas Turnpike and various Oklahoma Turnpikes. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a Dairy Queen (which was one of several physically connected businesses at a turnpike concession. Though I usually avoid fast food like the plague, I was hungry; our burgers turned out to be rather tasty and much better than the chemical swill I’ve had from most fast-food burger joints. Janine had something I think was called a frosty, which was ice cream with chocolate and fudge mixed with semi-soft ice cream. It was in a dish that could be turned upside down without any of the sweet treat spilling. Another store in the turnpike concession, a place that looked like a convenience store from the outside, was called (according to the sign above its entrance) EZ-Go. I told Janine I assumed that must have been the turnpike’s laxative concessionaire. How she could fail to see the humor in that is beyond me. We intersected with I-40 several miles west of the Arkansas border, then drove to Arkansas Highway 7 and on home. The trip home began around 8:30 p.m. and we got to the house around 5:45 p.m. Because neither of us were in the mood to figure out what to prepare for dinner, we went to Last Chance Lakeside Café, where the woman who finally seated us got into a very loud shouting match with one of the waitstaff. I asked our waiter to see the manager, who was off doing an errand. When he came back, I explained to him what we’d seen and heard and told him I thought he ought to be aware of it. He apologized and thanked us. I wonder if he actually addressed the issue with the parties involved? I don’t know. And so ends my blow-by-blow of our abbreviated trip. The photos below are from the trip, but I’m insufficiently motivated to go to the trouble of labeling them individually.