Kansas – Day 15

It’s been a long day – starting in Indiana a bit west of Indianapolis and ending in Kansas a b1t west of Topeka.  You can tell it was a long day when I say that the first words I heard were from the satnav saying ‘stay on the I70 for 200 miles’ which only got me to near St Louis. When I got there the satnav said ‘stay on the I70 for 252 miles’.    And those weren’t all the miles involved.  But there was a lot of loveliness in the day: the three lifers were lovely; Joyce, Danielle, Wendy and Alex were lovely; the tall grass prairie was lovely; the discovery center was lovely.  That’s quite a lot of loveliness for one day.

The second voice I heard was The Boss, Mr Springsteen from New Jersey, whose greatest hits tend to get me off in the morning. I’ve hears Thunder Road, Born to Run, The River and others hundreds of times but I keep coming back for more.  I like Glory Days a lot too.

I had a shower and checked the internet and TV for any tornado warnings before I set off too.  I’d quite like to see a tornado – briefly and in the distance – but I am not seeking them out and I hope they aren’t going to come looking for me either.

I like I70- it’s my type of road.  It goes straight and it goes west.  Sometimes it goes a bit south (which is OK) but basically it goes west and I like that.  I suppose it also goes east, but it was definitely the going west bit that I used.

Maybe it was because I had The Boss playing that I noticed two black New Jersey plated cars pass me one after the other. A coincidence or were they travelling together?  I didn’t see another NJ plate all day but I did, and there may be one person interested in this, but I ‘got’ Colorado, Nevada and Idaho plates today.  And saw several more North Carolinas but none from the South.

My first lovely lifer flew across the road in Indiana – a black-billed cuckoo with no rufus above or below the wing.  Nice.

Although I70 is my kind of road for driving on, and heading west on, it’s not my kind of road for eating breakfast.  It is infested with McDonalds and all the other chains.  But luckily, running parallel with I70 is the much smaller route 40 which runs through Brownstown, Illinois.  I was lucky to start looking for breakfast when I did and when I saw a place called Mark’s cafe I had to stop.

The waitress gave me a smile, a menu and a coffee and I ordered my standard fallback of two eggs easy-over and hash browns.  The last page of the menu gave me the lowdown on the staff.  Mark’s cafe was owned by Mark (he wasn’t in evidence) and Connie-Sue (present) is the ‘manager/grocery go-getting kind of gal’.

Leanne and Tina are the day-cooks and Becky the night-cook.

Mark’s cafe has fine server’s (sic) and waitress’s (sic), namely: Joyce, Shannon, Tina, Betty, Jessica, Sara and Connie.  I asked and found that my waitress, wearing the purple T-shirt saying ‘Our blood runs purple. our spirit reflects gold‘ was Joyce.

Joyce told me that she had moved to tiny Brownstown 30 years ago with her husband, got divorced but was still here.  She was good at her job and talked to everyone.

A young-ish man was talking about his and his wife’s progress with adopting twins – disclosing quite intimate details of the process openly to the dozen folk in the cafe.  I guess 11 of them go in there most days and, in a way, I wish I did too.  Everyone knew everyone else, and probably knew a lot about their lives too.  If I became a regular customer I’d have to wear a baseball cap as every male over the age of about eight does.  I have one – from Marble Canyon, Arizona, it’s just that it isn’t glued to my head and I don’t wear it indoors.

I saw from a poster that the rodeo will be nearby on 12-14 June.

A grandpa and grandson (aged about eight?) were sitting silently in their baseball caps waiting for their sausage sandwiches.  When Joyce brought them she let the kid choose which one was his – which made a smile come to his face, and to that of Grandpa (me too!).  She said Grandpa could choose tomorrow. A bit later when Joyce brought the check Grandpa said the kid better have that since he got to choose and they all laughed.

Joyce sat and chatted to them, getting the kid involved in the conversation, when a new customer (although you couldn’t say a young customer) came up behind her and made Joyce jump.  ‘Yo near jumped into Louisiana’ said the old man.

My check came to $5 for eggs, hash browns, toast and ad-lib coffee so I left Joyce a $2 tip on top.

The insight into the lives of the people in Mark’s cafe was worth far more.  Everyone was friendly to each other (and to me), they all seemed to care about each other and they’d all be there tomorrow or soon.  And Joyce was lovely in an ‘Aunty Joyce’ sort of way – talking to everyone including me (about passenger pigeons (no she’d never heard of them), where I was from and where I was going), topping up coffee cups, taking orders and settling bills.

The food was very simple but perfectly good, and as I left I hoped I’d find other places like that on the trip and I slightly regretted not being able to call back there some time.

But the road, the big I70 ( a good road for driving but not so good for breakfast) was calling me, and I had more loveliness in store – although I didn’t know that of course.

I crossed the Mississippi, which looked impressive, but not as impressive as I’d hoped and then realised, as I crossed the Missouri River a few minutes later that I was just north of where they join, and the Ohio comes in a bit later too.  Crossing 150 miles south, as I had to get into Kentucky just under two weeks ago, the Mississippi has the water from the edge of the Rockies (from the Missouri), its own water (from northern Minnesota) and the Appalachian rains (from the Ohio) mixing in its currents. Over 30 US states contribute to its flow.

Somewhere in Missouri a yellow-billed cuckoo flew across the road on almost the same trajectory as the black-billed had earlier.

I went through a thunderstorm but no tornado.

I was heading to Kansas to see Tall Grass Prairie and the loveliness of Danielle, Wendy and Alex – but I think I’ll tell you about them tomorrow.

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3 Replies to “Kansas – Day 15”

  1. Quite how your journey is so enthralling and captivating I do not know! I really look forward to the stories of the diners, the demeanour of the waitresses, the birds you have seen and yes have my fingers crossed for an Alaska plate! What I am looking forward to even more is THE Passenger Pigeon book. I have an old child's American Encylopedia where I first heared of Passenger Pigeons aged 8, the chapter started something like 'when you grandparents were young the was a bird so numerous it would blot out the sun'.
    Incidentally isn't it extraordinary that many people that you come across in the old heartlands of the Passenger Pigeon range have never heared of them? Are you surprised.

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  2. Took a little trip on a Stern-Wheeler on the big Mississippi at Memphis a few years ago. The tour guide described it as "Too muddy to drink & too wet to plough" !!!

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