Wayside Waylay

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

Our last day, and it would be a long one.  Eight and a half hours of driving, not counting stops.  Lynn’s flight left at 9pm, and we had been hearing how long the lines at the airports were. It seemed like a good idea to not push our luck by dawdling along the way.

I did want to stop in Hannibal, Missouri, which my mom and her husband had described as quaint and which was the boyhood home of Mark Twain.  But that was at least two hours out of St. Louis and we hadn’t eaten breakfast.  I stopped at a wayside rest to get some advice on where to eat.

If you’ve never done a road trip in the U.S., wayside rests are located about every 100 miles and have their own freeway exits.  They vary from just a gravel parking lot with a pit latrine to a gleaming air conditioned building with vending machines.  But there are no museums or gift shops or restaurants.  I like them because you can get in and out in five minutes without getting distracted. Usually.

This one in Missouri was the rare wayside rest with an information desk.  The woman was very friendly and a font of information.  Well, more like a slow-motion geyser.  She spoke with a slow southern drawl.  “Ya’ll could drive along the river, it’s very picturesque.”  She handed me a map of the Scenic River Road.  We didn’t have time, sadly, for the scenic route.  She highly recommended we take some extra time and go to a small town whose name I can’t remember.  She handed me five maps and brochures.  Looking at the map now, which town was it?  It couldn’t have been Mexico, Paris, or Florida—I would have remembered those.

“It’s a historic town with an absolutely darling downtown and a famous restaurant that serves throwed rolls.”  She handed me another brochure and tried to explain what throwed rolls were but I couldn’t get the concept.  “It’s only 20 minutes off the interstate.  Ya’ll can get cheese grits, and buttered corn bread, and….”  Mmmmmm.

People think that providing lots of choices is a good thing, but after 11 days on the road I was done making decisions, even about where to eat.

“We’re kind of in a hurry, I’m afraid, so it’ll have to be somewhere right off the highway.”

She handed me more maps and brochures for restaurants and scenic attractions. She must get mostly retired people who had all the time in the world.  Lynn had abandoned me.  “I’d better check on my friend,” I lied.  “She gets upset if I keep her waiting.”

The info lady looked disappointed.  “Just a few more suggestions,” she pleaded.  More brochures, more maps.  It must get lonely working in a highway wayside rest.

“My friend has to catch a flight to London,” I said, backing away as if the flight was imminent.

Meanwhile, I kept getting texts from Air B&B and the Quality Inn urging me to “Write a review of your stay!”

“Do your own marketing,” I muttered.  I am definitely happier when I get breakfast.

Lynn insisted she wasn’t hungry, so rather than look like a whining hungry weakling, I drove straight through to Hannibal.

This is a postcard depicting Hannibal:

Postcard Hannibal

This is what Hannibal really looked like:

boarded up houses

Dilapidated houses, block after block after block.  Was this a result of the Great Recession, or a longer term decline?  There was no signage directing visitors to a historic district, but by just following the streets downhill, I eventually hit the river front, where a couple natives out for a walk pointed the way.

The downtown was quaint.  It consisted of about four blocks of antique stores, a boarded up theater, a couple restaurants, and half a dozen Mark Twain historic sites.

Quaint Hannibal

We settled in at Becky Thatcher’s Diner, and the food was fantastic.  Really fantastic, not just because I was starving.  Lynn had corned beef hash for the first time and I had a huge omelet with potatoes.  Neither of us talked much, unless you count “Mmmm” as a word.

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