Category Archives: Long, strange trips

‘Shopping trip

I’ve been dinking around with filters and layers for a design project I’m doing at work, and while I was figuring out a shortcut today, I ‘Shopped up a photo Ron shot of me yesterday at Daily Star Comics in Metropolis:

Eat your heart out, Billie Piper.

Don’t look too closely, or you’ll see where my lines got a little wobbly on a couple of spots I was trying to enhance by hand, but I think it’s still a fun photo. Way better than Bitstrips.

Too bad I didn’t figure out the shortcut before I spent 10 hours tracing posterized edges by hand to convert photos to cartoons. -_-


Image from Highway 51

Here’s another photo I found in my archive as I was sorting it. I don’t think I’ve already posted this. It’s a long-abandoned grocery store we spotted one afternoon last summer as we were cruising Highway 51 in Southern Illinois:


If I remember right, this was just a little north of Cairo. I couldn’t resist shooting through the yucca that was blooming at the edge of the property. It was nice to catch a little glimpse of New Mexico in the middle of Southern Illinois.

On a completely unrelated note, I have been wildly productive today.

Despite blowing off a pretrial conference I’d planned to cover this morning in Illinois, I wound up filing two stories, finishing up the lifestyle section layout for Sunday, and editing and prioritizing all the local copy for one of our sister papers that operates out of our office. When I got off work, I picked up groceries, started a batch of yogurt, made hummus to take to work tomorrow, cleaned out the refrigerator, made a batch of red beans and rice and a Buffalo chicken casserole, and loaded the dishwasher.

I’m tired.


Sorting it out

The glory of digital photography is that you can take 30 shots to get the one you want, without having to worry about the cost of film or processing. The flip side is that you end up taking 30 shots to get the one you want, dumping ALL of them off onto your hard drive, and keeping them forever, just in case you might need them, as opposed to looking at prints and scanning only the keepers.

This is fine until you end up with so much crap on your hard drive that you realize it would take a full day to back it all up, so you just live dangerously until the inevitable happens and your hard drive goes bad, at which point you start using language that would make Samuel L. Jackson blush as you contemplate dropping the damn thing off the Bill Emerson Bridge on your way to pick up film and a new typewriter ribbon — except you can’t, because you pretty much have to order typewriter ribbons online. Kind of like how you have to download a slide rule app for your iPhone, because video killed the radio star. Or something. You kids get off my lawn.

Anyway, while I was rummaging through a flash drive last night in search of the one folder of images I was sure I’d backed up and absolutely could not stand the thought of losing, I ran across a keeper I’d scanned a little over 10 years ago, when I was still using 35mm:



Ron shot this during the weekend in 2003 when we repainted the sign at the now-shuttered Vega Motel on Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle. Last time I was through there, a little over a year ago, the sign still looked pretty good. It’s probably in better shape than some of the buildings at this point.



Muffler Man sighting

I forgot to post this at the time, but we spotted a Muffler Man just off Highway 51 in Macon, Ill., when we went to visit Ron’s family just before Christmas:

Excuse the shoddy image quality. My iPhone camera has been acting the fool ever since I installed iOS 7. 😡


Based on the odd proportions and the non-standard hand positions, I think this guy is a latter-day variant and not an original M-Man. Awesome that he’s holding a giant fiberglass ice-cream cone. If you go see him, stop at the convenience store nearby, grab a snack and a drink, and pay your respects to the Macon Ironmen trophy.


Pushing the envelope

It has been a full year since the last time I went to sleep in New Mexico.

I think we’re about to hit the upper limits of my patience, though. I’m getting fidgety and impatient and a bit frayed around the edges, and it’s starting to show in my productivity. Next three-day weekend I get, I’m throwing my guitar in the Dreamcar and booking it out to the Land of Enchantment. I need a cobalt sky, a night under the neon, and a chilly New Mexico wind to blow the clutter out of my mind.

Last time I took to the desert to clear my head, I drove down Tucumcari Boulevard, mentally updating my resume and dreaming of how I’d look coaching scholar bowl in Rattler purple, when a thought came to me — calm and quiet and in the second person, the way it always is when it comes from somewhere outside my own will — and the thought was:

Just wait. I’ve got a better idea.

It didn’t make any logical sense at all and was about as far from what I had in mind as it could get, so of course I listened to it, and of course I trusted it.

Three months later, I was organizing a 450-mile move in the opposite direction and feeling better about it than I’d ever imagined possible.

I haven’t had that kind of clarity about anything in a long time. I need the high desert and a few hours on the llano to ground me and remind me how to listen.


Snow on 61

As far as I’m concerned, snow’s highest and best (and possibly only legitimate) use is as a subject for photography on blue highways.

With that in mind, as soon as the highway department got the main roads cleared this weekend, Ron and I grabbed the camera, hopped in the car and headed north on Highway 61 for a Sunday drive.




For my money, this little shrine overlooking the Blues Highway and the floodplain next to it is the coolest thing on 61 south of St. Louis, with the possible exception of that cool arch at the Arkansas-Missouri state line. I saw it for the first time when I was driving south on the Blues Highway from Ste. Genevieve to Cape to interview for my current job, and I fell in love with it immediately. It reminds me of Our Lady of the Highways on Route 66 near Raymond, Ill., although this grotto is a bit more elaborate than the one on 66.

Stuff like this kinda makes me wish I were Catholic. I’m not a huge fan of public displays of theology, but there’s just something reassuring about a roadside shrine.


You guys.

So I made a quick run up to Carbondale this evening to pick up some stuff from the Co-op. On my way back, I came through Anna to discover this:


I have always loved this sign, but this is the first time I’ve seen them light the flashing arrow and the excellent googie bubbles at the top.

Sadly, this was the best shot I could get, because the property owners are weird about people taking pictures of the sign, so I had to roll down the window and shoot fast from a nearby driveway, then Photoshop the crappy Hardee’s sign out of the background when I got home.

One day, I need to pay them a visit and show them the kind of stuff I’ve been known to do for indie businesses in the past. We’ll see if they’re any friendlier after they figure out I’m good for free websites, free murals, free elbow grease, free bathroom renovations, and all manner of free design work.


The effects of bullying, Part I

This is the second entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be

One-on-one, I’m as extroverted as anybody you’ll meet. I can and will talk to anybody: judges, Hell’s Angels, presidential candidates, preachers, drag queens, strip club managers, cops, clowns, garbage collectors, gun dealers — you name it. I’m an old journalist. Talking to strangers is my specialty.

That’s why it makes no sense that I spent 25 years dodging large-group social settings.

One evening about a year ago, I had an epiphany.

I was working in public relations, and I found myself at a holiday open house for a local radio station. The girl who’d invited me was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being around her, but I didn’t know anybody else, and I cringed at the thought of making chitchat with strangers all evening.

I sucked it up and put on my quirkiest scarf, hoping it might start a conversation or two. It worked, and I had several nice visits with several nice people.

Everything was going fine until I introduced myself to two women who were taking a tour of the station with me. The conversation was pretty standard-issue, but through their body language and the pointed pauses they inserted before speaking to me, these women made it clear they didn’t want anybody to see them talking to me.

I felt exactly the way I’d felt every time I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with a more popular girl in junior high.

A few weeks later, I was having lunch with my friend from the station, and I asked her whether she had any idea what I’d done to offend these women or make them uncomfortable.

“Nothing,” she said. “They’re just bitches.”


Every social event I’d ever attended suddenly came into sharp focus. In my mind’s eye, I replayed scene after scene, and lo and behold, they all looked exactly like that evening at the station: I made some polite small talk, and some hateful wench responded by going out of her way to make me feel as if I’d done something wrong by speaking to her.

I still recoil against the idea of attending a social event without a press pass and notebook. It still feels weird to me. But it doesn’t scare me, because I now know I’m not “terrible at parties,” as I’d long believed; I’m simply terrible at socializing with snotty bitches who have the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old.

I think I’m OK with that.


Kitsch collection

Ron and I went up to his parents’ farm in central Illinois for a family reunion last month. We picked up Route 66 at St. Louis and took it up to Litchfield. Best find: An antique store in an old school building near Livingston has amassed an impressive collection of oversized fiberglass kitsch.


I’m not sure when these pink elephants became a thing, but we’ve been seeing them for about 15 years. They’re not quite as common as Muffler Men, but we’ve seen quite a few of them sprinkled across the country.

Love the uber-Deco lettering on the old gym. Notice the glass blocks, curved front and brick speed lines. *Swoon*

Beach Guy here isn’t a Muffler Man, but he’s obviously meant to resemble one. Looks like a latter-day variant.

Here’s a Muffler Man. This one is a Bunyan-type.

The Twistee Treat stand was operating the day we visited. It was cold out, and I was on a diet, but of course I got ice cream anyway. It wasn’t really worth the calories, but mimetic architecture must be rewarded at all costs.

This might be my favorite part of the whole complex.

There’s one more image after the jump. It’s cute, but I put it below the fold so it wouldn’t freak out my friend Marilyn, who is scared of stinging insects.

Continue reading Kitsch collection

Images from the road

I forgot to dump these off my card and Photoshop them when we got back from our trip to Tulsa to close on the house last month, but here are a few scenes from Route 66. I think the new Rebel will do just fine.


The Circle Inn Malt Shop, on Route 66 near Leasburg, Mo., is one of our favorite spots to grab a burger — just a good old classic diner with good pie for dessert.


I know I’ve posted pictures of John’s Modern Cabins before, but I couldn’t resist breaking in the new camera with another trip. I need to look at the metadata to figure out what I did right here, because I really like that watercolor effect on the cabin and foliage in the background, with the crisply focused flowers in the foreground.


This little guy was in the middle of the road. You can see how little he is compared to the centerline. He was so small Ron didn’t see him when we passed, and I was afraid someone else might not see him and hit him, so of course we went back to rescue him.


He wasn’t very appreciative.


We stayed at The Campbell Hotel when we got to Tulsa, of course. Barbara and Aaron finally got the restaurant open. It’s called Maxxwell’s, and it’s very good. The only thing the hotel was really missing was an on-site restaurant, and with that piece of the puzzle in place, I think it’s going to take off in a big way, especially when tourist season starts again.


We didn’t get a chance to stop in and try the cappuccino, but 918 Coffee has finally opened in the old Tunes Auto complex, which includes an old garage and a gorgeous cottage-style filling station. It looks really cute, and I think it’s positioned well, right down the street from the hotel and right in the middle of the renaissance that’s happening along that stretch of 66 in Tulsa.

I think I’m looking at another road trip in the near future. My editor gave me an extra day off next week because a couple of stories broke this week while I was supposed to be off-duty, so it looks like I’ll end up with a three-day weekend soon. I’m thinking either baseball pilgrimage or Lincoln Highway field trip, but that all hinges on the ability of the Dreamcar to go anywhere that isn’t New Mexico.

We’ll see.