On Friday, the sun having finally returned to New Orleans, I went down to the French Quarter to play my accordion in Pirate's Alley for a little extra gas money. On Saturday, I set out for Wisconsin.
In the end, I drove every last mile of I-55 from its genesis over pylons driven into the swamp outside of LaPlace, Louisiana to its terminus at the frigid shores of Lake Michigan at Chicago's Lakeshore Drive. It was just the catharsis I needed.
I made a few stops along the way. Photos and captions after the break.
Crossing over the line into Mississipi's pine country, I thought I saw Mike H driving an oversize load in the next lane.
I made my traditional stop for gas in Canton, Mississippi, the town north of Jackson that originally brought me to New Orleans back in 2003. I grabbed some delicious BBQ ribs at the T&D North Hickory Sandwich Shop, a little place in "The Hollow," a cluster of juke joints that played host to early blues musicians like Elmore James.
The Shop announced on its front door that the State of Mississippi was going to force it to charge tax as of the new year.
In the pines, Mississippi.
Arkansas was, by far, the most dreary and forlorn of all the states I passed through. Incredibly flat. Cotton fields under a lead gray sky. Even the trees along the highway, some sort of ditch willow, looked sickly.
I swung off the trail in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the home of Rush Limbaugh. He's right next to Porter Wagoner on the flood wall of famous Missourians in the "Entertainers" category. T.S. Eliot is down at the far end, a ways away. I was looking for parallels or contrasts between the river towns of Hannibal, MO as home of Mark Twain and Cape Girardeau, MO as home of El Rushbo. But the growing dark, cold, and hunger distracted me, and I drove on.
A night in St. Louis proved to be frigid. The steam rose in huge billows across the interstate at the Budweiser factory as we walked through the red brick rows from Benton Park to Soulard for a drink.
In the morning, it was back to the road. But not before a tangential roll through the decaying acres of East St. Louis across the Mississippi.
In Springfield, IL, I stopped off in search of internet access and the home of Vachel Lindsay, the "Prairie Troubadour," one of America's most overlooked poets, and one of my favorites. After missing a turn on what I thought was the right way, I skidded across some ice into an alleyway and, when I emerged - voila - there was the Lindsay family home directly across the street. Heading downtown, I presumed a cafe would be open with some wireless. Not so. I did see Rep. Aaron Schock's district office, though, as well as the railroad station where Lincoln gave his great farewell address.
Finally, I arrived in Chicago, and - not a moment too soon - surprised my brother at the Carbon and Carbide building downtown where he works. One of the upper floors of the classic Art Deco skyscrapers provided a great view of the ice skaters in Millennium Park along Michigan Avenue.
We tried the Monadnock for a bit of wireless, but, once again, I was foiled. However, Kristkindlmarkt (sp?) was underway in Daley Plaza. The hot pretzels hit the spot!
The house up in Roscoe Village was cozy and ready for Christmas. It was a peaceful respite after hours and hours of time on the interstate with Illinois drivers. I hate to say it, but the Wisconsin stereotype of Illinois drivers certainly held up - not all of them, certainly. But the absolute worst drivers by license plate along my whole route where from Illinois (whether driving in Illinois or in other states) - dangerous, impatient, speeding twenty to thirty miles per hour over the common speed, cutting people off, tailgating with 2 feet of room at nearly 80 miles per hour in blowing snow. I came very close to shouting a certain acronym on a few occasions.
Today, I zipped over to Oak Park before making the final push up into Wisconsin. I wanted to see some of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the suburban Chicago neighborhood where he once lived and worked. I found a few gems dusted with snow.
But the gems hardly shone when compared to what Wright called his "jewelbox" - Unity Temple.
The interior space, partially under renovation was especially stunning when contrasted the nearly monolithic exterior, the facades broken only by narrow glass and ornate, vaguely Mayan pillars.
Truly unique and memorable. And classic Wright.
Crossing the state line at last, I noted the sign at an exit near Kenosha, Wisconsin and stopped in to see the Dairlyland Greyhound Park. The facility, Wisconsin's last remaining greyhound racing facility, is slated to close at the end of this year, and I know a few friends of mine are concerned about what will happen to the nearly 1,000 racing greyhounds at the facility. While there were no races going on today, there are a few more between now and the new year - Saturday, Sunday, next Wednesday, for example. And if you'd like to adopt one of the dogs, here's more information.
Suddenly, with multiple phone calls coming on while I was on I-94, I turned off on an exit...and ended up at...the lovely Port of Milwaukee.
As a good student of maritime law, I thought I would take a look around to see how the port was doing. Clearly lots of salt coming in. Also, some heavy Bucyrus mining equipment going out.
And now, it's just short hop home to Kiel. This trip was made possible by: Junior Kimbrough, Sufjan Stevens, Dr. John, The Walkmen, and, of course, the artist with the finest music for driving across the plains, Hank Williams, Sr.
Law school? What is that?