Chicago already? Not yet!
From Saint Louis, MO to Pontiac, IL
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Final stretch: My original plan was to leave St. Louis early in the morning and arrive in Chicago by dawn. Yes, I could tell that was my initial plan when I woke up, but I decided to remain on Route 66, driving at a slow pace and enjoying as much as I could! I had to avoid the temptation to hit on I-55N, as both roads pretty much go side by side for miles and miles. That was the real purpose of the trip, that’s the spirit! “Route 66 is all about the journey, not the final destination”…
There are so many things to do and to see, once you are on this road. So many attractions, so many interesting people from America’s heartland, you get to know and to be introduced. There are so many stories, so much to hear and learn. I felt blessed. That was my greatest discovery, that was the America I have always dreamed to find and explore – all those small towns and its residents, living at their pace, one day at a time, all under the motto – “you gotta do, what you gotta do”. That’s how they grew, developed and prospered throughout decades and decades, just by living one day after another, under a mid to long-term philosophy and short-term execution capability, that I am sure it makes any Brazilian citizen to feel there are still so much to learn. I confess this is the major gap that still impacts myself, as I was exposed and attached to both cultures, during my whole life.
Once in St. Louis at early morning, I invested part of the time I had there to take some pictures from the city’s main attraction: The Gateway Arch. Over six hundred feet high at its peak, the Arch was built in the sixties, next to the west bank of the Mississippi river, as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States. The Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and has become an internationally famous landmark. Contested in the beginning, the construction of the Arch later attracted important investments and brought some development to the region, becoming the city’s main symbol.
After studying more and more about this region of America, I can say that St. Louis has a relevant historical importance to the development and consolidation of the United States mainland. As I wrote on my previous article, the city is located at the bank of the Mississippi river – as we know, the largest and most important river in the country and one of the greatest commercial waterways of the world. It holds that position due to its location, tributaries and geography, helping the logistics of produce and industrial goods, sometimes from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, for hundreds and hundreds of miles along its course. From the Great Lakes, lets say that it may also connect all the way to New York City and other important cities in the Northeast, for example, through the famous Eire Canal, built back in the XIX century. Keep in mind that, back then, the logistics of every crop from the Midwest, in order to be shipped out to the Northeast and then to the European markets, used to be done being pulled by horse-drawn vehicles all the way. It used to take weeks, at a high cost and loss margins, but with the construction of the Eire Canal, being concluded in October 1825, it all became much faster and efficient and ninety five percent cheaper! Yes, ninety five percent cheaper… Although being very costly at the first, the construction of the Eire Canal was paid by itself within months and proved to be really worth the investment. All of this to tell you, my folks: It all somehow contributed to make St. Louis to become the gateway to the west. And Route 66 is right there! At the same period of history – 1825, with the completion of the Eire Canal, the country of Brazil – where I was born, was still “crawling” as a new country, with it’s recent independence declared from Portugal in 1822. It took many decades to finally build a stronger and consistent democratic system.
Crossed the bridge and I found myself at the last state of my journey along the Mother Road: Illinois. Political land of Abraham Lincoln and the State where famous gangster Al Capone (born in New York City), led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate – that’s the oldest portion of Route 66. And there was a lot to see on that road. About the Prohibition era, my opinion is that it was a mistake at the time. According to articles I’ve searched for that stretch of Main Street America, “the lack of a solid popular consensus for the ban resulted in the growth of vast criminal organizations, including the modern American Mafia, and various other criminal cliques“. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States
And Al Capone definitively benefited from that, becoming a highly visible public figure. But, why am I writing about Al Capone, in a travel diary about Route 66? That’s because Route 66 was first commissioned in 1926, when Al Capone was already engaged on his various and illegal activities. According to Guy Randall, from the website theroadwanderer.net, ”he was definitively one of the most important supporters of old Route 66 and for getting it paved. Perhaps he realized that it would be easier to move his booze and get away from the law if it were paved. Route 66 became the road of choice for Al Capone and many of the other famous Chicago gangsters in their pursuit of untold wealth. Route 66 in Illinois is full of tales of prohibition, bootleg whiskey, speakeasies, rumrunners and gangsters. At every turn and every roadhouse there are stories of famous gangsters and daring escapades it seems. Today these stories are still being told of the wild old days, giving historic Route 66 in Illinois a charm of mythic proportions”.
Curiosity: There is a brand of sodas called “Capone Family Secret” that I was told to try once in Illinois. It can actually be found on many states in America. But I decided to try it once in Capone’s old backyard! It still belongs to his family as I was told. They also sell other products, such as sauces, etc. Search it online at ”caposfoods.com“ and through many locations along Route 66, such as Pops, in Arcadia, in the stretch between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Sixty miles and one hour later, between St. Louis and Springfield – Abraham Lincoln’s political home, I stopped to eat lunch in the small town of Litchfield, at a place recommended by my dear friend Dan Rice: Ariston Café. Established in 1924, even before Route 66 was first commissioned, this is a traditional stop. You got to try it! Created by Greek immigrants, if this not the oldest, it’s one of the most traditional ones along ”two thousand miles all the way”, like Bobby Troup’s Route 66 famous song. Great service though, great service! Nick (son of founder – Pete Adam) and his wife Demi really do a great job and I felt like home, or should I rather say, like on Route 66! Try their desserts, they are also famous for those. May this success story keep going forward for many years with their son – Paul and his wife Joy! Great job guys!
So, I had it planned to arrive in Chicago at the end of the day, but so what? No way! I was stuffed and I had to go slow… Route 66 means great places to eat, which is translated to lots calories and that’s what Dan Rice told me, the first day we met at the Santa Monica Pier. Yes, I guess he was right. So I decided to slow my pace, as I didn’t need to arrive in Chicago that same day anyways! I was driving along the Mother Road, so, no rush, that’s where I wanted to be, that’s the road I always dreamed of ”getting my kicks on”! I had to make a decision though, because I knew that I wouldn’t have time for everything, so I decided to skip Springfield. Two very important things that I have learned driving on Route 66: One is that on every Route 66 trip you embark, you’ll always get to discover new places. Always. And two: you just can’t see, try and enjoy everything on just one trip. There is so much to do across these magical “more than two thousand miles, all the way”! And I was there: my car, the road and me. I just felt like at home. Yes, home! This is the felling I have, every time I hit on this road and it’s like I have been there for so much longer! I confess it is pretty hard to describe this feeling. Perhaps, if any of you readers ever do this trip, you might understand what I am exactly trying to express here…
Well, two hundred or so miles later, stopping by many and many places to take pictures, it was already the end of the day and I had made to Pontiac, IL. What a great surprise, Pontiac was! So, I decided to spend the night there, want to know why? Coming soon on the next article!