Seeing as how Monday was a travel day in the I-70 World Series, a group of us had the thought to do some traveling with the Series' real star. You know it, you love it, and if you're driving, you can't leave without it. Ladies and gentlemen, a road that asks no tolls and needs no introduction: I-70.
There were three of us in the car: me in the back seat, and Mike Lupica and Bill Madden, two of the New York Daily News' finest, in the front, all of us eagerly anticipating the drive across the state -- which is pronounced Muh-ZUR-ah, not Miz-ZOO-ree, and don't you forget it -- from Kansas City to St. Louis.
They picked me up at my hotel in Kansas (and that's another story) at 8 a.m., just as I was writing a good-bye note to the desk clerk: "Dear Auntie Em. Hate you. Hate Kansas. Taking the dog. (Signed) Dorothy."
At 8:25, we entered I-70 in the extreme right lane and immediately passed Royals Stadium, which has probably seen its last baseball game of the season, dahlings, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Knowing how many of you would have gladly been in the car, knowing that I was your surrogate eyes and ears, I spoke humbly to the country's choicest Interstate: "Mr. 70, may I call you I? I, buddy, it's your turf. I'm just here for the ride. But as long as we have this time together, Show Me."
I saw the following things:
A series of billboards advertising Walnut Bowls, the first 105 miles away. By the time we got to the store, I wanted a Walnut Bowl so badly I'd have eaten the whole tree.
Grain Valley 3.
Sweet Springs 46.
Close to Kansas City and St. Louis, I-70 is six lanes across, three on each side. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, I noticed that it had narrowed to four lanes, two on each side, but who knows where or when? (It seems we've stood and talked like this before.) The countryside we drove through was mostly soft, rolling hills -- mounds, really. I got hungry looking at them.
Bates City 2. (Stay clear of the motel.) In Bates City, by the way, they were selling TV satellite dishes on the roadside like local tomatoes. Why? If you lived there, you wouldn't have to ask.
Kingdom City 110.
(You sure Charles Kuralt started this way?)
The Interstate Inn has a room for $14. But do you really want that room? The San Antonio Inn advertises "cable adult movies" and a $20 rate, but specifies that rate for "two people." Dare we ask how much for three?
In Oak Grove, they'll wash your truck at the Truckomat. Will it cost extra if you want them to fold it?
This may shock you, but I didn't see a single Gucci factory outlet on I-70.
At 8:55, 31 miles into the journey, with the fog so thick you couldn't see your hood, Mike Lupica, the John James Audubon of East 56th Street, succumbed to the pressure and became the first to say, "Sure is pretty country." The over-under mileage on that particular statement had been 25. I bet the over.
The first silo sighting came at 41 miles, with Bill Madden spotting two off to the right, a double silo, which he proclaimed "definitely worth waiting for." This led to the theory that the prize behind silo No. 3 was one week in Boonville.
We made our first stop in Concordia, at the Good Old Days restaurant, where they'll sell you I-70 World Series buttons and bumper stickers. At the first table on the left sat nine huge men, graduates of Conan the Agrarian High, many wearing camouflage caps and jackets. We thought we'd wandered into the cover of Guns & Ammo magazine.
Lupica (to waitress): "So, you get many people coming in here talking about the Series?"
At 10:20, 103.6 miles in, we drove across the wide Missouri River for the first time. At 12:35 and 217.3 miles we did it again. Both great.
At 11:40, 181 miles in, we saw the first hideously huge inflated beer can balloon, a doubleheader: can of Busch, bottle of Michelob. Yo Gussie, here's Bud in your eye.
Questions asked along I-70:
If we go to the Tipton Slack Outlet, will they cut us some slack?
If I save someone from drowning in Hominy Creek, will they say I have hominy grit?
How many people at Elaine's would believe the sign saying that Ozarkland is really "worth stopping for?"
What kind of Shell station advertises a "World Series Meat Loaf Special"?
Stopping at Ray's Car and Truck Mart in Williamsburg -- serious Cardinals territory -- we met Rita, the tattooed waitress, and Clarence Danner, the renowned diesel mechanic. Rita and Clarence concurred that the I-70 Series had a positive economic effect because of the increased highway traffic.
"Places on the Interstate were just existing," Clarence said. "This thing goes seven days, that's seven days of business picking up on this stretch of road." Clarence, however, wouldn't qualify as a dedicated baseball fan.
Rita: "Watch the game Sunday?"
Rita: "Pretty good game?"
Clarence: "Yeah, looked like a pitcher's duel to me -- till I fell asleep."
From there we went to the Foristel Truck Stop, where you're out of luck if you're looking for quiche, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Danny Klocke, the bartender, said the 50 people who came in on Saturday night to watch the game constituted a record crowd. "We had a band here," Klocke said, referring, of course, to the Larry Davis Redneck Country Rock N Roll Revival Show, "and we had to keep the game on with the sound turned down because so many people wanted to see it."
From Foristel it's only 55 miles to St. Louis, only 25 miles to the nuclear waste of gentrification: a sign selling townhouse condominiums. At 2:35 and 230 miles from Royals Stadium, we reached St. Louis. I got off at the Arch, and I can only assume I-70 went on without me.