Driving Through Illinois

I don’t sleep as well as the first night but a doze sees me getting up at 8 am. The bed is not that comfy but it’s not terrible. Melanie had taken my breakfast order last evening and the Three Roses is apparently renowned for its breakfasts. You can basically have whatever you want and they’ll provide it. I asked for fruit, yoghurt, granola and juice. Melanie was very happy. “Simplest breakfast ever, no problem” she told me. But it’s what I want, certainly not grits or a full cooked affair. Anyway when I go downstairs at the agreed time of 9 am, she has set it up on the porch at the front of the house. The Illinois weather is nice and sunny, and it’s quite warm for so early in the day. And very good – no, actually, excellent! – breakfast is as well.

Back upstairs to pack, a check on the final details for the day, and I’m driving away just after 10 am. The route starts by taking me through the suburbs of Pontiac, and a similar thing happened yesterday. It seems strange to be driving through a neighbourhood but I guess these houses might not have been there back in the 1930s or ’40s. I’m soon out in the countryside though.

Next up is a frontage road tracking parallel to an Interstate, then into a town again. In fact the road type changes every few miles, making it constantly interesting. Throughout the day, a similar pattern emerges as yesterday. Although there’s no defined ‘pattern’ as such, other than it’s always changing!

Every now and again I come across some of Rt 66’s renowned roadside gems such as Sprague’s Super Service in Normal, Illinois. But I realise later that I am missing seeing some things. I had assumed that all the Points Of Interest were on Rt 66 itself, but I deduce they are not. I will have to detour off Rt 66 to find some that I do want to see, like the Railsplitter Covered Wagon in Lincoln.

My instinct told me I was leaving Lincoln but I hadn’t seen the Wagon. And I knew it was in the town. So I pulled over and changed the app to direct me to it, which is one of its neat features. This meant doubling back into town and off Rt 66. I find it, and it is a very large wagon. There’s a statue of Abe Lincoln sitting in the driver’s seat, reading a law book. It’s also completely pointless. But I guess that’s part of the fun of ’66!

Chenoa, IL #1Chenoa, IL #2Spragues Super Service in Normal, ILDixie Travel Plaza, McLean, IL #1Dixie Travel Plaza, McLean, IL #2Dixie Travel Plaza, McLean, IL #3Bunyan Giant, Atlanta, IL #1Bunyan Giant, Atlanta, IL #2Railsplitter Covered Wagon, Lincoln, IL

The app is proving a great help. As soon as I’ve visited the Wagon I just put my destination back in, and it routes me out of town and onto Rt 66 again. Not everything on Rt 66 is in the app however. Today I’ve passed some old or disused motels that are not listed as POIs. I don’t know why.

Finding The Historic Route

During my planning pre-trip I decided on two short days distance-wise at the start in order to get used to the app. I thought it might take a while to adjust to the turn-by-turn directions, and wasn’t sure how easy (or difficult) it might be to use. I knew Rt 66 would be difficult to navigate because after I’d bought the EZ66 guide it became apparent that the book would be impossible for me to use without some human assistance. Which I don’t have, being on my own. Why? The step-by-step directions in EZ66 are written in a kind of shorthand code. A solo driver wouldn’t be able to read them to figure out where to go and drive at the same time.

EZ66 is very detailed. It does provide a wealth of information on sights to see, as well as all the various route permutations over the years. Some of the direction changes though are also very close to each other, often just 100s of yards apart. Again, this would be impossible for a solo driver to follow. Not safely anyway.

Route 66, Williamsville, ILThe Old Station, Williamsville, IL #1The Old Station, Williamsville, IL #2The Old Station, Williamsville, IL #3

The app is somewhat expensive at nearly $50 for a one year licence. This needs renewing every year if you want to use it again. But I figured if it did what it claimed – turn-by-turn directions – then it was worth it. It certainly was the best, if not only, option for a solo driver like me. I am still getting used to it, and have made mistakes of missed turns, but to date it seems worth the money.

I have no way of knowing however whether the route they are taking me on is actually the “proper” Historic Rt 66. But then of course there is still debate today about all the various route alignments. In some places I believe there is no record of what the route was between certain dates, it changed that much.

Whatever, I’m sure it’s reasonably accurate. Part of the attraction of a road trip is interesting drives on interesting roads, with nice scenery. Hopefully Route 66 will offer that. Then there’s the roadside ‘attractions’, many dating back nearly 100 years, creating a historical record of the past. In addition, there are ‘proper’ attractions such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Which I am visiting later today.

I set off early with the hope of getting through most of Illinois to Springfield today to do all the sights there in the afternoon. This would allow me to depart early the following day having ‘done’ Springfield, as I have a longer journey then.

A Presidential Museum & Tomb In Springfield

I arrive in Springfield at 2 pm. Cruising around I find the Museum, and the Old State Capitol a block or two down the road. I park in the underground car park under the Capitol and walk out into the sweltering 85º heat, with clear blue skies above. It’s hot, damned hot.

Abraham Lincoln Museum Wristband

Abraham Lincoln Museum entry wristband

Inside the Museum however, it’s like a freezer. I buy a ticket and view the various galleries and theater presentations. But post-visit, I still can’t decide about the Museum. It was interesting for a Brit to learn about Lincoln’s impact on US history other than just winning the Civil War. His story is presented in a series of staged re-enactments of critical points in his life using dummies and replicas of real people, posed as to how they might be reacting to the situation. It was kind of OK when I was in there but in retrospect I’m not so sure.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum #1Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum #2Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum #3Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum #4

Lincoln family statues opposite Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln family statues opposite Old State Capitol

My summary of Lincoln is that he achieved something in principle – the emancipation of slaves – but the legislation that was passed had too many loopholes. So racial discrimination continued and nearly 90 years later Rosa Parks still didn’t have the legal right to sit freely where she wanted on a public bus.

Back outside again, the weather is still very hot as I walk down the street to the Old State Capitol. Illinois this mid-September is like more like being in the Mediterranean. This Capitol building is preserved in aspic, ‘as it was’ when it was in use. It was good to visit it and also that Yanks are realising more and more about the need to keep ‘old stuff’. The grounds around the Capitol could house a few office blocks so it’s good the building is still there.

Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #1Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #2Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #3Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #4Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #5Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #6Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #7Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #8Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL #9

Retrieving the car from underground I head out to the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. It’s an impressive monument. You can also go inside the rotunda and see Lincoln’s tombstone. It was designed with multiple vaults to hold Lincoln’s descendants for years to come. You can see where the various tombs would be located. Unfortunately after he’d died the rest of his family apparently gained the habit of dying young and the sadly the family line ended. So most of the vaults are unoccupied today.

Lincoln Tomb #1Lincoln Tomb #3Lincoln Tomb #4Lincoln Tomb #2Lincoln Tomb #5Lincoln Tomb #6Lincoln Tomb #7Lincoln Tomb #8Lincoln Tomb #9Lincoln Tomb #10

To The State House

Back at the car it’s still boiling hot. As it still is a few minutes later when I unload the car at the State House Inn, back in the centre of Springfield. The receptionist mentions it is currently Happy Hour. So despite the early-ish time of 5.15 pm, after just dumping my bags in my room, I’ve had enough of the heat and go back down for a cold beer.

Turns out Happy Hour is a con, as it’s only applicable to house wine and US domestic beer. But I don’t argue and have a Sierra Nevada instead, whilst I work out tomorrow’s route. Back upstairs a while later, I sort out my bag. And then it’s off out for dinner at Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery. Now there’s a mouthful.

It’s about a 10 minute walk away along almost deserted streets of downtown Springfield at 7.30 pm. The Patio Bar outside is almost full when I arrive but the heat and humidity are still really high and I want the cool of an air-conditioned bar inside. The bar is mostly empty. I sample a couple of their own-brewed beers and decide on one, then order a Horseshoe for dinner.

This dinner item is a Springfield invention. I’d seen it advertised on a few billboards whilst driving around, so I thought, whilst in Rome…

To Eat: A Horseshoe

There is a choice of meats and I ask the barman which the original was made with. Angus beef, he replies. So that’s what I order. And what exactly is this culinary marvel? It’s a slice of thick toasted bread, meat on top, smothered in a secret cheese sauce, topped with French Fries.

Having expected the Angus beef to be in strips, it’s actually a beef burger! It tastes OK, but at the end of the day it’s a beef burger with a cheese sauce and chips. Meeh…

Considering it’s just a bucket-load of fat and grease, it’s not too bad. Not horrible by any stretch of the imagination.

There is a guy sitting to my right by now. However he’s obviously decided I’m weird because of my accent as he talks to the bar staff but completely ignores me all night. I therefore watch baseball on TV whilst writing my diary. The bar staff also ignore me except when I need a drink refill. They talk among themselves and all seem to be having mini-traumas from the snippets I overhear. Poor little loves. But why have many US bar staff stopped talking to customers?

I thought I’d Uber or Lyft home but on reflection decide to walk. It’s still very warm. I use Maps to guide me a different more direct route back to the hotel. I don’t see another soul during the 10 minute walk. Where is everyone? Does Illinois go to bed at 7 pm? I get back to the hotel at 10 pm.

A Wild Drive

In writing this up a day later, it’s clear the Illinois section of Rt 66 is a wild mixture of road types, which I said yesterday. Interstate, highways and some pretty bad ‘rough road’ in places. Well that’s what the warning signs said, and they weren’t wrong.

I also realise now that it is going to be futile in trying to list out every ‘attraction’ I see on my Rt 66 travels. There are just too many. I’ve passed many famous landmarks in just two road days. But there are also countless other ‘unmarked’ motels and businesses that once thrived on Rt 66 in a foregone era.

Route 66 today is about the past, of a time that used to be. But I see signs of hope in the renovated gas stations and motels, turning the route into a tourist attraction. And in the process, hopefully re-generating other businesses along the route.

But seeing many of these unmarked or unrecognised business failures is a reminder of Rt 66’s history. Part of the reason for travelling it today is to see what it once was. Today, I’ve definitely seen lots of different ‘stuff’.

So I think I’m getting to grips with what Rt 66 is all about. But I also suspect that view will change as the road unfolds. Whatever, it’s keeping me awake, alive and on my toes. It’s already a very different experience from any of my other road trips. And that’s good. As per last night, I think I’m enjoying it as well. 🙂

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