We realized in our Plucky recap of yesterday that we forgot to mention our final Cow score, primarily because it was so depressing. Rick didn't score a single Cow all day long. We're in the Midwest people, there should be cows! Pigs we got. Sheep we got. Corn, wow, do we got. But no freakin' cows? Mary scored only a few but then had them wiped out by a cemetery and the day ended at a just plain stupid 0-0.
But we had higher hopes for day because there was lots of driving ahead, so it was good we were well rested thanks to the cocoon like beds at the Ritz, though we have to admit that while the hotel as is elegant as one might expect, service was a little down from our other Ritz experiences. Perhaps we just caught them on a busy holiday weekend.
We started Rick's birthday (!!!) with a stop at Drive In Donuts, because Plucky Husband Steve caught an episode of Alton Brown on the Food Network raving about them. But the problem with all local donut places is that they start selling at 6am, which is not a time of day Plucky Survivors acknowledge unless something Plucky is keeping them up all night UNTIL 6am. When we got there at 9am, the offerings were already fairly limited, and it didn't help that the person ahead of us in line took the last of those white frosted round thingies stuffed with chocolate cream. We think they didn't do it on purpose, but we have our doubts. Rick actually saw Mary considering wrestling the woman to the ground for said donut, but something kept her from making a seen. What we had was fine, but our donut-hole shaped hearts still belong to Mel-O-Cream.
With some trepidation we traveled today through Missouri---we say "trepidation" because there is some kind of vortex that makes Rick's otherwise near-savant level driving and directional skills go on the fritz. Either that, or Branson continues to be a black hole that sucks everything into its bland and yet frightening maw. Forgive us; that experience trying to leave Branson has scarred us.
But we arrived in Hannibal, Missouri, home town to American mythmaker and story telling extraordinaire Mark Twain without incident. Boy, was it without incident. Twain romanticized Missouri, but apparently if you aren't on a raft or riverboat, or fleeing Injun Joe in a cave, it's a fairly dull place. Witness that our cow score remained at 0-0 for the hundred miles or so all the way to the town.
As for Hannibal itself, it's is absolutely what one thinks of when one visualizes a 19th Midwestern town, at least in terms of its extent, rather dignified Main Street buildings. The Twain boyhood home, plus the other buildings that inspired locales in his most famous works (most notably the home of the girl who was the "real life" Becky Thatcher), are reasonably well preserved. But the whole thing is quite commercial and tourist oriented. (Though the visit did give Mary the chance to repeatedly invoke Tom by declaring "My sore toe is mortified!")
The Twain museum has some cartoon like representations of moments from the book, and some merely adequate displays about Twain's life and work, few of which are well organized. The boyhood home is better laid out, and does help demonstrate why Twain remains so beloved and influential. It also points out unexpected parallels between Twain and Lincoln, in that both had poor childhoods and hardscrabble youths, though the latter was a saint compared to the gleeful rapscallion that was Samuel Clemons. Both came to recognize the evils of slavery and addressed the issue in gorgeously simple (but not simplistic) writing. Both suffered numerous family tragedies, and neither has a single living descendent. Both were men who suffered from melancholy, and yet both were so very, very funny, in their own ways.
We note that iconic America is typified by three figures from PSSA 2; "American Gothic," Lincoln and the work of Mark Twain. Absent cowboys and Indians, much of what one thinks of as "America," in terms of the image, character, myth and mythmaking of the country came from these three figures. (Counting the painting as one figure, despite it being of a couple.) Democracy and equality for all, opportunity, tricksters, adventure, exploration, hard work, humor; it's all there and more. Interestingly, for such a lively country, all three have that undercurrent of sorrow, of hard times and lives endured--which, and we mean this with great respect, is a theme of Plucky Survivors.
We had time to muse on all this during our long drive to Kansas City, Missouri, during which we somehow found ourselves on an entirely different road than we intended, because that's how Missouri apparently is. Thankfully we recognized Highway US 65, which was part of our problem last year near Branson and drove by it quickly, whistling as if passing a cow-stealing graveyard. To our Plucky Kansas Reader---we have no doubt that if we spent time in your state this sort of thing would just never happen. You may gloat now.
One oddly affecting sight; a large tattered white wall on posts, in the middle of an entirely overgrown field. It was Rick who realized the thing was a former drive in movie theater, now all but gone except for the remnants of the sign. There's a symbol we don't need to explicate for you.
At least things picked up Cow-wise (and horse and sheep wise-some good looking animals out there), turning into the kind of serious grudge match as Rick ratcheted up 117 cows while Mary kept losing hers to graveyards. Ah, but Cow is not for the faint hearted, and the day ended 56-0, Mary. She has decided she is showing support for the Chicago Cubs, with her ratio of victories to losses. Go Cubbies!
We finished up the day Plucky style with a pound (literally) of various smoked meats from Arthur Bryant's BBQ restaurant. We declare ourselves fans of the Sweet Heat, probably because it taps into our sugar jones. Bryant's is considered one of the best BBQ joints in the country, and you won't get much dissent from us, though we liked the unusual large pressed sausage and the ribs the best.
Our evening is being spent at the Harrah's North Kansas City, a hotel riverboat that once again impresses our jaded Las Vegas sensibilities. The large rooms are well designed including a wall of space saving built-ins, a generously proportioned, and comfortable king sized beds. Not to be mean but it certainly surpasses its cousin in Sin City for quality and price, especially when you consider the giant two-level casino (with all the latest Vegas style gaming), restaurants directly from The Strip (The Range, Toby Keith's), an indoor pool, and much, much more.
Because our travel writing takes us to Vegas so much, it's interesting to see the concept translated elsewhere and done successfully.
Tomorrow some museums, an axe murder site, and a return to Iowa. See you then.