A significant landmark on our summer road trips was a glimpse of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis towering over the downtown as we zipped by on the interstate. It is right next to the bridge as you cross the Mississippi River but I would be so nervous about navigating through the city traffic that I wouldn’t be able to do more than give it a quick glance. I’d always wanted to stop and get a closer look but with so many miles left to drive we never wanted to take the extra time.
Now in our retirement years our road trips can take a more leisurely pace and we have time to make unplanned stops. We found ourselves today passing through St. Louis on a sunny Sunday afternoon so we decided to make a stop to visit the Arch. Trying to get a photo that captures the immensity of this 630-foot monument is next to impossible. But we tried. Most of our time there was spent walking the park grounds that surround the Arch taking pictures from every possible angle. It was a beautiful day to be outside, though, so no complaints.
Built as a tribute to our nation’s history of westward expansion, it is referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” In my visits over the years from New Mexico to Michigan I always thought of crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis as the boundary marker for being in the East versus getting back to the West. It was wonderful to visit family in Michigan and to enjoy the abundance of green grass and trees. But I always looked forward to getting back out West in the wide open spaces under sunny, blue skies. Though our time in the East this summer hasn’t been as long as what the kids and I used to do in the summers, I’m still feeling today that by crossing the Mississippi we have entered the gateway back to the West.
It was the summer of 1979 and I had just finished my first year of teaching high school math for the Alamogordo Public Schools. Ruth was almost 3 and Mike was 1-1/2. We had an old beat up station wagon that we hoped would make the 1700 mile trip from New Mexico to the family farm in Michigan. I hadn’t been back to see my folks since before the kids were born. Spending summer on the farm would be a wonderful experience for everyone.
Now here I am 40 years later driving once again from New Mexico to Michigan. All these hours in the car today have given me lots of time to reminisce and reflect on the paths life has taken. Who would have imagined 40 years ago that the 1-1/2 year old kid going to his grandparents farm then would today be a seasoned long haul truck driver who just happened to have a route crossing ours as we went through Oklahoma?
Mike was taking a load from Dallas to St. James, Missouri, traveling north on Highway 69. We had spent the night just east of Oklahoma City and would be traveling east on Interstate 40, passing by St. James later in the day. By Mike’s calculation we could meet up at Big Cabin, OK, where the highways come together. I think he had to squeeze his schedule a bit and get an extra early start, but, amazingly enough it all came together and Lee and I were there just a few minutes before that good-looking Celadon truck turned the corner into the travel plaza.
Mike with his usual busy schedule didn’t have much time to spare. But this was an interesting spot that he picked for our meet up. The travel plaza features a 50-foot statue of an Indian Chief. After all, the highway is going through the Cherokee Nation. The statue wouldn’t have been here in the days I traveled the route so I appreciated the chance for the close-up view. He’s so big that I’m barely visible in the photo!
Here’s the story of the statue, if you’re interested.
If you’re interested in the rest of the story of taking the old station wagon on that long trip (or some of the other years taking those trips to Michigan) you’ll have to wait until another day when I get motivated to work some more on my “memoir.”