This has been an excellent Reunion, a first rate example of what VROC is all about. I need to thank Condi, JR and Brandon for once again doing a superb job of finding us a place to gather and looking after the myriad details. We look forward to doing it again next year and I heard the ground floor of the motel was already reserved, a sure sign that everyone else enjoyed it as much as we did. I'd also like to thank Hot Sauce, Margot, Mitch and all the folks who helped prepare the Friday and Saturday suppers. Awesome food. Further, I need to thank all the VROCers who attended because you are why we come. This is the family we have chosen and it feels so good when we get together. Lastly, a special thanks to our regular room and soul mate, Sherm. We have been doing this for a long time and I hope we do it for a long time to come.
Today, we were going to visit Willie Wonka and The Lovely Carlene in Murphysboro, Illinois. It was foggy as we headed east on US 62 to Berryville (BURRvull to the locals). A couple of Harleys followed me through the haze and then passed as we came to a clear spot. We stopped at the Murphy (WalMart) gas pumps in Berryville where I topped up at $3.229 (would have been $3.199 if I had paid cash). I am sure going to miss these prices, although they would have horrified me a few years ago, Then we picked up coffee and breakfast to go at McDonald's next door.
We drove north on US 65 into Missouri and through Branson. In Ozark, we stopped at a WalMart to use the bathroom. When I came out, Sandy pointed out that I had my golf shirt on inside out. I told her that I realized in the Men's Room that my fly had also been unzipped. This is a hazard of early morning departures.
In Springfield, we caught I-44 and headed northeast. I looked for a suitable semi to follow and found one before long. We stopped at the same McDonald's in Rolla that we found on the way through in July and remarked that the staff there were just as efficient and polite as before, a sign of good management. I topped up the fuel tank and then sought out a new truck to draft.
The truck strategy was doing well. As we approached St. Louis and the big hills on the highway, we were pushing into a middling headwind. Despite that, the computer told me we were averaging 15.7 miles per US gallon. That was absolutely amazing and, even though the overall averages aren't that good for numerous reasons, they are so much better then we got with the big trailer.
We left I-44 for I-255 on the outskirts of St. Louis and crossed the mighty Mississippi into Illinois at noon. From there, the GPS led us on a path of secondary highways south into a part of the state we were not familiar with before now. We stopped at a McDonald's in Chester, known as the home of Popeye, to grab some lunch. The new counter worker accidentally took my order for one small fry and made it eleven, but we got that straightened out. As much as I like their fries, eleven orders would have been too much.
There is a real feeling here of simple, strong America. Ordinary folks who live in a beautiful rural countryside. I will have to draw on this image the next time I go through Detroit to remember what the country can be.
Willie and Carlene are a couple of our favourite people. For years, Willie was a regular attendee at many VROC gatherings but a change in employment resulted in a significant reduction in vacation time. Still, we saw them this spring in Maggie Valley and also rode to have lunch with them in the Soo when their GoldWing group was visiting Mackinaw City.
As we caught up on what had been going on lately and met their three very unusual cats, Willie and I watched the NASCAR race from Chicagoland Speedway. We are both in the VROC NASCAR Fantasy League, where I have some of the worst luck picking drivers. This day was no different. Supper consisted of salad, streaks on the grill, baked potatoes and cheese biscuits. Excellent.
After supper, we piled into Carlene's PT Cruiser and, with Willie at the helm, drove to the town of Du Quoin and Ye Olde Country Store Ice Cream & Fudge Shoppe, located downtown right next door to the old theater. While enjoying very nice ice cream (I had mine in an interesting pretzel cone), we met owner Bob Bytnar and heard his story.
Bob and his wife moved to Du Quoin in 2007 from Arkansas and he took a job at a local munitions factory. He told me they had an ice cream shop in Arkansas and his wife wanted to start a new one here. Soon after they opened, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Around 2009, Bob won $100,000 in a lottery and used the proceeds to pay a portion of the medical bills. Mrs. Bytnar passed away three years ago after a valiant fight and Bob and his daughter kept the shop going to honour her memory. This involved working nights at the plant and days at the shop, a rigorous undertaking. It all changed Labour Day Weekend when he bought an instant lottery ticket and found himself the winner of $4 million dollars. The newspaper said he retired from his night job although Willie claims he "phoned in rich".
Bob said folks had approached him about selling the Shoppe. He said they didn't understand him very well because, after all the effort to keep the business open in his wife's memory when times were tough, he had no intention of giving it up now that he was flush. I use the word business when that doesn't convey the atmosphere of the place. Bob greets and serves everyone. One lady came in looking for an ATM because she didn't have cash with her and Bob said she could pay him next time because this was "just a country store". He recently received an award acknowledging his Christian principles in business. All I can say is that the detour to Du Quoin is a few miles off our usual route but I can see us stopping by again in our travels.
Back at Chez Wonka, I was checking Facebook and found that Wrong Turn and KT were spending the night in Chester (home of Popeye) a mere 30 miles away, but it was too late to go and hunt them down. It wasn't long before we all turned in for the night.
Today's Route (389 Avalanche/trailer miles):