Baxter and I loaded the tiny rental car and headed out Saturday morning on our annual Lass & Lassie Road Trip. Bax loaded less this time and was mainly in a supervisory role, given his advancing age. He knows the routine well -- invest a great deal of time in packing minimally; stuff the car at the last minute with many things we don't need; and drive 150 miles down the road to realize a fundamental item (keys, tickets, pants) is keeping a countertop company back home.
Our objective this time was kitschy roadside attractions across the Midwest. After doing a bit of research, we decided to stay within the confines of Kansas, which is rife with oddities from which to choose.
Over the course of the next three days and 1,364 miles, we traipsed across the Sunflower State, snapping our selfies at Big Brutus (West Mineral); World's Largest Czech Egg (Wilson); World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City); World's Largest Easel (Goodland); and World's Largest Hand Dug Well (Greensburg). We slept in the Midland Railroad Hotel made famous by a cigarette-puffing 9-year-old Tatum O'Neal in "Paper Moon." We were an hour too late to see the Wheat Liberty Bell, but we drove by the Happy Chef-Chimney Sweep to make up for it. The pandemic kept the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things in Lucas closed for the remainder of 2020, but we found Bowl Plaza a few doors down -- an enormous artistic rendition of a toilet bowl and roll of toilet paper -- to be delightful.
As we're apt to do, we stayed off the interstates, preferring to drive through each small town along the way. Like Steinbeck's Rocinante in the novel "Travels with Charley," our bantam chariot galloped alongside endless fields, churches, cemeteries and communities, many seemingly frozen in time. Water towers were painted to showcase mid-century state championships. Stores were closed on Sunday. American flags clung to poles in the prairie wind, and handmade signs for pancake breakfasts and chili suppers dotted main thoroughfares. We saw grain operators, farmers, clerks, historians and porch-sitters. We reconnected with rural Americana.
The trip was, of course, not without its challenges. I poured a thermos of stale coffee out the car window, only to have stiff winds blow most of it back inside onto Bax and me. I lost a battle with a brigade of lawn sprinklers at Dorothy's House & the Land of Oz. Finding a place to relieve oneself on Sunday in Kansas brought new meaning to yellow brick roads. And I threw us all into the dashboard when I slammed on the brakes, thinking I was going 95 miles per hour in front of a cop. Turns out, these new-fangled cars have fancy gauges that tell idiots how many miles they can go before running out of gas. This never happens in a '78 Ford.
Bax and I have now logged about 29,500 miles together, and I cherish each and every one with my trusted friend. We aren't in Kansas anymore, and there really is no place like home.
Lisa Kelley-Gibbs is a Southern storyteller, lawyer and country gal living a simple urban life in downtown Bentonville. Email her at Lisa@ArkansasAtty.com.