Baseball From Chicago To Houston, Part 2: St. Louis via Springfield

Springfield, Illinois & St. Louis, Missouri (Map)

Spring 2015


Discuss boring highway drives with anyone & you'll get the standard answers of Northern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario, Kansas or South Central Oklahoma. Today I would discover that I-55 through Illinois also has to be in that conversation.

Leaving Chicago, it didn't take long until there was nothing but endless fields of boring crops like soybeans, with towns so far away that I could only spot the odd church or silo from afar. At least the last time I went through here I was strictly following Route 66 and therefore driving through these towns, but today I would pass previously seen, worthwhile places like Pontiac, seeing nothing more than a fleeting highway sign.

We managed to take it easy last night, but I was still having trouble keeping up the enthusiasm for this part of the drive.


Besides Pontiac, I was struggling and failing to remember anything else from this area on that Route 66 trip. That is until we reached Springfield, where driving along the main route it's hard to forget the impression of the imposing Illinois State Capitol.

Needing to break up the 4.5-hour drive across Illinois, this is the stop I decided on. (The rarity of finding myself in Springfield played a factor here.)

Exiting the car, my sweater was immediately shed in the thick humid weather we found. And while Clarkman likes his winter activities, his own harsh Barrie winter left him also longing for and enjoying this first dose of warm weather.

The Illinois Territory was created in 1809 with land consisting of modern-day Wisconsin, Illinois and parts of Michigan and Minnesota. The capital was in the french village of Kaskakia, down past St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

Illinois would break away from the Illinois Territory to become the 21st state on December 3rd, 1818. The capital remained in Kaskakia for a year, but then moved to centrally-located Vandalia. It would remain in Vandalia for 18 years until Abraham Lincoln came along representing Sangamon County, successfully pressuring those in charge to move the capital to Springfield. It's in Springfield that they would build a 5th state capitol building, before finally building the current state capitol in 1867.

Amazingly the 5th capitol building also still stands & it's where Barack Obama announced his presidential run in 2007.

We initially didn't plan on staying for long, but then the Illinois capitol was so impressive that I kept wanting to see just a little bit more. The grand and monumental building seemed even more impressive than the other state capitols I had seen in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and Sacramento (although those were also plenty fine state capitols as well).

After sizing up the rails and steps outside the capitol, we hit the 'other' Route 66 historic food stop that was here in Springfield. Last time it was the Cozy Drive-In, but this time it was the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop, a place that claims to have the first drive-thru in America.

Maid-Rite also makes claims about their loose meat, so that's what both Clarkman and I got on top of fries with cheese. It was good enough. Put enough nacho cheese on anything and it'll be enjoyable.

We stayed on the interstate and sped through the rest of Illinois to make it to our afternoon attraction in St. Louis. I had seen the City Museum recommended and having done a few things in St. Louis already, it seemed like the next best thing. There were thoughts of whether we'd have enough time and if it was worthwhile, but as it was still early in the day, it was now time to head inside.

City Museum opened in 1997 as a showcase of St. Louis relics that would otherwise sit dusty in a warehouse or decaying in some backyard. Not only was it pieces of old St. Louis laid out in typical museum fashion, but there were also tunnels, cavities and squeezes to go through as you explored the artist Bob Cassilly-created mazes.

With concerns towards time, we didn't waste any while racing through dark caves and winding halls going up to the 10th floor. Priority #1 was to tackle the installed 10-story, antique, spiral fire escape slide.

Others clearly had the same idea as we heard countless people going by on our way up and there were people congregated around the slide opening and also diving into the spiral. I had some thoughts of joining the scared crowd having second thoughts about going down, but an excited Clarkman didn't even think twice.

It's his enthusiasm and lack of concern that sent me down the slippery metal surface as well. I'm pretty sure I couldn't have passed this up, but Clarkman expedited the decision process.

In the end it was a complete pleasure of twisting and careening for what felt like ever. They should install slides like this in big city housing towers so people can feel alive in the morning.

I couldn't help but smile at how childlike Clarkman was in this environment, one that I was worried would be stuffy and sleepy. In fact, Clarkman might've liked the City Museum more than me, something I realized when he asked why I would have ever thought about skipping this place.

Going outside, there were a series of elevated walkways and cages connecting everything from an old plane to the bell tower of an old church. Sure enough, Clarkman got ahead of me again as he rushed forth along the 3rd-story walkway towards the old stone bell tower.

"Oh yeah, whole old bell tower over there on so-and-so street? Yeah we'll move it over to the museum!"

I stood there amazed that the money and the will existed to save, transport and create a home for this beautiful old tower. Moving inside, it had yet another City Museum stable and safe staircase; allowing me to wander up and down inspecting the relic from some long-lost St. Louis church or school.

I went in the plane and I went in the big cone, but I did not take that curving tube you see from the top of the plane to the cone. I had to laugh as nuclear families climbed through it together, while I dismissed myself going up there entirely. To my credit, I don't think Clarkman went up there either.

From here, yet another slide let back into the building, or you could take another slide to the outside to check out an 12-ft old copper dome.

We'd settle down a bit as we found ourselves on the 4th floor, no longer needing to climb and slide around.

This was the architectural warehouse of things like old door handles, stone school entryways, decorative stone squirrels, banisters, cornerstones, gargoyle spouts, emblems, arches, and even the entire pediment above.

For the pieces where the history was known, there was a little card telling you the old destroyed building that the piece came from. There were also pieces where an educated guess was made to the history; while some origins were a complete mystery.

The variety and volume of building loss here made think of Detroit in a race few cities strive to win.

For example, the above gargoyle scupper came from St. Henry's Church which stood at California and Rutger, west of Lafayette Square. After a 1997 fire at St. Henry's, the damaged bell tower was being torn down when this gargoyle fell 5 stories to the ground. From there, it was rescued and brought to the City Museum.

And oh yeah - the place also had a skatepark, ha ha.

Don't worry, I've already set up a Google alert for "St. Louis City Museum caretaker jobs".

Here in St. Louis I had booked us another hostel, although online pictures showed a place that looked spartan compared to our digs in Chicago. Regardless, I was overjoyed that we were in the historic and substantial Soulard district instead of downtown, even if it felt like a grimy college boarding house when we walked into the back of the row house hostel.

(Upon meeting the seemingly 420-friendly manager, we told him we parked our rental car in front of his gray van and he told us "not to worry mannnn, that van hasn't moved in months! wuah!")

We were presented with the option of sleeping in either of two houses, but the friendly manager was going to stick us in this giant living room with a bunch of Germans where he insisted we'd have a "fun time". We were trying to be thoughtful though, and with Clarkman's growing illness now featuring a hacking cough, we asked if we could stay in the other empty house instead.

Deciding on that & grabbing our keys, it was time for a few pre-game drinks somewhere.

Clarkman knew of Busch Stadium's Ballpark Village and how there are bars connected to the stadium (read: to funnel more money to the Cardinals). Meanwhile, I had Googled 'Soulard bars' back in NF and knew there were decent ones within a couple streets of the hostel.

The pre-game bar we stumbled upon was called "1860s Saloon" and ended up being awesome. It felt like I was in St. Louis in this creaky brick building, instead of the Ballpark Village glorified strip mall pseudo Applebee's. The Soulard bar even had a shuttle to the game where you could take to-go beers aboard!

As for Busch Stadium, I've twice been in St. Louis at the same time as the Cardinals, but either didn't realize or thought my time was better spent elsewhere.

Third time's a charm.

Baseball started out in St. Louis at Sportsman's Park in 1867. It's there that a 1881 structure was built before being replaced in 1902. This 1902 structure is also now known as Busch Stadium I, which was replaced by the multi-purpose Busch Stadium II in 1966. As multi-purpose stadiums fell out of favour - and the NFL Cardinals had long ago left for Arizona - Busch Stadium III was built in 2004 and Busch Stadium II was demolished in 2005 (part of the Busch II footprint is now home to the Ballpark Village of Busch III).

As an aside, St. Louis is home to one of the stadiums that I'd visit with a time machine, but it's not Busch Stadium I or II, it's the old St. Louis Arena. (Busch Stadium I still looked pretty cool though.)

Busch Stadium ended up being fine. It's a nice stadium, the weather had warmed and I was in one of my top 3 favourite cities.

My vanilla stance on Busch is very similar to Detroit's Comerica Park. I like the place, I don't know if I love it.

We ended up going out to a couple of bars in Soulard and getting pretty turnt up. Not really sure why - the last bar of the night was especially mediocre - maybe I was having more fun and ballpark beers than I remember. One thing is that I was surely loving the night in St. Louis and pushing for it to never end.

The next morning would come quickly with that, but even quicker as Clarkman shook me awake and told me we had to go. Apparently he'd been coughing for hours and there was some poor soul stuck in the room with us now. Clarkman said he heard him utter "who stays in a hostel when they're sick? I'm going to fucking kill him" which was enough for Clarkman to skedaddle.

We scooped up our stuff and slipped out into the overly sunny and hot morning.

Especially now that we had some extra time with getting up early, I pushed for neighbourhood sit down breakfast. The place we happened upon was in yet another historic corner building with worn wood floors and an old bar. We were starting to get into big portion country, but everything else about the breakfast was perfect.

It occurred to me how crazy it is that people get to live here in this place of interesting dining options, stunning and/or funky old homes and rich character. Neither of us were very talkative over breakfast and I spent most of it people watching and imagining a very different life in Soulard. I had found another great neighbourhood in a city I already love and hanging around here throughout the last 24 hours might've been my highlight of the trip.

Unfortunately it was my turn to drive this morning. I would brighten up at the sight of one of the easternmost Jack-In-The-Box's though, helping myself out with one of their delectable ice coffees.

Afterwards we loitered about the adjacent neighbourhood for a few minutes, before attacking our day of driving across Missouri.

Continue to Part 3...


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Part 1: Chicago


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