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Monday, August 19, 2013


This all started because my wife needed to get to Carthage, MO. Travel with Corinna can be challenging, especially when we don't do it by bicycle. For one thing, she thinks cars are like Dr. Who's Tardis, infinitely large inside so that an econo-box could carry bikes and touring gear for eight or nine people, plus those eight or nine folks.

It's pointless to argue with her about this, she'll just fill the thing to the ceiling and then tell a few passengers they have to ride on the roof.

For this trip, she trimmed it down. She didn't ask me to bring two or three dogs, didn't even quite exceed the seat belt count with human passengers.

After a weird back-track into mid-town after church to pick up her former roommate, we hit the recently minted I-49 for the Joplin-Carthage metro area. I like to take the scenic route, and last time we went down to Edward's, we took a great one that lead us through Virginia, MO and a bunch of other little burgs on the blue highways. It took us half a day to cover the 130 miles or so, but it was great. This time, we tried to strike a balance and that's always a bad idea.

The balance was we took 71 Hwy née I-49 until we could pick up 43. 43 is just about as scenic as 71 but less direct, so we ended up on something as dull as an Interstate without the speed advantage and added at least an hour to our arrival time in Carthage.

I had my youngest daughter with me and technically she was supposed to be back at my ex's by 7:00. It was after 5:00 when we got to Carthage, and Edward wanted to play tour guide in addition to eating dinner before we left. Best case scenario, I figured, we'd get Mo home by 9:00.

Edward directed me to an artist's colony called Red Oak II and this was really unfair. I took a bunch of pics, but really I need to go back sometime when I'm not watching the clock and freaking out about when I can get out of Carthage.

I met the Lowell Davis, the guy who set this joint up and I told him I loved what he'd done with the place but I could kill Edward for bringing me there when I was on a time crunch.

Really the Red Oak II diversion redeemed the whole trip, though it did make us late getting back on the road to home. I needed to get Mo to Gardner, so I got off I-49 in Butler and tried to take 52 west to 69, thinking then to jog over to 169 a bit further north, maybe at Louisburg.

The best laid plans of mice and men are no match for bad highway signs, though. After driving a half hour into the darkness we came to a Road Closed sign that said local traffic only. I drove on a bit to make sure but yep, the road was completely closed and torn up.

Any self-respecting transportation department would have posed large flashing signs back in Butler that warned 'No through traffic to other major highways, despair all ye who enter here' or something like that, but as it is we just had to back-track and get back on the Interstate.

I'm going to have to go back to Red Oak II when I have more time. It's a fascinating joint.

Apparently a Midwest Rock Lobster could even rent a cabin there and see if his muse decided to join him on a sabbatical.

But I'd probably settle for just going back some time when I have time to change camera lenses to get certain shots.

I do wonder how such a place ends up existing. No offense to anyone living in the area, but before a really nasty tornado ripped through Joplin, the area was already economically depressed as hell. I guess there was a boom time when mining got things going but we're not talking gold, we're talking lead and zinc, stuff that leaves bigger piles of slag than piles of money.

I had the same thought after discovering Lucas, Kansas. The Flying Pig Gallery, Garden of Eden, Grass Roots Folk Art Museum, Diebel House, all this crazy folk art, a whole season of Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations at least in a town with one place to eat and one place to get gas—the place you just ate at.

I remember passing through another town I don't remember the name of on the way back from that trip and realizing it was about the same size as Lucas, but all it had was a liquor store and a strip club, plus Dish TV discs on every structure. What's in the water in Lucas that replaces alcoholism and prostitution with creativity?

I guess it's not that surprising, really. In urban areas, artists act as earthworms, coming in to the clay of urban decay and breaking shit up so it can bear fruit. Why not in rural settings?

Start out with a few good ideas, a little effort, sweat equity and see what happens. You might just create a chronosynclastic infundibulum of some sort or other, and the countryside may be as good as the urban core for such purposes.

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