I LOVE ROADTRIPS. For a couple years, I did a lot of them, since when my first few novels were released, I drove to Cincinnati, Nashville, St. Louis, Indianapolis and even Atlanta to do bookstore signings. Over the past year, with changes in the book industry and the collapse of Borders, it really hasn’t made any sense to drive around the country for books… but we did stage a family vacation a couple weeks ago, so I got my driving jones in this summer anyway!
It was the first true “roadtrip” that Shaun, my six-year-old son has been on, and he proved himself a true Everson – he had no problem sitting in the car for 8 hours as we drove from Chicago to Kansas City to visit my brother and his family. Of course, he also got to sleep through some of it!
We actually arrived in Kansas City during the big heatwave of summer 2011, so our first day there was spent at a pretty awesome water park — it turned out to be the hottest day of the year there, reaching 108 degrees!
My brother and his wife introduced us to a couple of Kansas City standards while we were there — we had dinner at Stroud’s, the “home of pan-fried chicken” as well as Gates Barbecue. Shaun’s cousin introduced him to air hockey (I have a feeling we’ll be buying a table!) and Monopoly… though the cat mercifully put an end to that ill-fated experiment.
After hanging with my brother’s family a couple days, we headed down to Branson, MO, where we’d rented a condo on Tablerock Lake. I have fond (if vague) memories of going there when I was a kid around Shaun’s age, so it was fun to introduce him to some of the things that I remember.
He got into the vacation spirit quickly… experimenting with all of the condo lounging spots over the next couple days.
I remember going to Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Branson where everything is styled like the 1800s, when I was a kid, so we spent a day there, watching artisans blow glass, carve wood, etc. We did a couple of rides, including a train around the park.
Shaun also got to see his first cave — which involved going up and down more than 700 steps. The cave is part of the Silver Dollar City set of attractions, and I remember going down it when I was there as a kid… and as we walked through the various rooms and grottos, I realized that this cave may very well have been the subconscious inspiration for Covenant, which I wrote some 20 years after visiting this cave with my parents. Geri called that a “full-circle” moment! I wonder if anything from this trip will have a future impact like that on Shaun?
We caught a fun “Blue Man Group” kind of show in Branson the next day called “Buckets & Boards,” which was basically two guys with a good comedy act and a lot of buckets used as drums (and a spot of tapdancing and nose-flute playing to boot)! Afterwards, Shaun got to meet the performers, who signed a pair of drumsticks for him. Thankfully, he hasn’t tried to use them on anything at home so far…
We visited the Butterfly Palace, which I have to say is a wayyyyyy overpriced attraction (there’s a room with lots of butterflies, an exhibit with a bunch of snakes and lizards in glass tanks, and a gift shop… that’s pretty much it!)
Then we had dinner at Montana Mike’s (probably my best meal in Branson) before heading over to the Wax Museum, where Shaun and I got to join the cast of Star Trek and Men In Black, and Geri posed with Hugh Hefner (I opted for Jeannie and the devil from the movie Gothic). Geri and I also provided a visual comment on the cast of Twilight.
The next day, we had to head out of town, but we did an afternoon detour to the edge of the state to visit the Precious Moments chapel, since Geri collects the statues. Talk about a place with a lot of large-eyed pictures… sheesh! The chapel is floor to ceiling (including ceiling!) painted art by the guy who created the precious moments statues. They even had precious moment stained glass windows. I had fun making Shaun pose like the various statues around the grounds.
After the Precious Moments chapel (which is only a few miles from the Oklahoma border), we headed all the way across the state to St. Louis on our way home. Despite having been in and driving through St. Louis many times in my life, I’ve never gone up in the gateway arch that is the “hallmark” of the city, and neither had Geri, so on Sunday morning we went and did the tour. It’s definitely worth doing once… it was very cool to be hundreds of feet in the air looking down on one side at the Mississippi River and on the other at the city. Geri is afraid of heights, so she wore a somewhat “concerned” expression as we looked out of the tiny windows at the top of the arch.
And so, after canvassing the state of Missouri for a week, visiting family, calling up the ghosts of my past and crossing the Mississippi a couple times… we finally headed home. Definitely a good way to spend a summer vacation!