All posts by Doug & Polly Smith

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Day Ten: Childress to Seminole, Texas

Childress is an old railroad town with a neglected display of equipment and, we discovered, a post office turned into a museum.

It was enormous, at least a dozen rooms, tracing the history of Childress down the depths of its soil. There was a painting of an airport landing strip with a lighting sequence depicting it at various times of day and night, even thunderstorms flashing in the background.

As the only visitors, we the full attention of the well-dressed woman who was its curator. Of the hour we were there, she talked a good 50 minutes. It was like a Smithsonian tour conducted by Mr. Smithson. When we at last escaped, Childress’ most promising antique shop showed no signs of opening soon.

Next, Paducah, Texas, with a population of a bit more than 1,000, surrounded by square miles of scrubgrass. Anticipation was enhanced by our adventures in its Kentucky namesake. On the north edge of town a museum, in the railway station of the former Quanah, Acme & Pacific, was closed.

So was almost everything else, including the post office, taking a long lunch. Abandoned storefronts surrounded the town square; the print shop and news office had only sighed when we asked about postcards. Poor Paducah was little better off than Boynton, Oklahoma.

But on the way out of town, we did find a tiled mansion called the Hunter’s Lodge, elegantly appointed and decorated.

The concierge, of British extraction, said business was very good among traveling sportsmen at $50 a night.

We turned then toward Matador, 36 miles to the west. We craved lunch, but if Paducah was this pitiful, what could Matador do? According to our guides, it was even smaller.

A cut-metal sign greeted us at Matador city limits. With the camera in the right position, Matador was framed by its own welcome.

And, it was busy. The postmistress led us to the little cafe which would introduce us to the Southwest staple of chicken- fried steak followed by a delicious spice cake. (In Matador, though, order a “stack” and you WILL get pancakes.)

Matador had a mural, several stores and a library/museum which provided a lot more postcards. Matador’s Main Street is eight lanes wide, probably, we speculated, to accommodate the passage of driven cattle. (Route 62 in Matador, though, is Bailey Avenue, just like in Buffalo).

On a map, Matador and Paducah are indistinguishable, identical in climate and agri-nomics, yet one hustled, the other busted. Some places wring their hands, while others roll up their sleeves.

At a crossroads west of town, two arrows pointed in opposite directions; it was 28 miles north to Turkey, 28 miles south to Dickens. Along a curving ridge we stopped and took a panoramic picture of the only man-made object above the landscape — our car.

Doug drove on, declaring “I can just hear Woody Guthrie singing” when another man-made object appeared in our rear-view mirror. It had a flashing red light. We pulled over. One Ranger slowly circled the car while the other, standing carefully behind Doug, inquired politely as to whether any emergency was necessitating such haste. Doug said no.

“Well, Mr. Smith,” the Ranger said, “when I went by you going in the other direction, you were OK, doing about 72, but by the time I got back here, you were really up there, about 77, I’d say.” Doug didn’t dispute a word of it. “I’m really embarrassed,” he said. “I drive a wheelchair van back home and all the other guys tease me about being the slowest driver on the staff.” The Ranger went to his cruiser, then returned with citation in hand.

“Mr. Smith,” he said, “Welcome to Texas. This is an official warning. Do try to avoid getting another one.” After normal breathing resumed, Doug asked for help with directions. The Ranger, intrigued by the scope of this adventure, pinpointed the next turn and suggested a pause in Floydada.

“You’ll like Floydada,” he predicted. We already did.

Floydada (rhymes with “boy data”) calls itself “The Pumpkin Capital of the U.S.A.,” a proudfully silly little city of some 3,000 with orange foil pumpkins on every street light.

Polly enhanced the prosperity of two nice five-and-dimes while Doug looked for postcards. The variety store sent him to the City Hall, the City Hall sent him to the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber had locked up for the day, so he went back to City Hall with its mockup of Cinderella’s coach.

“How many you want?” asked the clerk, and she left her post, skeleton-keyed into the Chamber office and came back with five, “FLOYDADA” emblazoned across fields of orange gourds. We love the way they do business in this part of the country.

Doug now read the fine print in his Official Warning, which assured him that none of this would ever appear in his driving record. It said Texas believed that public safety was best served by sensible hospitality, by issuing just warnings to those in minor, non-threatening violation of the highway code.

Polly found the Generations antique shop in the lobby of a former movie theater. It was open only two days a week and this was one. She paid for a rare piece of Depression glass at the old box office window. “Sorry I can’t offer you a senior discount,” the proprietor apologized. “It’s OK,” said Doug. “We just got one from the highway patrol.”

With a keen eye on the speedometer, we zig-zagged south by the sorghum fields of Ralls and straight through Lubbock. For a city of six figures, Lubbock yielded fairly easily to our passage along Buddy Holly Boulevard. At an attractive cut-stone high school, students were milling noisily, but peacefully, out front.

Our destination was Seminole, near the New Mexico border. Job One would be replacing the now empty flagon of Maker’s Mark. We settled on the Raymond Motel, its units in clusters of two, scattered seemingly at random around the shady grounds, affording unusual privacy.

Its proprietor was a gentleman of India, with a degree in engineering, he said. He took pleasure from a layman’s appreciation of his establishment’s unique design. Then Doug carefully famed an inquiry: “Sir,” he said, “I am a temperate man, but could you perhaps direct me to the liquor store? “

“Ah.” said the propietor, whose name was not Raymond, “there is none, sir. This is a dry county.” He paused to let this sink in.

“But, sir,” he continued, “As you are a visitor, it it within the regulations for me to be permitted to present to you one can of beer. Would you like it now?” He reached under the counter and produced a cold Coor’s Light.

Doug reached into his pocket and produced an old dollar bill.

“Ah, sir,” said the host, “I could not. accept that. We would both be in trouble. This is with my compliments!”

Confidentially, Doug despises “light” as counter to what God intended on the day He invented beer. By bedtime, he had made it go away.

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Day Eight: Bentonville, Arkansas to Meeker, Oklahoma

Route 62 into Fayetteville ain’t what it used to be. It’s an Interstate now, and while we were tempted to try to locate the original right-of-way, we had another agenda.

An old Roadside held out the promise of a prize Valentine diner, Stevie D’s, in Shawnee, OK, about 240 miles distant. We couldn’t expect it to be open on a Sunday night, but we could spot it, learn the hours, and then breakfast there on Day Nine.

So we suffered the indignity of the Interstate, along with signage hailing a former Arkansas governor who had moved on to greater disgrace. We spun off into Farmington where an ostrich hooted at us from a pen.

We backed up to take a picture. The bird collapsed spastically, like a featherbed doing the twist. We drove away. The ostrich stood up. We backed again. The twist resumed. Everyone stops that page in our scrapbook and asks, “What in hell is this?”

The next village, Prairie Grove, had a leafy old Civil War campground and a church on the corner of Kate Smith Street. (Kate Smith was born in Philadelphia.)

At Lincoln, one family appeared to have attached a rocket to its house, and next came the deserted Shady Grove Motor Court, its dozen cabins desolate and ghostly. Across the street, a family sold pecans off the back of a pickup.

Then we came sweeping down the plain to Oklahoma. Westville. its easternmost community, showed us a distinctive slate-sided school and a road policy:

“60, No Tolerance.”

Oklahoma here was far more mountainous than we’d imagined and we were hard-pressed to tolerate 45 for a while. In industrial Muskogee, firemen were hosing down embers from what looked like a three-alarmer.

Then we came to Boynton, or would have, if it were still there. The entire community of perhaps 500 people was boarded up and abandoned. Gone. It was scary.

Lunchtime brought us to Henryetta, proud birthplace of football star Troy Aikman. We wound up at the Colonial, whose glib, string-tied proprietor knew the reach of Route 62, even with Route 66 symbols all over his walls. “I just took three ton of stone up to that Minor Nursery in Amherst,” he said. “He ain’t paid me yet so I may go up and bring ’em back.”

He meant Menne Nursery near Niagara Falls, which had landscaped our yard. We may have set foot on this gentleman’s stones before we set foot in his restaurant. He also dealt in exquisite agates of translucent blue. We purchased several for the fish tank. He said he was only kidding about Menne Nursery, whose reputation is unassailable. He also said we should rethink going to El Paso.

Route 62 joins Interstate 40 for about a dozen miles over to Okemah. We could have just driven east out of Henryetta on the original Other Road to the same place. There, Polly spotted a cut-stone semi-circular coliseum which looked like a baseball stadium, only larger, almost a quarter-mile in one dimension.

As we circled the padlocked edifice, Okemah police twice circled us, then moved on, either sizing us up as harmless or, in view of our New York State plate, geezers not to be trifled with.

Route 62 through Okemah is Woody Guthrie Street. The folk-singing, song-writing legend was born here, worked for the weekly newspaper before venturing forth to this land that was made for you and me.

Prague was next. There, Route 62 is Jim Thorpe Street, for the Native American Olympian many contend was our greatest athlete. At the second-hand shop, the proprietor confirmed that Thorpe had been an infant of Prague and gently corrected our pronunciation: It rhymes with “plague,” not “bog.”

At Meeker, we planned to turn toward Shawnee and the diner, but Polly suddenly asked “Who was Carl Hubbell?” “One of the greatest baseball pitchers ever,” said Doug. He told how Hubbell had struck out Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Cronin, Simmons and Lazzeri, all in a row in an All-Star Game.

“He’s from Meeker,” Polly said.

“Naw,” said Doug, now missing the turn to Shawnee.

“Check the sign,” said Polly: “Meeker, Home of Carl Hubbell.” Ballotting a few weeks later placed Hubbell among the top 50 major-leaguers of all time. Three little towns, linked only by Route 62, had each produced a giant.

Sunday was no day to go knocking on doors to ask about Carl Hubbell, so we went on diner-finding. At its address, there was only a vacant lot with a diner-sized brown patch and a sign telling of future use by a mental health clinic.

Our motel clerk said he’d heard a church had bought the diner to use as a community center, and as sun set, we found our funny Valentine at the Living Word Gospel Center, 3831 North Kickapoo St. With a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, a jar of coffee and a loaf of bread, we could have opened it up the next morning.

Oh, and the key, it was locked.

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Day Nine: Meeker, Oklahoma to Childress, Texas

So we started the day in Meeker, seeking the spirit of King Carl Hubbell. First stop was the Meeker News (“Weekly in the Home of Carl Hubbell”) and at 8 a.m. publisher Ken Friskup, a character a Sooner Dickens might have invented, was glad to oblige.

“He’s buried out at the cemetery, I can show you where. Lots of his relatives still here, one of them works up at How Sweet It Is. Be sure to stop by the museum in the Town Hall.”

He gave us the last of his supply of postcards detailing Hubbell’s records. We gave him our outline of 62, the length of which he did not know though it ran right by his front door. “El Paso?,” he said. “Why would anyone want to go to El Paso?’

The one-floor town hall lobby displayed icons, pictures and souvenirs, and then it was on to How Sweet It Is, “Home of The Dinosaur Doughnut,” which by 10 a.m. is extinct. The air was thick with cowboy talk, the croissants as feathery as the sky.

One of the breakfast club finally turned to us and softly twanged his welcome: “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

Then the chef came out to autograph Doug’s scorebook (“With my Hubbell name, if you’d like”) and the proprietor gave us a jar of salsa she had just made. We hated to leave Meeker, where pride in Carl Hubbell had rubbed off on itself.

Heading west toward Oklahoma City, we thought back on how many memorable times had sprung from disappointment, starting with the commercialism of Berlin and Wilmot, OH, leading up to the Mount Hope Summit.

Kurtz’s, Kessler’s, the Rose Hill Porch, Maker’s Mark (now running low), all were desperation alternatives, and if the Valentine of Shawnee had not gotten religion, we’d have had but a moment for Meeker. Route 62 was giving us a lesson in flexibility.

Oklahoma City is the only common ground of the Mother Road and the Other Road. Route 66 went through northeast to west; Route 62 passes from east to southwest. They may have even have shared a few blocks through the government district, including the fatally bombed Murragh Building, but 66 is gone while 62 passes harmlessly and charmlessly around the city and its Will Rogers Airport on a series of Interstates, speed limit 70.

Now, with 62 back in its own two-lane shoes, the land changes color to red. Blanchard shows us a fine Veterans’ Memorial. One of the largest grain elevators we have ever seen looms over Chickasha, where seven numbered highways intersect.

Polly, navigating on this shift, cries “halt!” She has sighted the J&W Grill, a cinderblock diner breathtaking in its lack of pretension.

It had 15 stools, 20 customers and still, time to be nice. Some clients wore suits, some dungarees. One slim little counter gal obliged them all, even forgiving our hesitation over an unfamiliar menu.

We settled on a corn dog, which was fine, but still a mistake. This was, we learned a moment too late, “The home of the fried onion hamburger,” its aroma imbedded in the walls. We were the only ones there who didn’t have one.

The J&W Grill’s sanitary facilities provided another unique adventure, requiring first a tour of the kitchen with informal introductions to all the help. It was a tight squeeze. One cook pleaded “Please don’t go to El Paso. You won’t like it.”

As Route 62 heads west, then south, oil pumps bow like donkeys. In Andarko, home of the National Hall of Fame for Famous American Indians, it’s known as Peetree Road.

Apache has a crossroads plateau almost as large as the village itself, with a well-detailed, untended museum in a former hank.

Everything is on the honor system, including attractive postcards. We send seven with the Apache postmark.

Route 62 dodges the military city of Lawton and turns right toward Texas as the Duanah Parker Trailway, the setting sun dead ahead. We wonder again, would we have been wiser to drive west to east? Altus is too soon to quit and Hollis too small, even with its photo-op at the Motley Gin Company, named for a county and the invention that spins cotton into gold.

Six miles later we’re in Texas (70 day, 65 night) and a southerly turn sidelines the sun. It’s as dry as desert, especially the Red River, spanned by a half-mile of redundant bridge.

There’s a junction at Childress with Route 83, with a dozen motels and Morgan’s House of Catfish. Doug demolishes a plateful of bitelets called “Cat Nip.” Polly, who rejects as nourishment all forms of underwater life, orders a small cut of beef and when the waitress says “your stack will be right out,” fears that her order has gone in instead as pancakes, but “stack” is what they call steak around Childress, and this close to the source, steak stacks up pretty well.

Doug & Polly Smith outside of Toledo, OH

Day Seven: Piggott to Bentonville, Arkansas

As we checked into the Open Road Motor Lodge at 7 p.m. on Day Six, Polly asked about antique shops; would any open early enough that we could shop and get on the road before 2 p.m.

“Oh, yes,” said the clerk of the Open Road, “There’s the Enchanted Forrest, right downtown. It’s run by Mr. Forrest, he owns this place, too. There’s ladies lined up at the door even now, he’s got new Beanie Babies going on sale at 8 in the morning.” Then he added, “You’ll really like Piggott, you sure you don’t want to stay another night?” Mr. Forrest’s right-hand man had it right on the money.

Piggott is the definitive Route 62 community with some 2,660 citizens, two locally-owned drug stores, a town square and a mural of Piggott’s greatest hits.

They made a movie here, “A Face in the Crowd.” Ernest Hemingway, wed to a Piggott belle, framed the early chapters of “A Farewell to Arms” in a studio proudly displayed.

Truthfully, though, Hemingway hated it here. He couldn’t wait to get out of town.

Bearing new Beanies and old Depression plates, we sipped a final drugstore soda and prepared a farewell to Piggott’s arms.

Then a lens popped out of Polly’s glasses. On a Saturday morning we were pie-eyed in Piggott, a 50-mile detour from any city big enough to assure assistance.

There was a small brick optical office on North Third Street, with one car in its lot. Doug tapped on the locked door and a young woman answered. “I know you’re closed… ” Doug began, but she interrupted: “Of course we can help you,” she said. It took about 10 minutes to restore Polly’s fourth eye and she refused any payment, adding her “Godspeed” to all the others from Piggott.

What a wonderful place. Who asked Hemingway, anyway?

Next stop, Pocohontas, about 50 miles up the road. After Doug shopped for doughnuts and postcards, Polly for clothing and gifts, they met empty-handed and drove on a while before Polly finally said: “That was a very unfriendly town. I felt as if everyone was looking down at me.”

“Me, too,” said Doug. “I got yelled at for wanting doughnuts after noon.”

“They don’t need our money,” said Polly.

Route 62 winds through the southern Ozarks and on this Saturday, craft shows ruled. It was bumper to bumper through Hardy, population 510 with 75 speciality shops. Bluegrass music drifted from every shed. Late lunch at Salem’s South Fork Cafe brought us to Route 62’s mid-point, we calculated.

“Why on earth are you going to El Paso?” the waitress wondered, and then it was on through distinctively Arkansan places — Gassville, Flippin, Yeliville. At Green Forest, we hit the brakes for Polly’s Orchard restaurant, even with promising Eureka Springs and Berryville ahead.

Polly’s Orchard was a wise choice with its apple dumpling and folksy charm. Saturday nights turn Eureka Springs into a five- mile parking lot, a “No Vacancy” gauntlet, and it was really dark by the time we grasped at Gateway’s battered Battlefield Motel, a veritable Stalag 62.

“Eighty-four dollars plus tax, one bed, smoking’s OK,” announced Colonel Clerk. We’d rather sleep in the car. Fuses were short as we approached Bentonville, birthplace of Wal-Mart.

We randomed a Comfort Inn from a motel cluster. “One room left,” said the bright young Comfort Clerk. “Fifty-five dollars, no smoking. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, eh?” She smiled. Soon, so did we; the last room in Bentonville was the size of a small county and it had a jacuzzi.

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Day Six: Eddyville, Kentucky to Piggott, Arkansas

Not even the Mini-Mart clerk in Possum Trot has heard of Doug’s, so it’s on past dams and lakes to Paducah, KY, a bit hungry and one of us, at least, sorely in need of a hairdresser.

And out of the blue comes a big tin beanie called Hair Impressions, right across Route 62 (Irwin Cobb Boulevard) from a restaurant called Skin Heads.

Hair Impressions will take Polly in an hour, time for breakfast at Skin Heads, a local and national landmark, delicious and generous. Actually, breakfast took 45 minutes. We spent the other 15 coughing second-hand smoke back into the cool morning air of Paducah.

Polly and the Hair Impressionist hit it off like long-lost cousins and now, “civilized,” as she calls it, Polly plunges into Paducah’s plethora of antique shops while Doug explores a city that seems to succeed. More murals enhance its riverwall.

Again, it is almost 2 p.m. before they hit the road, named Alben Barkley Drive, for President Truman’s second-in-command, the Paducahn who coined the slang “veep.” At the edge of Wickliffe, KY, a huge cross stands on a distant hilltop. It seems significant yet remote. We pause for tea at cozy Christy’s, which this day is featuring quail, a delicacy which never has passed Doug’s lips. Tea time becomes dinner time.

In the style of the region, Christy’s offers “three sides” with dinner, including black-eyed peas and butter beans. The quail is a honey bird on the order of Cornish game hen and the whole tab comes in at barely $12, including Polly’s casserole and the next morning’s muffins, fresh from from the shelf.

We wonder about the cross, look at our watches and reluctantly move on. Within a few miles Route 62 plunges into construction designed to modernize the ancient arches bearing it first across the Ohio River, and then the Mississippi.

Route 62 paves less than a mile of Illinois, avoiding dreary Cairo which, at the confluence of two mighty rivers, seems ever on the verge of being swept away downstream. Missouri greets us with a cluster of route signs including “62,” and, separately, “B,” and “RB,” designation for local roads.

In sweet little Charleston, storefronts extend shingle roofs over the sidewalk. We buy out the drugstore’s supply of postcards, a watercolor sketch of the Congregational Church.

Near Sikeston, Routes 60, 61 and 62 all come together and then, a bit to The south, it looks like snow on the berrn. We’re seeing a cotton crop for the first time. We pluck a few bolls and stuff them into the glove compartment.

Route 62 bypasses New Madrid, a Mark Twain hangout, and so do we. We’re tired, it’s darkening and Piggott, Route 62’s Arkansas gateway, shows blue on the AAA map. It has neither approved accommodations nor attractions.

On Grand Avenue in Campbell, Missouri, a gas-station attendant assures us hospitality of Piggott, some 20 miles away. The next 16 hours will fulfill his prophecy.

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Day Five: Bardstown to Eddyville, Kentucky

At 6:30 a.m. an alarm goes off. Actually, it is the Old Kentucky Home Dinner-Train, named for a song by Bardstown’s favorite son, song writer Stephen Foster. In pajamas and slippers, Doug dashes out to take pictures.

Polly insists on the Maker’s Mark side trip. After all, she says, you are more consumed by this whiskey than this whiskey is consumed by you (the car pint is down to about a quarter) and when, ever, will you get this close? He vows “I’ll make it up to you” (“yeah, sure”) and up they go to commune with its casks, yeasts and unique waxy bottling process. He gets to “dip” his own bottle and they acquire a personalized label, although obtaining the bottle to match it will take $20 in phone calls and $50 in cash.

Doug “makes it up” by backtracking to Kurtz’s for lunch. Over lemon meringue, he spins the whole yarn for this waitress, an older woman, no less charming than the previous night’s redhead, whom he glowingly describes.

The waitress almost blushes: “That’s my daughter,” she says.

So again it is almost 2 p.m. before we move on The Other Road, here called the Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway. We see tobacco fields in Big Cliffy and a huge bulls-eye on a storefront in Clarkson (“The original Target store,” Doug wise-cracks.) Though Central City, Route 62 is Everly Brothers Boulevard and near Rockport, some Keeneland cash finds its way to the registers of two friendly “junctique” stores. One is a three-story warehouse defying full exploration: at the other, the proprietress offers us a kitten and cautions, “You don’t want to go to El Paso.”

The Central Time Zone sneaks in under our wheels. Princeton has a fading movie palace and an old filling station converted to living quarters, a hallmark of Other Road architecture. This one is unique in its shape, triangular, at an obtuse intersection.

The popular Kentucky Lakes are almost deserted on an autumn Thursday. A room at the Eddyville Regency costs but $25 and a tour guide ad tells us of a nearby breakfast spot called Doug’s.

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Day Four: Versailles to Bardstown, Kentucky

Keeneland is to horse racing what St. Andrew’s is to golf.

Legions of stylish white-haired ladies show up daily only to admire the steeds in the warm-up rings, never going near the betting windows. Almost all the staff are older folks who work a couple months for a couple bucks and the joy of being near the breed. Best yet, beyond the Keeneland enclave, horse farms unfold as far as the eye can see.

We secure for $5 a table in The Equestrian Room, spreading out Racing Forms and bet sheets amid late-morning coffees.

Near the finish line, Doug finds a dime. “Rig deal,” says Polly, “I found a $20 bill at the window. The clerk told me not to even think about trying to find out whose it was.” It is a harbinger. With fewer than a dozen visits to any track, Polly has a sharp sense of handicapping. This day, her success is almost fictional, two trifectas (picking which horses will finish 1-2-3 in their exact order) and a horse in the money in every race except two. Slicksters with gold chains and fistfuls of 100’s start looking over her shoulder. Betting almost timidly, she wins nearly $260. Betting many of same horses, less daringly, Doug pockets about $20, covering the Equestrian Room’s tab for a superb lunch with Maker’s Mark pudding for dessert.

We are still emotionally high when we reach Lawrenceburg’s Joe Blackburn Bridge, a third of a mile long, 175 feet above the Kentucky River. Doug parks and walks out to photograph both it and the 275-foot Young’s High Railroad Bridge just to its south. Joe Blackburn, in the shape of an “S” and here since 1932, quivers with each passing car. Doug is glad very glad, to be off this bridge too far.

In Bardstown, we check into Wilson’s Motel, second-oldest in Kentucky. Our hosts descend from those for whom Cornell University is named.

Dagwood’s rejects us. When we request a non-smoking section, it is as if we had spat on the flag. During the dinner hour, it enforces a minimum higher than Joe Blackburn’s bridge. We don’t even say good-bye.

Now we tiptoe up to the stylish, flagstoned Kurt’s at the city limits, fearing that Dagwood’s demeanor speaks for all Bardstown. But Kurtz’s is all non-smoking and honored to serve us dessert and iced tea. Racks upon racks of fresh-baked pies hover along a back wall, served at a gracious pace by a young red-headed waitress.

Kurt’s has brochures for tours of the Maker’s Mark distillery, about 20 miles up in the hills. But it’s off Route 62 and not a practical diversion, Doug says, as then it’s “lights out” at the second-oldest motel in Kentucky.

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Day Off: Lexington, KY

We have a cousin in Lexington and another in Cincinnati, sisters. It had been 10 years since we saw Cincinnati Lynn and at least 25 since we’d laid eyes on Lexington Kathy. Lynn drove down to join us; Kathy couldn’t decide which Lexington restaurant was best for dinner.

Tentatively, as the supposed uninformed visitors, we asked “Would you mind driving the eight miles out to Versailles and we’ll eat at Kessler’s?” We had the same waitress as the night before; dinner delighted everyone.

Then Doug suggested: “How about we take our desserts and go finish this off on the porch at Rose Hill?” It was an October twilight, temperature about 70. Traffic trickled by on Route 62 and the breeze tickled leaves from their Trees. The porch was decorated for Halloween. Ghosts of holidays past were evoked as wicker chairs crackled and the swing sighed. One guy, three gals, four desserts, a pitcher of lemon ice water and an evaporating bottle of Maker’s Mark. Twenty-five years passed by in two hours, and two hours passed by in a wink.

A stranger stepped onto the porch and this is what he said: “You folks look like you’re having a real good time.”

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Day Four: Washington Court House, Ohio to Versailles, Kentucky

Ohio once had three communities called Washington; this county seat had added “Court House” to distinguish itself from the rest.

It is now distinguished by several murals by an artist named Harry Ayshen. Two downtown illustrated a fire hall and a railroad station. Another to the south, billboard-sized, had a countryside scene so detailed and authentic that it seemed almost like a mirror or window, only its golden hues setting it apart from the land it depicted on this gray day.

Route 62 southward presents a smooth, broad two-lane. At New Market, a roadside house appeared to have been abandoned in good condition and then overgrown with vines. At Macon, we spotted an immaculate tobacco barn; thereafter, it seemed increasingly difficult to find no-smoking sections in restaurants.

We reached Ripley a bit before Sunday noon. A riverside saloon, three yellow stories with stained-glass windows, overlooked two barge lash-ups sliding down the Ohio. The door was open; a flier heralded a “lingerie show” at another saloon, two nights earlier.

“C’mon in,” bid a fellow holding court at a round oaken table.

“We were just looking for maybe a coffee until the antique barns opened,” we said.

“Got some instant,” he said. “No charge. We’re not open yet. Can’t open ’til noon.” A few people sipping eye-openers around the bar seemed to contradict that prohibition.

“You’re not with the liquor board, are you?” he asked.

We ordered a bourbon, tipping the waitress its estimated price.

He brought a three-pound photo album documenting how he’d retrieved This place from ruin. It was called Snapper’s now.

“I’ve got another place a ways out of town,” he said. Doug recognized the name from the flier. “How’d the lingerie show go?” he asked.

For one moment, Mr. Jerry Jones, Host of Ripley, lost his composure. “How’d you hear about that?” he said quickly.

Doug pointed toward the sign.

“You’re very observant,” he said. “You sure you’re not with the liquor board?”

“I promise,” said Doug. “Anyway, it’s past noon.”

“Call again,” said the Host of Ripley. “Can’t figure out why you want to go to El Paso, though. I been there.”

Crossing the Ohio on a shaky two-lane bridge from Aberdeen, Ohio, we beheld the new paddlewheeler Mississippi Queen, tied up in downtown Maysville, KY, passengers debarking for a tour.

Maysville and Rosemary Clooney hold each other in equal esteem. She was born here and many of her family still live along the river. A showpiace carries her name, suitably ornate in the style of 1930s movie palaces, across the street from a fully restored Victorian three-story.

We pressed into Kentucky on the narrow roadways where Route 62 was born, a mere pencil line on the map, often with the speed limit 45. We wove around tobacco barns and Mail Pouch ads through the hamlet of Oddville (no post office) and on to Cynthiana, where a manufacturing plant startled us with first with its size and then with its product: Toyotas.

From here, Route 62 tracks due southwest, as if at odd with Lexington. Canopies of trees and guardrails of horse fences convey it along “Horse Alley” into the photogenic Midway, where a rail line splits the center of town, rows of shops on either side.

We paused at a restaurant recommended by AAA. It had nothing to our taste. Blindly, we turned to a little Versailles storefront, Kessler’s 1891.

It was entertaining an art exhibit this evening, but gladly satisfied our modest needs at dinner time. Our puny tab could not have made it worth their while- As we settled into slumber in the luxury of Julie’s Room at the 1823 Rose Hill Inn, we felt considerably in Kessler’s debt.

Roadside Online

Day Three: Canton to Washington Court House, Ohio

Overnight rain had diminished to drizzle and fog seeped up from the ground. We detoured through the haunting village of Canal Fulton, then zeroed in on Mrs. Voder’s Kitchen in Mount Hope. The inclement weather enhanced the atmosphere, the farms gleaming whitely against the leaden sky as the Amish gathered for the weekly horse auction.

Mrs. Voder’s rack was brim-full of Amish straw hats. Doug added his Buffalo Bisons baseball cap, which stood out like a yarmulke in Vatican City.

Mrs. Voder’s staff struggled mightily to replenish the buffet against the horde of hungry horse traders. There was bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs, muffins and the peculiar dish called scrapple (contents unknown, probably just as well). We ate our fill and then some, still a paltry portion compared to the consumption of our fellow diners in dungarees.

Then we left Mount Hope to convene with the Amish of Wilmot and Berlin. Within minutes, we realized our folly. Continue reading Day Three: Canton to Washington Court House, Ohio