My sister-in-law had previously flown to St. Louis and needed her car which was at our house. Her car is a well preserved low mileage 2002 Saturn Ion. I volunteered for the task.
I left our house Saturday morning at 3:30 AM with a quarter tank of gas. My first stop along the way was the New Braunfels Buc-ees in I-35where I planned to fill up the tank and get a Buc-ees breakfast taco. Even though Buc-ees was surprisingly busy at 4:00 AM, they hadn’t started making breakfast tacos yet. I bought some oatmeal raisin cookies and decaf coffee to tide me over to the next Buc-ees in Temple, Texas.
The drive north on I-35 was difficult at times. It rained off and on from San Antonio through Dallas. There were many more Eighteen Wheelers on the freeway than expected. The road construction was at times intense.
At Temple, the northbound freeway lanes were diverted to share the southbound lanes. No shoulders an either side. Concrete barriers were on the lines. The Buc-ees exit was gone. The outer roads appeared to be in shambles. I decided not to turn around but to forge ahead.
This was one of those instances where I realized how much I rely on Linda to handle navigation. Were she in the seat next to me, I would have known Buc-ees was coming up and could have taken an exit that would have gotten us there.
I pulled off in Robinson, just north of Temple, at a Pilot Truck Stop. After filling the car with gas (it didn’t really need gas but since I was stopping anyways…), I went inside to use the facilities and get some breakfast.
While in the restroom, I couldn’t help but think wistfully, “This is no Buc-ees.” Buc-ees is known for its immaculately clean and orderly restrooms. Afterward, I ended up getting a breakfast sandwich at the Subway Sandwich counter.
Back on the road, after passing through Hillsboro, I took the right fork where I-35 splits into I-35W and I-35E. I didn’t really want to drive through the middle of Dallas. After Waxahachie, I took the exit for I-20 East. This would connect me with I-635 which forms a sort of loop around Dallas.
Traffic was definitely building. At 8:30 AM, I was crawling on the ramp from I-635 to US-75 North. On US-75, toward the north end of Richardson, I saw a large orange plastic corner piece come flying across the freeway from the southbound lanes and stop in my lane. Not time to stop and no room to switch lanes. I ran over the big plastic thing and felt it’s bump under my seat as it passed awkwardly under the car. That will get your heart to race.
Fortunately, traffic thinned out north of McKinney, Texas. Not much later, I crossed the border into Oklahoma.
In Atoka, I stopped for gas. It was early for lunch but I decided to press on to eat lunch at the truck stop in Big Cabin, one of my favorite stops on the way to/from St. Louis.
I had expected to be able to tell where US-69 joined up with US-75 just north of Atoka, but I missed it. Must have been thinking about other things. I was now on US-69 which would take me all the way up to Big Cabin, where US-69 runs into I-44.
Big Cabin, Oklahoma is a small town of fewer than 300 residents. The town, known as a speed trap, has a really cool truck stop on US-69 right where you turn to get onto I-44. The first thing you notice when driving into the truck stop is the large Indian figure.
The onsite Woodshed Cherokee Restaurant provides standard truck stop fare. It is the ambiance that keeps me pulling into the parking lot whenever I pass by since the first time Linda and I ate there in 1993. It is a very 1950’s-ish truck stop. Friendly, welcoming and warm with a touch of silliness. Got to love it. A regular piece of Americana.
I decided to try out the pulled pork dinner. It was OK. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed my meal.
I decided to wait until Joplin, Missouri to fill up the gas tank. The pumps at Big Cabin seemed awfully busy and I didn’t exactly feel like waiting.
Pulling out from the truck stop, I crossed the street to the toll booths. The toll collector asked me where I was going. I said, “I’m going all the way to the Missouri border.” She said, “Give this ticket to the toll collector when you get off so you can get a refund.” Off onto the Will Rogers Turnpike I went.
Soon after, I ran into the next toll booth where I paid $2.50.
If for some unimaginable reason I couldn’t stop at Big Cabin but still needed to eat, I would stop at the over-the-Interstate McDonald’s. With all the road construction going on these days, I wonder what their plan might be to widen the highway someday.
I’ve eaten at this McDonald’s twice that I can remember. Linda and I went to California from St. Louis a couple a few times and stopped here once or twice. The food is just like McDonald’s anywhere. What makes it special is the sensation you get standing up against the windows and watching the traffic blast by at 75 MPH below you. Always makes me kind of woozy. It isn’t the food that is so great, it is the location of the main dining room that gets me. One word of caution, I’m not the only person intrigued by this Mickey D’s. The restaurant is extremely busy at mealtimes.
Not long after driving under the McDonald’s, I passed into Missouri from Oklahoma.
While Oklahoma was mostly flat, Missouri is mostly hilly and it wasn’t that long before I was going up and down hills with the trucks. Fortunately, Linda had gotten me reservations at the Candlewood Suites in Joplin Missouri. I was in my hotel room by 2:30 PM.
After unpacking and settling in to my room, I took an hour nap. Wanting to get an early start Sunday morning, I took the car out to get it filled but before supper. I stopped at the Kum & Go to fill up. Inside I discovered pizza by the slice. I bought two slices for dinner.
Back in my hotel room, I ate my pizza while watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie I hadn’t seen before. I would recommend the movie.
In the morning, I got up at 5:00 AM, checked out of the hotel and was at the local Cracker Barrel by 6:10. This is one those rare times when I was the first customer in the restaurant. Usually, a line has already formed at the Cracker Barrel door by 6:00 AM. At least this is how it is around San Antonio. By the time I finished my excellent meal of pancakes, eggs and bacon, it was light outside.
Back on the highway towards St. Louis. In St. Clair Missouri, I stopped to get gas at a Fastlane station. This would be the last fill-up on this trip.
Traffic began to build as I approached I-270, a freeway that circles the St. Louis area. However, once under the I-270 overpass, traffic lightened up dramatically and was clear all the way to The Hill in St. Louis where I was to deliver the car.
After arriving, we hung out chatting for a while. The plan was to eat at Hodak’s, a place that my father-in-law would take the family on special occasions. Oddly, I got the impression that my father-in-law ate at Hodak’s in his teens.
Hodak’s main claim to fame is their fried chicken, serving sizes and reasonable prices. We got a lot of fried chicken for not a lot of money. You can see from the picture below, the restaurant is popular and crowded. An ideal place for a Sunday afternoon lunch.
I chose the Drumstick Dinner. The four (!!!) drumsticks were pretty big. I was stuffed. By the time we had finished lunch, the lunch rush was over and the restaurant was nearly empty.
After lunch, folks took me to the St. Louis Airport Marriott where Linda had a free room (on Marriott reward points) waiting for me. Still too full to eat dinner, I bought ice cream in the hotel gift shop for desert. We stay at the Airport Marriott fairly often. This is one of my favorite hotels. They have the best customer service and the best staff.
In the morning, I took the hotel bus across the freeway to the airport to catch my plane. Even though it was Monday morning, the busiest flying day of the week, I was inside security and looking for breakfast by 7:30 AM.
After breakfast I had two hours to kill before my flight boarded. I hadn’t had much time to walk over the previous 48 hours so I decided to walk the terminal. I managed to log over 4 miles just walking the terminal end-to-end over and over and over.
The best travel days are the ones without drama. This was one of those days. I made it home to San Antonio on time where Linda picked me up from the airport.
While driving the car from San Antonio to St. Louis, I logged 11 hours Saturday and 4 hours Sunday for a total of about 900 miles. The car averaged 35 MPG with an average freeway speed of 70 to 75 MPH. While driving, I listened to music or podcasts the whole way.
Sometimes, a road trip by myself is just the thing.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!