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Trip Report Snowstorms and magnolias: a short trip through the scary heartland

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My 17 yr old daughter and I wanted to combine my attending mother's birthday party in Republic, MO with college visit to Conway AR last weekend. We had a map, a rental car, some fruit, and a stack of library CDs. Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, David Grisman and co, I salute you.

Usually we buzz down I44 from St. Louis in four or five hours, with a lunch stop in Rolla and maybe another rest stop to stretch the legs, not lingering otherwise.

My mother started calling days in advance to warn that there was possible snow in the forecast, which I naturally disregarded. That morning, 1-2 inches was predicted, which I naturally sneered at.

The first flakes began to fall 30 min or so NE of Rolla. Ten miles outside of Rolla, traffic slowed dramatically in the slow lane while cars whipped by us on the left. Minutes later, we saw a car ahead and one behind spin into the ditch and then traffic stopped. There was still no more than an inch of snow on the ground, but it must have been some very special snow. Many semis, SUVs, other cars in ditches on both sides.

Two hours later, we crept into Rolla, had lunch at the excellent Panera Bread Company south of the interstate on US 63, and started off again, figuring that the obstruction would by then have been cleared. Seven miles and many minutes later, we sat another long time in front of an Army Surplus store on the north access road while I told Hannah stories about surplus store finds from my distant past.

Traffic started creeping again, optimism bloomed. At the rest stop, we talked it over with our fellow motorists and finally realized that we would not get any further that day. I called my brother, who found us a room at the Day's Inn, we turned around at the next exit and waited another half hour for tow trucks to pull a semi from the median. Almost no traffic was coming from the SW.

We retuned to the Army Surplus store, since we were no longer in a hurry, and realized we had entered a survivalist and militarist haven. My favorite of the bumper stickers had a US Marine Corps insignia and "When it absolutely positively must be destroyed by tomorrow." The aisles were full of intent looking men in various shades of camo. I bought a Norwegian Army blanket in grey wool for $18, and Hannah finally decided against a wool flight jacket for $7.95.

In the motel room, Hannah, who never watches it except for major sports and political events, switched on the TV. Rush Limbaugh's unmistakable voice boomed forth. I turned away and tried to concentrate on finishing London Fields. She switched to America's Top Model, then back to Rush, who was succeeded by a man from the NRA equating gun ownership with freedom. In my book, the apocalypse seemed imminent. It all seemed of a piece.

Supper was two doors down at the cheap and very good Lucky House Chinese restaurant. We headed for the campus of MO U of Science and Technology, looking for some action, and lucked into the last basketball game of the season, complete with very talented cheerleaders making pyramids of themselves.

The next morning dawned clear, and fortified with bad coffee we set out again. Ten miles later, we were on packed snow, passing more vehicular abandonment, and stopped for another recent wreck. Luckily, our family on the other end checked with highway patrol and found that we only had another 30 miles before it would clear.

Around that time I remembered the salmon I had marinated to grill at the party and left in the Days Inn refrigerator. Sorry, family; you'll need an emergency main course.

Let me just say that no one should attempt a road trip without plenty of 60's and 70's music to shout along with. Usually my musician husband is at the wheel and controls the tunes; singing along is frowned upon. Hannah and I belted out one after another, all the way into Arkansas and back. I Got a WO man! Hit the Road, Jack! No Woe man No Cry!

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