Book Review: Secret Route 66

Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to take advantage of an apparent lull in the plague by hitting the road. Specifically, “the mother road.”

Route 66 begins in Chicago, just a few blocks away from our home, and ends somewhere in California. (Where, exactly? Figure it out. Have you confused my blog with Wikipedia?) Our plan was to drive it through Arizona, then diverge into fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.

I should note that one does not actually drive Route 66. It doesn’t exist anymore, except as various non-contiguous historic snippets of varying length. Most of them are business loops through small, forgotten towns that desperately suckle from the teat of having once been a vibrant part of the route.

We’ve driven portions of the route before, I knew there was no shortage of roadside kitsch to explore, so I thought a travel book would be helpful in this regard. (Alas, online resources like Atlas Obscura were unimpressive.) However, I was surprised to find that my local Barnes & Noble had exactly zero books on the subject. What the hell? It’s literally a Chicago landmark.

So, I turned to the Amazon, making heaving use of their “Look Inside” feature to preview the contents of each book that caught my eye. Thank heavens I did, as it revealed how boring and filler-packed each book was. I began to fear that I would never find the mother lode about the Mother Road. (Forgive me.)

Then I came across Secret Route 66 by Jim Ross and Shelly Graham. The book’s subtitle, “A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” was right up my alley. Look Inside revealed the location of road tar footprints improbably left by a very heavy bird crossing the road. I couldn’t click “Buy Now” fast enough.

gordon meyer holding book

I’m glad that I did. The book added a lot of flavor to our road trip. If you’re going to buy into the nostalgia of taking such a drive, you should embrace all the quirky and cheesy things that come with it, and this book will help you do so.

My initial concern about the book was its age. Published in 2017, I feared that the ravages of Trumpism and COVID-19 would render much of the information obsolete. Some information the book includes was probably out of date before the book rolled off the printing presses. However, many of the roadside attractions have weathered other storms and are still in operation (although barely so, in some cases). Furthermore, like the aforementioned chicken footprints, many of the features that Ross and Graham have included are not dependent upon visitors to keep them afloat. (The authors do love pointing out old bridges, for some reason.) As with any book, use the web to sanity-check any information that would throw your plans out of whack if it’s no longer correct.

If you get the book, I recommend paying attention to the small towns that the authors highlight. We pulled off to visit several of them, and they were almost all worthwhile, charming stops. One that we intended to visit is Galena, Kansas. But I accidentally programmed the navigation system for Galena, Missouri instead. We discovered that Galena, MO is a town of less than 500 people with a surprisingly large “downtown” for its size. However, we felt like we were in a Twilight Zone episode. Every business (even City Hall) was locked up tight in the middle of the afternoon. We didn’t see a single person, but there were at least a dozen cars parked on the streets. Was there a mandatory town meeting in progress? Were they watching us? It was an eerie and interesting visit!

The book does have one glaring flaw: a complete lack of any discernible organization. For example, the first item in the book is from the middle of the route. Did it not occur to the authors or publishers that a linear progression, East or West, would make perfect sense? Its random presentation of locations makes the book very difficult to use as a planner, and worse, worthless as a reference during the drive itself. Even a simple map of the route, with locations indicated, would make the book much more useful. Truly, what were they thinking?

To work around the problems of aged info and perplexing organization, I recommend creating a Guide in the Apple Maps app. Moreover, while you’re at it, take a look at the curated Route 66 guides that are available in Maps, they’re perfect for the mainstream attractions.

Happy trails!


Where the heck is Riverside Cemetery, Huron, South Dakota?

An important tidbit for those wishing to visit the graves of people buried in the middle of South Dakota:

Every single online mapping source (literally, all of them, MapQuest, Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Yelp, TomTom, etc.) list the location of Huron’s Riverside Cemetery as Frank Ave SE. (I’m avoiding repeating the complete wrong address here, to not feed the ‘bots.)

However, Huron’s Riverside Cemetery is actually located at the intersection of SD Route 22 and Sherman Ave SE.

Which, when viewed from the perspective of a bird, is kind of near the river. But this is not apparent from the ground. (Just in case you, in a fit of desperation, try to suss out where it is located using logic and reasoning.) Your better approach, as proven effective by the present author, is to interrupt a nice couple unloading groceries from their car that is parked in the driveway of a home located near the incorrect address, and ask them where the cemetery is located. They are likely to laugh and tell you how to get to where it actually is. (“Go down this road, hang a left on the main road, it’s on your right about a mile down.”) Be sure to thank them, as well as the midwest proclivity towards friendliness.

I reported the mapping mistake to Apple and Google, but given that every provider had it wrong, it’s likely incorrect in the state’s own database. But this is far from the only thing that godforsaken South Dakota gets wrong.


Wisconsin Observations

Greetings from Manitowoc, Wisconsin — and the exact spot where Sputnik fell to earth.

gordon meyer standing

The second-best thing about Manitowoc was the “Ditto” antique store that’s in the back of the “Dead By Dawn” B&B. The former was charming and had some great locally sourced hand-carved figurines. The latter was closed, but the idea is just wonderful.

gordon meyer holding carved figure

We also visited the Sheboygan Indian Mounds Park. When we arrived, there were three cars in the parking lot. By the time we exited our car; we were the only ones there. (Hey, don’t leave on my account!) We saw not another (living) soul during our visit. We heard the trees speaking (which we recorded) as we followed a diminishing trail that crossed at least two dwellings that were reminiscent of those depicted on Sasquatch “documentaries.”

gordon meyer took this photo

Unexpectedly, there are contemporary houses that abut the mound area, giving truth to the trope about living on an ancient Indian burial ground. I wondered if a realtor would consider being on sacred ground a selling point.

burial mound gordon meyer

Because it was so quiet and peaceful, and seemingly welcoming, we decided to have our picnic lunch at the tables near the entrance. Unfortunately, the tables were covered with dirt and sap, so it was a standing meal.

mound sign gordon meyer

As we left, a tree in the yard across the street caught my eye. It seemed to take human-like form, but that may have been a trick of the light.

strange tree photo by gordon meyer

At the 3 Sheeps Brewery, which we visited before the mounds (so thus, could explain the tree thing), I was drawn to a vending machine that sold advertising cards which just happened to also be a game of chance.

gambling machine photo by gordon meyer

I couldn’t resist spending a dollar on a ticket. I was not a winner. But I enjoyed the 3 Sheeps beer, so I guess that’s a “win” of another sort.

ticket by gordon meyer



Not just for kidnappers

One of the most unsung, but most useful, things to add to your suitcase is a package of RediTape Duct Tape. It’s the regular duct tape you know and love, but comes in a reasonable length “flat pack” that makes it easy to pack. (You can get it in multiple colors, too. I prefer white, which looks less industrial than the typical silver tape.)

What will you use it for? You’ll surprise yourself at how many uses you discover. The adage that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” becomes true — a good, strong piece of tape solves numerous problems: inside pants that need hemming or repair, suitcase and shoe repairs, first aid, automobile cabin rattles, tamper-evident bag seals, and hotel room peephole privacy covers. (Yes, it’s paranoid, but sadly actually happens.) I’m confident you’ll find even more ways to use it once you have it on hand.


Hotel Room Nightlight Hack

While some hotel rooms provide a night light in the bathroom, most do not. And for me, a nightlight is a necessity. Not just for late-night micturition, but also to help quickly resolve the feeling of “where the hell am I?” that sometimes happens when I wake up in the middle of the night.

So, I travel with a nightlight in my dopp kit. I use an inexpensive and bright night light (although I do wish it were less bulky). It’s cheap enough that I don’t beat myself up too badly when I accidentally leave it behind. But I hate it when that happens, so I came up with a technique that helps me remember to unplug and pack it before I depart.

gordon meyer nightlight

In the photo, you can see that I’ve attached a long, multi-colored string to the night light, using a piece of tape. (I got this rainbow string at Home Depot, but any dark-colored string would do the trick.) The idea is that a long, hanging string will catch my eye when I’m scanning the room to make sure that I’ve packed everything. This has worked for me 20+ room nights and counting, so maybe it will work for you, too.



Hue headaches when traveling

I like Philips Hue lights — they form a mostly reliable branch in my standalone home automation strategy. (In other words, I don’t use them with HomeKit, but only because I prefer isolated systems for reliability. Keep reading for why.)

Unfortunately, the Hue system has a serious flaw that can bite you in the ass when you’re traveling. Namely, the hub firmware and the control/scheduling app have to remain in sync, but you can’t update the hub remotely.

So, when you’re away from home, never allow your Hue app to update itself. Doing so could create a situation where your entire Hue system is disabled until you return home and update the hub, too.

Until Philips fixes this, live in fear of an automatic update, or simply don’t rely on Hue as a key part of your home automation system. (See first paragraph, above.)



The House of the Blood Stains

This stately Amsterdam house, built in 1670, was the home of six-time mayor Coenraad van Beuningen.

house of the blood stains front

Slipping into madness later in life, he suffered apocalyptic visions of the future and decorated the outside of his home with arcane symbols of protection, scrawled upon the grey stone in his own blood.

house of the blood stains door

Despite numerous attempts to remove the markings, they can still be seen after more than 300 years, if you know to look.

blood stains detail

blood stains detail