Other notes on our southward drive:
--Passed through Salem, Illinois. One claim to fame, according to venerable roadside marker: It's the gateway to Little Egypt (that's Southern Illinois, for Alan Keyes and other non-Prairie Staters). Another: It's the birthplace of William Jennings Bryan, memorable losing presidential contender and opponent of evolutionary theory. Another: Oil was discovered near town in 1938; by '42, they were pumping 259,000 barrels a day from there (we saw some scrapped oil pumps just outside Salem).
--Speaking of Keyes, we drove the entire length of the Land of Lincoln and saw not a single Keyes sign. Dad thinks maybe that's because the Republicans haven't made any. Saw maybe a dozen Bush-Cheney signs. A half-dozen for Barack Obama. One for Kerry -- in the window of a United Mine Workers hall in Benton. Not a lot of interest in big-time national-type politics, sign-wise, in a 400-mile tour of the state. But there are tons of signs for everyone else who's on a ballot: state legislative candidates, sheriffs, state's attorneys, coroners, judges, you name it. The other impression: This is big yellow-ribbon "support our troops" country.
--We detoured slightly through Vienna, hometown of late legendary Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell. Mom and Dad actually saw him speak once, on behalf of John Houlihan, a Park Forester and World War II Marine amputee (he lost a leg at Iwo Jima is the story I heard) who was running for the state House of Representatives in the late '60s. Powell appeared at a dinner in Joliet and apparently was the most captivating (even lovable, Dad says) of all the politicos present. Mom's comment at the end of the evening was, "He's a charming old rascal, isn't he?" Powell died a couple years later, I think, and became a legend when something like $800,000 in cash turned up in his Springfield hotel room, stuffed in shoe boxes. I was confident there'd be some sign of him in Vienna, which I remember being told is pronounced VYE-enna, and sure enough, on the main drag an official-looking sign pointed to the "Paul Powell Museum." We turned up a pretty residential street and drove to its end on the northern edge of town. No museum. Made a couple other passes with no success. We'll have to look again the next time we pass through Vienna.
--The country around Cairo is lush, levee-protected bottom land. Cairo itself, though, is a blasted-looking place that looks like it could be washed away with one more good flood. You get a hint of that driving through on the main road, Washington Street/U.S. 51. Dad spotted a building collapsing a block over toward the levee, on our left, and I turned that way to see whether we could get up on the embankment and see the Ohio River. We found a place to drive up on the levee as the sun went down. Even filled with barges and bordered by a semi-industrial landscape, the big spread of water flowing in its final mile to the Mississippi, visible just beyond a bend below town, is memorable. Then we retreated down into the heart of Cairo's broken-down historic district. A line of battered old buildings line a wide street parallel to the levee. But it looks like it would take nothing to knock them down. The only signs of life were at a couple bars that have managed to stay open. The vintage-looking streetlights and wrought-iron benches along the deserted streets only added to the sense of twilight desolation.
--Staying the night in Charleston, Missouri. Comfort Inn. Cuisine: McDonald's. Dad notices in perusing the local phone book that there are seven cotton gins listed in the area. Two K-marts and a bunch of Wal-Marts, too.