- Where We Started: Omaha, Neb.
- Where We Ended: Columbia, Mo.
- Miles Driven: 386 (16,776 total).
- New States: Kansas.
- States So Far: 30 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Gerald Ford. Malcolm X. Amelia Earhart. Three people who have almost nothing in common. Almost. On Sunday, we discovered what is likely the only connection: Each was born alongside the Missouri River in the Great Plains. Once the crack FHMA research team figured that out, we went to see where the Black Muslim leader, the 38th President of the United States and the famed aviator got their starts, all the while battling the intermittent rain to which we've now become accustomed.
We started with Malcolm X, born in Omaha as Malcolm Little in 1925. I wasn't sure what kind of marker -- if any -- would be at the site, since Malcolm X was a tad controversial. His birthplace is in a rundown part of town, and the house where he was born has long since been demolished. At the site, there is a plaque in a grassy field. Unfortunately, we couldn't see it, as it was closed and inaccessible behind a fence that surrounded the property. A sign on site said you can only see the monument by appointment. The birthplace property is not owned by the city, state or federal government. It's owned by the Malcolm X Foundation, which is in the midst of trying to turn the site into a park. On the group's Web site, you can see some photos -- like this one -- that get you closer to the actual monument than we could get. Oh well, maybe we can hit it when we do "Fred & Hank Mark America II: Doggin' It."
From the Malcolm X site, we headed to southwest Omaha, where Gerald Ford was born in 1913. This was then the home of Ford's paternal grandparents, with whom his parents were then living. Ford obviously made his mark in Michigan, and he's one of many presidents not actually born in the state where they achieved their greatest fame. Lincoln was born in Kentucky, Reagan in Illinois, George W. Bush in Connecticut, Eisenhower in Texas, Wilson in Virginia and Obama in Hawaii. As with Malcolm X, the house where Ford was born is long gone. But Omaha has turned the site into the Ford Birthsite & Gardens, which has a plaque commemorating Ford's birth. This one we were able to get close to.
The marker commemorating Gerald Ford's birth. Now, someone correct me if I'm wrong here, but I don't think the Ford quote from above was made during his inaugural address, because presidents who take office because of the death or resignation of a president don't make inaugural addresses (unless, like LBJ, they're eventually elected). The quote above was from Ford's first address to the nation, I believe. (Photo by Jim)
After lunch, It was off to conquer Kansas. Now, we're on a tight schedule to get home, and the quest to hit all 48 continental states means we're not in some of them for long. Kansas was one of those states. The good news is that a place we both truly wanted to go see -- the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, in Atchison, Kan. -- is about 100 yards from the Missouri border. The story of Earhart -- and the mystery surrounding her disappearance -- have always fascinated us, so this was a cool visit. We only made it there about 10 minutes before the museum closed, but the woman there was nice enough to let us take a quick spin through. At the time of Earhart's birth, the house was that of her maternal grandfather. She lived in Atchison until she was 12, when she moved to Des Moines, Iowa to rejoin her parents. The museum had some cool Earhart relics and a lot of information about the theories about her disappearance.
The Earhart Birthplace Museum is on a street that has a nice overlook of the Missouri River, so we took the dogs on a short walk.
After visiting the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and taking photos of the Amelia Earhart Bridge, we hopped on the Amelia Earhart Highway and disappeared from Atchison, heading south. Taking the scenic route along the river, we soon did some time in Leavenworth, passing through the town that "hosts" many visitors at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth, a military prison. Among the penitentiary's famous former residents: Bugs Moran, Jimmy Burke (the gangster who Robert DeNiro's character in "Goodfellas" was based on), George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Leonard Peltier. The Bureau of Prisons changed Leavenworth's custody level from "High/Maximum" to "Medium" in 2005, so it no longer hosts America's worst. Leavenworth's most famous current guest is noted dog lover Michael Vick, who will serve another nine days there before moving to home confinement. Fred and Hank booed as we drove past.
Shortly after our release from Leavenworth, we crossed into Missouri, had dinner in Kansas City and made it to Columbia, Mo. before we decided to put down for the night.
- Two readers pointed out my incorrect identification of some animals in our Badlands National Park post. What I identified in that post as mountain goats are apparently bighorn sheep. I seem to be better at identifying animals I've run over than ones I see alive.
- Sign of the Day: On I-70 in Missouri: "Blue Springs, Mo.: Home of David Cook, American Idol 2008." Now, I may be a cynic here, since I have never watched an episode of "American Idol" in my life, but does this really warrant its own sign? Twenty bucks says that sign is gone in two years. I checked to see if there was anyone else famous from Blue Springs who might be upset that their contributions had been ignored in favor of a reality-show winner, but alas, the best I could find were a couple of professional athletes, including current Washington Redskins running back Ladell Betts.
- Another hotel negotiation classic. From the start, the guy at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Springfield, Mo. was a pushover. Any time Joan pushed, he caved. Finally, she got him down to $59, but she wasn't giving in yet. "Is that your best rate?" she asked. Let's be honest: This question is a fishing expedition that usually nets nothing, but Joan always asks, just in case. His response: "Actually, no." He then tells her about a special $49 rate. At this point, even Joan was satisfied that she'd taken enough advantage of the poor guy. Especially since that $49 was for a king suite.
- Because we were in a rush to see the place where Amelia Earhart was born, we had to skip the place where Jesse James died. The Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Mo., is where the famous outlaw was shot in the back of the head by Robert Ford, as chronicled in the brutally boring film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," which was only slightly shorter than Jesse James' life, and a lot less interesting.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "I'll Come Running," by Brian Eno. Off of Eno's "Another Green World," this song is typical Eno: a tad offbeat and experimental. This particular tune doesn't do anything for me, but if you're interested in Eno's work as an artist and not just as a producer, download the album "Here Come the Warm Jets." The title song is an Eno classic. "Music for Films" is also excellent.
- Here's the Day 8 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Bummer," by Harry Chapin.
Last Song of the Day: "Calling It Quits," by Aimee Mann.
- Best Songs: "Burnin' for You," by Blue Oyster Cult; "The Bus Stop," by BT; "California Dreamin'," by The Mamas & The Papas; "California Sun," by The Ramones; "Calling All Angels," by Train.
- Pleasant Surprises: "By Starlight," by Smashing Pumpkins; "Caged Bird," by RJD2; "The Call of Ktulu," by Metallica.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Burning Love," by Elvis Presley.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Bye Bye Baby," by The Ramones; "Call Me the Breeze," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Burning Down One Side," by Robert Plant.
- First Song of the Day: "Bummer," by Harry Chapin.
- Alan Spoll asks a good question: Since I'm listening to songs in alphabetical order, how did "Simply the Best," by Tina Turner -- which I put in the "Bad Songs by Good Artists" category -- show up in the Bs. Turns out I listed the title of that song incorrectly. It's apparently called, rather inappropriately, "The Best." The album its on is called "Simply the Best." As for why I have any Tina on my iPod: Hey, what can I say? I do like a lot of her older stuff and have a soft spot for "Better Be Good to Me."
- Lunch: McDonald's, Bellevue, Neb.: We had real plans for lunch Sunday, but were snake-bit. Scanning tripadvisor.com, we found a highly-rated a place called La Casa Pizzaria, but when we drove past, we thought it was closed, since it was around 12:30pm on a Sunday and there wasn't a car in a lot. We started to drive away, then saw an employee sweeping the front walk. After a brief consultation, we decided the fact no one was there was a problem -- as was the fact they can't spell pizzeria -- so we left. Next up was Stella's Hamburgers in Bellevue, Neb., which is listed as producing one of the best 100 hamburgers in America. Not on this day, as it was closed. Frustrated and hungry, we fell prey to the looming golden arches. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). I had a Double Quarter Pounder -- by the way, isn't that a Half Pounder? -- and fries. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Consistent. Predictable. McDonald's at its best.
- Dinner: Stroud's Oak Ridge Manor, Kansas City, Mo.: This Kansas City standby was packed for Mother's Day, and that probably was part of the reason we ended up being slightly disappointed. This place has won so many honors, including the prestigious James Beard Award, that it's obviously excellent. So we probably just caught them on a chaotic night. Stroud's specialty is fried chicken, and we both found ours to be relatively tasteless, and the baked potato was just OK. The side of green beans was excellent, as was the cinnamon bread, but the positives of the sides could not overcome the weaknesses of the main course. It didn't help Joan's overall impression when she discovered someone had tossed their cookies in the ladies' bathroom. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). The two fried chicken breasts alone would have qualified for 1, and that was before the baked potato loaded up with cheese. Restaurant Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).
- La Quinta Inn & Suites, Columbia, Mo.: As funny as it was that Joan got the guy at the hotel down to the ludicrous rate of $49 for a king suite, we were indeed a bit worried what we might encounter once we arrived, since "you get what you pay for" is normally one of the life's great truisms. This had just seemed too easy. But, upon our arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel had been completely renovated, and our room was excellent (and quiet, since hardly anyone else seemed to be staying there). Hotel rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS
Fred tells Hank a joke while at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace in Atchison, Kan. "What do you do to an elephant with three balls? ... Walk him, and pitch to the giraffe." Hank's response to the joke: a yawn.