I apologize if I'm causing chronological confusion by writing about a day that doesn't necessarily match the date of the blog entry. Since I'm a little behind, I've camped out in a Motel 6 room in Lincoln, Nebraska and I'm going to catch up on my writing so we won't have that problem anymore, damn it!
On Tuesday morning, I left Columbia and headed off toward northern Kansas City (the Missouri flavor) so I could visit Leila's Hair Museum in the suburb of Independence. As I eased onto the interstate, I was ecstatic to see a sign ahead that listed a Stuckey's Rest Stop a mere 25 miles away. Now I'm a child of the 60s and I was raised stopping at every Stuckey's along the way, whenever we travelled by car. If you've never been to a Stuckey's, it's the bona fide mothership of rubber tomahawks, copper jewelry with fake plastic turquoise, pecan divinity and godawful taffy. They're few and far between these days so I never pass one without stopping if I can help it. When I went in, I discovered a whole revolving display of state shaped magnets and greedily snatched up all the states I'd be driving through or had already visited (save Arkansas, which for some strange reason they were sold out of). I find it perplexing that there would be a run on Arkansas, but oh well. When I returned to the car, I happily applied the shapes of the states that I'd already traversed to the back of my car in roughly geographical order and stood back to admire the display - wonderful! The others I tucked safely away in the glove box for application at the appropriate time. I'll have quite a map by the time I'm finished.
When I stopped to get gas in the little town of Concordia, I decided to take a look around the old part of town and see if I could scare up some lunch. Bingo! Topsy's Restaurant on the main drag! Perfect.
My teenaged waitress seated me in a booth next to the pie case and I began looking over the menu only to find the usual small town diner options - burgers, chef salad, blue plate special. While I was considering the choices, a small fortune cookie fortune sized piece of paper tucked in the corner under the protective plastic shrouding which entombed the menu caught my eye: fried brain sandwich with choice of potato $2.25. After the shock of it wore off, it dawned on me that this might well be the only opportunity I get in my lifetime to eat a fried brain sandwich. I start reasoning with myself, "Well, if they offer it as a special, it's got to be popular and the cook probably knows what the hell he/she is doing since that's not exactly something you can get from Sysco. Plus, how can I go wrong for $2.25?" I asked the waitress if she'd ever tasted it and she got a funny look on her face like it was inconceivable that I would even ask, "Some folks really like them" she offered helpfully. "They dress it up just like a hamburger with mayo and mustard and ketchup. Just pretend it's a tenderloin!" How could I say no?
Turns out the sandwich was delicious. I fixed it up pretty much just like you would a burger, with one important difference. Brains. And what I've found is it's the brains in fried brains that people don't much cotton to. As I swallowed about my sixth or seventh bite and tried to identify the flavor I was experiencing, a wry smile crept over my face when I realized that what it most tasted like was a veggie burger. I bet you couldn't tell one from the other in a blind taste test.
I rounded out the meal with a piece of raisin cream pie which turns out to be just like banana cream pie with a few raisins and no bananas. It was tasty, but cloyingly sweet and creamy.
Topsy's turned out to be quite the culinary adventure. It's great when a hunch pays off so richly. I left Concordia with a belly full of brains and whipped cream and headed off to the Hair Museum.
I don't have but this one picture of the hair museum as pictures were allowed only in the foyer, not inside the museum itself. It was a very curious place. The subject matter was very compelling to me, but the experience was unsettling somehow. The lighting was harsh and the color palette suprisingly monotone. The Museum houses the largest and possibly the only collection of items made with human hair. A large part of the collection is made up of floral wreaths, oftentimes each flower being fashioned from a different member of the family tree. There is also an impressive collection of jewelry woven from Victorian tresses.
While the content and concepts and presentation of the collection (some of the shadowbox frames that housed the hair wreaths were just exquisite) were all well executed, strangely I found it hard to escape the cultural norm that seeing dead people's hair is creepy. And you can't avoid it in the museum - everywhere you look is hair, hair and more hair.
The charming docent that took me around the museum made me smile to myself when she told me that she had in fact quit Miss Leila's Beauty School because she discovered during her training that she didn't like touching other people's hair. The concept of people that are severly mismatched to their jobs, like a postman with a fear of dogs, have always been fascinating to me. Can you imagine working in a hair museum every day when you didn't like other people's hair?
As I pulled away, I saw Miss Leila drive into the parking lot in a big white Eldorado with license plates reading "HAIR". She's apparently in her 80s and wears a close cropped platinum flip. I was a little sorry I didn't get a chance to meet her.
More road, more root beer. How could you not stop for a root beer float at a place like this?
After the hair-owing (for you, Marty) experience at Leila's, I headed off toward Lawrence, Kansas, reputed to be a city much like Austin except for the size (which is much smaller). On the recommendation of Erin's friend Way Mona who has lived in Lawrence for many years, I checked into the wonderful Eldridge Hotel right smack in the middle of town. Way Mona wasgracious enough to meet me for dinner and we had a great time. We had a tasty meal at one of the many many fabulous looking establishments along the main drag and then walked up and down the street in the mist to soothe our stuffed guts.
When I turned in, the sheets felt like satin. I slept the sleep of the dead. Zzzzz.....