The Long Blue Tail – Lebanon, MO

A problem that a traveler faces when he tries to follow the path of someone who has gone before can be ambiguity about the next destination, and as I read the early pages of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, I ran into precisely that problem. First, I missed the starting point of Columbia and started off in St. Louis. Perhaps I’ll circle around back to Columbia next. Then, when he referred to Lebanon, I thought he was still in Missouri. There is a Lebanon, MO southwest of St. Louis. It didn’t make much sense, because I thought Least Heat-Moon was heading east, but I started looking into Lebanon, MO nonetheless.

I started off at the Lebanon, MO website. I learned that Lebanon is on an old Indian trail that during the Civil War became known as the “Wire Road” because of the telegraph wires from St. Louis to Springfield. Later, the road became known as Route 66, and then Interstate 44. Get your kicks on Route 66 came to mind as I explored the town a little more.

I checked the lists of restaurants online, and besides the Applebee’s, which I imagine to be just off the Interstate, I found links to many interesting local eating establishments. Yelp pointed me to Django’s Coffee House. It talked about Ken Chappell’s quest to have “a place to go, a hangout, a place with live music, great coffee, great food.” It talked about starting Django’s and some of the changes over time. It talked about the Open Mic on Friday nights, but didn’t list any of the performers.

I sent an email off to Django’s to get more information. They responded, apologizing that the website wasn’t up to date. They had moved and I’m still not sure I know the exact address. I prepared some follow up questions. Least Heat-Moon talked about Lebanon as ‘a brick-street village where Charles Dickens spent a night in the Mermaid Inn’. I was going to ask if the Mermaid Inn was still there and if the proprietors of Django’s had been there or had any stories. First, I checked online.

I found an article that described Lebanon as being twenty three miles to the east of St. Louis. To me, it looked like it was around 150 miles south west of St. Louis. It wasn’t even twenty three miles away from Springfield. Then, it struck me. The Mermaid Inn, twenty three miles east of St. Louis is in Lebanon, IL, not Lebanon, MO. Now, it made sense. Least Heat-Moon had talked about State 4. I hadn’t been able to find Missouri State Route 4 anywhere on the maps. That is because State Route 4, which runs through Lebanon is in Illinois.

Nonetheless, I spent a bit more time checking out Lebanon, MO, and figured that I’d catch Lebanon, IL when I get back on track. One thing I found out about Lebanon, MO was the magnetic waters. People would travel from miles around to take advantage of these healing waters in Lebanon and stay at The Gasconade Hotel. Not the same as the Mermaid Inn where Dickens had stayed in Illinois, but another interesting Hotel in and of itself.

I looked around to see if I could find any locals to speak to. Using Twitter Local, I found Sana Abdul Aziz. She listed her location as Lebanon, MO, but described herself as an English Language and Literature major at SNHU. Best as I can tell SNHU is Southern New Hampshire University, but given my confusion between Lebanon, MO and Lebanon, IL, who knows. She spoke about her desire to soon be an ex-truck driver and I read a poem she had written about being on the road in a Kenilworth. My only means of contacting her was through Twitter. She posted sporadically and had recently posted about being sick. I sent out a message in hopes of getting a reply, but as I sit down and write this, I haven’t seen a reply.

There were others from Lebanon that I tried to reach out to, but without any success.

In the email from Django’s they spoke about Lebanon being your typical small town, nothing special. In fact, it is that aspect of being a typical small town that you get as you go beyond the Interstate and Applebee’s that makes it so special and interesting.

It is one of the hazards of trying to follow someone else’s path. You sometimes take a wrong turn and end up somewhere very different from where you intended to be. However, it is precisely these little experiences that can make the trip so enjoyable.

So, right now, I’ll plan on circling back around to Columbia, then I’ll head back through St. Louis and make it to Lebanon, IL. If you’re somewhere along the way, wave to me virtually, and let me know what to look for.

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