Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

I left my bra in Devil’s Elbow

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

It wasn’t quite like leaving my heart in San Francisco – but yes, I did leave my bra in Devil’s Elbow.  (My poor parents.  Really.)

The Elbow Inn Bar and BBQ Pit at Devil's Elbow, MO

The Elbow Inn Bar and BBQ Pit at Devil's Elbow, MO

“Tougher than boiled mule wang.”  This is one of the expressions I learn at the Elbow Inn.  This should give you an idea of the sort of place I’m talking about.

Red from Boondocking with Solar had sent me a list of his Route 66 must-stops, and one was the Elbow Inn Bar and BBQ Pit at Devil’s Elbow, MO.   Seems the name “Devil’s Elbow” comes from a curve in Big Piney River that created a lot of log jams during logging back in the day.  The bar itself occupies the very same building that housed the Munger Moss Sandwich Shop, originally opened along Route 66 in 1929.  They still smoke their own meat and serve up good BBQ at decent prices here, and the place is a regular stop for bikers, army types from the nearby base, and Route 66 travelers.

I’d read about the “unique ceiling decorations”, so as soon as I walk in, I look up – and found a sea of bras.  Yes, bras.

IMGP0841-eBig, small, lacy, plain, colorful… the whole gamut.  In most cases, the bras are signed by their former owners, with Route 66 notes and the like.  And since Missouri is one of the few states where smoking is still allowed in public places, the bras up there are slowly being smoked.  It reminds me of the fish smoking shacks back home on the east coast, all the fish hanging from the ceilings…  Come on: I *have* to leave a “” bra – I mean, really!!


I was told I was "cheating" since I didn't actually leave the one I was wearing at the time...

Speaking of back home… when I say I am from Canada, I discover that Kris Huckins, the man behind the bar, is first-generation American: his father’s family is from Saint John, New Brunswick.  I am from Moncton, New Brunswick, and I can tell you that most Americans I meet don’t know where or what New Brunswick is, let alone have family there.  Kris asks “don’t you want your free shot?” (for leaving the bra)… at first I’m hesitant – since I’m driving, this is a heavy-duty biker bar, and I feel pretty out of place taking pictures of the bar by myself while men with beards and black leathers quaff their suds and puff their smokes.  I thought about camping in the back of the place ($10 for a spot right by the pretty river) but I’m worried about my safety.  As I’m packing up my tripod, a woman with a nice smile at the bar gets curious about what I’m up to, and chats me up., immortalized on the ceiling of the Elbow Inn, immortalized on the ceiling of the Elbow Inn

Wendy Freeman is a total sweetheart who moved here from Illinois a few years ago, and she reassures me that the place is totally safe.  Someone else at the bar also reassures me with this: “no worries honey, you’re at the toughest biker bar on all Route 66.” (to which I respond with look of terror)  …”and that means you’re also the safest.”  Popeye, dude with the awesome ZZ Top-like long white beard, makes a point to pull me aside and reassure me that I will be totally safe camping in the back.  Popeye lives right across from the bar, and does “nighttime security”.  As always, I feel somewhat silly talking about my reluctance and fears to those who feel there is nothing to be afraid of… but I think people do get it, since I’m a female traveling alone.  In fact, a lot of women I’m meeting along the way tell me they think I am “brave” to do this trip on my own, so I guess a lot of us feel the same trepidation.

So I tell Kris I guess I’ll have that shot after all.  After we all do Jager Bombs together, I drive the trailer down behind the bar and set up camp for the night.

I am in Missouri, I still haven’t had any BBQ, and I am at a well-known historic Route 66 bar/BBQ pit… I think it’s time I finally buy some local dinner.  Hamburger Helper in the trailer can only go on for so long.  Beers are only $2 here (!!) so I enjoy a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and onion rings (delish), a few beers, and more free shots than I ever wanted – all for a mere $15.

The night is mostly spent sitting at the bar, passing notes to Wendy grade-school style while we kibbutz with the friendly staff and various bikers who drift in and out.  Barkeeps Kris and Jamie guide me in sampling various American beers while they argue on the merits of the various brands (“that one tastes like piss!”, etc.).

Meet Jamie Perdue: ex-drill instructor, proud new mom, and “the coolest bartender”.  As nice and pretty as she is, I would not want to screw with this woman.  We get talking about having kids (actually, we were talking about NOT having kids), and she tells me the amazing story about the bizarre timing of her pregnancy.  “You’re shitting me!” I say.  “That’s exactly what I said to the doctor!” she says.  Her daughter clearly was meant to be.  In spite of the seeming unlikelihood of Jamie becoming a mom, she’s a natural.  When I get hiccups near the end of the night, she insists I take some Coke because the sugar will help – she gives sugar water to her baby when she gets hiccups. I thought Coke gave me hiccups, but Jamie is right: they stop.

Wendy and Jamie

I spend a lot of time talking with Kris, the cook with the New Brunswick heritage.  He is yet another nomad who saw no reason to buy property and own a house.  He lives in his trailer, has low living expenses, works long hours at the bar, and spends his money and attention on his passion: music.  He’s the lead singer and a guitarist in a local band, Piney Creek.  Kris and I talk about family and stuff, and I am moved by his life stories.  “I don’t pretend to be anything I ain’t” is another of my favorite lines from him.

One thing about this trip, it’s reaffirming this notion to me: humans just want to connect with other humans – and travel makes this easier. When you’re on the move and you meet strangers, it feels safer to open up.  You know you’ll probably never see that person again, so it’s OK to be just as real as you want to be.  It’s fleeting, it’s genuine.  And it’s awesome.  I noticed this same dynamic when I traveled alone in Europe after graduating from university (another journey of mine that kept my mother biting her nails for a few months).

Wendy and I make requests at the juke box, which contains selections like Meatloaf, AC/DC… and that old classic “…piss me off, f*cking jerk, get on my nerves…” song.  Jamie keeps the beers coming.  Kris kicks my ass in pool.  Everyone kicks my ass in Jager Bombs.  And the night is topped off with late-night hash browns smothered in toppings.

Needless to say, it took me awhile to get on the road yesterday.

camp near the river, behind the Elbow Inn (seen in the background)

camp near the river, behind the Elbow Inn (seen in the background)

Someone asked for more details on where I’m camping, etc.  Just to save money, I’m parking at Wal-Marts as much as possible.  It’s safe, they have all the supplies I’d need, and there are washrooms to use.  As much as I never shopped at Wal-Mart before this trip, I have to hand it to whoever thought of allowing RVers to park overnight – it’s genius.  We all go in to buy stuff, so it generates sales without any added expense to them.  Every few nights I try to stay somewhere I can get a shower and wash my hair.  Last night I stayed at the Lazy J RV Park in Marshfield, MO.  I found it on the Route 66 News list of campgrounds.  Only $15 and I have water, electricity, and a shower.  Owners Richard and Jessie Mae invited me in for pizza when I arrived, and they gave me two little jars of homemade jam as a “welcome package”.  Richard informed me that I need a regulator for my water hose because the pressure coming out of the spigot is too strong for the trailer – this was the first I’ve heard of that.  He also loaned me one of his regulators to use, insisted I take some mustard greens from the garden, and offered up his laundry facilities.  This place may not be high-end, but it sure is high on hospitality!  I recommend stopping here if you’re in the area.  It’s down a dirt road and is very peaceful and quiet.

Well, it’s quiet except for the thunder I hear heading this way…


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