Al Batt: Showing up and shining in the Show Me State

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I didn’t go to St. Joseph, Missouri, because Missouri loves company.

Al Batt

I drove along the edges of things, and the weather was kind enough that I didn’t pack any puffy clothing. I joined people who live in a constant state of Missouri to watch basketball while increasing both my joy and my stress levels. Watching a granddaughter who is nothing short of outstanding is joyous, but it can be stressful. When I was a young fellow caught in mischief-making, my father would tell me I’d taken three years off his life. I figure Dad would have lived another 339 years had it not been for me.

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Although basketball players aren’t allowed to travel, the team still went to Oklahoma for three games in a state that considers the Lone Star flag of Texas to be that state’s rating. It’s illegal to serve pie without ice cream in Texas. Remember the à la mode. Then, onto Missouri. A poll done by real pollsters found most Missourians say Missouri-ee versus Missour-uh. It’s partly generational, as 16% of those polled who said Missour-uh were 65 and older, and 3% of those who said Missour-uh were below 29.

On my way there, I felt sorry for the workers in the auto plants who install turn signals that are never used. Vultures monitored the highways for food. Highway Helper trucks patrolled the highways in Des Moines, helping stalled vehicles and changing tires. To a vulture, a Highway Helper would be a Roadkill Hamburger Helper and barricade flattened fauna so a vulture could dine in peace.

I wasn’t alone in my first hotel room. There were cockroaches. They’re in every state. They scurried when I turned on the lights. I swatted one that crawled on me while I slept. I hadn’t requested a wake-up call. There were no elevators in that hotel. That was OK. I take steps to avoid elevators. The stairs are always up to something.

Jesse and Frank James robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains, gaining national fame and widespread sympathy despite the brutality of their crimes. A fellow I talked to outside the Jesse James Home Museum reckoned half the people in St. Joseph claimed Jesse James in their ancestry.

Missouri’s governor offered a large reward that Bob Ford, a member of the James gang, wanted to collect. Ford shot James from behind while Jesse straightened a picture in the James home in 1882. Jesse James was 34. Some people believe Ford killed someone other than James in a plot to allow Jesse to escape justice. I might have seen Jesse driving a Ford pickup truck. He looked good for his age.

At the Patee House Museum in St. Joseph, there was an ad for Red Goose Shoes, “They’re half the fun of having feet.” In 1865, the owner of the Patee House, John Patee, was short of cash and meant to dispose of his $180,000 hotel by lottery. He purchased the last 100 tickets to ensure all of them were sold, and when they drew the winning ticket, Mr. Patee won his hotel.

At the Pony Express Museum, the ad read: “WANTED YOUNG, SKINNY, WIRY FELLOWS not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week. APPLY PONY EXPRESS STABLES St. Joseph, Missouri.”

A rider could carry only 20 pounds of mail. The maximum weight on a horse was 165 pounds. Models of a rider’s boots were on display at the Pony Express Museum. The boots could be worn on either foot. A sign indicated it wasn’t until after the Civil War that people wore right and left shoes. Some dispute that.

A cobbler in Philadelphia differentiated the left foot from the right foot in shoes in 1817. Others claim shoes made that distinction for thousands of years, but shoes fitting either foot were sometimes in fashion.

I visited Missouri Western State University’s Walter Cronkite Memorial, a tribute to the famed news anchor born in St. Joseph in 1916. He ended his broadcasts with, “And that’s the way it was.”

My granddaughter Joey, an All-American first-team player, was on the NCAA DII National Championship team.

There are two of me because I’m beside myself with joy.

And that’s the way it was.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.