#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 5

(Click here for Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)

It’s getting dark in western Missouri, and I’m hitting The Googs to check out the place Brent thinks we should stop for dinner. We are headed toward a giant ball of string, and, feeling very Griswold, we’re singing “Holiday Road” in the car. Google tells me the pub is no ordinary pub—it’s got three levels, and they’re all underground. Seriously?!? I tell Brent to “Punch it, Chewie,” and he insists he’s not Chewie; he’s the Captain. I roll my eyes. Yeah, Captain my—Assuming that we continue this pace, we’ll arrive before closing time, but only just.

The sun is setting over Weston, Missouri as we arrive in the river town, and it isn’t just the coppery sunlight that makes this town beautiful. Picturesque storefronts greet us and most of the town has been designated as a historical district. We find our way easily to the Weston Brewing Company and food takes precedence over the string ball, which is around here somewhere.

Inside, we settle in to eat by lamplight but soon the noise of the neighboring party is too much for introverted Brent, so we ask if we can move outside onto the patio. It’s a quiet Missouri summer night and we’re happy to be in the fresh air—so far. We decide we’re close enough to the border to get a hotel in Kansas. Brent books someplace from his phone—yes, it’s 9 p.m. and we’re only now booking a place to stay for the night. And we can, because life is good like that. Kansas it is. In the meantime, Brent goes wandering around the grounds looking for the string ball, and he’s gone long enough that I know he found it and can’t drag himself away. I find him and the giant ball on the back of the patio, under the roof, but with no lighting there.

America UndergroundIn the dark, we find out that this was once the world’s largest ball of string, collected by one man, Weston’s own Finley Stephens, and that it weighs 3,000 pounds. Brent and I take turns pretending we’re Atlas, which puts us up close and personal with this ball, and I can tell you that the string is soft to the touch.

We take pictures and giggle like little kids and eventually get back to our table in time to eat. The food is exceptional—but we’re attracting attention. Not from people, mind you, because the locals don’t seem to mind us or our antics at all. No, we have a line of ants marching toward my plate but I don’t pay them much attention because my legs are under attack by mosquitos. These aren’t just any mosquitos—they’re invisible beasts whose poison feels like fire injections. Now we know why most patrons are sitting inside.

America UndergroundI scratch and scratch and finish my last few bites as fast as I can, trying to cover my legs with my napkin and eyeing the gold-lighted doorway of O’Malley’s pub next door as my salvation. We pay the check and I sprint toward that door yelling, “Run for it!” to Brent. Inside, we shut the door tight behind us and look around. We seem to be in a waiting room of sorts. I think, “Salvation has a waiting room?” but have no time to ponder it because Brent finds a staircase. The only way to go is down, and yes, that’s ominous, so down we go.

America UndergroundAt the bottom of the stairs, we find dark pathway to the left that is roped off, and a tunnel to the right. We take the tunnel and find it opens into an amazing cellar bar room with vaulted ceiling and Irish placards haphazardly placed on circular walls. In a small hallway area to the back of the room is the bar. We get pints of beer that were made on the premises, and chat with the bartenders–two girls who are about to embark on a vacation together the next day. They’re excited and chatty, and let it slip that there are two more pub levels below where we’re standing that are closed tonight. We’re so far underground already that it doesn’t seem possible that there are two levels further down.

“Can we see them?” I blurt out without thinking to be polite.

“Sure!” they tell us, and Brent and I just look wide-eyed at each other.

America UndergroundWe are led back out through the tunnel and through the dark passage that was roped off. We head down a dark slope in a room where oak tanks used to be stored, according to our guide. We enter a second, smaller bar area, and keep going until it opens up to a giant cellar. We are standing at the cellar’s ceiling, looking down on a narrow stage to our right and plenty of wooden seating to the left. The bartender explains that this is one of the very first lager breweries in the U.S., that these cellars were dug by a German brewer in the 1800’s to store the lager, using ice from the river to keep the temperature down. I’m so astonished by the simple grandeur of the place that I don’t hear the connection between the Weston Brewing Company and the Irish O’Malley’s, but this pub is a true find.America Underground

Back in the upper bar, I continue scratching my legs and the bartenders tell me they heard a trick using gin. They give me a gin-soaked napkin and tell me to rub that on my legs. I’m in desperate shape; I do it, and it provides a good bit of relief. “We need to make sure we are stocked up on gin,” I tell Brent as the girls explain that the mosquitos in Missouri are unrealistically bad and always have been.

“In the summer, we run from our cars to the buildings. No one walks if you’re wearing shorts,” we’re told.

The girls ask where we’re headed and we tell them ultimately Colorado, via Kansas. They’ve driven it many times and tell us, “For two-thirds of the way, all you see is fields.”

“What happens after that?” I ask.

“Then you’ll start to see some cows.”

Brent and I laugh. We’re not worried about this. We’ll find a way to make it fascinating, because you never know when you’re going to stumble into salvation, only to find lore, history, relief, and a damn good pint. We’ll find what Kansas needs us to find.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.