We left the motel pretty early; there was a lot we wanted to see today.first, the Coleman Theater, right there in Miami (pronounced “Ma-am-ah”) where we stayed for the night. I was photographing the exterior of this beautiful wedding-cake art deco building when a pleasant middle aged man invited us inside. Glen gave us a 45 minute detailed tour of the vaudeville theater, which has been completely restored in the past ten years by volunteers and with the help of 10 million donated dollars.several “miracles” have also played a role in the reconstruction: lost chandeliers turning up in Texas, patches of the ruined carpet found hidden under flooring- the magic goes on. We were treated to the sounds of a fantastic organ and a visit to the stars dressing room to stand in the footprints of Bob Hope, Buckwheat and Doris Day, among many others. This was the biggest, fanciest theater west of New York, built by a zinc and lead millionaire for his wife, who had grown weary of journeying by train to the big apple for a little entertainment.
Next stop: Joplin. Very sobering. The extent of the damage here compared too what we saw in North Carolina was astounding, jaw dropping. I photographed some of it, but felt exploitative, and kept the shooting to a minimum. One house was relatively intact (That is, standing) and had a large sign in the front yard asking for donations. I stopped to snap a photograph and a young man came out of the house and saluted me with his beer. I asked him if he was the owner and he answered yes, more or less, and we talked for a while about his trials. He had moved his mother north about twenty miles- she and the dogs were okay- and he stayed behind to fix the house. He told me that three months before the tornado his insurance company had tripled his rates and he let the insurance go. ” it was as if they had a crystal ball” he said. He said 5 contractors told him the house was salvageable, 5 others told him to raze the property. He laughed a bit as he said that if he did fix it up, he would have the whole neighborhood to himself. He said there had been so many trees around the house it had always stayed cool in the hot summers but now it was too hot to work with all the trees gone. He told me he had to drive 5 miles to collect water, but the state would give him 100 gallons for $1, so it was worth the drive. Hard to siphon, though, and the lack of pressure made it difficult to clean up. We talked a bit more, I wished him well. He said, “God bless you” as I climbed back into the car. Then began the guilt as I realized I could have handed him some cash, but I hadn’t. He had seemed so proud i didn’t want to insult him, but then there was that sign, and of course I should have helped out. I felt terrible.
Hours later we arrived at our destination in Stanford, Mo., Meramec Caverns. A charming roadside attraction, but so much more. The last of the privately owned caverns it contains unique formations, and a colorful history. This is where the James Gang hid out, and how they escaped the law, traveling by boat through the 16 + miles of river running through the chambers of the cave system. Our guide was funny and knowledgeable, working on his Phd in geology.
We stayed at the motel on the property, and it was a pleasant change from the highway stopovers we’ve grown accustomed to. We had our take out catfish dinners at a picnic table next to the river, listening to birdsongs rather than truck traffic.