Show Me Missouri Part 2: River Run in Steelville
In its yellow-brownish glory,the Meramec has the look of October leaves, as if they had fallen with the seasons and stained the water the colors of autumn. Lined with pebbles and mud, it flows easy for the city slickers who summer here. I used an oar only once that day when it was clear we were creeping too close to the bank. Mainly we drifted, not knowing when we’d get there, where ever “there” was, or how far we had left to travel.
Everyone packed personal coolers with little food and a lot of beer. 22 Red or blue Igloos lined the bottom of the rafts – room for sitting and relaxing was secondary to these coolers for the remainder of the 7 hour float down the Meramec River. Who ever booked the raft reservations had been smart enough to account for our tardy morning wake-up. By 11 a.m. we had all huddled onto a rusty school bus and took off through the winding hills to our launching destination.
Everyone enjoyed the river in their own way. Monica jumped off hovering tree limbs with the guys while the girls demanded they “get down from there.” She jumped anyways. Andrea scuttled from raft to raft, mingling like the unofficial hostess of the River. Marisa relaxed quietly in the sun and kept hydrated. I have never seen a beer touch her lips – she prefers wine that “tastes like apple juice” but such beverages are not compatible with the rugged style of rivers, rafts and woods, so she drank water. Devin kept his eye on Monica, making sure she was safe doing the tomboyish things she loves to do. I kicked my feet up on a cooler and kept a beer tied around my neck.
Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were there in spirit as we voyaged through the wilderness, eating nothing but Lunchables and ruffing it the only way we knew how – with waterproof mascara and bug spray. Up until this point, hours into our float, everything that had happened seemed natural and nice, with the sounds of the running water, the occasional fish flip, the path of pebbles lining the shallow flow of the river, the overgrown trees arching overhead.
But then there came along this random puppy.
No one knew who he belonged to or where he came from; he just appeared in the river happy to see people. His blond hair was fairly clean but he wore no tags and I could count his ribs. It was love at first sight for river hostess/dog lover Andrea.
She has impulsively adopted many in her day and this mutt of the Meramec was no exception – she named him Mac for short. In the raft, he ate three hot dogs in 20 seconds while shaking from hunger. For the rest of the trip, Mac sat near Andrea and scratched himself or begged for more hot dogs.
When we came to the end of our river run, we were starving and tired of supplementing beer for food. Hot dogs sounded unappetizing to me after watching Mac eat nearly a package of raw ones and Marisa hadn’t eaten a hot dog since she took the vow of vegetarianism years ago. So we went to scrounge for dinner with the locals of Steelville, along with Monica and Devin just for the hell of it.
Steelville, Mo. has two restaurant dining options for visitors: Don’s Cafe and the Feed Store Bar & Grill. Don’s looked like an abandoned hen house, so we The Feed Store Bar & Grillwent with the Feed Store, a quaint, everything country you could imagine, eatery off the main drag, across the street from fresh fudge and antique shops.
When we sat down, the only other guests there, an older couple, just stared at us for awhile – I think they were bored or curious. We ignored them and ordered. Monica started with the onion petals – basically just onion rings on steroids, followed by their version of grilled ham and cheese with Pepper Jack, Cheddar, American, Swiss, more onions and special sauce on Texas toast served with home-made chips.
Marisa ordered a salad, forgettable only because it followed her incredible appetizer selection of Spinach Artichoke dip – the hidden gem of Steelville, Mo. It arrived at our table in a bubbling crockpot and tasted better than any spin art dip I’ve ever had in any city. We asked her the secret and she just mumbled something about extra cream cheese, butter, sour cream and garlic. Devin could stomach their sloppy Pork Tenderloin Sandwich but looking at it was difficult enough for me let alone having to ingest it. I ordered their Chicken Strip Dinner on my original assumption that the Feed Store was a country culinary gamble. Marisa and Monica’s meals proved me dead wrong.
We paid the Feed Store waitress and rambled around Main Street on the prowl for dessert. The Mom and Pop shop across the way promising the best fudge this side of the Meramec was closed, but Bouse’s Ice Cream Food & More a little ways down the road was open for business. In what can only be described as clown car capabilities, the little shack offers incredible variety.
Yeah, Bouse’s has got ice cream. But what kind do you want? A Tin Roof, Dipstick, Float, Freeze or Frozen Candy Bar? A pint, a quart, a Sundae Isle, Shake, Malt, Cone or Parfait? A slice of pie or the whole damn thing?! And why stop at desserts when you can pick up a few tacos, country steak, pizza pockets, ribeye, cheeseballs, curly fries, tator tots, jalapeno poppers and other curious items they call “jojos,” “muncers,” “tendee” and “open face beef.” I think the locals know what all of that means.
We met Joyce at the window and expressed our amazement. How did she do it – aCousin Monica and Joyce single woman working in a closet selling a country buffet through a window the size of a doggy door? She made it look so easy.
When we returned to camp, everyone was either asleep or staring at the fire. We were burnt out and any energy saved from the day before was now miles down current where we had left our rafts afloat. It was dark and dirty everywhere but around the fire, where I nearly fell asleep in my blue canvas chair warming my feet. The next day, driver Marisa, cousin Monica, beau Devin and I would reunite and trek home. We were through with river life and it was time to hit the road.
To be continued…