Taking a page from the 80s and the introduction of just-in-time manufacturing, I often apply this principle to travel. That’s really another way of saying I am not as diligent about mapping out or paying attention to every detail of travel as I should. The plus side to this is it sometimes leads to unexpected adventures and discoveries. Fortunately, there always seems to be a guardian angel that swoops in to help me.
This week I received a bit of a geography lesson, as I found out that Columbia and Jefferson City, MO are about 30 miles apart. I also found out that Jefferson City is one of the few state capitols without its own airport or Interstate connection. I found this valuable bit of information after arriving on the final flight of the day at this rural, regional airport.
Having earlier struck up a brief conversation, it was probably obvious to the stranger who was educating me on the local geography that I didn’t have a clue about how I was going to execute my next step. After hesitating for a moment, I said yes to his offer to give me a ride to my hotel.
As I sat fumbling with my smartphone waiting for the search results to tell me the name of my hotel, I tried to explain that my destination was a hotel in Columbia. This was great news, as he had to take a detour through Columbia to pick up his golf clubs. His ultimate destination was Jefferson City. Given that this was the last flight of the night and there weren’t any taxis or shuttles around, I was glad to have a relatively fast way to get to my hotel.
The search result finally came up and he didn’t recognize my hotel as being in Columbia and, sure enough, upon closer examination, Jefferson City was my destination. As we walked to his car, the thought did go through my mind that this could end up like a bad horror movie on late-night TV.
Our first detour took us to his friend’s house, where we picked up his golf clubs. Whew, the friend was real and an affable sort. Although it was dark, I got a glimpse of houses in a development that, from a Silicon Valley native’s perspective, were an unbelievable value.
As we made the drive from Columbia to Jefferson City, I was told me of some of the interesting people who make the area their home or were from the area, such as Stan Kroenke – the owner of multiple sports franchises, including the St. Louis Rams – and San Francisco 49er Justin Smith, who built a golf course on his family farm. Regarding golf, this California felt a ping of envy when my driver explained that some of the courses could be played for as little as a dollar per hole.
Along the way, he explained that his first career was in city and state government, which made sense since he lived in Jefferson City. He was also a lobbyist for various business groups in his career but didn’t realize the challenges of small businesses until his final career move, which was as owner of the oldest continuous business in Jefferson City.
Situated on a bluff next to the Missouri River, the Missouri State Capitol building is one of the prettiest this author has seen. Fortunately, I had a tour guide who could provide the back story like few others. As it turns out he had been chief administrator for Missouri, so he had an incredible amount of knowledge. What he termed, a “nickel tour of Jefferson City,” was actually priceless.
He took me by the ornate governor’s mansion, which overlooks both the Missouri River and the capitol building. When I asked him about a sign I saw for a tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary, he immediately made a beeline for a look at this foreboding structure, which is quite a juxtaposition with the warden’s former mansion, which is across the street. We passed one building where he casually mentioned that his name was on the cornerstone, which he attributed to being in the right place at the right time.
The next day, I had some free time to wander around and take some photos of this clean and architecturally interesting town. And although I was on foot, I still made the 1.4-mile trek to my favorite health mex chain restaurant, so I got a pretty close-up view of this 40k+ population town and even two of its furrier critters.
I found myself reflecting as I often do when I make trips to the heartland that this could be somewhere nice to live. The reality is that it’s not the buildings or the geography that make places like Jefferson City special, it is the people, like my tour guide and new friend, John, who puts the heart in heartland.