No Soda for You!
The heart of a roadie quickens when stimulated by the spark of unfamiliar neon in the distance. Such was the case when we cruised into Baxter Springs, Kansas, as dusk settled in this past Thursday.
We'd seen this new sign - a Route 66 shield above "SODA FOUNTAIN" - at 1126 Military Avenue, on the main drag through "Baxter." Granted, a neon "Route 66" is a virtual guarantee that the place advertised isn't vintage, but even a retro soda fountain can be cool if done right (no excessive Elvi, please). I was salivating anyway; maybe I'm a bit Pavlovian as when I last saw an unfamiliar sign in this region of Route 66, I got a cool tour.
A peek through the window reveals a very nice looking soda fountain - glass brick, if I'm not mistaken - within an otherwise spartan setting, save for the appropriately chequered theme.
On viewing the booths across the rather large room from the fountain, I began to notice something odd. All of the customers were very young and there were identical - and really nice - computer monitors in most of the booths.
Not a Public Facility
That's when I saw the plaque outside:
Bill Abernathy Memorial Lifetime Learning Center
Not a Public Facility
This Route 66 soda fountain is devoted to the enrichment and lifetime learning of the citizens of all ages in Cherokee County Kansas.
September 2007? I was surprised I'd not heard of this. I hadn't been to Baxter Springs since attending a Route 66 parade through it in June of last year. I had heard rumors of a soda fountain in Baxter Springs, but no accounts that it wasn't pubic.
As I was looking at the plaque an older couple blew past me excitedly and headed for the door. They were quite disappointed when they saw another "not a public facility" sign on the door. The man explained that they'd dined at the nearby Cafe on the Route (where we were headed, too) and were looking forward to an after-dinner malt.
Another plaque displayed scripture.
When I reached home, I did a little research and the only substantive thing I found was this Joplin Globe article by Roger McKinney, dated October 12 of 2007.
McKinney mentions the remodeled 1923 building contains a 1940 soda fountain. "1940 soda fountain" may refer to only the mechanical parts; I think the glass bricks are modern.
The article goes on to state that the learning center features wireless Internet and serves middle-school and high-school students in the Baxter Springs, Riverton and Galena school districts. There's no mention of the "citizens of all ages" on the plaque. I phoned the center on Friday and left a couple questions on an answering machine. I'll post if they respond.
I do think the student learning center looks like a great idea, and while I love the sign, it does feel a bit deceptive from the perspective of a tourist exploring the town's main drag. I wonder how they'll deal with the flow of people touring Route 66 this summer, most of whom aren't going to notice the plaque from the street and will be lured as I was, like moths to a neon flame.
So, do you think "student of life" counts?