Couple’s Weekend in Joplin

My husband Travis’ birthday is in January. This year, it fell on a Thursday, a day when our schedule forced us to divide and conquer, driving one child to dance class and picking up another from basketball practice.


Not the most fun way to spend a birthday, but Travis didn’t complain. He’s such a trooper.


Did I mention that I’m his number one fan?


couple's fun


Miraculously, the weekend following his birthday we had no obligations with the kids. I don’t know how this happened, but from the moment I realized it, the wheels in my head started to spin. We had an entire weekend of free time, and I wanted to plan special activities that I thought Travis would like, things that he normally doesn’t get to do in a household of all females.


You know, guy things.


I came up with a jam-packed itinerary, and thanks to offers from the grandparents to watch the kids for us, we were ready to kick off Travis’ Epic Birthday Weekend.




Sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures greeted us on this January morning. “Nice day,” Travis commented, looking longingly out the window of our home office.


I grabbed his shoes and placed them at his feet. “Put these on. We’ve got a tee-off time in 20 minutes,” I said.


He raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He looked at his computer screen, then out the window. Then he clicked the keyboard feverishly as he typed a message to his business partner, reached for his shoes and said, “Let’s go!”


All epic birthday weekends start off with playing hooky from work on Friday, right?


This one started off at Schifferdecker Golf Course. “It feels great to be outside,” said Travis, placing this ball on his tee. “Golfing was a great idea.”


“Aw, thanks,” I said. Then he swung his driver, whacking the ball and sending it straight down the fairway.


“Your turn,” he said, gesturing for me to tee off. I lined up my driver, took a deep breath, then swung. But the only thing that went flying through the air was a piece of turf. “I guess I’m a bit rusty,” I said tamping down the grass to fix the divot that I’d made in the ground.



Over the next couple of hours, my game didn’t improve, and on the eighth hole, Travis said, “Why don’t we stop after the next hole? I’m not feeling up to doing all 18 today.” 


I sighed in relief, grateful to him for granting me mercy.


We packed up our clubs and headed downtown for lunch at Instant Karma. Known for its gourmet hot dogs, inventive burgers, and wide selection of local and craft beers, this eclectic restaurant is a favorite lunch spot of ours. I ordered the vegetarian Bio Diesel, a meatless hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw and Sriracha sauce.


instant karma bio

Travis polished off his Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as a bun. “I’m ready for my nap now,” he said.


instant karma donut burger


“Let’s go home and rest up,” I told him. “You’ll need your ninja reflexes for laser tag this afternoon.”


A few hours later, we were refreshed and ready to do battle at Lazer Force. Placed on opposing teams, we mentally prepared for our game of indoor hide and seek with laser guns.




The last time we’d played here, I scored over a hundred points more than Travis. Today, he beat me by 300 points. But that’s okay because he’s the birthday boy.


We emerged from the laser tag darkness and into the still-mild winter afternoon. “Let’s not let this gorgeous afternoon go to waste,” I said. “Let’s go to Tropicana.”




Tropicana is a two-story bar and grill with outdoor seating and over 20 beers on tap. We sat on the patio and drank our beer until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the air grew chilly.


We found a table inside near the warm fire and placed our dinner order: Fish tacos for Travis and the Buddha Gouda Burger (with Tropicana’s signature sauce) for me.




While we waited for our food to arrive, we watched as a local band warmed up for a show. Tropicana often has live music on the weekends, and tonight happened to be one of those times.


It was great timing for us: dinner and entertainment. Today’s schedule had worked out well.


When the server brought us fresh drinks, I raised my glass. “Happy birthday, Travis.”




With nowhere to be Saturday morning, we slept in. When we finally got up and dressed for the day, I told Travis that I needed to go to the mall to return a shirt.


Travis groaned. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun weekend.”


“It will be. I promise.”


I knew we’d be eating out the rest of the day so I got two breakfast bars out of the pantry for us to snack on during our drive to Northpark Mall. After we got out of the car at the mall, Travis looked at my empty hands and asked, “Where’s the shirt you need to return?”


“About that…” I began. By that time, we had made it to the entrance of Tilt Studio.


Then it hit him.


“You don’t have anything to return, do you?” he asked. “You just brought me here to challenge me at air hockey, didn’t you?” he asked.


I grinned sheepishly. “Come on!” I said, pulling on his arm. “It’ll be fun!”


He rolled his eyes. “You just can’t stand the fact that I beat you last time, can you?”


I hated to admit it, but the man was right.


tilt travis air hockey


We played two games of air hockey, each of us winning one.


Then came the tiebreaker.


Guess what?


I won.


And everything was right in the world again.


To prove that there were no hard feelings, I took Travis downtown to one of his favorite restaurants: Hackett’s Hot Wings.


hacketts wings


While I don’t care for chicken wings, I do love Hackett’s homemade sauce, so I ordered a salad with sauce-covered grilled chicken breast on top. It was like eating a boneless version of Hackett’s well-known wings.


Afterward, we wanted to get outdoors and enjoy yet another mild January day, so we drove a few blocks to the trailhead for the Frisco Trail to take a hike.


“Hey, let’s see if we can find a cache on the trail,” I suggested. Sometimes Travis and I like to combine our hikes with geocaching, which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find caches. There were several located on the Frisco Trail, and we ended up finding one close to the trail head.


Worn out from our day of play, we went home to rest for a few hours (this involved some Netflix binge watching, of course). Then we freshened up for our night out with friends.


We met two couples for dinner at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, a cozy place to chill out with friends. Blackthorn offers a variety of beer on tap, and each of us ordered something different.


blackthorn beer on tap

And what tastes great with beer? Pizza. We ordered The Iconica, which was topped with blackened chicken, Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, and jalapenos. It was mildly spicy and very tasty.


blackthorn pizza

After an hour, I said, “Let’s head over to JB’s to get some good seats for the show.” We settled our bill, then walked a couple of blocks to JB’s Downtown Joplin to watch the dueling piano show.


The room was already crowded with people enjoying their pre-show drinks and conversation, but we were able to claim a table off to the side, which gave us a good view of both the pianos.



Billy Joel’s crowd-pleasing “Piano Man” kicked off the show, with people joining in the chorus.


It was going to be a fun night.


A few songs into the show, I walked up to one of the piano players and requested a song.


“What did you request?” asked Travis when I came back to the table.


“You’ll see,” I said.


A few minutes later, one of the piano players leaned toward his microphone and asked, “Where’s Travis Smith?”


“Right here,” I said, pointing to my blindsighted husband.


“This song’s for you, man” said the piano player.


The familiar melody of the song “Happy Birthday” filled the room. I sang along, loud and proud, while Travis turned red and gave me the evil eye.


But secretly I knew he enjoyed the attention. At least, I hoped he did.




After the late night out with our friends, we were moving rather slowly on Sunday morning. The rhythmic pounding of the rain on the roof didn’t exactly help motivate us get up, either. But once the grumbling from our stomachs started, we were dressed and out the door within ten minutes.


“The last meal of your birthday weekend,” I said wistfully, as we pulled up to the tiny brick building which houses The Bruncheonette. I had to admit that this weekend’s break from cooking was just as much a gift for me as eating out at his favorite restaurants was for Travis.


And eating at The Bruncheonette is always a treat. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, this restaurant combines locally sourced ingredients in wildly inventive ways. Today, both Travis and I ordered different variations of Eggs Benedict. Travis had the Cuban B, with tender pulled pork, ham, and gruyere, and I ordered the Garden Benny, topped with fresh asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, local micro greens beet Hollandaise.



holiday ex brunch

As I swirled the last bite of my poached egg in the creamy sauce, I looked out the window and saw people dashing from their cars to the door of The Bruncheonette with their coats over their heads, protecting themselves from the sudden torrential downpour. “We’ll have to take a raincheck on paintball today,” I said. Playing paintball had been our last activity in our birthday weekend schedule.


Travis pushed away his empty plate and leaned back in his chair. “That’s no big deal. I already had a great weekend,” he said.


“There’s just one bad thing about it though,” he added.


My heart dropped. “What?”


“I’m going to expect this much fun every birthday from now on,” he said playfully.


“Done,” I promised.



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JBs Dueling Pianos

After a week of basking in unseasonably warm fall temperatures that enabled my hibiscus plants to continue blooming through November, I was jolted out of my capris-wearing phase and forced to start dressing in layers when a brisk – and unwelcome – cold front blew into town.


The shock to my system made me want to don my fuzzy socks, envelop myself in a fluffy down comforter, and watch Netflix in bed.


I wanted to hibernate.


However, I’d already committed to going out. My husband Travis and had made plans with friends to go listen to live music, so I reluctantly grabbed my winter coat and out the door we went.


We were going to meet another couple at JBs Downtown for Dueling Piano Night, which had just recently returned to the venue after being on hiatus for a few years. JBs is a hot spot in Joplin for live music, featuring bands, musicians, and even karaoke, every week.


Travis and I found a table and settled in for the show. I kept my coat on, fantasizing that it was my down comforter, keeping me warm and snug.


There was no sign of the other couple we were supposed to meet, so Travis and I went ahead and placed our drink order with our server.



The piano players began warming up for the show.


Still no sign of our friends.


Then, just before the show was about to begin, my phone lit up with a text message notification: We won’t be able to make it tonight. So sorry!


Now, not only was I cold, but I was disappointed, too. I was looking forward to spending time with our friends, which is a rare thing these days, and now it wasn’t going to happen.


At that moment, I wasn’t the most content person at JBs. I felt a bit sorry for the piano players because I was a pretty tough customer; it was going to take something monumentally entertaining to shake me out of my somber mood.


Godspeed, piano men. Let the show begin.



I watched as the tables in the room filled up with people talking and laughing, ready to have a good time. Most of them were about half my age, but I spotted a few others representing other decades, too.


The show opened with the gregarious Mike Manson playing the piano on the right, and the hipster BJ Huffman playing the piano on the left, and Ron Savage joining them on drums in the center of the stage.



Their fingers danced across the ivories, pushing the lively music through the keys and out into the room, where it touched the audience members with its upbeat energy.


Okay, piano men. You have my attention.


Requests started pouring in, with audience members dropping slips of paper into glasses positioned on either piano.


Mike and BJ took turns playing the requests, which included songs that represented different decades, like Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” from the ‘80s, Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” from the ‘90s, and John Legend’s “All of Me”, a current hit.



Then the notes to a ‘70s classic filled the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a subtle movement. Was that my boot-clad foot actually tapping along to the beat?


Sweet Caroline,

Good times never felt so good


“So good, so good, so good!” 


That was me, my voice joining others in the crowd responding to Neil Diamond’s famous chorus lyrics.


I’d been infected by the music.


I was having fun.


My coat was off. My phone was tucked into my purse so that I wouldn’t have to read another apologetic text from my absent friend.


My mind was right there in the room at JBs, focusing on the moment and allowing myself to feel the excitement and joy of hearing live music.



“YMCA” was a crowd favorite that night.


Then Mike read the next request, scratched his head, then declared, “Whether we know it or don’t know it, we’ll try it.” With that, he picked up his phone and searched for the lyrics of the requested song: Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman.”


He then proceeded to play his heart out while reading the lyrics, doing a great job of performing a song that was unfamiliar to him.


The audience also got a kick out of hearing him sing, “Man, I feel like a woman.”


I’d started the night cold and disappointed and in a foul mood, but experiencing the palpable energy of live music cleared my head and allowed room for something more joyous.


So now I’ll let my gal Shania sum up the rest of my night at JBs:


The best thing about being a woman

Is the prerogative to have a little fun.

Well done, piano men!



JBs Downtown is located at 112 South Main Street. Click here to visit its website.


Check out these other Joplin venues where you can hear live music: Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, Turtleheads Raw Bar, and Tropicana Bar & Grill.


To read more about my adventures in the area, visit

Route 66

Thousands of tourists travel historic Route 66 through Joplin each year.


Are you one of them?


I wasn’t.


Sure, over the years I’d utilized Route 66 at some point nearly every single day as I’d take my kids to activities and run errands, occasionally noticing the historic road’s signage when stopped at a red light (which, by the way, seemed to be posted on multiple roads and therefore perplexed me – more about that in a minute).


But I’d never really explored Joplin’s portion of the Mother Road through the unadulterated eyes of a tourist, who travels the highway in order to experience an important part of America’s history.


Me? I’d been using Route 66 as an efficient way to get across town to Target. I finally realized that it was time to rectify that, so I decided to travel Route 66 through Joplin like a tourist.



Three Alignments


Remember how I mentioned that I saw Route 66 signage on multiple streets and how that confused me? I did some research and learned that Route 66 was realigned twice after the original construction of the road (click here for more about the history of Route 66 in Joplin).


Here’s a brief summary of the three alignments, coming from Webb City’s Broadway Street and heading west toward Joplin (you can see a map of this by clicking here):


1926: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to Zora to Florida to Utica to Euclid to St. Louis to Broadway (Joplin) to Main to 7th. This is the portion of the Route that I only recently discovered, and it winds through the Royal Heights neighborhood to Broadway Street (which used to be Main Street when Joplin was known as Joplin City a loooooong time ago).


1937: Broadway (Webb City) to 171 to North Main Street to 7th.


1958: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to 7th.


Attractions Along – and Slightly Off – the Route


There are some attractions located a block or two off the Route that I think are important to point out.


Joe Becker Stadium (1301 East 3rd Street)

Built in 1913, Joe Becker Stadium is two blocks south of Broadway (Route 66), and was once home to baseball great Mickey Mantle when he played for the Joplin Miners in 1950.


George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (222 W. Third Street)

With national and regional exhibits, art classes and workshops, and a gift shop with one-of-a-kind items, this center is abuzz with creativity and talent.


And there’s a bonus: admission is free! Go see for yourself why Spiva Center for the Arts is the visual arts hub of the Four States.


Joplin City Hall (Newman Building, 602 South Main Street)

I think this is one of the prettiest buildings in Joplin, and I wonder what it must have been like to shop here over a century ago when it was a high-rise department store. Today, the building houses Joplin’s municipal offices, as well as its Convention and Visitors Bureau, which serves as a great resource for tourists (and residents) who are looking for things to do in the city and surrounding area.


As a Mother Road traveler, be sure to stop in the lobby of the Newman Building to look at the incredible painting “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” by world-renowned artist Thomas Hart Benton, which offers a snapshot of life in Joplin during the height of the Mother Road era.


Route 66 Mural Park (619 South Main Street)

Located across the street from City Hall, this park pays tribute to Joplin’s contribution to the Route 66 culture. With two murals plus an oversized 45 record imprint of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” this park provides an ideal backdrop for photos of Route 66 sojourners.



Other murals painted on buildings downtown capture bits and pieces of the history and character of our city. If you’re up for it, take a walking tour to get to know Joplin through its public art.



Restaurants on the Route


Soul food, gyros, pasta, veggie dogs, and doughnut burgers – did you know that you can try all of these on the Route in downtown Joplin?


You can! Maybe not all of them on one day, though…


If you have a hankering for some made-from-scratch food that comforts your soul, visit MEs Place (1203 Broadway), owned by former Joplin Mayor Melodee Kean.



If you’re craving Greek food, stop at M & M Bistro (407 South Main Street), which serves fresh, flavorful Mediterranean delights, like gyros and hummus.


For some great local pizza (the Buffalo Chicken is my favorite), try JBs Downtown. (112 South Main Street).


If wings are your thing, definitely try some of Missouri’s best at Hackett Hot Wings (520 South Main Street), where you can choose from 13 signature flavors.



Both vegetarians and carnivores alike achieve sweet bliss after eating at Instant Karma (527 South Main). Here, you can order inventive dishes like the Bio Diesel (a veggie dog served with homemade bleu cheese coleslaw) or the Heavenly Donut (a hamburger served with a glazed doughnut as the bun). Round out your meal with one of the many craft beers on the menu.


Need some something sweet after your meal? Try a scoop of Bear Claw or Red Velvet Cake ice cream from Sweet Caroline’s(1027 South Main). Located three blocks off the Route in the historic Gryphon Building, this old-fashioned ice cream shop is worth the slight detour.



Last Stop Before Kansas!

Schifferdecker Park (7th and Schifferdecker)

Named after Joplin businessman and philanthropist Charles Schifferdecker, this park is the last stop on historic Route 66 before the Kansas state line. In addition to being a wonderful place to have a picnic or to let the kids run around on the playground, there are several other activities that you can do here that you just might not know about.



For instance, you can float on a lazy river at the Joplin Aquatic Center, play 18 holes of golf at Schifferdecker Golf Course, catch a performance at Joplin Little Theatre (the longest continuously running community theatre west of the Mississippi), and see a necklace found in Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout at the Joplin Museum Complex (where you’ll also learn that Schifferdecker Park was once called Electric Park and had a huge roller coaster in it!).


So, my Joplin friends, how many of these places have you been to? If you’ve visited them all, then I applaud you.


If not, here’s your challenge: For one day, be a tourist.


Start at North Range Line Road and trace historic Route 66 solely for the purpose of pleasure and discovery, rather than as a means of getting from point A to point B.


You might even play “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” to get you in an adventurous mood.


If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.


To read more about my adventures in the area, visit