All roads lead to the 5 and 50—most notably, Highways 5 and 50. And if you look at these two roads, you might indeed realize that the 5 and 50 could very easily be on your itinerary, if you don’t watch it.
Tipton's 5 and 50 Drive-In, named for its position at the intersection of the two highways, is one of those wonderful, unique little businesses you can find in small towns all over the place, but rarely on the interstates, dominated by boring chain restaurants and their mind-numbing sameness.
I said it’s unique, because it is, but it’s also like plenty of other little drive-ins that offer soft-serve ice cream creations, chili dogs, fried snacks, and sodas, sold from behind a sliding window in a little hut with a big sign on top. There are picnic tables, in case you don’t want to eat in your car.
And each of these places is different, and each is beloved by the surrounding community, as well as by tourist regulars, truckers, bikers, who have learned to stop there as they travel from point A to B.
Similar places: Zesto, the Pied Piper, Vargo’s (Norwalk, Ohio), and the sadly defunct Polar Freeze (Mesquite, Nevada).
The last time we were at the 5 and 50, the guy behind the window said that the business had been there for at least fifty years. (I suspect that some of my readers can tell me precisely how far back the 5 and 50 really goes.)
Here is one of the menu boards.
This is the real thing, folks. If you drive up to this restaurant in anything younger than a 1959 Ford Galaxie 500, you will feel like a visitor from the future, a spaceman.
Now I’m going to support my sweeping generalization at the top of this post: All roads lead to the 5 and 50!
Missouri Route 5 traverses the entire state, north to south. It’s the only Missouri state highway to extend all the way across the state, as a matter of fact. Highway 5 extends into three states. Across the border in Iowa, it turns into Iowa Highway 5 and leads clear to Des Moines!
In Missouri, it connects such important places as Marceline (boyhood home of Walt Disney), historic Boonville, the Lake of the Ozarks (Missouri’s own vacationland), Camdenton (home of Bridal Cave), Lebanon (the Aluminum Fishing Boat Capital of the World), and Mansfield (where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived for about sixty years; she wrote “some books” there).
South of Missouri, the highway enters Arkansas, where it becomes Arkansas Highway 5 and leads to the charming Ozark city of Mountain Home (Bluegrass Central—you really have to go there), then down to Calico Rock (perched prettily on the White River), through part of the Ozark National Forest, through Mountain View (which is different from Mountain Home) and Heber Springs, Rosebud, and Romance, clear to the north fringes of the Little Rock metro area.
Des Moines to Little Rock: So it should go without saying that Iowa/Missouri/Arkansas 5 connects with scads of U.S. Highways, as well as some major Interstates (40, 44, 70, and 35).
Okay, then the other line of the “plus sign” centered in Tipton, U.S. 50, stretches more than three thousand miles from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California; before they replaced its westernmost stretch with new concrete spaghetti, it used to stretch clear to San Francisco. It goes through twelve states—clear across the continent.
And when you consider that Missouri is, ohhh, roughly centered in the lower 48, you can see that, given the extent of the two highways aiming right at Tipton, it wouldn’t take too many turns to get to a road that will intersect Route 5 or Highway 50, and from there, you got it: It’s a straight shot to the 5 and 50.
The 5 and 50 is closer than you think.