Gospel Blues in Oklahoma
Traveling is like a pot of boiling water. If you sit and watch it, waiting for it to boil, it’ll never happen. As far as I’m concerned, expectations, maps, and internet ratings are all just a lot of watching. But not this glorious morning! We’ve, as they say, hit a groove.
“There’ll be peace in the valley for Lee”
I’m looking out on the day and seeing its worth. Trees bunched together like broccoli florets blanket the rolling hills. A breeze acts as their choreographer as she sways them in gentle unison. Lee tells me about something he heard on NPR that he can’t quite remember in full detail. Further, a cup of coffee at the complimentary breakfast does what a cup of coffee at a complimentary breakfast does to me – uneasy stomach, bad breath, slight jitters, yeah, I see why people drink this stuff.
A local radio station broadcasts its weekly ‘Morning Gospel Blues‘ in honor of the lord’s day. And my Lord what a lovely day it is. If I were a bird, I’d locate myself in the countryside of Missouri – you’d be surprised how often I start a sentence with, “If I were a bird.” The DJ, in all his southern, colloquial charm, informs us of the good news, “Jesus loves us, and Elvis is coming up next.” In the playlist that is, not divine resurrection.
I close my eyes and image myself a Missourian. Fresh out of Sunday service, I set my humble chair next to a shaded creek. ‘Morning Gospel Blues’ plays softly on the wireless FM radio my wife Becky got for two dollars at the Church yard-sale. A working man in my prime, I drink the well-deserved day of rest up like a cold pint of Rochefort Trappistes. Gabel, my ancient golden lab, sits in the grass next to my leg, occasionally letting out a halfhearted woof just to remind me he’s a dog. I have to stop myself here, being a cat-guy and all, but it’s a pleasant daydream nonetheless.
Route 66 – Rust Looks Good out Here
A few unpaid tolls down the line, we take a detour to the Oklahoma leg of Route 66. It’s nice to take a break from the insipid interstate. After all, we chose this route to see America as it was, just as much as we chose it to find out what it is. This particular part of rural-America is heavenly. England may have their stone castles, but we have the rusty remains of an old motorcycle museum, nestled between the skeletons of what were once productive farms now scabbed with tired red paint. I bet it looks as good in the rain as it does in the sunshine.
I’ve never been interested in motorcycles, but the museum is fascinating. The scattered parts, hogs, and oil signs are arranged in a way that can only be described as chaotic. I find irony in seeing Lee walk through row after row of motors while wearing a shirt with a bicycle on it. I can only imagine what the vested, somewhat smelly looking man at the gift counter thinks of us.
You learn quickly that these destinations on Route 66 are free to explore. The sentiment seems to be,
“Shit, we’re just happy someone stopped by.”
Like everyone else between the age of thirteen and forty, I’m a photographer. Okay, not really, but with a good camera I sure can fake it. As I wander the surrounding area of the museum, I find a rusty, unusable cooler amongst the overgrown grass of the back-lot. There’s something compelling about a pile of junk. It just sits there, as it seemingly has forever, while the rest of the country moves fast towards an unpredictable future. To my surprise, it’s not worthless – a frenzy of hornets has made it their home. It’s reassuring seeing something so material gradually become part of the organic world. After snapping the cooler, I find eight colorful gas-tanks arranged in rows of four. Is it art? I’m not sure, but I like it.
– A young girl patiently sells watermelon on the side of the road. This is, from my understanding, a low traffic route, and I assume she just ends up eating all the watermelon herself.
– I’ve had a change of heart for motorcyclists. The ones out here seem so much more genuine, as opposed to those assholes in Indianapolis. For example, an older rider with a long beard like white smoke pulls alongside us. As soon as I can think, “how does that thing not fly up in his face?” the beard lifts up in a gust of wind and covers his eyes. He rides on as if nothing were happening. This is terrifying, as he is going about 60 MPH down a curved road.
– Our final stop before returning to the interstate is the Arcadia Round Barn. It’s red, round, and adjacent to a pathetic strip of four stores, including what I believe to be either a gentleman’s club or an arcade. As a consequence of its location, neither makes any sense. I don’t know what would be harder to find – more than one female willing to drop her knickers, or a passerby with enough time to spare for a round of Space Invaders. As for the Round Barn itself, its exterior is the real draw. Like most of these destinations, the Barn sells an eclectic mix of cheap Route 66 memorabilia and homemade oddities.
For instance, I find a framed cartoon of a fisherman who has just caught his own pair of underwear. The comic reads, “Damn dog!” I nearly blackout in confusion as I try and make sense of what this means. By chance, my eyes meet with that of the scruffy vendor’s. It quickly becomes apparent he is the artist and has been watching me for a reaction. He seems unstable, so I give it a few uncomfortable laughs and quickly exit the barn. (I was much too scared to snap a picture of this cartoon)
– Lee’s nose has become red and swollen. In addition to looking like W.C. Fields, he’s in considerable pain. He claims it’s either allergies or a reaction from working on a particularity old building in Detroit. I’m no doctor, but he hasn’t had ice cream in more than 24 hours. A coincidence?
– Oklahoma City is just okay.
Stay tuned to find out why I consider Amarillo the asshole of America.
Loved this very descriptive article Jay……you’ve come a long way from Maple Street!!