Archive for October, 2012

Oklahoma City — oh no, oh my, oh wow

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

 October 1, 2012 — Monday

Oh no, no.   We  started the  day at the moving Oklahoma City Memorial.  It’s sad that this memorial was created to honor 168 victims in the 4/19/1995 bombing, but the memorial does them beautiful justice.  Picture a long reflecting pool; across the pool sit 168 glass and metal chairs on grass, one for each victim, and the chairs are placed in the same footprint as the destroyed building.  It’s a bit after 9am and  several city workers are using blowers and rakes to remove autumn leaves and pine needles.  One by one, they make the area around each chair pristine, perfect, a simple act of honor that speaks volumes about the memorial, the city and its people.  On a nearby hill stands the Survivor Tree, an American elm dating to the 1920’s which miraculously survived even after surrounded by bombed, burning vehicles.  At the tree, a plaque reads: “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”  The facing wall of a damaged but still intact office building has this message painted in blue:

Team 5     4/19/95

We search for the truth.

We seek justice.

The courts require it

The victims cry for it.

And God demands it!

Oh my!  The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory was just the thing after the Memorial.  Part of the 17-acre Myriad Botanical Gardens in the heart of downtown, the exotic conservatory is seven stories of lush palms, orchids, cacti, bromeliads, anthuriums and exotic plants from all over the world under luminous white plexiglass .  Waterfalls and pocket fountains, every nook and cranny bloomed with beauty.  A skywalk lets you look over it, while a winding walkway with various levels lets you see each and every nook up close.  Outside, there is a boulder Stonehenge meditation garden, herb garden, grasses garden, lake full of ducks, children’s playground with two elementary classes sitting like Indians and eating packed lunches, a picnic area and walking/biking/running trails.  A jogger sped by us, checking his watch, probably a businessman from one of the nearby office towers taking a healthy lunch run.  O.C.’s downtown is really nice.

We passed the state capitol building with its shining dome.  We found the unique Red Earth Museum & Gallery in a plaza, marked with three life-sized buffalo, created by artists in the 1990’s Buffalo Project that appeared all over the city.  I have been reading about Red Earth’s exhibitions for several years and really wanted to see its collection.  The place is small but holds the best of the best of Native American artists, with rotating exhibits and outstanding examples of America’s late and contemporary Native artists.   The gallery manager told us not to miss a quick look at the lobby of the recently restored Skirvin Hotel Hilton, another downtown jewel.  His quick lunch suggestion was also on the money, the O.C. Deli-Pastaria with its delicious homemade pastas amid two packed rooms of business lunchers.

Oh wow!  The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is impressive from the moment you drive up, moreso as you walk into a three-story rotunda with light spilling over a white sculpture, “The End of the Trail”, a cowboy and horse by Earle Fraser.  It’s a massive museum, so we concentrated on its sterling Native and Cowboy art rooms, especially its unmatched holdings of Remington and Russell bronzes and paintings.  Our favorite was the old-style movie theatre tracing the Western movie from black & white silents, to black & white with sound, to color, to TechniColor, to TV.  The old greats were all there: Tom Mix, Roy & Dale Rogers, Gene Autry, Lone Ranger with Tonto, John Wayne “the duke”, Palladin, Rifleman, Bonanza, on and on in screen glory.    An adjacent gallery featured posters, costumes and memorabilia of each Western star, the largest on the legendary director John Ford.  For a movie-holic like me, it was heaven; even non-movie Steve enjoyed every bit.

Adios O.C. and all its wonderful offerings.  Hello interstate highway and some fast driving to get to Hydro’s lonely but still-standing Lucille’s on 66, a gas station and tourist court run by Lucille Hamons and her husband since 1941.  Lucille passed on in 2000 and is considered Mother of the Mother Road.  Close by is Weatherford with a modern restaurant honoring her, Lucille’s Roadhouse.  We had a great diner supper here surrounded by locals and truckers enjoying the homestyle food and spent the night in Clinton’s not-so-hot Ramada Inn, vowing never to use hotels.com again.

A Really Great Day on Oklahoma 66

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

September 30, 2012 — Sunday

A sunny Sunday as we left the excellent Best Western Plus Suites-Tulsa Central where picky me found nothing to complain about.  The accommodations and staff were tiptop, especially Faith, formerly from a small town near Bombay, India.  And let’s not forget Betty the Mon-Fri breakfast lady, a hardworking Okie lady proud of her work and city, who called us ‘sugar’.  In the parking lot we met four delightful French guys on rented Harleys sporting small French flags also doing Rt. 66:  Jerome, Julien, Greg and Gilles.  I tried my rusty French, they said they’d flown into ‘Shee-caw-go’ and would ride all the way to LA, stopping where the spirit moved them, spirit a key word because they had dubbed themselves The Jack Daniels Team.  We took a group photo and said “a bientot, see you on the road”.

Our first 66 icon of the day was the Blue Whale in Catoosa, and it really is a huge blue whale that sits on a little lake by the road.  You can enter through its mouth and slide down into the water.  The whale park was closed for swimming, but we thought it would be fun to do some other trip.

On the way out of Tulsa, once again we saw the Meadow Gold Dairy sign, which we saw in its full neon glory last night.  The dairy is no more, but the sign was saved, restored, and sits on its own throne-like concrete pad, re-lit in May 2009 which made Tulsa folks very happy.

Further west we braked several times for the great murals in Sapulpa, reproductions of antique advertising on the sides of commercial buildings downtown.  More towns on the route should restore or create murals to generate tourist traffic, civic pride and downtown rejuvenation.

Next up: between Depew and Stroud, The Shoe Tree.  Now this is strange, one two-story high tree with dozens of shoes hanging from it, all kinds of shoes, and a few smaller trees 12-15′ with even more shoes.  No signs, no explanation, no way anyone could throw shoes that high and make ’em stick, but somehow, yes, way.

Time for lunch, and the perfect place popped up, the Rock Cafe in Stroud.  The first table in the door, there sat our French road buddies.  Big bonjours all ’round.  This is a great diner and it was jammed.  Felt like everyone in the county had stopped in for Sunday lunch.  The cafe is extra special because a fire destroyed it in 2008, but townspeople and 66ers from all over the world pitched in labor and money to re-build it from native rock and re-open one year later, to the day. Leaving Stroud is a classic mom & pop 66 motel, the Skyliner Motel, with another of those wonderful neon signs.

We didn’t know when we stopped, but Chandler’s Route 66 Interpretive Center would be the day’s highlight.  For a small town, this museum in a former armory is amazing. Right inside the door we met Judy, a docent volunteer who was born in Chandler, left after high school, returned in 1998, and is thrilled the armory and town  have a new life.  Judy was as full 0f information as her bubbly personality.  A wedding was about to start in the large events room, a dewy, young couple who looked as though they just graduated high school, but she ushered us into the main museum room, pointing out the satellite view of Chandler painted on the floor and all the interactive exhibits.  When I say interactive, I mean it…like lying down on a double bed coated with heavy plastic, punch a button and watch a short video on a screen in front of you…or sit down in one of those classic metal yard chairs, these painted turquoise, punch another button and watch another short video.  The video bits were fun: a swing, easy chairs, a bench atop a brick sidewalk, a Red Flyer wagon, and more, each with a short but fun/interesting video.  The best video was a 20-minute film about a local, Dick Besser, telling his Rt. 66 adventure and every second of it was fascinating.  We sat in old-fashioned movie theatre plush seats, pushed another button, and watched Dick recount how he drove his 1939 Ford from Amherst, NJ with another junior college graduate, both headed to get engineering degrees at the University of Arizona in Tucson–2,545 miles with his trusty Ford getting 17.8 miles to the gallon and a vital waterbag hung on the front of the car.  The guys got there in one piece, with one scare when he lost his brakes east of Winslow, AZ because his friend had left the handbrake on by accident.  On 4/8/2000 Fred and his wife repeated the trip in a 2000 red Corvette.  We wished we could have met Dick Besser and swapped 66 stories.

Our next stop was Arcadia’s Round Red Barn, one of the biggy 66 icons–seen in every 66 book.  It’s a real beauty, really red, and really round.  A farmer built it round because he thought Oklahoma’s infamous tornadoes would go around it.  It collapsed at 12:09 pm on 6/29/1988 and as one local described it, “just kind of sighed and fell in like a souffle.”  The barn was restored and dedicated 4/4/1992 and is now in its 114th year.  The upstairs accoustics were phenomenal, matched by the intricate pattern of wood spokes in the ceiling, a master work of folk art.

From sublime to soda, which is POPS, a newish 66 attraction that opened in 2006, and it grabs your attention today just as the classic tourist traps did to 66 travelers from 1930’s and onward.  POPS is a lighted 66-foot tall pop bottle on the west end of Arcadia.  There’s a hoppin’ 50’s dinner in classic black and white with punches of hot pink and turquoise–and two very tall facing glass walls with every soda pop on the planet, seriously, soda of every flavor from every country that makes soda.  We’re talking cucumber, melon, creamed corn, cotton candy, over 50 types of root beer, dozens of ginger beers, old-timey favorites like Hires/Orange Crush/Nehi Grape/Chocola, and of course, the special Route 66 pops: cola, root beer, lime, orange, cream soda, and black cherry.  We had to try a lime and root beer…pop, fizz, oh how good they is.

Our final icon stop was a zigzag off 66 to Edmond’s TeePee Church.  It took a while to find it, but thanks to I-Pad GPS and patience, we came spotted it a half mile away.  Built 1947-48, Bruce Goff designed the Hopewell Baptist church to look like a teepee, conical in shape, sloping sides 80′ tall its tent poles actually surplus oilfield pipes.  Although it was listed on the National Historical Register in 2002, the building has been unused for several years; a recent preservation/restoration project has begun and a sign boasted “First Annual TeePee Church Golf Tournament” later in October.  This marvelous building is in desperate disrepair, so we wish the fundraising golf tournament super success.

As we drove toward Oklahoma City, we passed a tranquil farm field, full of massive trees and dozens of cows lying in the shade on the green, green grass.  The scene was such a slice of heartland America, we turned around to photograph it.  Such a scene, so many scenes and sites to make the head and heart glad to be alive, such a day.

Tulsa by Inches, Blocks and Miles

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Day 13 — 9/29/12

By the time he got to Tulsa, I had covered the town.  Steve would arrive late afternoon, so I had the day to explore Tulsa.

I opened the sun roof on the car, rolled down the front windows, and cruised downtown on Rt. 66.   Tulsa is architectural heaven.  Its preserved art deco buildings number over fifty, some downright dazzling.  I saw only one police car, and it was waiting for a wedding couple to lead a celebration procession, but if any police had followed me, they would have pulled me over for my erratic starts, sudden  photo stops, occasional U-turn, and pauses in odd places to get that perfect shot.

True to my Capricorn sign, the diligent and perseverant goat, I systematically drove up and down Tulsa’s myriad of one-way streets.  At one intersection there are four magnificent churches, one to a corner, all praise and glory to their architects.  The Adams Hotel is elegant history still operating, but the Queen of Downtown Deco is the Philco Building, not the tallest, but she reigns over the old and new.  The PhilCo, as in Phillips Oil Company, uses every art deco motif under the sun, like a lady wearing all her jewelry at once, but carries it off with graceful panache.  At city edge is the gigantic, shiny oval stadium that looks like an aluminum egg with a Nike-like swoop.  A few blocks away sits the former railway station, today the cool Jazz Hall of Fame, and in front rises a tall, thin, dark obelisk with stick figures at the bottom and handprints as it stretches to the sky.  A few feet away is the mysterious “Center of the Universe” which reverberates any words you care to say.  I recited “four score and seven years ago” and it floated back to me in seconds.  I especially enjoyed the emerging Blue Dome District, named for a 66 icon with a blue dome, with its colorful murals, crazy shops, night spots and galleries.  Tulsa is truly an undersung beauty.

Rain started to fall as I headed to the airport to pick up Steve.  True to form, I missed a tiny sign and semi-barricaded freeway entrance as the rain came down in sheets.  I got there eventually, and there stood my smiling Steve, happy to see and be seen after three weeks apart.

I thought it would be fun to start his 66 time with a Tulsa 66 icon, the giant oil worker at the Tulsa Fairgrounids.  As luck had it, the state fair was at the fairgrounds with lanes of cars slogging away to enter.  Steve managed to snap a photo and we zoomed away in the opposite direction to Tally’s, a Tulsa 66 spot that draws locals and visitors alike.  Tally’s was a great diner; I expected Flo or Alice to appear any second.  You couldn’t beat the people watching, and we enjoyed talking to a local who decided he would run for city council to fight the rich guys who want to dam the river and put in an exclusive little island.

A really good day.

Tulsa Time

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Day 12 — 9/28/12

A sunny Friday in Tulsa.  A zip downtown for jewelry, successful purchases for family presents and self.

Then the city’s outstanding museum for Western and Native American art, the Gilcrease.   The Gilcrease is a beautiful building with equally beautiful grounds, and its dining room matches.  We had a lovely Southwestern lunch by the window, admiring the scenery and the museum’s signature sculpture, “Apache Warrior” by Allan Hauser.   That sculpture also adorns the left side of Oklahoma’s license tag.

For anyone interested in Native American art, the Gilcrease is a treasure.  One great room after another.  And just when you think you’ve seen the best, yet another outstanding piece appears…pottery, baskets, moccasins, kachinas, rattles, sculpture, paintings…each deserving a best of show ribbon.

The afternoon sped by, and soon it was time to drop Anna at the airport and say goodbye to her, my third 66 companion.  Hard to believe my 6-week trip is half over.

Some thoughts and impressions on my journey at the halfway mark:

Speed limits:  I was surprised at Illinois’ slowish 65mph on the freeways, even on the open road.  The further west you drive, the higher the speed limit–it’s 75 for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other Western states.

Accents:  The Arkansas accent around Little Rock has a soft twang.  Tennessee talk has a lilt in the drawl, though the lilt and drawl in Nashville has its own special twang.  Kentucky accents are nice to the ear, especially around Louisville, pronounced Luah-vull.  Ohio and Chicago have that broad Midwestern sound.  Missouri, pronounced Muh-zurr-uh, wraps Midwestern broadness with a Southern accent and a bit of twang.  Oklahoma seems to have a harder twang combined with a yep/nope/sure simplicity. I love it all.

Tallaquah & Tulsa

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

At breakfast we met the Walker  family, siblings who had gathered from Arizona, Kansas, Vancouver and elsewhere for a reunion.  They were a fun bunch, the lanky men and live wire sister Priscilla.  I struck up a conversation with Freda Arlene, who had lived in Tallaquah with her husband a long time.  I noticed her hand was shaking as she snapped some photos.  Later she told me she had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but for the moment, she was enjoying all the Walker in-laws jabbering and joking and what would be their 45th wedding anniversary the next day.  Here’s a warm wish for the health of whole The Walker Bunch.  May you have many more reunions, and to Freda, good luck and sincere wishes that you live a long and happy life. I think you have a quietly glowing halo protecting you.

The sun shone brightly as we returned to the Cherokee Heritage Center.  I spent a little time with the Center’s genealogist, who gave me some basic information and suggestions how to research my possible Cherokee heritage.

Next we did the Ancient Village tour, led by a Cherokee guide, a young woman born and bred in Tallaquah.  The village was a series of typical homes, built with branches, then covered with mud and wattle, earth floors, simple doors and windows.  Our guide explained that each family had a summer and winter home opposite each other and a small hut-like building for curing or storing food.  These looked more like a rectangular or boxy version of the Navajo round hogan, nothing like a teepee except for the opening in the ceiling for smoke.  Adjacent to the Ancient Village was a more modern  settlement with early 19th century buildings: a church, school, three examples of homes, blacksmithy, and more.  It all looked similar to any early American town, except the church singing was in Cherokee, and each building had English and Cherokee explanations.

As interesting as it was, the Cherokee connection hadn’t happened for me.  I returned to the art exhibit, looked at the basket again and decided to buy it.  Nope, already sold.  Somehow that seemed to be a sign for things Cherokee: not now, maybe later.

We drove into Tallaquah town, on the hunt for turquoise jewelry.  We found a small jewelry shop where the owner and manager make custom pieces.  The manager/designer let us look through many, many envelopes of different kinds of turquoise, in many sizes.  Anna found two unique greenish turquoise stones to make a pair of earrings.  A wonderful way to buy a special piece of jewelry.

Tallaquah faded away through the rear-view window as we drove northwest to Tulsa.

Deeper Into Oklahoma

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Day 10 — 9/26/12

We woke up in Claremore to grey skies and drizzle, then started the day at the Will Rogers Memorial & Museum. We got the appetizer part of a morning downpour entering the museum.  An excellent movie traced his life from birth to fame to death, a beloved American for his humorous wisdom and living right.  Plenty of movie memorabilia, his recreated writing/family room, countless photos and portraits of Will, and his collection of Western art, especially by his close friend Charles Russell, equally famous for his paintings and bronze sculptures of cowboys and animals in action.  The museum presents it all well and tastefully.  As I left to get the car, a Claremore local handed me an umbrella so I wouldn’t get soaked.  A small gesture, so appreciated, and just the kind of thing Will himself would have done.

Just down the hill, we ate lunch at Hammett House, a Claremore institution.  As soon as you sit, the waitress delivers a homemade fist-sized cinnamon roll.  Good soup, good food, good way to start our drive south to Tallaquah, a good hour off Rt. 66.

Tallaquah, pronounced Towel-uh-quah, is the heart of the Cherokee Nation.   For years I have wanted to visit Tallaquah, a tiny step toward exploring family stories that my maternal great-great-grandmother was one-quarter Cherokee.  I have a hand-painted portrait of her, and my next youngest sister is the spitting image of my ancestor, both with dark hair and eyes, olive brown skin and high cheekbones.

We arrived in Tallaquah mid-afternoon and headed straight for the Cherokee Heritage Center, set in a deep woods of tall trees.  We started with the museum.  Its excellent film and exhibits provided a solid background, tracing the Eastern Cherokee who lost their lands in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia and were marched west to Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears for the thousands who died along the way.  One gallery, in semi-shadow, held white plaster of Paris figures, here a family, there a woman holding her baby.  It was a mournful room, and compelling.

The museum’s adjacent gallery was brimming with its semi-annual arts competition…every art medium: oils, pastels, watercolor, mixed media, sculpture, pottery, weaving and baskets.  Baskets are a personal favorite, and one in particular really appealed to me, a large round mustard yellow basket with a lid holding a trio of intricately woven green corns. The basket was for sale, at a great price, actually under-priced for its expert workmanship.  I decided to sleep on buying it.

Throughout the day my psyche and spirit waited for the aha Cherokee connection moment.  It didn’t really happen.  I have always felt a connection when visiting other tribes, pueblos or reservations , what the Japanese call “hara” or gut.  I felt the hara for Tallaquah as a Native American site and people, but not the “I belong here feeling” I hoped for.

Tomorrow maybe.