|Monday, May 21, 2001... Greetings
from Big Cabin, Oklahoma, a suburb of Vinita. Big Cabin sounds
like a good place to spend the night -- certainly better than
Burnt Cabins, Pennsylvania.
I had forgotten how windy the Texas prairie could be until the day's first stop: the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere, erected in 1995 by the Cross Of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries. A sign along the Interstate promises a spiritual experience, but the only things that moved me were the wind and the cold.
At least until the wind blew the camera out of my hands and sent it crashing to the asphalt. It landed on its back, so the lens was intact. It focused properly and the shutter and motor drive seemed to work normally...but none of the push-button adjustments worked, and the display which usually showed the shutter speed and exposure was a blank. In sum, I thought the camera was okay, but couldn't be sure until the pictures were developed. Just what I wanted to hear while an hour from any photo store.
Heading east, I had plenty of time to contemplate my options...as well as such wonders as Blessed Mary's Cafe half a mile from the Largest Cross (American and Mexican food, just like Jesus ate!), and the photogenic but deserted downtowns of east Texas. As I drove, the solution came to me. If my camera was in fact working properly, I didn't need a "spare" SLR; if it wasn't, the pictures I could take with a disposable camera would be a poor substitute. But I wanted most of these photos for a Web site, and was traveling with a laptop...so what about a digital camera?
The first real town I passed, Elk City, Oklahoma, had a Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart had a friendly, helpful photo department clerk, armed with Wal-Mart's specs-and-advice book about the dozen or so digital cameras it stocked. Twenty minutes later I emerged with an Olympus D-360L digital camera, complete with 8 MB Smartmedia card which could hold about 36 digital images in 1280 x 960 resolution. Twenty minutes after that, I had figured out the camera well enough to shoot a few pictures, and got back on the road. (Tonight, after finishing this E-mail, I get to figure out the software well enough to download them onto the hard drive and start fresh tomorrow. Once I do, I'll be able to E-mail photos as well as text. Let me know if you're interested.)
Western Oklahoma boasts two Route 66 museums within an hour of each other. Elk City's National Route 66 Museum is little more than an annex to the town's local-history museum, worth 15 minutes at most, but Clinton's Route 66 Museum is a must-stop. As some of you will eventually discover, its gift shop offers a wide selection of reasonably priced merchandise, too. In a sad note, Clinton's most notable Route 66 business, Pop Hicks' restaurant, burned down two years ago. Its former site is now a vacant lot with For Sale sign.
Unlike Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, Oklahoma never built the Interstate over old 66. The improves the scenery, but also makes driving west-to-east a royal pain in the ass. My guidebook offers excellent directions for east-to-west driving, but reversing them isn't easy -- and one wrong turn can (and did) take five or ten minutes to undo. The route got easier approaching Oklahoma City, though the sight of Yukon's "Garth Brooks Boulevard" caused temporary gastric distress. My radio tuned to local oldies station KOMA ("Music for People Emerging from a KOMA"), I cruised toward the Capitol.
And then I sobered up in a big hurry. Every street light carried a poster for last month's "Memorial Marathon" -- and every one of those posters bore the name of one of the people who died when an alienated loser who embraced the Reagan/Gingrich/Heston caricature of the federal government as a cartoon villain threatening to bankrupt or enslave the populace murdered 168 of the Evil Empire's agents.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on April 19, the fifth anniversary of Timothy McVeigh's attack. It occupies the site of the Murrah Federal Building, and includes a black-tiled reflecting pool, a field of empty chairs representing the dead (including 19 children),an orchard representing the survivors and rescuers, and a street-level wall bearing hundreds of notes, photos and tributes to the victims. Timothy McVeigh shouldn't be executed; he should be sentenced to spend the rest of his life here in a 6' x 10' cage, open to the sticks, stones and saliva of passersby.
Oklahoma City is the pivot point of Route 66. Between here and Los Angeles it runs almost straight west; between here and Chicago, it arcs to the northeast. The small towns from Arcadia to Stroud are some of the prettiest on the route. In Tulsa, a chicken place called the Right Wing Restaurant sums up local attitudes as well as the former Girlie Pancake House ("They're Stacked Better") once did. If I looked around Tulsa long enough, I'd probably find the last Sambo's Restaurant.
The sun was sinking low by the time I reached Will Rogers' hometown of Claremore. More than sixty years after Rogers' death, it may finally be possible to travel a block through the commercial district without seeing his name. Stopped about halfway between Tulsa and the border, at least two hours behind schedule -- good thing I have very few postcards of 66 in Illinois and once drove the state with the Illinois Route 66 Association, because I'll be seeing an awful lot of I-55 tomorrow afternoon and evening. I've got to turn west Wednesday morning...and right now I've got to install the digital camera's software and get some sleep!
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