My First Road Tour
Texola was never much and is even less now. Its main attraction is the old Territorial Jail, a small square box built with foot thick rock walls and a sheet iron roof. There were no coverings over the door or windows except iron bars. It's claimed that it was ten degrees colder inside in the winter than outside and the iron roof turned it into an oven in the summer. The very thought of being sent there was probably more of a crime deterrent in those days than any punishment known today.
I filled my water bottles at a spigot in the city park and visited with a man who was picking up trash. He told me that there was usually someone running a barbecue stand there every weekend. Other than barbecue on the weekend, you can't buy anything in Texola, not even a postage stamp. It's amazing how a place with only half a dozen houses can maintain such a spotless park. With all the trees and picnic tables, it struck me as being a nice place to pitch a tent. Since I was strictly on a credit card tour, good camping areas held little interest to me. I carried only a change of street clothes, two changes of cycling shorts and four days of underwear. My planned stop at home on my way through would resupply me with clean clothing.
Bartles and Jaymes were still holding the fort in the shade of the old bank when I rode back into Erick. I leaned my bike against the dusty window of the tiny store and Bartles asked, "Thought you went through here goin' west a while ago. You go the wrong way?"
"Nope, just wanted to ride out to Texola," I told him.
"Whut for, ain't nothing there," he said.
"I wanted to start my ride at the state line. I'm going to ride Route 66 across Oklahoma."
"On that thing?"
"Sure am," I replied as I headed into the store to see if they had any Gator Aid.
"My Gawd." he replied as he sent a stream of tobacco juice off to his left.
Had it been 1889 instead of 1989, when I rode east out of Erick, I would have been riding not only in Greer County, named after a somewhat distant relative of mine, but also in the state of Texas. Under the treaty in which Texas joined the US in 1846, the northern boundary of Texas was designated as the Red River which meandered up across the corner of what is now Oklahoma and finally ended near Amarillo.
Political forces began to do their dirty deeds and Texas found itself in a situation much like someone in a civil suit and finding that their opponent's uncle was the judge. Finally, in 1896, after nearly ten years and 50 huge volumes of testimony, the US Supreme court ordered that what had been accepted as the Red River for over 100 years was wrong and the true Red River was what was known as the Prairie Dog Fork and it was now the official boundary. This took an area the size of Delaware away from Texas and moved it into Oklahoma Territory. It also shifted about a million in 1896 dollars in taxes each year from Texas into the US Treasury.
It was only 16 miles from Erick to Sayre but it was well into the afternoon when I rode into town. Route 66 turns northward as it crosses the old bridge out of what is rightfully Texas in many minds and enters Sayre. Sayre is one of the few towns where Route 66 is not the main street. On the corner of main street is an old sign painted high on the side of a brick building, "Furniture and Undertaking," it says. Perhaps that's the way they got rid of old refrigerator boxes.
Looking east down Main Street is the court house used in the movie, The Grapes of Wrath. It stands in the middle of a square, forcing Main Street to detour around it. The best description of the architecture is "Early Courthouse". There are bits and pieces of just about every style from Gothic to Colonial California.
It was another 20 miles to Elk City where I had planned to spend my first night but I was tired, I was hot, I was hungry, and this had already been a very long day so I decided to bag it in and find a bed for the night. There are half a dozen of the usual motel names clustered around the two exits that bracket the town. Reminds me of an old song I once heard about a man on the road who was looking for a town with two exits and a Holiday Inn. However, since I was deep into nostalgia, I decided to see what else could be found.
As I rode the two blocks along the brick main street from where Route 66 crossed it to the court house, I spotted a two story red brick building with a faded sign hanging askew above the door. Hotel, it announced. I wasn't sure if it was open or not but two metal lawn chairs sat on the sidewalk beside the door. I pushed and the door scraped open.
The small lobby had three or four assorted chairs, one of which had a brick replacing a missing leg under one corner. At the back was a closed door behind a desk with a cabinet containing a couple dozen pigeon holes for mail. There were letters in three of the compartments and keys could be seen hanging from most of them. I could smell food cooking so I dinged the bell on the desk.
There was some rustling and bumping behind the door which finally opened an inch and I could see one eye peering out at me. After a bit more bumping and thumping, the door opened wide enough for a lady, who looked like she had been around since statehood, to hobble out on her walker. "Yes," she said.
I don't know which of us was the most surprised, her at seeing a man wearing a jersey that looked like a billboard and an even stranger hat of some sort or me in the fact that the place was open. "How much for a room?" I asked.
"Twelve dollars," she replied, more as a question than a statement.
"Do you have any rooms on the ground floor?" I asked.
"No, all the hotel rooms are up stairs. Just my place and two apartments down stairs."
I'll take one." I told her, pushing a ten and a five across the counter. She pulled out a registration book, laid it on the counter and turned it around to face me. She picked up my money and shuffled back into her place, closing the door behind her as I signed her book. A minute or so later she returned with my change, saying, "Sorry but it comes to thirteen dollars and eleven cents. They make me charge tax on a hotel room."
She pulled a key from the cabinet and handed it to me. "Up stairs and back to the front. Take the room that's made up, the cleaning girl don't come till tomorrow. The key fits either one of them."
Sure enough, the bed in one front corner room was tumbled but the other was made. It looked and smelled spotless. It had two windows, one looking out on Main Street and the other the side street. A small air conditioner buzzed away in the side window. There was a wrought iron bed that dated to around WW-I, one chair and a small dresser. Looked more like an antique store than a hotel room. There was a corner sink, which suggested that the bathroom was somewhere down the hall. I tried the key in the door of both rooms and it fit, probably fit the rest of the doors up there too.
I lugged my bike up the creaking stairs and into my room. Had to slide the bed over a bit to make room for it. After a shower and changing into my street clothes, I walked to the City Cafe on the corner next to the court house. It was already closed. A man was locking the door to the law office next door so I asked him if there was any place to eat closer than out on the interstate.
"You like barbecue? Take a left on 4th street and just before you get to the bridge is Jeb's off to the left. Great place."
I thanked him and followed his directions. Sure enough there it was, the ultimate in a barbecue place. Three rows of pickup trucks parked around a ramshackle place that looked like it should be condemned, a haze of hickory smoke rolling from behind the building and a hand-scrawled sign that said "JEB'S, Jebadiah Boudreaux Prop.".
A broom wielded by a waitress swatted a cat in the butt, sending it through a hole in the bottom of the screen door. I stepped into a pall of smoke and noise. Several curly fly strips hung from the ceiling and a flickering neon sign at the back advertised "oors Lite". God, this has got to be the Nirvana of all barbecue places.
The place was packed, not an empty table anywhere. Waitresses carrying stacks of plates flitted about. I suppose I was looking rather helplessly when a lady sitting at a table with two men moved a pair of crutches from the empty chair and motioned me toward it. "Care to sit with us, otherwise you will be waiting an hour."
I willingly accepted her offer and sat down as she passed the crutches to the man to her left. She looked to be thirty-something but was still wearing her hair long and straight, probably the way it was when she was 14. She was wearing jeans that looked like they were painted on and an equally tight blouse that left no doubt that there was no bra under it. "I'm Tina, this is my husband, Frank and this is Bubba Wayne, my cousin." I shook hands with them.
"Bubba Wayne is sort of bummed out because his wife took off with a guy on a wheat harvest crew a couple days ago and we are trying to cheer him up." she added.
"Yeah, while I was at work, she drew all the money out of the bank and took off with my pickup and guitar," said Bubba Wayne. "I tried to get the sheriff to go arrest her for stealing my truck, but he said he couldn't do that. Then I asked him to arrest the guy for stealing my wife, and he said he couldn't do that neither. Only thing she left was her damn cat and it's just like her - ugly. Sheds all over the place and won't come when you call it. Seems there ain't no justice no more."
"Frank shot himself in the leg practicing fast draw last week," said Tina with a laugh. "Guess he shoots faster than he can draw."
"Dammit, just let it rest," scowled Frank.
"You should have seen the police when they heard how he got shot. Nearly laughed themselves sick," said Tina.
I studied the menu and noticed that each item had two prices after it so I asked the reason. "The first one is for a plate and the higher one is for a platter," explained Tina. "Both of them come with potato salad, cole slaw, beans and bread. You can get fries instead of the potato salad."
We ordered and Tina continued to fill me in on the family history. "I teach school and Frank works at the NAPA store. We been married six years and been trying for a baby ever since, some times two or three times a day. For some reason Frank ain't as enthusiastic since he shot himself in the leg," she said as she elbowed him in the ribs.
Frank seemed to be working up another sizzling response when he was interrupted by the arrival of our food. Tina, Frank and I had ordered plates while Bubba Wayne went for the platter. It was the size of one used to serve a whole turkey and was piled high as possible with beef ribs. Looked like an erector set for building a cow. I suppose nothing mends a broken heart quicker than ten pounds of ribs.
Since the hotel seemed to have universal keys, I braced the chair under the doorknob, turned out the light and released a swarm of squeaks, pings and clinks as I lay down on the bed.
The walls of the place were paper-thin and every cough, gasp, snort, moan, belch and fart echoed from one end of the place to the other. I fell asleep to a symphony of bodily sounds while the out-of-balance fan on the air conditioner played backup.
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