We got a late start this morning, and didn’t leave Van Buren, Arkansas, until nearly noon. After we had been driving a bit, we turned off at a sign that said “Oklahoma Welcome Center,” and turned into the poshest rest stop I think we’ve ever seen. It was staffed by three volunteers. One politely asked me if she could help me with something, and I said, “No thank you, I’m just waiting while she checks email,” pointing to Carol, who was sitting an a very comfortable armchair enjoying the very fast Internet service. “In that case,” she said in her Oklahoma drawl, “I’ll just kill flies,” and, picking up a flyswatter, proceeded to do just that. “Do you keep score?” I said. “No,” she said, “and I’m not doing a very good job, either,” as she missed a fly for the third time.
As we drove through eastern Oklahoma, I noticed that the land looked much greener and much less dry than it had when we drove east a couple of weeks ago. Clearly they had had rain since then.
At exit 200 for Seminole, Oklahoma, we turned off to see if Robertson’s Ham Sandwiches was open. We had seen their distinctive red-and-white billboards heading east, but we had arrived after they closed. They were open. There wasn’t much on the menu but ham sandwiches, so we each had a double ham sandwich for less than five dollars. We sat at one of the wood tables to eat our sandwiches. It was about the best ham I’d ever eaten in a ham sandwich.
We turned off the interstate at El Reno, Oklahoma. We drove the historic path of old Route 66, and along the side of the road there was some sort of concrete structure, about the height of a two or three story building, higher than it was wide, with a bright design painted on the side. The design might have been a stylized bird flying upwards towards an orange sun in a blue sky.
We stopped in at Fort Reno, a historic calvary post in the middle of the Great Plains, whose earliest building date from the 1880s. The little visitor’s center closed early, so we walked around the perimeter of the broad parade grounds, looking at the officer’s quarters dating from the nineteenth century, the calvary barracks dating from 1936, and a pleasant little chapel dating from 1944. The chapel was open, so we went inside. The interior of the chapel was all wood, from the wood pews to wood tongue-and-groove boards on the walls, to the wood floors. The windows were glazed in warm orange stained glass, so the whole interior of the chapel glowed in warm light. As we drove out the lone drive, Carol said that Fort Reno felt “contemplative.” But I was too excited to listen much, because a scissor-tailed flycatcher flew up into the trees, its spectacular tail feathers longer than its body — it was the first one I’d seen.
Along the interstate, I saw a billboard that read: “Oklahoma. The first shopping cart was made in our great state.”
I saw my first sagebrush in Oklahoma near the Texas border. Most of the trees had disappeared, the ground was brown, and now sagebrush had appeared.
We detoured through the downtown of Shamrock, Texas, again along the old route of Route 66, hoping to find a place to eat. There were only a couple of dingy pizza places open, but we did look in the window of Bobcat Alley Taxidermy, where stood a stuffed pheasant, two stuffed wild turkeys, a stuffed beaver, and a couple of other slightly dusty stuffed animals.
Still looking for a place to eat, we detoured into Maclean, Texas, again driving along the old route of Route 66, and came to the Red River Steakhouse. There were quite a few pickup trucks and SUVs parked out front, so we decided to go in. The special tonight was a New York Strip steak which came with salad, one side dish, and peach cobbler. Carol asked the pleasant young woman who waited on us what a New York Strip was. “I dunno,” she said politely, “It’s a part of the cow.” We said we didn’t really mind any way, and that’s what I ordered. It was probably the best meal I’ve eaten since we left Charlotte. When you head into the Southwest, I think you’re best off eating anything that’s meat.
The accent here is distinctly different from the accents we heard in Arkansas. People still say “y’all,” although in the Red River Steakhouse, I heard it pronounced “yawl”; and “you” was pronounced “yew.” We are definitely leaving the south, and heading west towards the true Southwest.
Sunset came at about 8:45 Central Daylight Time as we drove past the Johnson Ranch Road exit in Texas: a reddish-golden ball easing down into some clouds just barely above the flat horizon. An hour later, we pulled up at our motel in Amarillo, Texas.