As I headed towards Tulsa, I was thinking, “I can’t believe it! I’m the proud owner of a “classic” 1959 Chevy steering wheel. Oh, it’s just gotta fit. I know it will. And to think, I came within seconds of missing the ol’ guy. The stars must have been lined up right.” At one point, I had the option of getting on a Toll Pike which, of course, I avoided. Interstates may be boring, but toll roads can be even more narcoleptic, I mean, they’re void of any “distractions”, such as gas stations, billboards, rest areas, anything and everything. Tulsa was a rather unique city in that, if you didn’t plan ahead, you would find yourself having to pay a toll in order to get in or out of town. I’m not joshing you. Look it up. There’s the Cimarron Turnpike from the west, the Turner Turnpike from the southwest, the Muskogee Turnpike from the southeast, and the Will Rodgers Turnpike from the northeast. No other city in the country can claim that dubious distinction.
Anyhow, I made it inside the city limits duty-free and stopped for a dollar-a-gallon fill-up at one of the ubiquitous QT Gas Stops. I called Howard Gamble, an old friend from Dallas-on-Fitzhugh days (the
60s and70s). “Is my space next to the curb still reserved?”, I asked. “You got it, Will. C’mon over, my man,” he replied. I found him just finishing an early Thanksgiving feast with his son, his ladyfriend, and his sister and brother-in-law. It was great seeing ol’ Howie again (probably been about six years). His in-law (Darn it, can’t remember his name) was a most enjoyable fellow to talk with, and since they were from St. Louis (Howie’s hometown), my inquisitive cup ranneth over. I couldn’t help asking him questions about how the ol’ town was doing. I had a lot of fond memories of the Gateway City. During our conversation, we would occasionally glance at a play or two of Monday Night Football on a miniature, black and white TV positioned on the dining room table. It seems as though Howard’s huge color set had developed a glitch. It didn’t matter one iota. In fact, we had a better time talking since the game was less of a diversion. Around midnight, it was “turn out the lights, the party’s over” time. I retreated into the chilly night to my space on the curb.
I awoke to a pleasant surprise the next morning. Just outside the cargo door window were these small sweet gums in all their autumnal splendor — like a living aquarelle. What a beautiful way to start the day! I was a little slow crawling out from under the four blankets for it had been the coldest night of the trip — a frosty 33 degrees on the outside thermometer reading. Howie and I updated each other on the whereabouts of old friends, and then he gave me a tour of his “botanical garden”. Well, at least, it was different from Nick’s, and how. Mr. Gamble had planted several groves of bamboo in his backyard, and the vigorous “grass” had propagated so profusely that now there was literally an arbor of Asian-like vegetation. One particular group of grass had sprouted unimpeded to a height of at least thirty feet with a “trunk” three inches in diameter!
The whole ambience was unbelievable. I had to say, “Howie, this is so cool. It’s like déjà vu all over again. Remember all that bamboo I transplanted at Fitzhugh? I pruned the trunks just above eye-level so you could walk through it like it was a forest. It was like a Viet Cong could jump out at any time.” He said, “Yeah, Will, you really did a number with that bamboo. It was unworldly, my man.” We took turns snap shooting each other, leaning against the bike on the back of the van. As I focused on his ruddy complexion and graying beard, I was compelled to say, “I’ll kiss your keister if you don’t look like Willie Nelson.” He truly did, believe me. There was another guy I just had to love.
Like I said before, I had to really plan ahead to escape the “Town of Turnpikes” free-of-charge. I managed quite easily, exiting the city limits on U.S. 64 to the southeast. Actually, there’s a sort of trade-off involved when negotiating Oklahoma. If you’re turned off by the turnpikes, you darn sure better have your Atlas on hand… the state is not known for having the best directional signs. Through the jigsaw puzzle, I was able to somehow stay on Hwy 64 until finally reaching my mid-point destination, U.S. 59 (a not so-straight shot south to Texas). Albeit, it had been a leisurely fun excursion through the bourgeois burgs of Glenpool, Keefeton, Vian, and McKey (has the ring of a law firm). At one gas stop in Gore (“You mean like in Al Gore,” after asking what town I was in), I noticed the lady next to me was pumping petrol into her humongous “dieseling” pickup. I had to ask her, “Excuse me, but why do you keep the engine running?” Her curt reply was, “I have a baby inside. The sound keeps her quiet.” “Well, if that doesn’t beat all,” I thought to myself. Only in Oklahoma.