It’s been a while since I’ve posted here! Truthfully, it’s been a while since I’ve done much in the way of travel or had anything I felt was worthy enough to write about. Thankfully, over the extended 4th of July weekend I had thanks to a strategically-placed vacation day, I was able to get out of town for a day and take a trip I’ve been meaning to take for years: the section of Route 66 from Tulsa to the northeast corner of the state.
I started by taking the Will Rogers Turnpike up north, zipping along at 75 miles an hour. It was uneventful, aside from passing underneath the former World’s Largest McDonald’s near Vinita as it was being dismantled after falling into pretty poor shape. The reason I wanted to start in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh) was a single place: the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. However, I arrived pretty early and it wasn’t open yet. In fact, I wasn’t sure it WOULD open considering it was the day after Independence Day, so I wandered Main Street. Miami is very proud of their Route 66 heritage and the quaint storefronts all have ties to the rich past of the Mother Road. I was welcomed inside a small tourist shop and was told that, indeed, the theatre would open for visitors shortly. I entered with great joy!
This old vaudeville theatre was built in 1929 by the guy that discovered the 2nd largest deposit of lead and zinc in the world, underneath what was once Pitcher, OK and is now the largest Superfund site in the country. This guy made over a million dollars a month (not adjusted for inflation!) and wanted a place for road acts to stop and entertain, so he built a beautiful Spanish Revival style theatre. In the last 20 years or so, the city has restored it and with good fortune they have it looking very close to how it appeared on opening night; they even found the original Mighty Wurlitzer organ and have silent film festivals with it! I marveled at the ornate work, both inside and out, as a volunteer toured me through the facility. I stood on the same stage that once hosted the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers, and even Tom Mix and his horse. I marveled at the elaborate rigging backstage and the intricate lighting system as I was regaled with story after story of discoveries, donations, and pure luck throughout the restoration process. The entire place felt magical.
After finishing my tour of the Coleman, I needed to eat…so I stopped at another Route 66 landmark, Waylan’s Hamburgers…also affectionately known as the Ku-Ku Burger. It was a delicious roadside dive burger and was more than enough fuel to get me down the road. When I’d visited the tourist shop earlier, I was told about a small section of Route 66 nearby called ‘Ribbon Road’ or the Sidewalk Highway. Back in the day, Route 66 was a single lane because of how few cars were on the road. Builders assumed *IF* two cars happened to be traveling at once, it would be no big deal for one to pull off and let the other pass. I had to see this. The road was in deep disrepair, considering it’s now very rarely traveled due to a bypass, and the only other vehicle I saw was a tractor. But I took the opportunity to stop and marvel at the landscape that was not unlike what it had to look like back when it was originally built. I felt really special, standing on the gravel and cracked asphalt and listening to the sounds of the world as it turned around me.
The rest of my trip down 66 took me through several small towns; Afton, Vinita, Chelsea, Claremore. All towns in various states of twilight that were trying desperately to stay relevant in a world that continued to speed past. Afton had a delightfully restored service station, Vinita’s downtown had several points of interest, and even tiny Chelsea had one of my favorite things: an old steel bridge! Claremore is the town I spent my first six years living in, so I was somewhat familiar with it, but it was still nice to take a break and explore the downtown and pause to appreciate the tenacity of small town America.
After re-entering Tulsa, I took care to ensure I stayed on the route until I got home, seeing familiar sights through the lens of the day’s journey. I arrived at my house after a long day of driving and smiled, for I had seen a piece of Americana that I felt a real connection to. I am already planning the sights to see on the rest of Route 66, traveling southwest to the other corner of the state, and the many opportunities to experience the slower pace of yesteryear.
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