On Monday, my 33rd birthday, I had only one ‘Big Plan’. I was going to eat lunch at my favorite barbeque place in town: Burn Co. For those unfamiliar with this establishment, it’s an extremely popular local restaurant that smokes meat exclusively on Hasty Bake charcoal grills. The food is super tasty and there is always a line. They are also only open lunch hours and often run out of food before their posted closing time. Since I had the day off, I figured I’d go early and treat myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize they were closed on Mondays until I arrived at their empty parking lot.
I was devastated. The one thing I had planned and I hadn’t even thought to look at their hours. Closed Sunday and Monday. I drove home and sat in the quiet living room, pondering the rest of my day. Now what was I going to do? I still wanted some kind of special meal (as is tradition) but nothing was coming to mind as a viable alternative. By the time Samantha came home from class at about 12:30, I had found an answer. About an hour north on Route 66, there was a diner that had been featured on the Food Network; it was considered a jewel diner on the Mother Road. Sam had never been up that way on Route 66 either. My excitement was renewed as we got in the Mustang and drove up to Vinita, Oklahoma to enjoy lunch at Clanton’s Cafe.
Even though it was my first time inside, I’d taken a picture of their big ‘EAT’ sign on a road trip last summer. It’s the oldest continually owned family restaurant on Route 66 in the state, having opened in 1927. The food was tremendous! I’m not zealous about chicken fried steak, but it was seriously the best I’ve ever had. Sam had Chicken and Dressing and was equally impressed. The staff was friendly, and the walls were adorned with old local photos. It was definitely worth the drive. As lunch was wrapping up, I pondered my options. We could just drive back to Tulsa…or, we could drive a little farther north to see parts of Route 66 I had not seen. Logically, we went north.
My new destination was the Rainbow Bridge. It was built in 1923 just across the border in Kansas and is the last ‘Marsh arch’ bridge on Route 66. Thanks to being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the eighties, it sits in great condition even though it’s officially been bypassed. I snapped some photos and admired the concrete construction as clouds built overhead. We hopped in the car and drove south, taking Route 66 all the way home. We passed through Miami, OK and I pointed out some of the landmarks I’d visited last summer. As we drove down the Ribbon Road section of the highway, we passed a pulled-over Dodge Charger with Minnesota plates. It was nice to see another traveler out and about, appreciating this historic highway…even the more dilapidated sections.
We continued on south, taking side detours in small towns until the darkening sky finally opened up on us. It began raining as we passed through Chelsea, though by the time we got to Claremore it was starting to dry out a bit. I showed Sam the house I lived in ’til I was 6, the grocery store my father managed before we moved to Broken Arrow, and the gorilla statue that terrified me as a child. As we took 66 into Catoosa, I pointed out the railroad bridge I credit with starting my love of old steel bridges, as we passed it every time we drove to Tulsa when I was young.
Our last stop was the Blue Whale, a quaint roadside attraction in Catoosa, which Sam had also never seen. As we pulled up, I noticed the same Dodge Charger I’d seen 75 miles prior. There was only one other couple at the whale, so I walked up to them and introduced myself, telling them that I remembered passing them earlier in the day. I expected them to say they were from Minnesota (given the plates on the car) but to my surprise they were from Australia. They’d rented the car in Chicago and were driving the entire length of Route 66. We stood and talked for about 20 minutes about travel, the differences & similarities between our two countries, and their love of classic automobiles. They must be well off, because the last time they visited the US they took a 1969 Dodge Challenger back with them to the Outback. I encouraged them to stop in Tulsa proper and see our downtown district before continuing on down the road; I hope they did. At the very least, I told them to stop at the Meadow Gold sign. And Pop’s once they got further south. I hope they enjoy the rest of their time in Oklahoma.
I returned home tired and satisfied; what had started out as a disappointing day turned out to be a lovely trip down memory lane and new pieces of my favorite highway. I had some great food, great company, and met some travelers that reminded me of my own traveling days. It goes to show you that you never know what the day might hold if you open yourself up to the possibilities.