You can’t control inspiration. You can seek it studiously, you can create circumstances that foster it, you can dig through tedium until you find it…but, after all is said and done, it’ll come when it pleases. Convenience has nothing to do with it. On Wednesday, the bulb of inspiration clicked on in my brain and would not be ignored. The fact that the source of the inspiration sat 660+ miles away was a minor detail. I put a plan together quickly.
I left Tulsa on Friday afternoon; the sky was nothing but low cloud-cover and occasional drizzle. I-44 westbound to Oklahoma City was its usual self: boring and clogged with impatient drivers. I was pleased when the state capital was in the rear-view mirror. Just outside of El Reno, the sky finally opened up and sunshine welcomed me to the flattened landscape of Western Oklahoma. Fields of cotton dotted the landscape like forgotten blankets; if it had been a little colder, I might’ve mistaken it for snow. The miles turned quickly as I skittered across the plain.
I didn’t exit the interstate until I was close to the state border. Outside of Texola, I joined my familiar friend, Route 66, which had been snaking around me all afternoon. I immediately felt at ease; I had the road to myself and the low sun cast warm light on the patched pavement. I stopped to take photos of a historic marker on the west side of town, the site in 1952 where the Mother Road was officially rededicated as “The Will Rogers Highway” as part of a publicity push. It didn’t seem to matter that the road had been called that since Will died in a plane crash in 1935. The marker is of the newer granite variety; the original plaque now sits near the Santa Monica Pier in California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean from Palisades Park.
Minutes later, I was turning miles in the Lone Star State. My shelter for the night was not far away in Shamrock, Texas. I’ve been through the town many times, but I’d never stayed overnight. Actually, that’s not true. In 2014, before I’d become fully Route 66 Aware, Samantha and I took a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Albuquerque. It was so sudden that we left Tulsa pretty late. Though I’d wanted to keep going, fatigue required we stop in Shamrock at about 2:00 AM to sleep. I didn’t know the U-Drop Inn / Conoco Tower station, the town’s most famous landmark, even existed until the next morning. In any case, this night in Shamrock would be the first time I’d see the beautiful art deco gas station fully aglow.
On the recommendation of my friend Jim Hinckley, I booked a room at the Western Motel. The owners were very friendly and excited to talk to me about my travels. I enjoyed a great dinner at Big Vern’s Steakhouse nearby; it’s one of the better steaks I’ve ever had. Additionally, they serve this unique bread that’s something between a cornbread muffin and a yeast roll. It’s dense and delicious; they call it ‘beer bread’. I had a second piece for dessert.
By the time my meal was complete, the last light of day was fading from the sky. I spent a good amount of time taking photos from all around the restored station. As I did, I met a few people doing the same: one guy had a full, professional setup and another fellow had just pulled over in his car and was using his cell phone. Equipment matters less than the passion behind the lens; they were both really happy to be there. The latter gent was from Seattle and had been on the road for weeks. He and his wife traveled east across the northern section of the country, to Maine, then came south and was now heading back to the Pacific. He’d even stopped in Okmulgee, back in my home state. What a small world!
An exciting evening, yes…but as excited as I was, this was only a fraction of the weekend’s journey. The entire reason I’d headed west in the first place awaited me in New Mexico. Was I crazy? No, but, I wasn’t exactly sane either. Saturday would start before sunrise.