Pieces of the Road

It’s odd how the days in 2020 seem to stretch on forever, yet at the same time they become a compressed, jumbled mess in my memory. A lot of that is COVID, sure, but part of that is grief and other stresses. The last few months I’ve done some scattered traveling but all of my plans for an epic road trip have been dashed. The rest of the year doesn’t look much better, but I have spent a LITTLE time on the road. Here are a few snippets in no particular order.

After the Palmer Hotel in Afton, Oklahoma caught fire earlier this summer I drove up to take some photos. It was a real shame; this hotel that dated back to the 19-teens had been closed for decades but was evidently still used for storage, including some original furniture. It all went up in a blaze that drained the entire town’s water supply.

Honestly, though, the part that gutted me more was seeing the old Afton Station taken over by an MMJ growing operation. This welcoming, beautifully-restored D-X station is now plastered with NO TRESPASSING signs. The Hampton Inn Save-A-Landmark sign out front feels like a joke. Although I wasn’t harassed while I stood outside taking photos, I worried about it. I miss Laurel Kane, quite a bit. I wrote to the town of Afton (couldn’t find any contact info for this new business) to see if they could get me in touch; I hope the new owners would be willing to at least donate the Roadside Attraction signage to the Oklahoma Route 66 Association but so far, no dice.

In a bit of positive news, the City of Tulsa formally lit the “new” neon signs at Avery Plaza Southwest, a small pocket park next to the Arkansas River. The Tulsa Route 66 Commission put together a plan to rebuild three lost neon signs from Tulsa’s past: one from Admiral (the original alignment), one from 11th Street (the main Historic Route 66 path through town), and one from the Skelly Bypass (the final road that was known as US Highway 66 in Tulsa). They turned out super great, as did the little historic markers that tell a slice of each old motel’s story. It’s a great addition to Tulsa’s stretch of 66.

In mid-August, the Brookshire Motel caught fire again. This is the fourth fire in two years; thankfully, nobody was hurt this time. Despite long efforts from various groups and individuals, preservation here is now essentially impossible. Parts of the neon sign have already been sold off piecemeal and there’s nothing really left to save. The Tulsa Route 66 Commission already formally got out of the way of the City, which has been going through the motions required before razing the property due to it being a constant nuisance to safety in the area. If you don’t know much about the history of this place, check out my earlier article here. I’m quite proud of it!

How authentic would you want YOUR trip down Route 66 to be? Well, if you’re Ryan Thibault…pretty darn authentic. He spent several weeks driving from his home in New Hampshire, to Chicago, down Route 66 to Santa Monica, then back home. Did I mention he did all of this in a 1929 Model A Ford? Not only that, but he wasn’t sure what lodging options he would have in the age of COVID – so he brought a camping platform strapped to the roof. What an incredible sight! I was lucky enough to catch him as he drove through Tulsa and visit for a few minutes. It was fun following along his adventure online and I hope to meet up with him again some day.

I don’t know why it bothered me, but when I saw there was no photo of my great-grandmother’s tombstone on FindAGrave.com I felt like I had to go to Eufala, find the marker, and take a photo. I’d never met the woman, but I loved her daughter (my grandma Gail) very much; it felt imporant. When I arrived, I found that the areas in the Greenwood Cemetery are no longer sectioned and I had no idea where it might be. So I walked, for nearly two hours, before finding it. I’m lucky that I did – it was nearly buried! I borrowed the gravedigger’s spade (with his permission – he was sorry that he didn’t have his directory with him to aide in my quest) and dug it out. Still needs a cleaning, but a good rain will definitely help. I felt better.

Finally, Mom’s grave marker should be in place in the next week or so. It seems like a small thing, but I will be thankful to have a physical item to visit. She’s been gone over six months now, but some days the loss is still crushing. I did have a batch of lapel pins made, based on the old cafe sign that used to sit on the side of Highway 11 in Barnsdall. I’m donating all proceeds to the library in town, where Mom first started feeding her love of literature. You can buy one here: https://cloudless-lens-photography.square.site/product/bigheart-okla-pin/32?cs=true

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