Driving somewhere new can be exciting; as can driving a new car, or a different kind of car, or under different road laws. So when all of those factors come together you experience a thrill which is equal parts childish excitement and grown-up fear of responsibility. As I cruised on our first strip of Route 66 to Tulsa, I was acutely aware that I might crash or turn the wrong way, but also high with excitement, and perilously close to shouting “Yee-ha” like some sort of newly indoctrinated cowboy.
Sarah and I only got about 10 miles down the road before realising it was getting late, and dark, and we wanted to actually see the road we’d come all this way to drive, so we found an Econolodge by the road (in “Chandler” which made us think of Friends, especially as we were heading to Tulsa) and stayed there for the night. The restaurant had closed early so it was M&Ms for dinner, but we did manage to procure some hot water and make some proper Tetley tea, which was incredibly satisfying.
The next morning we hit the road and found a small village called Stroud – a banner announcing it as “The Place To Be”. No-one else seemed to think so though, as the streets were deserted and most of the shops boarded up. We walk up and down the street then get back in the car.
We drove through a couple more small towns, and admired some of the classic car garages with pin-up letters on the boards outside, some seedy looking cafes, and the odd historical monument. There is a particularly revered big round barn, although we didn’t quite see the attraction of it ourselves.
Only about half an hour later, we got to Tulsa, and found some free parking so we could look around downtown. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday but the streets were almost entirely empty. It was a bit spooky but we persevered onto a place called the Gypsy Coffee House, which came recommended by our Lonely Planet book. We were pleased to step inside and see other customers, in fact it’s quite lively in there.
We left Tulsa – still seeing only a handful of people outside – and got a little lost, since our GPS (an app for iPhone called Copilot) kept directing us to the I-44 instead of Route 66. But we manage to get back on the mother road and head further northeast.
Going past a Walmart we just had to stop, and were pleased to find out they really do sell everything. We loaded up on microwavable food – some hot pockets and steamed veg – figuring we could try to find a motel with a microwave.
Then we had an interesting challenge of finding a motel, and deciding if we wanted to stay there based on the 2 minute drive through the town while we get there. We pass through some towns like Chelsea, most of which seem to be little more than service stops for traffic, then found one called Vinita which seems ok. We booked a room at the Vinita Inn. Now this is a classic American motel with all the rooms connected together, doors facing outward (like from My Name Is Earl). There were a few flies buzzing around, and the air con is a bit loud, but it’s only $40 for the night so we’re happy with it.
We bumped into a few other guests who ask us if we’re there for the rodeo. What, here? It seems odd because it’s not a major city. But we say we might go and see it, just out of curiosity.
We ate our improvised but tasty dinner and go in search of the rodeo. Everyone else must have driven because we had to walk through a building site. And half expecting some sort of trumped-up cattle market, we walk through the gate to find a stadium packed full of people. There’s a buzz of excitement and I get the feeling we’re about to see something good.
And it really is good: cowboys riding bucking broncos, lassooing steers, and speed riding around barrels. One cowboy is hurt badly when he’s thrown from a horse, and he lies crumpled in the middle of the arena for a minute, motionless. So imagine the cheers when he’s helped to his feet, although he hobbles off looking concussed.
The night culminated in bullriding, which looks very, very difficult. The men are thrown around and do well to stay on for just a few seconds. Throughout, two presenters made introductions and banter to keep the whole thing going.
Impressed, we scrambled back through the building site to our motel. We had a beer with some other guests and talked about Oklahoma and the UK. It’s difficult to explain the full history of Ireland, but answer some other questions. We told them we were going to New York and they seem unimpressed: “Why d’you want to go to that den of misery?” they reply. We tell them because our flight is cheapest from there.