The last place in Oklahoma
16 Sep 1997 08:39:25 -0700
RV Park; Shamrock, Texas :: 15 SEP 97
"I could go for something cold and wet."
Sometimes you're travelling along, lost in your own thoughts
alongside your travel mate lost in their own thoughts. You go for a while
before realising your thirst, and you go a while further before some remote
possibility of quenching that thirst comes along on the road. And just
before you can verbalize the emotions and needs your travel mate, whom
you believed was on some other mental voyage, anticipates your thoughts
and says something like, "I could go for something cold and wet." All
that's left is to reply, "Yep, I'm parched," then look for parking.
This happened today in Texola, the last place in Oklahoma on
westbound Old Route 66. There's not much there but a couple houses and
the requisite derelict steel bodies, some with seized-up motors, some
drawn and quartered for parts long ago. There's a water tower, one of
those cylindrical ones, white, with T E X O L A, OK spelled down the side
in black Times Roman. An abandoned gas station struggles against tall
grass and low brush. Up near the water tower, a newly painted white building
of unknown use has gathered three shiny new trucks to it and somewhere
on the other side an air-powered tool assaults some ornery piece of machinery.
The highway cuts through town like an old, nicked blade. Four lanes, divided,
but the grass grows green and thickening through the many cracks in the
two inside lanes. Only the rolling wheels of a few dozen cars and pickups
a day keep the outside lanes cropped close.
There are only two other objects of note and were it not for
the combination of two bars and our thirst, we'd have passed through Texola
without noticing it and for ever after remembered the town only as the
last place in Oklahoma. Instead, we pulled into the large, open but not
empty gravel lot, picked a building and entered through one of two steel
doors, neither of which were marked, "Entrance."
The inside was dark, and quiet. John, a few steps ahead of me,
had picked a stool at the bar and already discovered the second establishment
of the day with no diet Coke. Not a great drinking day for John. I went
with a Bud and John a Coors Lite, exhausting their draft selection. On
the stool next to me an old fella bellied up to the bar, fiddling with
his cigar. Between his gnawing at one end, and drawing huge puffs of acrid
smoke from the other, that cigar didn't have much life left in it. "How
ya doin'," he said, rolling that cigar between his fingertips. "Great.
Y'self?" He went back for another puff, apparently satisfied the conversation
had run its course.
Two old men sat opposite at a low table under one of those
fake leaded glass lights hanging from the ceiling on a chain. One took
a pull from his drink while the other scrambled ivory dominoes on the
table top. A third old fella impassively watched them play. To call them
old men isn't enough, of course, and these were characters of the finest
example, but to describe how they looked would require knowing why they
had taken that appearance, what had caused them to be what they were.
As it is, anything I might say about their appearance or demeanour would
only draw caricatures. I watched them a bit from my stool before placing
my camera on the bar edge and surreptitiously snapping off a few photos.
Daylight film, tungsten light, long exposures: I don't expect anything.
John wondered whether I should ask the domino player's permission, which
is the right thing to do. But, "well, if I do that, they'll start posing,
they'll want to smile for the camera and the way they are right now is
perfect. Even if I can explain that to them, they'd be aware of the camera."
09:30 K&K RV Park; Shamrock, Texas :: 16 SEP
I heard the sound of a coin-op pool table releasing its lode
of balls. Two women, a little younger than myself, racked up the faded
spheres at one of two pool tables. The reds were pink and the pinks were
like the hide of the state fair's winning pig. We took pulls from our
beers and watched them play.
It was quickly obvious who would win. The t-shirt of the first
shooter hung loosely, past the hips. Thick strands of long, fine hair
escaped from the high ponytail and hung about her shoulders limply like
her shirt around her hips. Her attention to her cue work was as slap-dash
as her appearance. The cue ball careemed off the front ball and scooted
into a corner pocket when she broke.
Her partner scanned over the table while chalking her cue, and
continued while reaching down for the cue ball. Curly hair, long at the
back and sides, recently cut short at the bangs, framed her face. Blue
polo shirt tucked neatly into unfaded blue jeans girdled with a thick
leather belt clasped with one of those enormous silver buckles cowboys
seem to like. She placed the cue ball deliberately, built a solid arch
for the stick and with the smoothness of much practice, stroked the cue
ball neatly and firmly cross-table into the purple which ran straight
into the back of its intended pocket.
We watched them play a game or two, while we watched the cigar-smoker
at the bar feed them some quarters for the jukebox, while we watched the
dominoes game behind us. "You fella's play pool?" the cigar-smoker asked
John. "Yes, a bit." John plays well; I'm a hack. "Well, you should play
them." So we did.
Theresa's the name of the sharp-shooter. She's what's known
as a potter, someone who tries to sink a ball with every shot, no matter
the difficulty. John and I both like to play a more tactical game. If
there are no high percentage shots available, we'll play the cue ball
into a difficult place for our opponents. I'd put the thing in all kinds
of nasty spots and Theresa, who shot after me, would have a go at some
rather creative shots. "Well, I'm not sure this'll work, but I'm gonna
try to play the five off the seven into the corner." She made a lot of
John and I don't normally call pockets when we play except for
the eight ball, but Theresa and her partner called every shot and Theresa
always used the same self-deprecating tone: "I think I'll try to...This
probably won't work but..." Her stroke, however, displayed her confidence.
We took the first game, they the second. At the end of the third
game the table had been cleared of all but the eight ball and we'd each
had an unsuccessful go at it when Theresa's partner took her customary
slap-dash whack and neatly sent the white ball off the black and into
We thanked them for the games, bid our adieus and left through
the other steel door. Theresa came out a few minutes later while I was
capturing Texola on film. She walked up to this gorgeous, brand new red
Dodge Ram pickup with duelies (er, four wheels on the rear axle.) "Nice
truck!" I called to her. "Thanks." The three of us conversed for a bit
and we learned she lived in Shamrock not too far up the road in Texas,
worked on the oil pipeline-which made sense from her appearance and the
expensive truck-but had worked a couple years at this very bar. "Gets
kinda slow during the day, so I'd play a lot a pool."
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
In the little houses the tenant people sifted their
belongings and the belongings of their fathers and of their grand fathers.
Picked over their possessions for the journey west. The men were ruthless
because the past had been spoiled, but the women knew the past would cry
to them in the coming days.