Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Enough history already, how 'bout some real stuff?
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 1997 08:14:29 -0700

00:25 Cherry Hill Park; Tulsa, Oklahoma :: 12 SEP 97

There was the old fella at the Baxter Springs museum. He'd brought in some artifacts to the Curator for inclusion in their collection. Some rifles and some land titles from his Quapaw Indian ancestors. Boy, he loved to tell stories. My favourite preceded Route 66 by some years.

Military Road, later a section of Route 66, runs right down the middle of Baxter Springs. Back then there was no pavement; it was still a dirt road. One dusty day this funny lookin' fella, turns out he was from England, was walkin' down the road while my father was rakin' leaves or somethin' in the front yard. He looked kinda haggard and worn out. He stopped in front of my father's house and asked him, "How much further to Los Angeles?" My father answered, "That depends. Where ya comin' from?" "New York," said the Englishman. After scratching his head for a bit, my father got a bright cheery grin. "Well, you're about half-way!" "'Alf Wuay?!?" says the Englishman. "Yup," my father told him. "Near as I can figure." Slumping a bit, "Ah've bee'n waulking foh ne-ah-ly a munth!" My father figured for a minute..."Yep, that'd be about right." "But I can waulk across England in three days!" My father shrugged his shoulders, and got back to his raking.

I'm not sure how many times that yarn's been spun, but it'd make a nice sweater by now.

He was a wealth of historical information. When I asked him about the land titles, if there weren't a political motivation behind breaking up the reservations into individual packets, he guffawed, "As if the government ever does anything unpolitical!" I grinned: it was, afterall, a rhetorical question. "Sure," he said, "makes it easier to buy the land. One Indian, or a family of Indians, will sell their land. It's more difficult to get a whole tribe to do that."

I never got his name, but he told me about the how the route of the Santa Fe trail was established: that it dog-legs around the mountains to the east; that the Chisholm cut-off went through Mexican territory; that the Mexicans had a habit of urging the local Indians to, shall we say, interrupt any traders going through Mexico, which made the more arduous mountain route the safe choice. I'd feverishly jot notes, trying to keep up with the running mix of story and history.

There are a lot of great people along The Mother Road, all of them full of stories. But there are a lot of great people to be found anywhere, and plenty of stories to be heard. Still, there's something different about Americans. John and I were figurin' on it a couple days back.

We were at The Metro Diner on 11th Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's one of those retro joints, a stainless steel and neon, art Deco exterior with booths, tables and counters inside, all imitation leather, Formica(tm) and chrome. Judy, our hostess/waitress/cashier, as she repeatedly referred to herself, was a teenager with a ready giggle, an engaging manner of self-deprecation and an endless stream of enthusiasms including an obsession for John's accent. "Oy'll 'ave uh Doy-et Caoke, puhleeze," he'd say to Judy who'd repeat the order in her best english, "roight, Doy-it Cuh-oak." She'd giggle in a happy convulsion, "I just *love* English accents!" And giggle some more, bouncing back to the kitchen with our order.

09:00 Cherry Hill Park; Tulsa, Oklahoma :: 12 SEP 97

I notice this with Americans more than the people of any other culture, that go-get-'em, devil-may-care, it-don't-matter-what-other-people-think enthusiasm for life. I don't know. Maybe it's expectations focusing my perceptions of people. I remember the boisterous, can-do Americans because I'm looking for them, and tally each enthusiastic American as more proof, ignoring the scads of lackadaisical folk, like the staff at another placed we dined at yesterday. Meanwhile, I tally people of other cultures with the same exuberant qualities as aberrations. Still, I let John explain his thoughts and he came to pretty much the same conclusion.

Technically, her service needs improvement. But both John and I happily overlooked the scramble of dirty utensils and dishes she'd left on our table after bringing the next course. She's a natural in the areas that count in diner service: attentive, engaging and fun. She gushed a few chapters of life story between trying on John's cockney accent at every opportunity. "Oh, I tried out for a play and the part had an English accent." She'd roll her eyes up to the ceiling and have another go, "Ah'll 'ave an 'omelette...and nao-u chueese." Then a sigh. "Didn't get the part though."

It's tempting to lay it all on youthful enthusiasm. Judy's a bit over-the-top and will probably mellow a bit in the next few years, lose a little of that bounce in her step. John's concerned that she'll run into a few surly customers, people not so easily enthralled by buoyant personalities. That a couple unpleasant encounters with these sour-pusses could cause her to withdraw. I guess that depends a bit on her manager's support. "It's OK, honey, you just go on being who you are. It's no matter what those down-in-the-dumpers think." I think Judy's in good hands. The Metro's manager noticed we were a bit tickled with our waitress and offered to sell her to us for 15 dollars. Of course, the accompanying wink meant, "You can't have her, for any price."

Maybe in about 50 years she'll be hangin' out in museums telling stories to passers-by?

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects, having the incredible strength of insects....

The man sitting in the iron seat did not look like a man; gloved, goggled, rubber dust mask over nose and mouth, he was a part of the monster, a robot in the seat.... A twitch at the controls could swerve the cat', but the drivers hands could not twitch because the monster that built the tractor, the monster that sent the tractor out, had somehow got into the driver's hands, into is brain and muscle, had goggled him and muzzled him-goggled his mind, muzzled his speech, goggled his perception, muzzled his protest....

He loved the land no more than the bank loved the land. He could admire the tractor-its machined surfaces, its surge of power, the roar of its detonating cylinders; but it was not his tractor.... The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.

  graphical element John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath