Pratt, “Gateway to the High Plains”

is the slogan from the chamber of commerce, which sounds much better than the “crossroads to nowhere” or worse, “home of the only Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pratt County.”  

It’s 6:45 AM and I emerge from a familiar penumbra; midway between a hallucinatory dream, bare consciousness, and the realization that involuntary drool is wetting my beard and a rental pillowslip.  

The Days Inn clerk, having sensed my impaired hearing, was kind enough to assign us the handicap accessible room # 113, high ceilinged, ten foot drapes, a garage size door opening to the loo and stainless steel safety bars, everywhere, within easy grasp.  

“Get a grip”, I tell Jack, “we’re skipping town”.

The high plains are a haunting landscape.  Imagine the earth surface as an aged cantaloupe covered by an inch of stale snow; brownish, gently rolling, no rare sliver of green. Treeless to a horizon with no corners, and an occasional pockmark on a rolling low hill, resembling an adolescent acne scar, no doubt the result of a teenage meteor some 100,000 years before.  In the distance, utility lines of tall erector set children, motionless, tethered by guy wire, as if on a kindergarten field trip. 

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Less than a hundred miles out, the icy road has reared its ugly head….a head-on collision resulting in a fatality, and the KHP reroute is a detour over miles of gravel ranch roads. We are in a line, following a semi with a mirrored-finish, quilt-patterned rear door.  The complementary mud flaps depict a chrome pin-up girl in a seductive seated pose.  The near blinding reflection from the early morning eastern sun is a distorted, grimy Chevy Silverado with an old man at the helm and a little black dog posing as a dashboard GPS.  Not pretty, reminiscent of an Edvard Munch painting, without the scream. *

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Our objective is to cross over two panhandles (OK and TX), without once sliding off the road into a ditch, and reach Albuquerque by nightfall. 

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A panhandle cowpoke taking aim at another trainload of Chinese crap 

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Forget the Cadillac ranch, hello Beetle lovers

*

I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.

Oat La Homa

We’ve been through Oklahoma before, but never stopped except to refuel…..in this, the birthplace of gasoline. Pointed southwest toward Tulsa, my dog, Jack, is dreaming of girls, squirrels, and something to eat. Stop one is the visitor center on the turnpike.

I’m welcomed warmly by the docent; a lovely, petite, silver-haired lady in her 80s, which also happens to be the temperature at nine AM. Offered free coffee, a map, any of hundreds of brochures, and a clean restroom, I turn down the coffee offer, the very reason I had to stop for the mensroom. After exiting the building, I hesitated, briefly, then returned.

“Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to have any dog biscuits, would you ?”, I asked politely.

Jack was outside just craving a munchie.

“No sir, all we can offer is free coffee”.

He doesn’t swear, drink coffee, or even smoke, the perfect tourist, I thought to myself.

“Wasn’t Will Rogers the native son of Oklahoma ?”, I inquired.

“Yessuh he is, right up the road, from Claremore, only about thirty miles, we have a wonderful home and museum, named the turnpike afta’ him, would you like a brochure ?” she replied without taking a single breath.

“No, no I would not. But in 1931 Will Rogers was asked to define a friend. With the familiar stroke of his chin, he drawled, ‘a friend is a man, who, before he invites you, asks your dog if he’d like to stay over….that’s a friend’. So maybe you should have some little dog treats”, I reminded her dryly.

“Well I’m sorry suh, we only have free coffee”.

Class dismissed.

You know you are in Tulsa when you realize the people on the frontage roads are driving faster than you are on the interstate. We settle into your average redneck trailer park, complete with speed bumps, barely a deterrent to the rugrats on skate boards. The residents are friendly, have most of their original teeth, an abundance of tattoos, and an infatuation with monster trucks and country music.

The next-door neighbor, armed with Coors Lite, admires our old Excella rig and asks me, ‘whatcha you call it’ ? I reply Suite Home Alabama, in an attempt to remain both adaptable and flexible south of the 37th parallel. He chuckles, offers me a cold one, and reminds me that the weather, as promised, is the world’s largest outdoor sauna. If they were to hold a “dry tee shirt” contest here, there would be no winner. Everything measurable is in the 90s, even some waistlines.

We’ll be back, weather permitting, in a few days, to taunt Tulsa.

Conservative drive from Liberal, Kansas

7 F., 7 ” of snow and 7 minutes south of 7 A.M., I’m feeling lucky. In the predawn darkness, the sign indicates Dalhart, Tx., Ten Miles. At this hour the sign is hardly necessary. The distant horizon is bisected by the corona of Dalhart.Across the expanse, lights create an eerily straight line separating heaven and earth. Some flicker red or amber or yellow or the halogen warning strobe from the cell towers and the grain elevators. Lights bounce from a monster Ford diesel truck, a Southern Pacific engine entourage followed by a hundred Chinese shipping containers on flatbeds, and on the left, an airstrip welcomes a wealthy cattleman in his flickering Cessna 182.  The west Texas panhandle….where have all the cowboys gone ?On long drives down lonely highways do you ever wonder how you became the person you are ? Why do you prefer freedom to money ?  Why are you happiest in old flannel clothes ?  Why do you wonder the names of birds, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, and weeds ?  Why would you choose to live in a place where you can see a million stars on clear nights, but can’t buy a frozen pizza without driving 40 miles ?      From the window, an Oklahoma byway  An endless panorama of prairie, bordered by stoic stick-figured telephone lines, sentinels in the wind, the search for zest, authenticity and simplicity comes naturally.  Being alone is not lonely.  Even the red tailed hawks took the day off.  Boise City, Oklahoma  The Artic (sic) RV Park, Boise City, Ok.  Closed, but cool.