Part 3 – Joplin, MO to Oklahoma City

Day three of our trip – Monday, May 3rd — dawned sunny and cool.  Not that I was aware of that, because I never get up at dawn, especially on vacation. 

But my cousin who owns the Caddy – his name is Darryll, which you know if you’ve looked at the “3 Cousins Route 66 Road Trip” FB page —  got up early and was waiting for a local muffler guy at 7:30 in the morning, and that guy was great.  He put a new muffler on the car, and we were on the road before 9:00.

Our first stop was actually in town.  It was a small garage beside a private house on a normal-looking street in which Bonnie and Clyde and three other members of their gang had been hiding out in the spring of 1933.  When the cops eventually showed up, Bonnie and Clyde shot and killed two of them.

We always tend to romanticize outlaws, and I guess I’m doing so by writing this.  But especially after this last year of verbal and physical attacks on our police, I feel we should remember them, and not just the bad guys who murdered them.  So let’s say their names: Detective Harry McGinnis and Constable J. W. Harryman.   I hope they had kids, and that they now have grandkids and great-grandkids.

Our society would be healthier if more people knew the names McGinnis and Harryman than know Bonnie and Clyde.

Not long after we left Joplin, we crossed over into the little corner of Kansas that is on Route 66.  We stopped at Galena, a charming but neglected old mining town that is the inspiration for some key scenes in the movie Cars.  Under a perfect blue sky, we drove down the several block long main street, getting some good pics of a couple of beautiful Route 66-themed murals.  We also got a nice shot of the Caddy in the middle of Main Street, across from where the Tow-Mater tow truck in Cars is parked, along with several other vintage cars . 

A little later on, we stopped at a tidy little 1920s roadside place called the Old Riverton Store. 

One of the nice things about this trip is seeing so many things that were once part of everyday life, and have been forgotten.  We entered through a closed-in area that had probably once been an open porch.  Pots of flowers flanked the entrance, giving a sweet scent to the shaded interior.  Stepping inside took me back to Rollie Price’s store in my childhood town.   The air was cool and dry smelled like a combination of the homey scents of old wood, and sawdust, and regular dust.  It had a tin ceiling, and an old red Coke machine with a built-in bottle opener that I remembered immediately, though I haven’t used one in 40 years, at least.  

The folks inside were friendly and helpful.  Both of my cousins had bought Route 66 passport books, and were collecting pins and memorabilia from the stops along the way.  The Riverton store had a wide variety of souvenirs, and they happily stamped Bob and Darryll’s passport books.  When we came back into the sun, and older man gushed about the Cadillac, and wished us a great trip.

Before we knew it, we crossed into Oklahoma.  Our first stop there was tiny Commerce.  Like many of the towns we’d already seen, Commerce had a neglected, melancholy air about it.  Bob navigated while Darryll drove, and in a few minutes we’d found Mickey Mantle’s childhood home. 

Fittingly, the house is a modest and small one-story wood frame building, that I’d guess has no more than 2 bedrooms and 1000 feet of space, if that.  To the right of the house stands a rusting old metal garage, and a sign at the house says that Mickey’s dad used to pitch to him in front of that building, praising him for well-hit balls that cleared the house.  The sign said that the dents in the side of the garage are from those batting practices, and that gave me goosebumps.   

After another short drive, we came to Vinita, which was a little larger and more active than Commerce.  We had lunch at Clanton’s Café, which was hopping with a full crowd.  In an encouraging sign for me that recurred in a lot of places during our trip, cowboy hats and ball caps greatly outnumbered masks.  (In the case of Clanton’s Café, the number of masks was zero.)   

One of the guide books that Bob and Darryll had picked up said that Clanton’s is known for their chicken fried steak.  I’m no fool; I had the chicken fried steak.  And my compliments to the cook.  (Not “chef,” I think, in Vinita, Oklahoma.)

Back on the road, we drove through some more of Oklahoma’s wide open spaces, which were greener and a little more rolling than I’d expected.  Our next stop was a wide spot in the road called Foyil, where we found a statue that honored a local boy named Andy Payne. 

I’d never heard of Andy Payne, but I should have.  Because in 1928, he won the International Trans-Continental  Footrace by running 3423 miles from LA to New York City.  The race was created to promote Route 66, and Payne ran it in a little over 573 hours over 84 days.

For this almost unimaginable feat, he won $25,000.  And did he spend it on hookers and foot massages and a lifetime supply of Dr. Scholl’s insoles, as many lesser men would?  He did not.  Instead, he used it to pay off the mortgage on his father’s farm.  

One of my resolutions coming out of this trip is to remember Andy Payne whenever I’m about to complain about anything.  As in, “Our speedometer doesn’t work, and the air conditioner doesn’t work, and the sun is in my eyes.”   

Before I can let such thoughts out of my piehole, I’m going to think of Andy Payne, running across the freaking continent.  On his feet!  Which did not come equipped with seats like a comfy recliner and a 126-inch wheelbase.

From the super-human to the super-kitschy, our next stop was the Blue Whale of Catoosa.  Which sounds like either a great name for a race-horse or a great nickname for a pool hustler, but is actually an accurate description of a big, blue, concrete whale on the edge of a small pond beside the highway. 

You can see pictures of the whale – along with all of the other stops along our trip, on the “3 Cousins’ Route 66 Road Trip” FB page.      

Our first big city of the trip – after Chicago – was Tulsa, and I was surprised at how big it was.  The downtown has a ton of impressive skyscrapers, and a lot of art deco style that I love.  But within just a couple of miles of downtown, we were in some rough territory.  As in many of the areas we drove through, we saw a lot of decrepit mobile homes in bad condition, often in communities with names that – seemingly cruelly – include “estates.” 

Out in the countryside again, we went through Sapulpa, and saw the old Rock Creek Bridge.  We took the “Depew loop” – never to be confused with the one in Chicago – discovering a once-thriving town that is a shadow of its former self. 

A little later on, we stopped to window shop at an old gas station converted into a small motorcycle museum in Warwick.  Then we passed another over-sized oddity, this time a funky, giant pop bottle in Arcadia. 

We ended our third day of travel by checking into a hotel in Oklahoma City shortly before sunset.  During that day’s travel, the landscape we traveled through had changed from the trees and gently rolling hills of Missouri to the more open, great-plains feel of Oklahoma, and we knew that the changes would become even more pronounced the next day.   

As I got ready to hit the sack, I raised a glass to Andy Payne, Mickey Mantle, officers McGinnis and Harryman, and the cooks and staff at Clanton’s Café.  And you should, too.

If it’s early, make it orange juice, or coffee.

Next up: Day 4, from Oklahoma City to Albuquerque