I woke up in a different town to the one I went to sleep in, or least it feels that way. Coming into Tulsa at night tired I didn’t want to notice or just couldn’t notice what was going on around me. Route 66 has taken a slightly different turn here in Oklahoma.
American stores have a habit of not having names, just large signs screaming out the thing they sell the most of. Everywhere you go you’ll see signs for liquor, a diner, guns, toys and more but Oklahoma has a different approach. Here is the home of the dollar store. General Dollar, Top Dollar, Tornado Dollar and more. Everywhere you look there’s a store selling things for a dollar and you get the feeling they need that dollar more than you need the stuff in the store. Oklahoma is a tough state, the type of place where women have good barbers and the men have deals on bail bonds.
This is the first time Route 66 has showed us troubled towns and people in poverty. At a gas station near Oklahoma City a man stops his car and approaches me. He tells me he needs to get his wife to Elk City. He needs money for gas and asks for help. I take out what’s in my pocket and it’s exactly $11. I keep $10 and give him $1. He says thanks and goes into the store. His wife in the car makes conversation while he’s gone and tells us she is looking after her sister’s baby. Her sister died. Her husband is doing his best to look after them both but he’s struggling after paying medical bills for the kids vaccines yesterday. All I can think is why didn’t I just give him the $10.
He comes out shakes my hand, thanks me again and says, “You’re a good guy.” No I’m not I thought. I’m just a stupid shmuck with a bit more luck than the guy doing his best to help his family. I wonder straight away if I could ever be half as strong as him and again all I can think is why didn’t I just give him the $10. He drives away and it’s on my mind for the rest of the day.
We all know people are out there struggling but when they walk up and shake you by the hand, you look a little harder at yourself. Seriously, on this trip what am I going to do with that $10? Coffee and a muffin? I’d like to think that in the future that kid will be accepting an award for college or sports, standing there a millionaire and saying that if it wasn’t for his step-dad that all his dreams might never have come true. But this is the real world and in the real world it’s hard to imagine. All I can do now is wish him well.
I really wanted to like it here as much as the rest of the trip. I wanted every place to get better and better and to love each place regardless. Love it for its flaws if that’s what its got, or for its food, or for anything really. And then it happens. A motorcycle museum run by one of the single most interesting people I have ever met. Cap in hand, heart on his sleeve and good honest conversation. He tells me how to see the place properly and where to look to appreciate it all. He gives us two free t-shirts and we give him one too and some badges. We hit the road and suddenly without warning it’s the best day yet.
Long picture perfect roads that people take pictures of to sell cars, a sky so big and wide it feels that if I jump off the bike I could swim in it. Cowboy type men riding horses in fields and horses on their own looking amazing in a way that a field full of cows could never pull off. And there’s a new accent here, like music. Everyone sounds like a Cork girl singing your favorite song well.
We meet another one of our groups on the road and everyone is smiling and loving the new scenery. There’s slagging of ‘that guy’ who filled his bike up with diesel, pictures with old style cars, plans for our evening and then the realisation that we are now only a half hour away from our last destination. The last few miles to the hotel are some of the best I’ve ever ridden. I knew it Oklahoma, I knew you wouldn’t let me down. You were just getting to know us before you showed us what you are really all about. Texas be damned, we’re staying here another night.
We checked into the hotel and went across the road for some food and a beer. When I get the bill and pay, the change is $11 dollars. I take $1 and give the waitress $10. She says, “Wow, thank you!” Too little too late is what I think, but I say, “No problem, have a good night.”
Tomorrow, Texas and New Mexico.