Monday, November 19, 2012

On the Road to Inspiration

Recently my wife and I drove across eastern and northeastern Oklahoma looking for beautiful fall foliage. It helped that one of the wonderful casinos in Tulsa graciously offered us a room and a free buffet if we would drop in and spend a couple a hundred dollars trying to retire early … it seemed to good to pass up.

Plus, I was looking for some inspiration to help me finish some writing projects I’m working on and maybe a little to help me churn out one or two hundred more award-winning humor columns.

We couldn’t check into our room until 4 p.m., although the happy casino worker suggested we could leave our bags at the front desk and start gambling right away. Tempting as that was, we decided to look for something else to do that didn’t involve planning for retirement.

We hopped in the car and drove north from Tulsa toward the historic town of Oolagah. Oolagah, for the uninitiated, is the birthplace of Oklahoma cowboy, actor and funnyman Will Rogers. Rogers is one of my heroes, not only because he’s from Oklahoma, but because he was one of the original humor column writers. Rogers penned more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated columns each week taking on politics and the establishment as a whole. 

What a great guy.

We found Oolagah and turned left off Oklahoma Hwy. 169 to tour its “historic downtown.”

When the Oolagah City Fathers say, “historic,” they really mean “this is pretty much the only stuff we haven’t torn down yet.” The downtown is just a row of early 1900s buildings, which now contain insurance agencies, a flower shop, the county tag agency and the historical society and museum. The centerpiece in historic downtown Oolagah is a statue of Ol’ Will Rogers and his trusty horse — Trigger? — in the middle of Main Street.

I still didn’t quite find the inspiration I needed, so we continued north on Hwy. 169, through Talala and turned back to the east on County Road 300, which would take us through some beautiful backroads country, eventually landing in the Rogers County seat in Claremore, where Will Rogers spent a great deal of time.

We started down a beautiful, tree-lined two-lane road that took us right over the top of Oolagah Lake. We almost stopped at the Winganon Bait Shop to find out what type of fish were biting but we decided to try and make it to Chelsea, right on the famous Route 66. 

The town of Chelsea has a population of 2,100 people, according to the sign at the city limits, but I doubt it. We stopped at the local convenient store, which serves as a meeting place, a fuel center, a hunters’ check-in station and the local Mazzio’s Pizza. We got gas and a drink and wondered around inside for a bit trying to figure out who Rhonda Benright was and why there was a sign by the cash register that said: “Rhonda Benright is not allowed inside this store.” It must have been bad.

A few miles further down the road I said something about how this was the perfect excursion. I was traveling along Route 66, looking at some pretty fall foliage, listening to country music all with the beautiful company of my wife. “All is right in the world,” I said. It must have been exactly what the Joads were experiencing in “The Grapes of Wrath” except for the whole depression and Dust Bowl and such.

The inspiration was slow so I continued on.

Thirty minutes later, we drove up on the thriving metropolis of Claremore, Okla. and once again found ourselves in an historic downtown area. While the one in Claremore was a little more exciting than the one in Oolagah, I can’t help but think Will Rogers might have poked a little fun at the new Claremore, as the town tries to keep one foot in its rich past as one of Oklahoma’s first towns and one foot in the capitalistic future of fast food chains, banking centers on every corner and the local shopping strip center with its ubiquitous donut shops, nail salons and dry cleaning establishments.

Maybe it’s just too hard to find inspiration in modern American. Or maybe I was just looking in the wrong places and at the wrong things.

It’s the people who bring inspiration not necessarily the places.

While historic birthplaces and famous highways remind us of former glory and trying times, t’s the fact that people like Will Rogers and the Dust Bowl Okies lived and worked and survived that we are inspired. They did what they had to do to survive and to carve out a better life for themselves. That is the true American spirit. These are the stories that inspire me and millions of others.

And, of course, winning $500 at the casino sure doesn’t hurt.

No comments: