Oklahoma is Cherokee Nation but it's also tornado nation. I drove through this state scared for my life. I had never known or been told what to do if you are in the car and there is a tornado going on nearby. No one else seemed to be phased by it but I was having flashbacks to Helen Hunt watching those twister-chasers swept up in the Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley. I saw one car pull off the road and sit under an overpass made of cement so I did the same but it was getting dark and if the storm didn’t let up soon, I didn’t want to be driving in this Armageddon in pitch black. So sans-Bill Paxton, I mustered up the courage to forge on and drove into the light. The light was Tulsa. I left the storm in my dust and found a place to bunk for the night. I had intended to stay in Muskogee, Oklahoma because I saw that name on the map and it reminded me of a song from the film “Good Morning Vietnam.” Sure enough, now armed with the Internet, it was Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee.” Yea, well, the song didn’t mention how desolate the town really was so I had to hightail it out of there and head to Sallisaw instead. This was a Cherokee Nation area and it wasn’t all that fun to hang out in but I just needed a place to rest my head after a treacherous evening of driving through hell.
I had stopped in Blackwell, Oklahoma earlier in the day and that town was a bit depressed, as are many small towns that have lost some industry and folks don’t have the money to be out shopping. But it seems that there is an oil industry there. The farms, among the grain fields, have oil pumping out of the ground. Not sure how it all works but they are scattered among the wheat grain. The scary thing about the storms here is that you can see the bolts of lightning since the area is so damn flat in all directions. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have loved to capture some of these zig zag wonders on camera. Down the road some, I think I saw what was the result of lightning hitting a field and burning it to a crisp. So sad. I can’t imagine seeing all of your hard work burned to bits in one fell swoop thanks to Mother Nature. Ugh, she can be a bitch!
Two asides: Before the storm had begun, I saw a dead armadillo on the side of the road and it reminded me of that cake in the film “Steel Magnolias” with Julia Roberts but that took place in Louisiana so they must have armadillos too. I also saw a great roadside billboard near Tulsa that read: “Bust Stop. Supporting Tulsa since 1992.” Of course you’d pull over for a bra or two after reading that stroke of advertising genius.
Upon entering Arkansas, the rest area women gave me some good tips on where to find antique or flea markets in the state along Rt. 40. She also pointed out some wineries where there are tastings daily. I had just told her I was alone since they ask for government statistics once they hand over the free map so why would she think I could get boozed up along the way? Strange. But anyhow, she was very helpful and I was off to do some more shopping in Van Buren, Russellville and Morrilton.
Van Buren was great. They had just restored their historic downtown area and Main Street was very picturesque. I discovered a lot of gems in the shops along the way but my best find was a vintage silver dress that I will be wearing to Fred and Antigoni’s wedding at the end of the month. I saw it hanging there and was in awe of it. There was no size tag since it had been handmade so I had to try it on. There was no dressing room but there was a back room of the store so I simply closed the door and guess what? IT FIT! When I was checking out at the counter, I told the very friendly shop owner that I was so excited to find it because I had previously found this neat old hat to wear but didn’t have the perfect dress to pair with it. She insisted that I send her a photo after the party so she could see how well it looked on me. How sweet is she?!
For lunch, I popped into Carol’s Café and what a great choice. Not only was the chicken fried steak divine but the conversation in this Alice-esque diner was what movies are made of. Two women waited tables but the three ladies that were finishing up their lunches at opposing booths were a hoot! One was talking about dying her hair jet black but the man that walked in with a “Van Buren Old Timers” T-shirt on said, “That’s what we call blue hair. Your hair will really turn out lookin’ blue.” Now, I was having a hard time understanding these folks. Not the content of what they were discussing but their accents were so thick that many times, I had to mull over the sentences a few times before I got the gist of it. And I am not exaggerating. The ladies were also talking to themselves. Well, not really. But they were doing that thing where they’re reading the paper, reacting to the ads and saying something aloud hoping that someone will say, “huh?”
What struck me most was how much they shared with one another in public even though they might not even be close friends. They were talking about relatives that had to see counselors due to arrests and such. One of the waitress’ pregnant teen came out from the back and started talking about how much she has to pee lately and that her boyfriend and her were going to get a place together real soon. The woman reading the paper eager for conversation appeared to be a Crawford County Volunteer for Literacy, yet her English was consistently incorrect grammatically. I was worried for those learning the King’s English from this character. But at least she was volunteering. I should not judge. I felt like I was watching an SNL skit when the discussion came to what sex the baby was and if there were any names picked out. It was a girl but if it had been a boy, it was going to be Jackson Lee. The explanation for choosing that combination was too in-depth for me to keep up with so I will spare you the details.
The meal hit the spot though and I was so glad to have interacted with these fine ladies on a rainy day in Arkansas. Everyone is so super friendly here and it seems totally genuine. No reason for it not to be I guess. When I saw that chicken fried steak was the special, I ordered it with mashed potatoes, mac & cheese. When asked if I wanted white or brown gravy though, I was stumped. I felt like there was a wrong answer in the South so I hesitated and sure enough, my waitress said, “Most folks get white.”
Down the road a bit, with a full tummy, I was in this antique flea market and the shopkeep had the most unusual exchange with her neighbor. She simply said, ‘Whadya know?” and then the other woman answered, “I don’t know nuthin’” I know that sounds odd to read but it was as if it was their typical greeting. Like ‘what’s up?’ with the answer, ‘nothing”? Who knows. But another standard that I now love saying is “will gawwwlee” when I see something I like in a store. When in Rome. And by the way, this is the same store where I saw the John Deere handbag with black feathery accents. Someone went way too far here folks.
Another shop I walked into was manned by a husband/wife team. They had to be in their 80s and were the sweetest folks around. I bought this crocheted poncho (Matthea and Cara are laughing right now because I have an actual poncho collection. I know, RIDICULOUS). The woman went into this long drawn-out monologue about how she’s been telling her daughter to come down here to see THAT poncho because she would have loved it. Mind you, clothing is not really sold here. It’s mostly old Ball jars, guns, dolls, lunch boxes, etc. So she was doing this as a way to tell the customer that they just got there in time to snag this great deal. It was sweet. She asked where I was from since my non-twang stood out like a sore thumb. I told her and she immediately said, “Oh my gosh, my daughter lives in Maine.” I had to contain my laughter at how stinkin’ sweet this lady was to think that Maine and New York are practically the same because they are both on the east coast. I guess to her in Arkansas, they are. Before I came to the counter, I had been listening to the radio program she had on in the store. It was this über-conservative radio host spewing out lies about Obama’s health care plan. Saying that he pretty much wanted senior citizens to just die already. I heard her tsk-tsk-ing and wanted so badly to say, “How could you even entertain such an insane thing?” But I refrained. Instead, I asked her what this pin that was hanging by the register meant. It had a piece of rice with initials underneath and she couldn’t recall the manufacturer’s name but informed me that Arkansas is one of the largest producers of rice for the country. That I did not know. By the way, that radio host actually told this joke on the air, “How do you know when Obama is lying about conservatives? His lips move.” Hardy-har.
On my way to Morrilton, where I stayed for the night, I saw a sign for an upcoming livestock auction. I think I want to go to one of those before I leave this part of the country. That would be interesting to say the least. Maybe I can raise my paddle right away for a steer just to participate. Only if it’s got 4 legs though. I wouldn’t want to get stuck with something too big for my Subaru. Speaking of which, “Ain’t No Junk in This Trunk” is being donated to “The Safe Place,” a domestic violence shelter for women and children. I need more room for the obscene amount of stuff I’m accumulating. I look at it this way. I am singlehandedly stimulating the economies of many small towns across America so it’s a good thing.
Radio highlights: “Don’t Be Cruel” (Bobby Brown), “When Doves Cry,” “Hurts So Good,” “All Night Long” (Lionel Ritchie), “Ghostbusters,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Separate Ways”
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Twisters, armadillo roadkill, brassiere assistance, Obama haters and blue hair
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:41 AM
Labels: "john deere" oklahoma arkansas "van buren" morrilton "chicken fried steak" cherokee tornado blackwell