Tulsa is bigger than I had imagined and has a small CBD area with some really cool Deco style high rises. It's Sunday afternoon when we pull into the Greyhound station, met by my relatives Patti and Steve.
Patti is my mum's cousin and her father is my grandfather's brother. They grew up in the West of Ireland, but Patti's father (Patrick) left when he was only 17 on a ship for America - he must have been a brave man. He arrived on Ellis Island, New York then headed off to follow his dreams. After joining the Army and working in Hawaii, he was posted to the Horse Artillery in El Paso, Texas. It is here that he met Patti's mum Phyllis whose brother was in the same artillery and the rest is history... We were soon settling in and Patti and Steve's cute house and becoming acquainted with their nine cats (yes, nine!).
Most of the cats have been rescued from unpleasant situations and they have mostly had very difficult lives.
Well, not anymore as they're on easy street now!
They have an endless supply of food, soft cushions, toys, boxes, scratching poles and anything else a cat could possibly desire.
I bet they can't believe their luck! Two of the cats are diabetic, so they need a lot of care.
On our first evening Patti shows me photos of when my mum and dad visited Tulsa on one of their big trips in the early 70's...
Staying with (and being shown around) by locals really makes for a different experience and you always get to see things that you would never see as a tourist. We spend Saturday touring the local area with Patti and Steve. To satisfy Tim's desires, we begin our weekend at the enormous Myers Duren Harley store,
where we're lucky enough to catch a 'Ball of Death' Show in the parking lot.
This is where one or more motorcycles somehow manage to ride inside a tiny circular cage. This cage is 100 years old and has been in the same family for generations. The show starts with one guys riding around erratically, then his brother has a go. They then somehow both manage to zip around the inside of the ball at the same time. The finale involves their scantily clad assistant, Olga, standing at the base of the ball while the two motorcycles flit perilously around her like a pair of agitated mosquitoes! Our other destinations are a little more cultural - an Art street fair in Jenks and a visit to the Gilcrease Institute where we peruse an excellent range of American Indian artefacts and art. One of the most fascinating (but not necessarily cultural) attractions in Tulsa is the Oral Roberts University.
This institution was established by a famous TV Evangelist and has been in the national news the last month or so because of the founder's son having embezzled large amounts of money from the student fees. The university is marked by the super size praying hands at the entrance, and things get weirder as you enter the world of Evangelism. Inside the university grounds is the famous 'Prayer Tower', a futuristic looking tower which houses the 24 hour prayer line. Believers are invited to call the Prayer Tower at any time of the day, where (undoubtedly for a small contribution) an assistant will hear your prayer and put it out there from this auspicious location. This place is serious about its beliefs and, surprisingly, has a Science department. We wonder how they're explaining away evolution? Apparently many Evangelist congregations expect their members to 'donate' 10% of their yearly income, so it's no wonder that these institutions have huge amounts of money to play with. We end our day on the porch listening to Steve playing some familiar old songs on his guitar.
Our Sunday is spent driving north on Route 66,
fondly known as 'The Mother Road'. Oklahoma is home to one of the longest remaining stretches of Route 66. There's some surprising new additions along the way. Oklahoma is also home to one of America's largest populations of native American Indians, who were forced to move here when displaced in other states. The indigenous group now have access to various licenses, including 'smoke shops' and casinos. We stop at the Cherokee Casino Resort, an American Indian run casino. Apparently they are making big bucks off these places and distributing the revenue amongst their people. You're in doubt that the money is coming in swiftly when you take a look inside at the masses feeding the machines with dogged expressions on their faces. It could be seen as sweet revenge... Further up Route 66 at Catoosa we visit the dilapidated, but very cool 'Blue Wale' that juts out into a small swimming hole. It was built decades ago as point of interest along the route and it looks as if a lot of kids have had a fine time here over the years. After visiting Claremore, another historical town, we head back to Tulsa, stopping along the way at a huge at a huge cowboy store called Drysdale's. You've never seen so many plaid shirts, cowboy hats, cowboy boots and jeans in your life.
We have fun trying a few things on and giggling at the 'no spitting' signs above the bins.
The day finishes up with us at a local bar watching some fine old Blues and Blue
Grass being played...
A lot of things in the States are BIG. We've visited the Big Apple, had a taste of Texas (which is just plain Big) and now we've been infected with the Big road - Route 66. There's something innately fascinating about this road and we want more! We end up hiring a car (Pontiac Grand Prix)
to drive the famous stretch between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. There are plenty of stretches where you can divert onto the often overgrown and inevitably bumpy old route, which is good fun.
You also pass through some really great little towns with some great little stores, diners, gas stations and motels, many of which still have the really old school signage.
We stop at at a famous diner called the Rock Cafe.
This cosy little place has real character and it feels like you've gone back in time about 50 years.
Tim downs an alligator burger and we continue on our merry way. In the next town, Davenport, we pull up an old gas station where there are a couple of great old cars out front.
We've seen plenty of old rusting cars in people's yards along the route, but these ones are in tip top condition.
There's another original Phillip's Route 66 gas station on the main drag in Chandler that looks as if it's in the process of being lovingly restored. Out back there's a classic mobile chrome diner with all the fixtures inside.
In Arcadia we visit the lovely old Round Barn which has been restored by a group of local retirees.
We're a bit mystified by the numerous pieces of paper tacked to the wall inside the barn with misogynistic comments about wives and mother-in-laws, who knows what that is all about?! Tim nearly swerves off the road as we drive into Oklahoma City. He has spotted a whole bunch of hot cars.
We pull in to find that the car showroom is called 'Fast Toys for Boys':
We got talking the young guy that runs the place and we took us out the back to show us the rest of his collection. There are Bel Airs, Camaros, Chevelles, Pontiacs and a whole lot more, all in beautiful condition. I finally manage to drag Tim out of there and we have a quick drive around the Capitol in Oklahoma City before doubling back to Tulsa.
A good bit of our time in Tulsa is spent chatting with Patti and Steve and hanging out with their cats. It's not long before I have a firm favourite - an unpredictable Russian Blue called Scooter. This poor little fellow has had various adventures, including being locked in a cellar for far too long. He's known as the 'someone must pay' cat as he's renowned for switching between affectionate purring/smooching and clawing/attacking all within a blink of the eye.
It's hard to tell if he's going to snuggle up or draw blood, so you better watch out! We have taken to watching Bible TV in the mornings. You get a bird's eye view of some really weird shit on these channels. It's actually very compelling stuff watching people prance, shake, scream, dance, jump and every other manner of strange behaviour whilst in religious raptures. It's not so different from what you see in a psychiatric hospital, but I guess these people are committed in a different way... On the morning we're due to leave Tulsa there's a tornado warning, but although the winds are high we don't get to see much (to Tim's great disappointment!). Having been ridiculously spoilt by Patti and Steve we say our goodbyes and board the Greyhound bus back to Dallas.
We've been in countless bus stations around the world, but the Greyhound Bus Station in Down Town Dallas sure is a scary place. The place is seething with toothless, chain smoking, overweight and shifty eyed humanity. As we're checking in our bags the medics came rushing in to attend a guy that has overdosed and is propped up stiffly in one of the plastic chairs. He's carried off unconscious on a stretcher. We're soon setting off on our 6 hour bus ride to Oklahoma. Much of the journey is a blur - an endless stream of chain fast food restaurants, hotels, superstores, pharmacies and huge billboards and signs advertising all of them .... This place has a serious case of chainstoritis. If it ain't a franchise with a familiar sign and an overexposed logo it's ain't got no place here in Texas! How these food outlets get enough business i'll never know. At any one time along the roadside you can count about 20 in each direction - all with drive throughs, massive car parks and a lingering smell of lard. We soon cross the Oklahoma state boundary, where the bus stops (you guessed it!) at McDonald's for lunch. What could make you feel more depressed than watching a steady stream of unhealthy and overweight people queuing for their latest fix?