December was spent with the family at various Christmas gatherings—4 in all—as well as a wedding, a big 90th birthday party, a road trip to a bowl game, etc. In other words, I was still on the road most of the time (about 17 days in December), but wasn’t really doing any sightseeing.
Still, it was enough to cause one of my roommates in Dallas to ask if I really lived there (the answer: no) and to earn me the title of “the other roommate”. You know, the other one. The one who’s not here right now. It just so happens that he owns the place.
I also spent about 5 days in Dallas with no car, because it took that long to get repairs made to the front corner of my pickup. So, I rode my cheap too-small mountain bike around quite a bit, and found myself bumming rides to anything that was more than a couple of miles away. For the first time, I actually was a hitchhiker of sorts, and I wasn’t even going anywhere.
Advice for getting auto body work done: shop around. I got estimates from only 3 different places, but the cheapest was a full 50% less than the most expensive. I tried to explain that it was about a 9-year-old pickup, and I wasn’t concerned about it being “good as new”; I just wanted it to be as good as 9 years old.
It looked pretty good, comparatively, when finished. Since the headlights and turn signal on the passenger side were now 9 years newer than the lights on the driver’s side, it made the untouched original lights look very yellowed and dirty. But, that doesn’t really bother me.
(By the way, the body shop that I did end up using was JMP in Garland. I had no complaints with them, and they did save me some money. They are also honest, and mailed me a $16 check when they discovered that they had accidentally added up the bill incorrectly.)
So, with all that jazz taken care of, I was ready to hit the road. But, the weather got in the way, in the form of a huge winter storm. I considered heading to the southwest first, ahead of the storm, but weather.com said that would just put me into several days of rain or snow, as the storm followed me down the road. So, I considered heading to the northwest first, because then I would at least be heading into the storm and get through it more quickly. But, it was dumping ice on Oklahoma, and the state’s 4 snowplows would be slow to get the roads cleared off.
So, I waited it out for a few days. I flipped a coin, and it landed on tails, so I decided to take the northerly route first. Not because north had called “tails”, but because of what “tails” actually was: I was using a new state quarter, the South Dakota edition, and the design on the on the back was an image of Mt. Rushmore.
It was again a Tuesday when I headed out from Dallas. No tree limbs in the yard this time.
I drove northwest toward Lawton, Oklahoma. Somehow, I had never been there before, even though it is the 3rd-largest town in my home state. (Admittedly, being the 3rd-largest town in Oklahoma is not saying much—it is a distinction somewhat akin to being the tallest mountain in Louisiana). As I crossed over the Red River, I saw another of the now-ubiquitous signs announcing Oklahoma’s centennial in 2007. Believe it or not, many Oklahomans are actually rather excited about this. The state is celebrating by having 3 or 4 floats in the Rose Bowl Parade, holding dozens of events around the state throughout 2007, and beating Texas in every sport this year.*
Oklahoma is sort of an odd duck, if you think about it. For starters, it’s not even a duck. But it is a state that was formed a mere 100 years ago with several sovereign nations wholly within its borders. In the county where I grew up, for instance, the Osage Nation owns all mineral rights to all of the land, regardless of who owns the land itself. Plenty of cars drive around with license plates issued by the Osage Nation, not the state of Oklahoma, and there is not much the state can do about it.
Half the state was settled by people who were forced to move there (the Indian** tribes), while the other half was given away for free to whoever had the fastest horse.
It contains almost every landscape or ecosystem that you can find anywhere in the U.S., from swamps to sand dunes and everything in-between. It just does it all on a much smaller scale. And it has no natural lakes to speak of, but contains more shoreline than the entire eastern and gulf coasts.
And the Oklahoma City airport is named after a guy who died in a plane crash.
Oh, and in Cordell, OK, they have this.
I didn’t run into any problems with ice on the road until I drove through the Wichita Mountains.
Not that it was really a problem. If it was, I could have easily driven around it; the Wichita Mountains really aren’t that much of a range. But I wanted to check out the scenery, and I somewhat wanted to drive on the ice. With 4-wheel-drive and no traffic to run into, the road presented a fun challenge.
Besides, I thought the white stuff on the road was just a thin layer of snow until I tried to walk on it. When I stopped at a lake in the mountains, it only took me 5 steps to walk about 20 yards through the parking lot.
The Wichita Mountains are full of small lakes, small mountains, and large animals. At the cattle guard where you cross over into the wildlife preserve, a sign warns about the large animals roaming the road, including buffalo and longhorn cattle. Since when have longhorns been considered wildlife?
I saw plenty of longhorns and buffalo grazing beside the road, as well as a couple of elk. The real interesting critters, though, were the prairie dogs. A couple of them played hide-and-seek in a large prairie dog town that extended to both sides of the road. Not the main road; I had taken a side road to visit the Holy City.
A sign pointed the way to “Holy City”, but gave no other information. I was curious as to what religion would have a holy city in southwestern Oklahoma, and what form this city would take. It didn’t look like anyone lived in the preserve, let alone a whole city, and I began to wonder if the prairie dogs had a religion.
When I did reach the Holy City of the Wichitas, I learned that the religion was Christianity, and the only resident was a white-tailed deer. The site was simply a very large stage for a passion play, with stone buildings representing everything from the stable to the tomb. According to the sign, they had been performing passion plays on the site for about 80 years.
But, there was nobody to put on the play, and nobody else around to watch—except for the ever-present prairie dogs. After 80 years, perhaps they have religion after all.
Outside of the mountains, most of western Oklahoma is relatively flat. Not completely flat, but flat enough for most people’s tastes.
In the central panhandle, it gets much closer to completely flat. A friend once showed me to the highest point in Texas County—the highest point in all of Oklahoma if you exclude Cimarron County, the very tip of the panhandle. You might expect such a point to be a mountain of some sort, or at least some kind of hill. Instead, my friend drove me to the middle of a flat wheat field. The gentlest of slopes indicated that this section of the wheat field was a few inches taller than the surrounding land.
This was the highest point in Texas County. From that field, at night, you could see the lights of every town in the county. There was nothing to obstruct the view.
I spent the night with Dave and Melanie, two friends of mine from college. Dave grew up in a house near the highest point in Texas County, and he and Melanie now have their own place right next door. I was in their wedding 4 summers ago, and thought I would check in with them and their daughter Mollee. Because of Mollee, I now know what a heffalump is.
Dave knows the joys and (primarily) frustrations of engineering the Homecoming float for Parker Hall, a project I always seemed to get stuck with but which he usually did the majority of the work for. Also, Dave is the one person who can provide eyewitness proof that I hold the distance record in Duct Tape Bowling. So, I need to keep in touch with him for when the Guinness guys*** come calling.
**That’s not the politically correct term, but I’m part Cherokee and can call myself whatever I dang well want.
***The World Record people, not the commercial guys. Although, IMO, Duct Tape Bowling is rather brilliant.