Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 — the long concrete path across the country waving gently up and down on the map’… ’66 out of Oklahoma City; El Reno and Clinton, going west on 66.” ~ John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Riding the older sections of Historic Route 66 is to become accustomed to the rhythm of tires as they thump across the seams of the concrete road. The trip west of El Reno runs parallel in many places to the Interstate where the traffic of the 21st century passes higher on the plain as if height reflected your place in time. Transport trucks silhouetted by the sun become as indistinct as the traces of old stops along the way.
I live only a few miles from the historic highway and I often manage the more mundane parts of my new life along the edges of its domain. Storefronts of brick and tile, tin ceilings and sidewalks still line the road in Yukon, El Reno and Hydro. After a stop at the Ross Seed Company, we headed west and followed fields beginning to green with only a long string of power lines to break the horizon. Thump, thump, thump.
The concrete is curled in at the edges to keep water from washing away the soil. When rain falls here in spring time, it can be torrential. The bridge across the Canadian River seemed too wide for the gentle stream running over the sandy river bed, the deep cut banks alluding to the sleeping dragon below.
Thump, thump, thump.
Several ruins rose up on either side of the highway and the road to the near ghost town of Bridgeport split like a Y as if the expectation upon entering and leaving the the town is that the visitor is only ever passing through. Less than a mile up from 66, the crossroads of Bridgeport is marked only by the decaying post office. Steel bars still protect the postmaster’s window and images of a man with sleeve protectors sitting behind it in the semi-darkness invade my thoughts. A neighbouring dog comes by to see what we are up to and get some affection. He looks like a cross between Lassie and the Queen’s Corgis and he follows us down the street past abandoned houses.
The remaining residents live an array of double wides and in the homesteads still viable. Broken sidewalks lead down a street where furniture sits on the porches of houses close to collapse. Wildflowers grow over the edges of what might have once been a tended garden.
People are quietly inside their homes and the welcoming committee was left to the various animals, including a young horse who wandered to the fence wondering if I had a hostess gift?
As we walked back past an old church and the walls and foundations of some other unknown place, we became aware of the scent of spring’s green on the brisk breeze and wondered what this year will bring. The wind whipped up dust filled sheets from time to time and the grit in our eyes and on our teeth reminded us of why Oklahoma has so many ghost towns. After traveling a bit further down the Portland concrete road, we made a quick stop in Hydro and turned around in search of refreshment.
Heading across Oklahoma City seems a bit extreme to get a pop, but then Arcadia, OK has the most choices. Nearly 500. On a warm February Saturday evening, the “POPS” stand is crowded. We picked some unusual flavours – Spruce Beer, Cotton Candy and Creme Caramel creme soda.
One last stop was to the famous Round Barn, restored by the Hampton Inn hotel chain. I looked at how complicated the building of this amazing structure would have been and I was left wondering what motivated the builder to do it?
The sun was nearly set when we hopped back on 66 and headed home. That sounds strange when I say it. We are the migrants now and Oklahoma is the end of the line for many. The irony is that some are riding the road east from California.
As Oklahoma faces another possible drought and the oil boom keeps the economy buoyant, one has wonder about the tides of time and what they bring in and what they leave behind.