John & Brenda's Excellent Tour travel blog

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. The reflecting pool represents width of closed 5th...

Symbolic chairs on the site of the destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal...

Poignant chain link fence of memorabilia in front of memorial.

A tribute to one of the victims along the chain link fence.

Memorial to 1921 Tulsa Race Riots

Deluxe graffitti near entrance to Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

Lucinda williams rocks on in the historic Cain's Ballroom


April 30

Brenda, to her relief, finally got to do a workout in Oklahoma City after a week without fitness facilities. Under an ominous weather forecast, we checked out of our motel to head for Tulsa. On our way here, we had seen signs leading to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the 168 people killed in the April 19, 1995 federal building bombing. Brenda found the map details and we decided to stop there on our way out of town toward the newly rejoined Route 66.

We had no idea of the incredible feeling the profound setting of the Memorial would have on us. I can only compare it to the feelings I had when Dennis Werk and I went to the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1984. The scope of the crime and the physical representation of the former street, the building site and the tributes to the victims are truly overwhelming; we admit to several tearful moments as we toured the site.

One of the most compelling scenes is a chain link fence along the sidewalk in front of the Memorial. Apparently, the fence was put up during the demolition of the building and construction of the Memorial and citizens and survivors began hanging mementoes for the victims along it. They considered it somehow sanctified and made it a permanent part of the site; simple but incredibly powerful.

We left Oklahoma City deeply moved and headed down Route 66 toward looming clouds. We drove through a couple of heavy rain cells with nearby thunder and lightning and, as we broke out of it, decided to take a break at a Subway for lunch. We met the nicest guy at an adjacent table, very friendly and loved to talk. He had noticed my Route 66 T-shirt (remember my gift from the Johnstons?) and began there. We had lots of discussions about his and our travels and he praised the rain as they had been through some pretty severe drought. As he put it, he worked at the GM plant nearby to support his "habit"...farming!

We took our leave from our new friend with some difficulty as he kept talking on our way out the door. As we drove down 66, we saw huge, black funnel clouds (think tornadoes?) forming to the south of us and our outside thermometer reading in Big Blue dropped from 23°C to 17° within a mile or two. The wind picked up something fierce as the rain struck us full force. Rain isn't the word; it was like driving into Niagara Falls as the road was quickly awash with running water. We saw lightning forks hit the trees beside us and there were simultaneous crashes of thunder. I don't think I've been more nervous (OK...scared s**tless!) as we crawled along at 30-40 KM/hour.

This weather followed us off and on all the way to Tulsa upon whose entry we found our poorly detailed map, crappy roads and heavy rain led to momentary contention between driver and navigator. Brenda has done a fantastic job as navigator and she takes it with a serious degree of responsibility. When the tools of her trade (i.e. maps and road signs) are not detailed enough to work with, it's very frustrating. We are going to work on our "enter big city" dynamic to make it a more satisfying experience.

It is really a shame that the weather detracted from our drive because Oklahoma City and northeast Oklahoma are "oh so pretty".

May 1

Happy Birthday, Carly!

Happy Birthday, SB!

Our first night in our chosen motel told us that it wasn't quite the kind of accommodation we desired; cleanliness in the room was substandard, the adjacent Denny's had garbage pickup every morning at 6:30 am and the #$@%^& sheets came untucked all night long! The weather threatened rain off and on all day long so we drove over to the venue for the night's entertainment, Lucinda Williams, to pick up our tickets at the "will call". We took a tour of the joint, the Cain's Ballroom, and got swept up in the history.

This is where Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and the whole "Texas Swing" thing got its start. The Cain's was a genuine "10 cents a dance" place in the early days for farmers, ranchers and mainly the oil roughneck crews. The pictures around the hall are of all the 30's and 40's Grand Ole Opry entertainers who played here, like Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Tennessee Ernie, Little Jimmy Dickens and on and on. Since the early 80's they have covered the waterfront, from the Sex Pistols to Bob Dylan.

We wanted to preview a place for dinner and so had lunch at a funky joint called Lola's just down the block. While in the Men's room, I spotted a poster for the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and we decided to drop in there as it was nearby. Another serendipitous moment because the Hall of Fame is on Greenwood Street and as we pulled in, we noticed another memorial. When we read the text on the monuments, I recalled reading a couple years ago of the incident it represented.

In 1921, Greenwood Street was also known as the Black Wall Street of Tulsa where free blacks had built an enormous self-sufficient economy, primarily built on black commerce. The prosperity created jealousy and fear in the Tulsa white community, and in 1921, a minor incident blew into an all out race war. In a short time, Greenwood Street and surrounding blocks were burnt to the ground, blacks and whites were killed and blacks were eventually interred and/or chased off. Official claims were 35 dead but unofficial tallies put the number at over 300.

Beside the Memorial was a reconstructed house from the era, which was only open for tours by appointment. We started to walk away when a large black man drove up and asked if we wanted to see inside. We said we hadn't made an appointment but Tony said, "I'll give you a tour!" It was wonderful, not only did we get to see the house but also Tony gave us an anecdotal rundown of the history of the area and the Race War itself. Interestingly, the white version calls it a race riot while the black version has it as a war. It is not talked about in Tulsa except in this little enclave, largely because there is an outstanding claim of reparations from the survivors, similar to that provided to interred Japanese and that sought for the Chinese Head Tax.

We returned to the motel from hell to freshen up for the concert and, due to a severe weather warning, reluctantly booked an extra day to avoid any more driving in storms. We ordered a taxi for the show because we were pretty sure drinking would be involved. Phil, our driver, was great and even offered to wait outside the Cain's after the show to take us home. He dropped us at Lola's (again) where we had a fantastic dinner and reluctantly left an entertaining jazz combo playing in the lounge to walk to the Cain's.

Lucinda Williams was everything we hoped for and the Cain's lived up to its reputation. We don't think there were more than 750 fans bouncing along on the spring-loaded pecan-planked floor. It was standing only, no seats, so we ended up maybe 25 feet from Lucinda herself and, not being too crowded, it was far too easy to get to the bar for a longneck. Brenda, of course, was much wiser and switched to water at the right time (i.e. way earlier than me). True to his word, Phil was at the curb outside waiting to take us home.

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