Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Joad Road

"Oklahoma has a number of historic highways which were all but
abandoned with the building of the Interstate Highway systems.
Route 66 being the best known of all historic highways, stretches
405 miles from the Texas Panhandle to where it nips through
Kansas on its way to Chicago. Being a fan of the writings of John
Steinbeck, I decided that I would ride a lesser-known route, the
Joad Road, which runs for some 200 miles from the Arkansas border
to the back steps of the Capitol Building where it joins Route
66. It was originally known as Oklahoma Highway 1, but has since
been numbered and renumbered until it has all but lost its
identity. It is now one of the nearly forgotten routes across the
state, shown only as a thin blue line on most maps."

"...The blue highways of Oklahoma can carry you back through time
to when life was less hectic, less stressful and less demanding.
A bicycle tour along Oklahoma's forgotten highways can be an
experience never to be forgotten. In an automobile you touch the
pavement but on a bicycle, you touch the people."

Jim Foreman, "The Joad Road"

I'm of two minds about the people of Oklahoma. On one hand, they
can be warm and generous, openly talkative with strangers, and
genuinely helpful. But then there's that other hand, the one
extended with a single digit as they pass a cyclist, horn
blaring, only to show the fish decal on the back bumper. You
know, the small chrome outline of a fish that all good Christians
attach to the car. Like I said, I'm of two minds.

My father-in-law put it well. "Oklahomans are nice, friendly
people - until they get behind the wheel of a car!"

Still, I sometimes consider that Oklahoma is in a kind of
time-warp. We're attached to the modern world, but not really
part of it.

Here's a piece from Fodor's Road Guide USA:

"Few visitors to Oklahoma leave without remarking on the
friendliness of the people, who blend Southern hospitality with
the openness found in the West. Many an out-of-state visitor
driving in the western plains has been mystified by the number of
total strangers who wave hello. "Oklahomans are what other
people think Americans are like," Will Rogers said about his
native state in the 1920s. "Oklahoma is the heart, it's the
vital organ of our national existence.""

Will Rogers wrote that over 70 years ago, but it's still true.
Lots of motorists wave to me on my daily commute. I'm just
another part of traffic, a cyclist they see regularly. Once I
hit a pothole in the pre-dawn darkness. All my lights bounced
into the weeds and turned themselves off! With the aid of a
small flashlight, I searched for them just as a passing truck
stopped. The driver wanted to know if I was OK, and when I said
I was, he said that if I ever broke down he'd offer me a ride in
to work! "Just stand along the road and I'll stop for you!"

Then there's the other hand, of course, as exemplified by a
former neighbor who told me that all jobs in this state should be
offered to Oklahomans first, instead of bringing in a bunch of
Yankees. I doubt she could spell "xenophobia" let alone define
it. Or there's the church that shunned us once they discovered
we were from Pennsylvania. I am not making this up. I was
shocked. But these incidents are the exceptions, not the norm.

But I never really felt much personal connection to this state
until I got involved with the idea of promoting Route 66 as a
bicycle route. The research has been fascinating, as those two
quotes above clearly illustrate. I actually enjoy doing all the
reading! This state has a multitude of interests, from it's
topography and diverse ecosystems to its history as Indian
Territory, outlaw hiding place, and Wild West culture. Route 66
crosses east-to-west, as does the Joad Road from Steinbeck's
"Grapes of Wrath." The Chisholm Trail bisects the state
north-to-south. Oklahoma has been a focus for petroleum
development and aviation. In fact, the oil boom in the 1920's
financed the Art Deco architecture so prominent around Tulsa.

That's the fascination for me - how one idea leads to another.


Blogger Okiedoke said...

Cycling in Oklahoma can be nice. My favorite ride was OKC east 120 miles to Lake Eufaula. The low clouds and big tail wind made it a delight, even loaded with camping gear.

However, the wind kept up, and I didn't make it all the way back on two wheels; ended up catching a bus.

Surprisingly, I experienced nothing but courteous drivers the entire trip. This was in 1978.

1:13 AM  

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