Friday, May 3, 2013

Vacationing in Tulsa

When an early teenager, I got to go to Tulsa every year or so. It was the big family vacation trip.

Traveling to Tulsa was an exciting prospect for me. Usually we stayed two nights, so we had one full day and parts of two other days in the big city. 

I knew Tulsa and Oklahoma from television. Most of the few stations we received through our antenna originated there. Watching the advertisements and local news, I was familiar with Tulsa’s major stores, its professional baseball team, state and local politicians making news in the city, and city’s weather. I was always eager to go to the big city from which our television signal regularly came.

The trip required careful preparation. We had to schedule a time when the Tulsa Oilers would be playing baseball (preferably a double header) and when my baseball team had no game scheduled. I had to ask the coach of my baseball team to be excused from any planned practices. My dad had to schedule a day off, and we had to coordinate with my aunt Ruth – with whom we would stay in Tulsa -- so that we would come when she had a day away from work.

The entrance to Tulsa's Oiler Part from
Arrangements had to be made with a relative to take care of Candy, our dog, for the duration of the trip. The car had to be taken in for a check and an oil change and lube job. The air pressure of the tires needed to be double checked as did the oil level of the engine.

Clothes for the three-day trip were packed the night before we departed. On the day of the trip, we would get up early to prepare. Mother made sandwiches in case we got hungry while on the road. She put ice and water in a large jar to insure we would not be parched during the trip. I was warned that there would be no stops, so I should prepare for the trip accordingly.

The travel from Fayetteville to the Arkansas-Oklahoma border was not very exciting. I had been to Siloam Springs several times to play different sports, so I was familiar with the landscape. However, I always got a thrill when I saw the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign and started noting that most cars had Oklahoma, not Arkansas, license plates. And Oklahomans seemed to drive different kinds of cars than I saw in Arkansas.

As we rolled on the two-lane road through different cities, I carefully pronounced the unfamiliar name of each city and looked around for any distinguishing features. I would study the passing billboards, whose ads differed from those on billboards in the state from which I came

After some time intently watching the new scenery pass, I would lie down on the back seat to rest my eyes and think about what I saw.  But not for very long.  Soon, I would again be staring out the window, looking for evidence revealing the character of the place we were visiting.

The trip seemed to last almost beyond endurance, but I would calm myself by counting down the miles to Tulsa by spotting the mileage road signs. Finally, we were on the edge of the big city and faced the task of negotiating its unfamiliar streets to find the house of Ruth and her son Wayne. With some twists and turns, some wrong directions and corrections, we would find ourselves outside their house. 

Then the adventure really started. In truth, almost everything we did in Tulsa was an adventure for me. Even going to the grocery store was fun. It was much bigger than those in Fayetteville and seemed to have exotic goods (even different kinds of candy) unavailable to us at the Fayetteville Safeway or IGA. For example, one year my mother bought crackers IN A TIN CONTAINER, not the usual disposable box. We used that container to store crackers for decades and it probably can still be found in the attic.
Wayne, my Tulsa cousin, during the 1959 vacation 

Wayne and I had fun, even though he was a couple of years younger. During one of the trips, we cajoled our parents to take us to an amusement park that had rides I usually saw only in the Fall at the Washington County Fair. We rode several of them until our allotted allowance ran out.  Another time, we spent an hour or so riding the escalators in the downtown JC Penny store. That was my first ride on an escalator and I could not get enough of it. Still another time, we toured the Tulsa Zoo, my first time in a zoo. I was impressed by the peacocks.

Invariably, we went to at least one Oilers baseball game. The Oilers were the Cardinal's AA farm team in the Texas League, and we always hoped to see some future St. Louis stars at the beginning of their careers. My dad was excited, in dress pants, snapping gum, and smelling of Old Spice as we took off well before the game’s start to watch batting practice and get good seats behind the plate, protected from foul balls by screens. We would buy a program, and I would keep a scorecard of the action. Usually we would leave the game in the 8th inning to “beat the traffic,” but would listen to the final inning in the car on the ride home. The game usually ended just as we pulled in front of the house.

My dad with ducks at the Tulsa Zoo, 1959
It was at an Oiler’s game when I discovered I was nearsighted and needed glasses. My dad and Wayne could easily make out the numbers and letters on the center-field scoreboard. I couldn't  no matter how hard I squinted. Although I put it off for four or five years, I eventually yielded to the inevitable and got the glasses I needed. I think my batting average would have been higher and I would have made fewer errors in American Legion baseball if I had gotten the glasses sooner.

Ruth and Wayne, plus Crybaby, their over-sized wiener dog, were always welcoming and generous hosts. Ruth would cook what seemed like a couple dozen eggs and three dozen pieces of bacon for breakfast, then scold us for not eating it all.

Wayne was a collector and always had some exotic collection of things that I did not have, such as plastic toy soldiers. I enjoyed playing with the collections; plus we could always find an interesting game to amuse ourselves.

Time would fly when we were driving the broad, busy streets of Tulsa, and the vacation would be over much too quickly. After eating one of Ruth’s mammoth, tasty breakfasts, we would repack the car, take the sandwiches provided for a snack, and refill the jar with water and ice.  After a quick check of the oil and air pressure of the tires, and a warning to me that we would not be stopping on the drive back, we were headed to Arkansas. Usually the car trunk was a little fuller, and I had some new things to fiddle with in the back seat.  

The trip back to Fayetteville was much less interesting than the trip to Tulsa. Typically, I would lie down much of the time in the back of the car, think about what we had just done, and wait for time to pass. The vacation seemed a distant memory when, as if by instinct, I would raise my head in time to see the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign.

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