The Amateur American Hobo: Memphis, TN to Tulsa, OK (Part IX)
Around 3am the Greyhound bus rocked me to sleep despite the chatter from the other riders. I woke up as the sun rose and realized that I’d slept though all of Arkansas. We were starting to make our way into Oklahoma. It was still a few hours to Oklahoma City so I drifted back to sleep, watching the billboards and waffle house signs pass along the side of the highway. The bus continued rattling down the road into the dull landscape.
The next time I woke we were in the middle of Oklahoma City, turning around the corner by a park and stopping at the bus depot. The streets seem empty – of cars and people. Bob and I shuffled through the line of groggy passengers waiting to get off the bus and get their bags. After retrieving them we high tailed it to a park on the edge of downtown. We lay out some of our belongings still soaked from Memphis and called our friend Clark. Bob and I were happy to be in a new city. We soaked up the intermittent sunshine, spread out in a patch of soft green grass. After the closed-in dirty downtown of Memphis, Oklahoma City had a refreshingly open feel.
Clark lives in Tulsa but happens to be in Oklahoma City today. He finds his way to us despite our unintelligible directions. Clark parks his truck on the street and moseys over, we catch up and enjoy a fine rollie cigarette. After a bit Clark lays out his plans for the day. Bob and I eventually toss our bags in the cab of Clark’s rig and go along for the ride. There’s a bike collective we check out, using their free internet, cheap coffee and reading library to kill a few hours and keep entertained. Lindsay, who lived next door to me with Clark a few years before, meets us outside with some other friends and we shoot the shit for a few hours, drinking coffee and smoking.
Once we’re all highly caffinated and the afternoon has been mostly whiled away we make a trip to the liquor store in preparation for the evening. It is by far the biggest liquor store I’ve ever seen – it’s as big as a full sized grocery store. Our purchases are routine – two fifths of whiskey. I don’t recall the brand on one, but the other is the Georgia Moon corn whiskey that is packaged in a mason jar in an attempt to create the feel of drinking moonshine. Walking back toward the truck parked at the bike shop we pass a small group of old black guys sitting on a ledge at the edge of a lawn. They try to talk their way into a sip out of our unopened whiskey bottles, we decline cordially and continue down the busy street. Clark, Bob and I stash the bottles in the back of the truck and take a walk down the street to pay a visit to some of Clark and Lindsay’s friends.
The first place we come to is small and cozy, tastefully decorated in a modern style. The residents, who are all pleasant and friendly, are wearing tight jeans from American Apparel and sleek black hoodies. Once we start talking about trains the conversation gets lively. We find out that most of the five or six people in the room have ridden trains in the midwest more than a handful of times – including one girl who had ridden most of the way across the country hiding under piggyback trailers alone. Bob and I are a little taken aback, not expecting the initial conversation to turn into an argument about train schedules and the best ways to get to different cities in the midwest. I don’t have much to contribute since I’m out of my element in the midwest and we came in on a Greyhound. Eventually we tire of the discussion and Clark invites us to go visit another house and we walk through the warm evening streets as the light transitions to darker hues approaching twilight.
The next house we come to is huge. It’s comfortably run down, with a wood stove in the middle of the living room. The ancient and worn chairs have croched afghans draped over them and a few sullen cats lounge around the room. With the low lighting and mason jars lining most shelves that we can see it feels like this is a house that has stayed frozen in time, that’s its a relic of the Oklahoma City from the dust bowl years, or before. It is full of eccentric residents that Bob and I make small talk with in the living room, reclining in the dusty chairs. Our visit to this house too is brief. We walk back to Clark’s truck to get another layer for the night’s outing. We take a break at the vehicle to pour whiskey from the now open bottles into a waterbottle, a flask and ourselves before continuing toward downtown at a brisk pace.
We can hear the commotion ahead and see the general direction that everyone on the streets is going – we’re all walking toward one of the biggest nights of the year for Oklahoma City. The March of a Thousand Skeletons. The event is put on by The Flaming Lips, who are from the Oklahoma City area originally. The parade is a prelude to the band’s yearly blowout performance in their hometown – and 1000 lucky fans can purchase a spot in the parade with a skeleton costume and a torch for a bit of extra money.
The procession cuts through the heart of downtown, headed by the Flaming Lips themselves with Wayne Coyne in his trademark hampster ball at the lead. The band has a small squad of security guards to seperate themselves from the parade that follows them. The first of the thousand skeletons come into view. Smoke machines and speaker boxes blasting an accompanyment of haunted house theme music are pushed down the street on carts by some of the skeletons, flanking the main body of them. As the procession eventually thins, the crowd we were standing in takes advantage of the break in the fence and rushes in to follow the parade down the street.
Soon Clark, Lindsay and I are passing the waterbottle filled with moonshine around while walking down the street – the cheering crowd on either side of us. We’ve lost Bob, but he finds his way back before too long. Apparently he had been bounced by security for getting too close to the band and was bitter about the encounter. Just then we all walked past a spotlighted grandstand on which sat the mayor of Oklahoma City. We all gave a drunken wave and proceeded to the terminus of the parade in a small grassy park near the arena that the Flaming Lips were to preform in. It seemed that there were quite a few people like ourselves, just coming out to enjoy all of the commotion. There was a band set up in a large tent and vendors selling beer and funnel cake. We fished out the leftovers from the many trash cans and enjoyed them as well. Bob and I climbed a tree and smoked a cigarette. Clark and Bob got in a wrestling match. These little events comprise almost all of what I remember from the party in the park. We eventually decided to be on our way and stumbled back to Clark’s truck.
On the way we encountered a couple of guys who were taking up the whole sidewalk and walking in the opposite direction. Clark and I sidestepped onto the grass but Bob was in drunk and stubborn mode and smashed shoulders with one of the guys. I realized when I turned around that the guy Bob had refused to move over for was at least 6 foot 2 and weighed about twice what any of the three of us did in muscle. The giant, who must have been much more sober than Bob, actually realized his wrongdoing and apologized for taking up the whole sidewalk. Bob and him shook on it and we all avoided black eyes.
Back at the truck, Bob was quickly descending into a drunken stupor and vomited all over the rear driver’s side tire before we put him in the bed of the truck to sleep. Linsday sat between Clark and I in the cab and we headed out toward Norman to Linsday’s house to sleep for the night. I took a few swigs of the hooch on the way out of town which rendered me too drunk to roll a cigarette on the drive. Before long we arrived at our destination. I chugged a glass of water then went to attempt sleeping on the couch on the porch. Soon I realized that this was only going to happen once I rid my stomach of the rank whiskey I had just ingested. As I fought for my balance in getting up off of the couch I heard a train whistle on the nearby tracks which crossed the street a few hundred feet away. Clark came outside to watch the train pass as I hurled off of the porch and claimed it with my fists in the air. Soon I was in a deep, dark state of unconciousness.
It was one of those mornings that the headache proceeded opening my eyes. Norman was gray. A dull, flat gray that projected downward from the looming cloud cover. Clark walked out to the porch and we both went to shake the truck across the street until Bob woke up. Eventually he groaned and opened the canopy, then climbed out to grudgingly greet the day. We were all in pretty sorry shape. After chatting in the kitchen with Lindsay we took our leave and began our hungover drive to Tulsa. I slept in the back of the truck the whole way and woke up as we took the turn off of the interstate. As we descended from the interstate I braced myself with my arms and sat up to see the cityscape of Tulsa, Oklahoma.