The Amateur American Hobo: Tulsa, OK to Palm Springs, CA (Part X)

by macksemil

Soon we rolled into the driveway at Clark’s parents’ house for a quick visit. After his mother gave me a bunch of Clark’s old books without his permission we were on our way over to where Clark’s house closer to down town Tulsa. The neighborhood was quiet and comfortably run-down. It was reminiscent of what I remember of growing up close to downtown Salem. We spent a whole day just resting and relaxing. Bob and I washed our socks in the sink in Clark’s bathroom which rendered every visit to the head that day a gag inducing foot-odor festival. Clark treated us to some of his patented cooking which was a welcome break from our mostly gas station and fast food diet of the past few weeks since leaving the Appalachian Trail. Some ingredients were purchased at the friendly local mystery food mart called the Jackalope. The Jackalope market is an experience in itself – having the amazing ability to stock only one half of a meal at a time. Peanut butter, but no jelly. Pasta, but no sauce. Hot dog buns, but no hot dogs. Another visit provided the experience of watching a crackhead lady question everyone who would listen about where the owner was. Unfortunately we missed the ribs the day of our fist visit.

Across the river from the neighborhood we were staying in is a giant SUN Oil refinery. One evening a few friends and us went and climbed around on some oil tank cars, drank beer and watched the sun set behind the industrial monstrosity billowing clouds of offal into the air. For some reason it was still beautiful in the golden hues of Oklahoma sunset.

Later during our stay, a small group of us went exploring at night. About seven of us walked into the sewers through a large drainage pipe at the river. The pipe was about twelve feet tall at this point and the liquid flowing toward the river was only a small trickle in the middle of the giant space. As we moved further inward the headlamps became necessary, the air became heavy and dank, the passageway narrowed gradually and the liquid filled more of the bottom of the trough. Though the liquid was clear and had no foul odor, the retrieval of a dropped headlamp was done with care and with a minimum of skin to sewer-liquid contact. The lot of us stopped along the way to examine interesting graffiti and side passages, navigating forks by intuition alone. Further along  into the city’s underbelly we decided to exit when we could. Bob headed the way up a small shaft sided in bricks. The walls were wet and a small stream of liquid flowed through the middle of the angled tunnel, sending one of our friends sliding back down through the passage, knocking into a few of the trailing group along the way. At the terminus of the spur were iron rungs bolted into a vertical wall leading to a manhole five or six feet above. Bob lifted the manhole cover to discover that we were under the center of a large street. Despite its size, there were no cars to be seen. After a brief strategy meeting, we decided to go for it and the lot of us shuffled as quickly as we could out of the sewer, dropped the manhole cover back into place and scurried off into the shadows. It turned out that we had emerged in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Tulsa, its lack of traffic owed mainly to the late hour.

The next destination was one of local fame: the abandoned Tulsa Club downtown. After a few unsuccessful dumpster checks of closed pizza and sandwich shops we found the appropriate boarded-over walkway between buildings. With some placing of scouts and careful timing, the group of us was over the plywood wall and finding our way up the fire escape and in to a door a few floors above. The inside of the dozen-storied abandoned men’s club made one’s skin crawl. It had a post-apocalyptic zombie film feel, with furniture strewn everywhere, wallpaper torn off or falling down and puddles of mysterious fluid spotting the floors. The Tulsa Club was once the place to be for the businessmen of the Tulsa oil boom. Clark’s grandfather used to frequent the club. This was evidenced by a receipt for a ham sandwich on rye we found dated decades earlier signed by the man himself. Clark later showed the receipt to his mother for confirmation on the signature. It took us two or three hours to completely explore the place from the top of the roof to the bottom of the basement. It was creepy enough to have made me glad to be in a decently sized group – images of being overrun by a mob of zombies, tweakers or gremlins in one of the dark recesses of the catacomb kept haunting me at every creaky half-hinged door I opened. All in all it was a great adventure and was definitely the highlight of the trip to Tulsa. After a successful escape we disbanded. Bob, Clark and I went back to the house and cooked up a gourmet cauldron of equal parts top ramen packets and cans of Nalley chili.

We spent a few more nights in Tulsa, once taking advantage of a cheap burger and beer special at a local bar that handed out free packs of cigarettes. Another night we went and visited a good friend of ours, Kate, who I had done some traveling with a few years prior. There was cheap beer, awesome tattoos and hot dice for all. Clark cooked up the idea of going out to his family’s house out of town for a night. Taylor, Clark, Bob and I all loaded up into the truck and headed out of town an hour or so until we found the place. Clark’s mother Mary had beat us there and even had a pot of chili and some drinks for us upon arrival. We did not disappoint to deliver on the drunk boys-will-be-boys night as we shot guns, virtually exhausted the firework stash and probably kept any neighbors up all night wishing we would stop blowing things up. If you’ve got any hated items from your childhood, have a friend toss them into the air so you can skeet shoot them. Word has it that you haven’t lived until you’ve blown the shit out of a clown pillow with a shotgun. The next day we all took a little drive down to the nearby dam and walked along the river for a while before heading back to Tulsa.

Bob and I’s bus passes that we were going to use to get all the way back to the West Coast were expiring in a few days, so we had to get back to Oklahoma City to catch another Greyhound bus further West. Fortunately, Mary needed her Lexus driven to Oklahoma City where she and her husband would pick it up on the weekend. She asked Bob and I if we would drive the car to a hotel in downtown Oklahoma City for her. Of course we agreed. And so, the two of us dirty wanderers drove a very clean, expensive Lexus the 120 miles down the historic Route 66 between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. After handing the keys off to a valet attendant at the hotel downtown, Bob and I assembled our grimy backpacks, bid the Lexus goodbye and walked to the Greyhound station.

The Greyhound bus was the same as it ever is. Crowded, smelly and full of people we didn’t really want to be crammed beside in a moving rectangle with for two days. However, with our tickets to Los Angeles in hand we begrudgingly sauntered over to drop our backpacks off with the driver and climbed the four short steps to the two days of discomfort that lay ahead. Intermittent naps and bleary-eyed gazing brought us through Amarillo, Albuquerque, Winslow and Flagstaff. With our week-long free ticket deal expiring before we would be able to get anywhere from L.A., we had to quit riding the cushions once we got there. I tried to get in contact with a few friends of mine that were living in the city only to find out that they were out at a music festival by Palm Springs for the weekend so we wouldn’t have a place to stay. Since a fellow traveling buddy that I had hopped trains with in the past was living in Palm Springs at the time, we decided to ditch the bus there. Stepping out at night into the warm California air, Bob and I felt relieved to be back on the West Coast once again.