Road Trips : US Tour 1997 : Memphis to Oklahoma

Thursday 2 October 1997



The drive from Atlanta to Memphis could only be described as unpleasant. It didn't help that I was cranky and irritable from lack of sleep, but as a special bonus, the roads were from hell and the drivers were pretty damned close to completely incompetent. Repeat these rules after me:

  • We do not pass on the right, even when there are three lanes in our direction.
  • It is unwise to tailgate when going 80MPH.
  • The right lane is the slow lane. The left lane is the fast lane. We do not shift into the left lane and then slow down. This is not good.

A wreck forced me to make a 30-mile detour around Birmingham through some (admittedly pretty) country roads. Alabama has, in general, now replaced Ohio as my most unpleasant state so far. US 78 between Birmingham and Memphis should have been a freeway thirty years ago. And Birmingham itself is smoky, smelly, and generally ugly in a way even I was unable to appreciate.

The road through Mississippi was pretty good. I have no other real observations on the place, except to note that Tuplelo, birthplace of Elvis, is not readily apparent from the freeway which goes "through" it.

Memphis, my ultimate destination for the night, was seedy and fairly endearing in a decayed sort of way. Of course, the "Elvis factor" was in evidence everywhere, and I even stayed in a motel on Elvis Presley Boulevard, not far from Graceland. After the day's drive, I didn't poke around much, particularly after taking almost an hour finding a room. By the way, the drivers here are particularly inept...

Friday 3 October 1997


The morning brought a quickie tour of downtown, one Elvis souvenir shop, and an unsuccessful search for the very first Holiday Inn on Summer Avenue. I did find an original one, south of downtown, but THE original has either been demolished or remodeled beyond recognition.


And then I crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas. It didn't do much for me either. The roads were bad (what IS that shit they're paved with?), the scenery east of Little Rock was uninspiring, and the letters to the editor in the Little Rock paper frightened me. One of them suggested that a return to complete segregation was in order to fix all the world's problems. Little Rock seemed a pretty inconsequential place. The scenery got better to the west, but I still shed no tears as I passed into Oklahoma...

What a strangely fascinating place Oklahoma City turned out to be. It's actually a pretty big sprawling city with some fair attempts at culture and a street system which actually works, although the drivers remain a bit aggressive. Alas, good drivers can be aggressive, but these by and large aren't good drivers.


OKC was exciting for me because it signaled the beginning of the real meat of my Route 66 odyssey. I covered two versions within the city, one on 39th Street and one on 23rd Street. Some good sights and pictures will follow. Pretty much the next three days will be spent on (or in close proximity to) the "Mother Road".

A question for the natives: what is it that makes the freeways and some of the surface streets in OKC look perpetually slick even when they aren't? I'm not talking about heat mirages; the streets just look slick. A friend says it may be the recycled asphalt, which OKC was among the first place in the country to use. Sounds plausible, I guess...


I did do the gay thing here to some extent. It's a very odd scene, most of which seems to cluster around a huge gay motel called the Habana Inn. Most of the bars are located within a block of the place and the actual motel seems to be a pretty fertile cruising ground as well. I saw several penises winking at m through open curtains. I opted against any invitations. I also sensed a pretty heavy slumming heterosexual presence as well as a large hustler factor.

Despite being a fairly large city, OKC suffers from the same "scene identity" problem as many Southern towns, and it's exacerbated by the close proximity of all the bars. There are no bar "types"; you get the same fags everywhere. Plus, if you're so inclined, you can pay an additional $5 cover to see these same fags at Angles, the mega-club. I was not so inclined.

One exception was Levi's, about a mile away from the strip. This is the dive bar, and as such, I took to it immediately. The crowd looked pretty desperate and drunk, and was a little on the redneck side, but they were playing Van Halen. And there's a cool patio.

No one serves Rolling Rock. I hate that.

One bar featured "foam night". which meant that the dance floor was covered in bubble bath. I didn't get it. It might have looked more normal if this were a bigger city, and the crowd were trendier (and drugged), and the music was a little trippier. But I doubt it.