29 Apr 2011
Lunchtime. Pops on Route 66. Arcadia, Oklahoma. The waitress approached our table and began delivering our orders, “Spicy fried chicken sandwich, 3 cheese cheeseburger, Round Barn burger, and … Oh. My. God. There’s been a terrible mistake!”
She turned to head back to the kitchen.
Oklahoma and Route 66 are forever linked in my mind. You know you’re on the Mother Road in Oklahoma. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book had given way to The Grapes of Wrath by this stage, and there were still bits of the original Portland cement roadbed to be seen – and driven on! – here and there.
We were driving through history.
There were signs and roadside attractions: Big Blue Whale, the Round Barn, and a new part of the legend at Pops.
We were meeting a couple of BookCrossing friends here, just outside Oklahoma City. Christal and LilGrovers had made their own way west from the convention in DC, and Amber lived locally (kind of), and had driven down to meet us.
Both eminently huggable and a delight to see. I love these women. Strong, creative, thoughtful, funny, loving. Jay and I were on top of the world as we met in the carpark and strolled into Pops.
Oh boy! Pops is American tourist culture’s sweet spot. Ticks all the boxes, but without being over-the-top or underwhelming. Some iconic signs to draw you in off the road, and when you are there, a thousand flavours of soda pop in a million colours, lined up along glass shelves. Sorted by colour. It’s like being in a rainbow.
We browsed through the merchandise – I still have a couple of souvenir bottle openers and a skivvy somewhere – selected a six-pack of various soft drinks: root beer for me, some weird New Zealand beverage for Jay, and placed our lunch orders.
I had driven along Route 66 before, in a big family van with flip-down video screens behind me on which four-year-old LilGrovers had watched the movie Cars on an endless loop. I couldn’t see it, but I grew familiar with the dialogue. When I got home, I watched the movie and became enchanted with the inspiring story of love and learning along the old road.
It was good to see the little chap again and tell him that I was a fan, too. We sat down around the table, caught up. It had been a couple of years since I’d last seen Amber in Kansas City, and of course, Christal had been in DC as well. She, Jay, and I were showing faded evidence of blue hair dye; the result of a charity fund-raising effort. West of Chicago, I’d taken good care to keep a cap on my head, but here and there through the Midwest, I’d heard gasps from locals.
The waitress started to place our meals on the table, discovered something very wrong, and turned to go.
“No, wait!” we called, “That’s what we wanted.”
“A burger without a pattie? You’re kidding!”
“No, Jay is a vegetarian, and everything on the menu has meat in it.”
True. Even the salads came with built in bacon and chicken. So Jay had ordered a “burger, hold the pattie!” as a last resort.
Got to say that travelling through America with a vegetarian is a challenge. Eventually, faced with starvation by chocolate-coated peanut butter pretzels, Jay turned to the internet, where we discovered a website that gave directions to the nearest vegetarian restaurant. We found some fabulous places in unlikely towns. Big shoutout to the Sweet Tomatoes chain in Albuquerque here. You saved a life.
Jay has just emailed me a link to Pops’ new menu, still heavy on the beef and fries, but now including a veggie option. We can return!