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Ramblin Joe: Smiling in the Sun

Bison Blinds

by Joe Baxter

Happy Wednesday, FaceCitizens! Lots of American citizens voted yesterday. Did you? Man, Ya gotta love Oklahoma. Six days ago, it was Winter-On-The-Prairie and today was 70 degrees. Have you ever noticed the difference in the air on a sunny winter day? The quality of light is amazing. Things are clearer and sharper. It gets pretty out there just before the trees bud out.

Take a minute and breathe. Notice the difference. My least favorite winter days are those clear bright blue sunshiny days when it’s 20 degrees with a nice sharp 20 mph North breeze. We HATED those days when we were kids. They didn’t even measure “wind chill” back then, but think single digits. If we were laying around the house on a Saturday or Sunday, Mom would always run us out the door, because it was “nice out.” She’d say, “Go get some fresh air.” We’d last about two minutes before we’d have to seek a windbreak to keep from perishing. That’s where barns and sheds and shops came in handy. It was still as cold as a refrigerator in the barn, but hey, it cut the wind. We always had company, because our friends’ moms threw them out too. If we were lucky, someone would have a pack of smokes they’d stolen off their old man. (We were careful with the matches. Getting caught smoking in a barn was an automatic whoopin’.) In a pinch, we could climb into the folks’ car. Nobody locked cars in those days, but you couldn’t just stand out there in that wind and survive. School recess; same deal. Force-marched straight from the too-warm classroom or cafeteria out onto the frozen steppes of central Oklahoma. A three-acre patch of sand rock and stickers, or, in the case of my own parochial elementary alma mater, two acres of blacktop. Not much shelter out there. Nothing between us and Saskatchewan except a few barbed wire fences. We’d huddle up for warmth like a herd of wildebeests, counting the minutes till the whistle blew and we could go thaw out, noses running and extremities tingling as circulation returned. Hey, I’m just joshing. it wasn’t that bad – usually.

Warm weather is coming. Who’s going to be driving the Route this summer?

– Ramblin’ Joe

In any case, I do love seeing a forecast for a 70-degree day in early February. The sun feels great and it makes me smile. No worries, here. Warm weather is coming. Who’s going to be driving the Route this summer? Is there a destination, or are you one of the super lucky ones who are just road-tripping in a general manner? Do this: Get off the interstate. Give yourself some extra time and take the two-lane highways. The pre-interstate U.S. highway system is still a very robust transportation network. Most of the roads are great, and they aren’t all that busy except for locals and the occasional truck. If today’s interstate highways are the main arteries, the U.S. highways are the veins. Check your atlas. (Do you still have an atlas? I do.) For every destination that can be reached by taking the super slabs, there is at least one fun secondary route. Sometimes, you have a choice of good routes. GPS? Most folks do, these days. Heck, your car will take you. Just enter the name of the next town and take the alternate routes. Trust me! Has America lost its taste for the joys and adventures of road travel? Though some of us are getting a little long in the tooth, there are still lots of folks around who remember what it was like when the U.S.A. began to really open up to automobile travel.

The 1950’s were the heyday of the U.S. highway system. When those danged ol’ FDR socialists started building big, wide blacktop highways back in the 1930’s and 40’s, that’s when people started driving everywhere. Gas was cheap, the automobile was king, and Americans were taking ROAD TRIPS. My folks loved to travel. They loved to drive. I am old enough to remember car travel before there were any interstates. Seven kids in a 1959 Chevrolet Brookwood wagon. Mom once told me that back in the late 1940s, she and her buddies would jump in the car and drive Route #66 from OKC to Amarillo and back just to dance to a good swing band. Those folks were road warriors. They loved to get out and G-O. The Irish are born Ramblers, and I inherited that gene. I drive the secondary roads because I love history, and I like to drive.

Flying is a drag. Not my cup of tea. I love being in flight if it weren’t for having to share the airplane with 200 other people. Nowadays, I find air travel stressful and dehumanizing, so I’ll just drive, thanks. Air travel has been off the table for Joe except for emergencies since 2001. I like to drive. I’m rarely in too big a hurry to enjoy the journey. Maybe we “made time” back in the day, but we don’t worry about that anymore. I love scenery. I love the farms and the rivers and the trees. I love the U.S.A. I don’t just see a mostly-vacant tumbledown Main Street. I see the bricks. I see the architecture and the layout of the town, and how it might have fit the landscape in the eyes of the folks who built it. I see the rusty signs and faded window paint of the individual businesses. I keep my eye peeled for historical markers, museums, and OLD stuff. That’s what history is.

My wife and I began traveling as a couple (plus dogs) way back before the internet. Since the advent of reliable internet coverage, and before that, with the help of AAA, Jean has made a science of reading aloud about any town or city we happen to be passing through. We are curious. (OK, we’re snoopy.) We want to know who the residents are and why the town exists. I ALWAYS look closely for any signs of the glory days of those off-the-beaten-path towns on the old secondary highways. There are many thousands of miles of back highways, from Maine to California. Those roads go right past old factories and industrial plants, car dealerships, churches, hotels, movie theaters and parks and storefront architecture, and beautiful old homes, and it’s all fascinating to me. Have you ever seen a porcelain steel modular gas station? How about a real train car diner? Have you ever eaten lunch at a stockyard cafe? Ever stayed in an unrestored art deco motel, or in a motor court cabin? Ever shop in a 100-year-old dry goods store across from a Victorian county courthouse on a dusty town square? Life is short and this is a HUGE country. We’ll never see it from I-40. Gotta take Route 66, or 62, or 64 or 58 or 190. Or A1A, or 31 or 77 or 1. Those are all real highways. Look ‘em up in your atlas. If you want to take it a step further, the state highways can be especially spectacular as well, if you have the time. Do it. Slow down, take that turn, keep your eyes open. That’s America. You won’t see it driving 80 mph between exits. You have to take the off-ramp.

Hope everybody is doing OK. Jean and I are having some work done at the house during the off-season, before we get all-fired busy come Spring. It’s been a good winter, so far. Y’all don’t forget to come by the Round Barn and see the Round Barn Ramblers on Saturday mornings, or just drop in and visit, anytime. We’d love to see you.

Love y’all – Joe

RESIST – The urge to condemn what you don’t understand.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Joe Baxter is one of my favorite people. He loves music, the Arcadia Round Barn, his wife Jean, a club sandwich from Farmstead Cafe, Route 66 and America (not in that order). A songwriter and musician, he has a way with words and can turn a phrase such that you want to listen, or in this case, read for a while. If you are one of his “face friends” on social media, you know he can get you thinking with his posts and musings. He’s letting us post them here on The Luther Register! We’re trying something new. Find Joe at the Arcadia Round Barn where he is the head conversation aficionado catching stories from Route 66 travelers from all over the world, and getting the band together eight days a week! Thanks Ramblin’ Joe! ENJOY! – dawn

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