For a three month road trip in which we are planning on traveling the country to see all of the sights we’ve never seen, we had spent an awful lot of time in Lawrence, Kansas, and with that in mind we thanked MJ for giving us a place to stay for so long and got on our way. The first stop was Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of Oklahoma State University and my buddy J.R., a friend from camp. Stillwater is pretty much right off of I-35, which is west of Lawrence, but we decided to take the scenic rout, going south on SR-75 from Topeka to Tulsa, cutting straight through small towns we’d never have heard of otherwise. No wonder John Mellancamp is so popular. So many people in this country know just what he’s talking about.
Hanging out with J.R. was a good time, as I was sure that it would be. Unlike most of my camp friends, J.R. was never a camper at North Star. He came to camp as a counselor in the summer of 2001, and he’s really found his niche there as a counselor and trip leader, AKA a tripper. He welcomed Meghan and me into his apartment, and the three of us had a blast. The highlight of that stop came yesterday, when J.R. scrounged together three tickets to the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech basketball game along with two student IDs for me and Meghan. Lemme tell you something: they love their basketball in Stillwater. J.R. gave me and Meg some OK State Cowboy gear, and we rolled into the gym yelling out the Cowboys’ mantra “Go Pokes!” I don’t have any beef with Oklahoma State, never have, and I like their coach, Hall of Famer Eddie Sutton, and I like their players, particularly the two stars John Lucas and Joey Graham. They’re an easy team to root for. The game was also exciting because after four years at Indiana, I was finally going to see Bobby Knight coach live, and while I don’t like Coach Knight, it is cool to be able to say that I saw him coach, especially in a game against another Hall of Fame coach in Eddie Sutton.
The game itself was a joke, with the Cowboys cruising to an easy 85-56 victory. Still, it was a fun time, and definitely a great experience, as is the case any time you get to visit somebody else’s stadium. We left Stillwater this morning, driving west to I-35, which we took due south to Dallas. On the way we stopped at a burger joint that J.R.’s girlfriend turned us onto, a place called “Two Frogs” in Ardmore, OK. Meg and I ordered mozzarella sticks first, which knocked me down a bit thus preventing me from finishing the burger. Big mistake. The burger was an absolute phenomenon. Beyond good. I’ve only eaten there once, but it’s already notched itself in as special mention on my top tier burger list. Highly recommended. Meg and I left smiling and satisfied, and hopped back on 35 towards the Texas-Oklahoma border.
Ah, Texas. Just getting into Texas was a trip, because as soon as you enter Texas, you know that you are in Texas. Texans don’t leave you with any doubt that you are in their state, a state where everything is big. The state sign is big. The billboards are big. The sayings on the billboards are big, both in print and in spirit. My favorite was one featuring a big picture of Osama bin Ladin, with the following caption:
WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE
That’s Texas for you. Big.
Once we were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we had to figure out where, exactly, we were going to stay. I-35 brought us to Texas Stadium—home of the Dallas Cowboys—which I knew was in Irving. To our left, a bit in the distance, were a bunch of big buildings, and so we turned left because our feeling was, “Big buildings means a city, and a city means a hotel.” As it turned out, the big buildings were downtown Dallas, which worked out perfectly for us. We parked, quickly found a hotel, and got settled.
I’ve never been to Texas, but having gotten past the initial shock of the overall levels of bigness just over the border, I was able to really appreciate Dallas. It’s a nice city, one that can be covered pretty easily on foot, but what has struck me the most thus far is the time division within the city. The area around the hotel we are staying at seems futuristic, with tall, sleek buildings that look like they should be occupied by large groups of men in matching silver v-neck suits. Take a five minute walk though, and you start to see buildings that look like they’ve been there since the 1950s…which they probably have been, because the building that is most notable in Dallas is not a futuristic skyscraper but rather the old book depository at the corner of Houston and Elm where Lee Harvey Oswald worked in the summer of 1963, before being fired for negligence and “suspected murder of our Commander in Chief.” It’s an eerie experience, walking through Dealey Plaza, knowing what went on there, seeing the grassy knoll and the large “X” in the middle of the street.
After exploring Dallas a bit this afternoon, Meghan and I found a bar to watch the NBA’s All-Star Game, easily my favorite all-star game of any sport. The Pro Bowl is worthless, so we can cut that out of the conversation, and I don’t care for hockey, though the North America vs. the World format is intriguing. Baseball’s all-star game always has a real sense of history, but the rules of baseball don’t do well within the all-star format, because the manager is trying to get all of his players onto the field, and of course once a guy is out he cannot come back, which means that the starting pitcher only throws two or three innings and a close game at the end can come down to an at-bat featuring whichever token Tampa Bay Devil Ray made the team that year. But the NBA’s All-Star Game has always been terrific, because the talent on the court for both teams is so extraordinary, that once they settle down and start really playing, you get a lot of spectacular basketball. Plus, if the game is close, the stars can stay on the court.
Along with the stalwarts of the past five years—Shaq, Iverson, Duncan, KG, Kobe, T-Mac, Vince, Dirk—2005 has brought some very exciting first year All-Stars, namely LeBron, D-Wade, Amare Stoudamire, and Gilbert Arenas. These guys all looked genuinely excited to be All-Stars—particularly Arenas, who was glowing throughout—and it was wonderful to see young guys who really look committed to hard work and team ball. (Incidentally, the East won the game 125-115, with my main man Allen Iverson winning his second career All-Star MVP award.)
After the game, Meg and I walked back to our hotel. It was very nice out, mid 80’s, and it felt good to be wearing summer clothing in the middle of February. The hotel had free internet, and when I checked my email and the news, I was saddened to see that the great writer Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had committed suicide. The famed “Doctor of Journalism” shot himself in his Colorado home at the age of 67, which, when you think about it, is a remarkable achievement in and of itself, considering the massive amounts of drugs and booze that had gone into and out of his system over the years. Perhaps he was just tired of waiting, because I doubt it was spur of the moment. Hunter Thompson was always big, as visible in his own work as the work itself, so perhaps this was his way of writing his own ending. I honestly can’t say. All I know is that in my mind, Hunter S. Thompson looms large, both as a writer and as an American personality. Everything about him was big.
Welcome to Texas.