When I travel across the country I try my best to avoid freeways. Instead sticking to what author William Least Heat Moon dubbed 'blue highways'. These are the back roads - Roads with character. Original arteries that pumped people and businesses into a growing nation. But every once in a while, getting from point A to B is nearly impossible on back roads. So the morning finds me heading west from Little Rock to Oklahoma City on US 40, because the spiderweb of back roads that lead to OKC would turn a five hour drive into an eight hour drive. Albeit a more interesting one, but being on somewhat of a schedule, I have to cut a few hours of travel time here and there. Sorry Poteau, Boonville, Ola and Atoka - I promise to visit on my next journey.
One thing freeways do offer are casinos. And in Oklahoma they are popping up like dandelions on a warm April morning. Fortunately for me, one sprung up last year about halfway into my drive to OKC, so I pulled in for a quick bite and maybe a game or two of blackjack. The Cherokee Casino in Rowland, bills itself as "full of thrills and excitement" and invites the weary traveler to "come in and get in on all the winning action!" Be honest, could you resist the pull of such promise? Neither could I, so I sauntered over to the buffet, piled a plate of what I believe are scrambled eggs, onto a few slices of bacon and hash browns. I found an empty table and ordered a large glass of orange juice from the bubbly waitress Terri. "Where y'all from?" she asked. "Mississippi. And you?" "Clementine Street, about a mile from here." So you're from Roland?" "No, Clementine Street about a mile from here." Really not much you can say to that, so I smiled, nodded and began to eat. Terri turned and walked away with the same expression she had when she arrived. After my meal and quickly losing 17 straight hands of $5 blackjack, I walked back to the Sprinter, cursing myself for stopping. But at least I had met Terri, who was clearly destined for great things.
What began life as a Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant is now the unconventional 21c Museum Hotel. Marketing materials state that "the update of this iconic industrial building includes 135 guest rooms and suites, a contemporary art museum and Mary Eddy's Kitchen x Lounge, inspired by regional culinary traditions." The hotel also has this..."an installation of six, nine, and twelve foot red arrows, pointing in every direction, and pulsating with a dynamic lighting sequence." Excuse me? “We have co-opted the stripped down language of commercial signs, incorporating casino style way-finders that tear through the floors of the museum with skyward trajectory,” explain SuttonBeresCuller, the trio of artists who conceived and created the artwork for the guest room floors. Come again? "You Always Leave Me Wanting More is intended to address the sustainability of growth as it pertains to aspects of our social, economic, and natural environments." Brilliant I say. But please tell me there are no pulsating arrows in my room. $50 says I have nightmares.
My room had what they called a 'wet room''. A new term for me, but it consisted of a 'standing shower' (Did they feel the need to clarify how to shower? Do people shower sitting down these days?) and a 'soaking tub', not a bath tub. Apparently clientele at the 21c only soak, they don't actually bathe. So after standing in the shower for about 15 minutes (God forbid I sit) I soaked in the tub, all the while being careful not to bathe. As I stepped from the 'soaking tub' I reached for the 'plush robe', grabbed a 'complimentary bottled water', marveled at the 'original art', made myself a cup of 'Nespresso' and collapsed on to my 'luxurious bedding', where I fell asleep thinking about the pulsating arrows one floor below. Author's Note: Hotel 21c did not pay me to point out several of their upscale amenities. However, at the end of my trip I will be sending them an invoice and a request for the 'wet room' blueprints.
Fresh from an arrow-free nap I went down to Mary Eddy's Kitchen X Lounge for a good meal before heading over to the Wsky Lounge for the evening. I was greeted by Ezekiel McMurtry, a fine looking young man, who reeled off a few specials of the day. He had me at octopus. Grilled Spanish octopus with green papaya, thai basil, fresno, peanuts and pho broth, to be exact. Followed by an entree of seared scallops, wheat berry risotto, swiss chard and pomegranate. To end this memorable meal, served attentively, I had a bowl of ginger sorbet with a shortbread cookie and a cup of robust coffee. My evening was off to a marvelous beginning. Immediately I wanted to take a nap.
The Uber driver's name was Kalil Jamil and it rolled off the tongue. I kept asking him questions just to say his name. He didn't seem all that annoyed until he asked me "why do you keep using both my first and last name." I told him that it was the most lyrical name I had heard in a while and he thanked me. "No one has ever said that to me before. I always found my name odd sounding." "Kalil Jamil, your name is unique. You are fortunate." "If you say so. What is your name?" "The Bearded Man." "What?" "The Bearded Man. It's a long story." "I bet it is," said Kalil Jamil as we pulled up to Wsky Lounge. "I bet it is."
Wsky Lounge is "billed as "Oklahoma City’s premier whisky club" and with over 350 bottles of whiskey its name seems fitting. On the other hand, they are also home to what they call 'Wsky Wheels'. Concoctions with some rather bizarre ingredients. Take 'The Red Layer' Wheel for example. Old Overholt Rye, Licor 43, dill, celery bitters and toasted wood chips. Toasted wood chips? Did you say toasted wood chips? Or the 'Tequila Maipoa' Wheel. Espolone Blanco Tequila, cucumber ribbons, lime wheels, sliced jalapeno, basil chiffonade and agave syrup. Did you say sliced jalapeno? I know I promised my sponsors I would have four drinks at each bar on the tour, but I never said I would drink basil chiffonade. I asked my waitress Penny Cole to bring me a wheel of whiskey and ice - "hold the wood chips."
Comfortably settled into my beehive patterned both, I finished my Wsky Wheel and decided that a glass of Bailey's on the rocks sounded refreshing. Omnipresent Penny kept my glass full and the elegant, laid back atmosphere made me wonder what this place was like before they made it smoke free. It just had the feel of a cigar bar and I probably would have lit up if they hadn't changed. A big fat Partagás. Nurse that puppy for about an hour. But it wasn't to be and instead I found myself asking Penny how she got her name. "My mom found a nickle on the way to the hospital and thought it was an omen. A sign of good luck. But she couldn't name me Nickle, so she called me Penny." "Why couldn't she name you Nickel?" "I asked my mom that question when I finally heard the story - I was about 15 or so. She said nickels were silver and pennies are copper. And she would never name her black daughter after a piece of silver. Apparently she thought copper was okay. Hey, there are worse names than Penny Nat King Cole." I didn't stick around to argue the point. After all I'm The Bearded Man. I wonder what the hell my mother saw on the way to the hospital.
The Uber ride back to my plush digs at the 21c was uneventful. No Kalil Jalil, but rather Dan Smeer who I'm fairly certain had his vocal chords removed as a child. As a result the drive was conversation free. Although as he dropped me off I think he muttered something about acorns or Altoids - Who knows. He motored away in his Subaru Outback, probably still muttering, while I took the elevator up to my soak tub, where I would be careful not to bathe.