4.27.2010

Non-nutritous Nostalgia



A good part of Tuesday was spent driving the two lane roads (many of them gravel or dirt) of rural northeastern Oklahoma in search of a tiny ghost of a town named Skedee.  I had recently read a brief history of the place and found it so compelling that I simply had to drive out and see if for myself.

Skedee is located in the middle of nowhere, at the overgrown intersection of two gravel roads that emerge from heavily forested surroundings, causing its sudden appearance to be a bit of a surprise. At this intersection, in what once must have been the city's main square, sits a humble statue erected in 1926 depicting two fellows: Chief Baconrind (leader of the Osage Nation) and a business man by the name of Ellsworth Walters.  It seems Baconrind had the good fortune of being leader of the Osage Nation when a vast reservoir of oil was discovered beneath the Osage reservation.  With the help of the effusive businessman Ellsworth, oil leases were written for the Osage Nation that totaled over $150 million (in 20s dollars no less) over a 15 year period.  Many of the tribe members became overnight zillionaires, making the Osage -- briefly -- the richest people per capita in the world. Just before the Depression hit, Osage County had the largest number of Pierce Arrow luxury cars in America.  Are you getting the same picture in your mind that I have?  The Great Gatsby with war bonnets??  But wait, it gets even weirder.  In doing my research, I found that during that same era, Skedee was also the home of the Chang brothers.  The Changs were the brothers whose story inspired the television series Kung Fu and after they found one another, they settled down and lived the rest of their lives in Skedee.  I am not kidding you!  Read about it here if you don't believe me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skedee,_OK.

So here's this strange little town in the middle of the western plains on the Osage reservation, flush with newly minted Native American millionaires and full of characters like Chief Baconrind and Grasshopper.  Doesn't that just sound like a Larry McMurty novel waiting to be written?  I'm absolutely mesmerized by the concept.

As I explored the two burned out buildings that sat crumbling on two of the corners of the square around the statue, I noticed a young man sitting in a pick up truck on the front porch of a tiny old abandoned gas station that formed the third corner of the miniscule square.  When I walked back to my car, he hollered out through the opening in his darkened window, "I'm just sitting here using the cell phone - no need to worry."  I don't need much of an invitation, so I soon had him engaged in a conversation, about the area's history and what living in such a place was like.  His name was Jeremiah and it was his grandfather that now owned the ramshackle gas station on the corner.  He'd lived all 20 something years of his life there in Skedee and said he reckoned he'd be there the rest of his life.   

I asked Jeremiah if he knew of any old buildings or other curiosities from the 20s boom era and he shook his head hesitantly, "There's not really anything left to see except Colnel Walters' old house - everything else is gone but these three buildings here and the statue.  I'd come to Skedee to see what, if anything, remained of the story and all I found was legend.  Makes me want to write a screenplay, damn it!

I left Skedee feeling sort of odd.  That way you feel when somebody you don't really know dies, but it still weirds you out.  I meandered back to the interstate over more dirt roads, stopping to watch a crew build a water tower in the bright afternoon sun.  I headed on in to Wichita, Kansas where I figured I'd take a nice long walk before dinner.

Just west of the downtown area, I found a lovely river area where I could easily spend an hour walking.  I have no idea what neighborhood I was in, but it was full of beautiful old mansions, curving along with the river.  Very swanky.  I walked past a frisbee golf course and enjoyed watching all the geeky young boys showing off for one another.

It's really nice to have a walk just before dinner and whip up a good appetite, especially since that seems to be the most essential part of midwestern cuisine.  For dinner, I elected to sample a midwestern delicacy called a "loose meat" sandwich.  Really, the only reason I wanted to try it was I seem to have a soft spot in my heart for products with nightmarish marketing obstacles.  Loose meat sounds like a condition that should be addressed with pharmaceuticals rather than something thought of as a delicious culinary treat.
I'd read about a restaurant chain in Witchita called the Nu-Way that first opened their doors 1930, serving up loose meat sandwiches and homemade rootbeer to the adoring masses.  The original store is still open today, and it sounded like an idea place to sample my first loose meat sandwich.  I ordered the medium with cheese, pickles and mustard; side of fries and a rootbeer float.
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I fear I'll sound like a bit of a curmudgeon when I give my review, but I just can't lie. Who ever thought it would be a good idea to make a sloppy joe without the joe (or whatever it's called)?  Who said, "You know what, this hamburger patty is just too...well...solid!"  I won't trouble you with any more detail, but suffice it to say, I didn't find it the least bit appealing.  I keep forgetting that I'm in the land of bland. But the root beer float was really delicious.  Oh well, time for some fried chicken research anyway!

I put a few more miles north under me after dinner, taking advantage of the extended light that comes with a summer time tour, and it felt mighty nice to get in bed when I finally made it there.

1 comment:

Amy said...

If you're still around Wichita and are interested in space geekiness, head towards Hutchinson and check out the Kansas Cosmosphere. They have a really top notch exhibit about the Soviet era space race and a huge windfall of Apollo era artifacts.