July 23, 2015 – Route 66 from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas

Pressure comes in many forms, in most cases it is caused by others demanding your time and resources and in other cases, it is self-caused.   I have to admit on this day I was feeling a lot of pressure, all of self-caused by my travel agenda and expectations.  There was still a lot of ground to cover and I was supposed to be in Barstow, California the following weekend to meet up with my friend, Ray Huston.

Many More Miles Ahead

As mentioned in my previous post, the pace traveled with Markus was a slow one, including leisurely stops to enjoy Route 66.  This was my first traveling alone again and I could feel the clock ticking since there was over 1,320 miles (2124 KMs) to travel to Barstow.  The road ahead was going to be a scorcher, with average daily temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38C).  I had to triage which places I would visit and which I would bypass along Route 66.  There was just no way to make as many stops as originally planned.  Many of them I have seen before, so, as much as I would like to see them again, they would be passed over.

Purchasing a New Video Microphone

An important item on my agenda was to replace the faulty video microphone, so I could have decent audio for interviews.  I finally found a real camera store in Tulsa that sold good quality microphones, so I dug into my pockets and purchased a nice Sennheiser microphone, which was put to use the same day.  The downside was that it took almost two hours to get to the camera store, check out some microphones, make a purchase and get back on the road.

There was considerable traffic in Tulsa on account of road construction and detours.  My GPS went brain dead a few times, giving me bad directions and I seemed to be going in circles.  The constant starting and stopping in 100 degree heat meant both the bike and I were overheating.  Eventually, I found the way back onto the interstate and had time left for a couple Route 66 stops before Amarillo, TX

A Wild Goose Chase to the Rock Cafe

Back in 2008, I visited the Rock Cafe, in Stroud, OK and thought it would be a nice treat to see this picturesque road side attraction once more.  For some reason, my GPS was struggling with Oklahoma. It took me on a goose chase along some back roads and instead of steering me to the Rock Cafe, I arrived at another Route 66 diner, which looked interesting, but it was closed.  Not good…the heat was merciless, it was 85% humidity with temperatures well over 100F.  I had to cool down for bit before getting back on the road, the heat was truly debilitating.  About twenty minutes later, I arrived at my intended destination and I was sweating buckets.

Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK
Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

The Rock Cafe derives its name from the local sandstone used in its construction.  The cafe was built in 1936, it officially opened in 1939 and the famous neon sign was constructed in the late 1940s.  It functioned as a Greyhound bus stop during the second world war and from 1959 to 1983, owner Mamie Mayfield kept it open 24 hours a day until she retired at age 70.

In 1999, a category F3 tornado damaged the neon sign as well as several local businesses.  In 2001, the Rock Café was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, qualifying it for matching grants and loans to finance its historic restoration.  With a federal grant and a loan of $30,000 in matching funds, the Rock Café was restored with new heating and air conditioning systems, replacement of the original wiring, restoration of neon signage and a return of the building to its original layout.

Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK
Restored Neon Sign. Rock Cafe, Route 66, Stroud, OK

In 2007, travelling Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, depicted the café in one of his works.  The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives also devoted part of an episode to the Rock. The January 2010 edition of “Oklahoma Living” magazine named the Rock Café “Best Oklahoma Diner”, featuring its proprietorm Dawn Welch, in a cover photo.  Similar to my previous post, for CARS on the ROUTE, there is another tie in to the Pixar movie “Cars”.  The Rock’s owner, Dawn Welch, a long-time promoter of U.S. Route 66 in Oklahoma, is the basis for animated character Sally Carrera.

Sally Carrera
Sally Carrera from the movie Cars

Meeting “Elvis” in Canada County, Yukon, OK

I avoided eating at the Rock Cafe, so I could have a late lunch at a true Route 66 experience: the Fat ElvUS Diner in Yukon, OK.  It combines an old school diner, with great food, generous portions, walls jammed with Americana decor and it’s run by an Elvis impersonator.  Since discovering this place back in 2008, I have always made it a point to stop there on my Route 66 trips.

The owner, Darin Thrasher aka “Elvis Thrasher” is one of Route 66’s best kept secrets.  There is a lot of pride and promotion of the Mother Road in the diner’s decors and souvenirs, as well as the home cooked food.  Everything is traditional here: the meals are cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients, nothing is reheated or prepackaged.   The bottom line is that this is some of the tastiest diner food on Route 66.  If that was not enough, he is also an award winning Elvis Impersonator.

Darin Thrasher aka “Elvis Thrasher”, owner of the Fat ElvUS Diner

I presented Darin with a print of his likeness which I transformed into Banksy style graffiti.  It astonished me to learn that he had already seen this image on the internet and he was wondering what was the source.  Now he knows and my print occupies a spot on his wall of souvenirs and mementos.

Banksy Style
My Banksy Style photo at the Fat ElvUS Diner, Yukon, OK

I ordered the aptly named Fat ElvUS burger and even with a healthy appetite, it was a challenge to finish this delicious and meaty treat.  After lunch, I asked Darin for an interview.  It was time to break out the new video microphone and put it to work.   I am glad he took time out of his schedule for some music and words about Route 66.

When I left the Fat ElvUS diner, I realized how late it was.  It was 5:30 PM and I had to get to Amarillo, Texas by PM for the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  I  booked a room at their onsite motel and wanted to make sure I had time to enjoy a proper steak dinner.  I had to cover another 245 miles in 105F heat and there was no time left for sight seeing.  I got back on I-40 and rode like a madman, only stopping when I needed gas or water.  So, I topped off my tank before leaving Yukon, OK and rode non-stop for 3 hours.  I stopped only once to refuel in Alanreed, TX, about 67 miles east of Amarillo.  About fifty minutes later, I rode up the to the Big Texan, mouth watering with anticipation of a giant steak and cold beers.

Big Steak and Beers at the Big Texan Steak Ranch

The legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch is the Lone Star state’s quintessential Route 66 attraction.  Everything about it is big, bold, loud and over the top.  The restaurant has mastered the art of roadside promotion.  Any motorist traveling I-40 is bombarded with signs advertising the “Free Steak 72 oz challenge”.   Basically, anyone who can eat a 72 oz steak, along with two sides and a salad in under an hour gets the meal for free.  Most fail, but those who succeed get a spot on their wall of fame.

Big Texan Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The reigning champion of the 72 oz steak challenge is Molly Schuyler, a 120 lb woman who downed three 72 oz steaks and the sides in a mere 20 minutes!  It just defies all logic, if you have a hard time believing it, just watch this video.

Big Texan Steak Ranch
Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The place was packed and I was seated at the bar until a table was ready.  Their beer is brewed right on the premises and it’s very good, in fact it’s better than many micro-breweries.  After a long day of riding in desert heat, it tasted like nectar from heaven.  As I was no longer riding, I could drink to my heart’s content.  Some 25 minutes later, my table was ready and so was my appetite.  I ordered a 21 oz top sirloin, it barely fit on the plate!

21 oz Steak

After finishing this behemoth slab of meat and downing a few more pints of beer, it was time to interview one of the staff and talk about the Big Texan Steak Ranch as well as the 72 oz free steak challenge.  Thankfully, I was still sober enough to operate my camera and ask a few coherent questions.

After another pint, it was time to call it a day and walk across the parking lot to the motel room.  Indeed it was a good day and worth the self-imposed pressure to arrive in Amarillo.  Between the Fat ElvUS diner and the Big Texan, I had consumed enough meat to last me the week.  Let’s face it, Oklahoma and Texas are not two states known for their salads and vegetarian restaurants.  Meat rules!

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