I quickly cross into Kansas, which claims just a dozen miles of Route 66. Not surprisingly, Kansas was the first state to pave its entire portion of Route 66 in 1929. Good for you, Kansas. After two weeks in Missouri, I’m going to pass through this state in two hours. I’m getting faster, right?
Some of that time is spent inside Baxter Springs Smokehouse. Fortunately no customers are present when I make a grand entrance by falling off the bike in the parking lot. I haven’t fallen this hard since Maryland when still getting used to toe cages on the pedals, which are to blame for tripping me up here, too. This happens when I’m slowing to a stop and can’t get a foot loose to anchor to the ground. I lose momentum then balance, and to the ground come crashing down.
The waitress opens the door to make sure I’m all right. I shake off dirt and embarrassment and head inside to order the boneless rib sandwich with my favorite side, onion rings. Shortly after I sit down, lunch specials are wiped off the board.
Just down the road is the Oklahoma border. I pose for multiple photo ops. Approaching Oklahoma I see something amazing: two guys dressed alike on bikes pulling the same kind of trailer. Are they twins? And can we be triplets?
We wave to one another, but they keep moving. I haven’t seen any cross-country bikers at all anywhere, and am eager for like-minded conversation and camaraderie. They don’t stop and I never catch up. Loneliness washes over me at the lost chance to make a connection.
I reach my destination of Miami (Oklahoma), which doesn’t have much, but is as far as I can go for the day. Fortunately across the street from a cheap motel is a sports bar so I can watch playoff baseball. The crowd inside roots for the relatively nearby Texas Rangers while I am strongly pulling for the opposing and foreign Toronto Blue Jays.
The reason I root for Toronto is that growing up in the suburbs of NYC all the kids were fans of the Yankees or Mets. Needing to blaze a different trail (a trait that evidently remains true today), I picked the Blue Jays based on their logo, which after many variations over the years is back to the same one as when I started following the team circa 1990. The Jays are in their first playoff series in about 25 years, ending the longest active drought of any team in professional baseball, basketball, hockey and football. This game is a big deal to me and to Canada, which lost its only other MLB team, the Montreal Expos, in 2004.
After the Jays win, I stick around for trivia. I meet Dakota and Mikaela, two students at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Both are livestock judges in training, something they patiently explain to me, yet am having a hard time grasping after four Boulevard Beers. Like who is judging your judging to make sure you’re judging right because you’re not an experienced judge?
They give up talking to me and are leaving for a party. I haven’t been to a college party in at least a decade and fish for an invitation. I wouldn’t have much fun, they assure me, because NEO is a dry campus.
“Oh please,” I retort, dismissing such nonsense with a flick of my wrist. “That doesn’t stop smart students from trying to have a little fun, does it?”
Well, sorta. Dakota was busted for having beer in his dorm room. Cans were hidden in a mini-fridge, which was hidden under a coffee table draped in a long table cloth. With nobody home, a Residential Advisor (RA) entered the premises and found the contraband, which Dakota was later forced to pour down the drain.
“What happened to the f*#%ing Constitution in this country?” I wonder aloud while signaling to the waitress to come over now so I can order the loaded nachos and another Boulevard, which the kids buy me because they are impressed by my journey. I’m impressed with how many Boulevards I’m putting down. One more and I might turn into a raging interstate.
Trivia is beginning, and a $50 bar tab is on the line. I’m thirsty for a win and reasonably sure my Dartmouth education and worldly travels are going to sweep me to victory in a bumpkin bar in a former mining town in Oklahoma. Even the MC is having trouble pronouncing words in the clues. What a joke.
Although I answer two questions correctly about my favorite country Myanmar, I suffer a humbling loss. Countri Bike places 9th out of 12 teams, and I think teams 11 and 12 left midway through the contest. Defeat is sobering. I doubted my Ivy League education alone could get me places in the corporate world… at my last job I was replaced by a guy who never finished college. Miami of Oklahoma proves that despite strong legs, my brains are useless. I brush off defeat because the Blue Jays won the series, and really, that’s the only thing I’m keeping score of at this point.