It used to be a Motel-6. Now it was a step beneath a Motel-6, so low that it didn’t even have a name yet. If it did have a name, it wasn’t posted. The swimming pool had become a dumping ground. The building looked like it had been hit like an earthquake. Some of the balconies resembled ramps. I liked the fact that someone had patched the lampshade with playing cards. That was a nice touch.
It was in that room, truly the abode of many a lost soul, that I decided to try and meditate, focus on where I was and why, before hitting the road. There were two plastic chairs outside the office. People had been walking past my room all night. I’d kept a curtain open a crack, just so I could keep an eye on the car. The air conditioner was clanging like a bell, filling the room with cold, canned air. There was a hole in the wall by the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, one of the walls was coming down.
What had led me to stay in hotels like this for years of my life, besides economy and pride? Is that what it meant to be an artist? To suffer, starve, and be neglected? I’d seen the reality of that myth. All that matters is the quality of the work, no matter what you need to get it done. I’d done a lot of bad work in rooms like this, locked up in the bathroom with a bottle and a pipe, but I’d also done some good work. When I put the good ones aside, I had a decent body of work, one that I could live with.
Also, who was I kidding? To live wild and loose is terrifically fun, at least for a while. But seasons pass, and if you don’t change you either die, or even worse, become boring.
There was a beeping coming from the parking lot. A truck was backing up. The room was cold. My feet were cold. It was still dark outside. Where would I go next? North to Kansas, then Nebraska, and Colorado, where I had family. After that, there was all of New Mexico and Arizona, home to some of the largest reservations in the States.
There was a Waffle House across the street. I’d never been to a Waffle House before. Breakfast had never really been my thing. After checking out of my room, I drove over to give it a shot. The parking lot was crowded. They only had a seat at the counter. When they brought out my order, I understood why. My breakfast filled two whole plates and covered most of countertop in front of me. Pancakes, eggs, hashed browns, biscuits and gravy, bacon. I was stupefied. The waitress asked how everything was. I told her it was my first time ever at a Waffle House, but I’d be back. Boy, would I be back.
I crunched down on a piece of bacon for emphasis and a crown in back of my mouth exploded, filling my mouth with shrapnel, bacon, and blood, the same smile fixed on my face for thirty seconds, until she turned away. Then I reached for a wad of napkins and spit it all out. That’s what you get with no dental insurance, when you get all your dental work done in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, fillings that explode like pop rocks, bridges and crowns that shatter after two years.
It was too early yet to do much in Tulsa. I’d have to return at a later date. By now I needed to hit the road if was going to make it to Dodge City that day. I’d seen something on the map about the Pawnee Bill Ranch that looked worth some investigation. It was an hour away. I took the 412 west to 18 north.
Most everyone has heard of Buffalo Bill, but how many people know about Pawnee Bill? I didn’t, not before I showed up at his ranch. It turns out that they had both been Wild West showmen who’d briefly combined their shows to create the Two Bill’s Show, ultimately a financial disaster that nearly led to bankruptcy.
Pawnee Bill got his name working on the Pawnee Indian Agency. He briefly worked for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as an interpreter, before starting his own show in 1888, Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West. His wife May was one of the stars. After the failed collaboration with Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill largely retired to his ranch on Blue Hawk Peak.
There was a corral with a small herd of bison when I pulled up in front of the museum. It looked like I was the first visitor so far. I put on my COVID mask and walked to the door. Considering that only a year ago most every place was still locked down, I was pretty fortunate to get to see what I was seeing. In the window was a picture of Pawnee Bill, with his stage suit, boots, and hat. There were Indian artifacts and memorabilia from his shows inside. It appears that he’d once hired Geronimo to tour with him.
In a black and white photo, taken with Buffalo Bill, there is no question who the junior partner is. Pawnee Bill comes off as a stumpy sidekick. If things didn’t work out between them, it is assuredly he who got the short end of the stick. Somewhere I saw that he’d called Buffalo Bill a boy who’d never grown up. That is probably a charitable summation, as there are those over the years who found way worse ways to describe him.