It’s 7:30 on a chilly Tulsa Tuesday night. We’ve traveled to the midwest for business, and decide to take in some authentic Oklahoma barbeque. The hotel concierge does some research and comes across a place called "The Knotty Pine" in the Yellow Pages. He calls the shuttle bus to the door, and the young lady driving looks askance at him when he says the words "33rd Street and Charles Page Boulevard", as if telling her to drive off the edge of the Earth. We hop in the bus, take off from downtown Tulsa, it’s glowing banks and churches bereft of human pulse. We turn on a darkened on-ramp to a 4-lane road, and then turn again onto an even darker avenue. We pass a juvenile detention center as kids lift weights in the yard, illuminated by painfully bright metal halide lamps, contained by tall fences and razor wire. We cross train tracks. We pass a gas station. We pass warehouses. We arrive. A kind of faux log cabin surrounded by an exurban vacuum, the Knotty Pine itself is nearly empty, save for a middle-aged couple finishing off their plates of pulled pork and bottles of beer. The place closes in 15 minutes, winter hours in effect. We look at the order board, and my associate requests the six meat platter (bologna, sausage, ham, pulled pork, chicken, and beef rib), I stick with just two. He orders a beer, I go for the fountain root beer. We’re all that’s left in the restaurant; they close in 10 minutes. Then it happens.
A group of four kids walk in. They sit next to us. They order their food, chattering away. I steal a look, wanting to know what kind of wasted teenagers would dare stroll into the Knotty Pine just a minute or two before the chairs are up. And I see the hat. 1500 miles from home, on the wrong side of the tracks, in a nearly forgotten corner of one of the most creepily odd cities I have ever been in, the hat shows up. This hat:
A Yankee fan. In the middle of nowhere in Tulsa, eating hot links and Lays, sipping a Coors Light. I finish my plate of pulled pork, sip the last bit of Root Beer, and walk out. I smile. It’s no longer a haunting thing, this ugly, sinister hat. For once, seeing the hat elates, not depresses. It reminds me of what’s good, not what’s painful. We ride back to the hotel, past the juvie yard, back across the river, and return to center city, as odd as that term sounds. It’s been a good night in a bizarre place, with an unexpected reminder of this wonderful autumn past. Everything is OK, as they say.