In October, I shared the wonderful news that we would be visiting the USA for Thanksgiving – and, wow, what an absolutely perfect road trip it ended up being! The craziest part of the trip was actually the beginning. Daniel and I landed back in Sydney on a Saturday morning after SCUBA diving the Philippines, and we were back on a direct flight from Sydney to Dallas that same afternoon. Yea. Really. We had just 8 hours back on land before we were wheels-up for America. But, man, was it worth the chaos. Here’s what went down…
Saturday 19 November:
The thing I love about flying from Sydney to Dallas is not so much the surviving a long-haul flight but more that you get to be an actual time traveler. You leave Sydney around 3:30pm and arrive in Dallas about 1:30pm on the same day. Crossing the international date line doesn’t hurt in this process, of course, but the best part about this is when you start your holiday you haven’t lost a single minute of time yet in the air. How cool is that???
Saturday 19 November (all over again!):
We spent our one full day in Dallas catching up with the always delightful Jason & Josh as well as having some fantastic eats and copious drinks in the 214. By far the star of the evening was our time spent at Dot’s Hop House in Deep Ellum. This place is enormous. Both physically (it is the renovated space of two full size warehouses) but also liquidly (just go with my usage of this descriptor here, people. I know it’s a stretch). There are 100 beers on tap at this place. From your typical Guinness yawn to mega hoppy IPAs that will invert your lower jaw to my guilty pleasure…fruit beers. Anything you can imagine. Oh, and you get to sip or chug said drink while orbiting an enormous chandelier underneath an open air roof. Really, it’s all quite stunning and lively. I just wouldn’t want to be there for their first hail storm.
Sunday 20 November:
Sadly, we had just one evening to enjoy Dallas before continuing on to a place I hadn’t visited in nearly 10 years. The University of Oklahoma, my alma mater in Norman, OK and my home from 1998-2003. We drove the ~3 hours straight north up I-35 from Dallas and arrived in Norman in the early afternoon. Just enough time to walk from the southern to northern part of the University. I know I drove Daniel a little bit crazy with all my reminiscing and tons of ancient references to my youth, but he was a good sport and ran all over with me while I snapped pics and rambled about 5 years spent living on campus. Regardless of what you think of Oklahoma in general, OU’s campus is a real stunner. It took my breath away all over again, just like when I was 17 years-old and visited for the first time.
Monday 21 November:
We started the day with an enormous breakfast in Norman which I recall cost less than $20 USD – a total shock from the typical $55 AUD breakfast back home in Sydney. The main highlight of today, however, was the drive from Norman to Tulsa with stops in Slick and Bristow (the two small towns I lived in from 1993-1998).
We drove due east along I-40 and veered off to some back roads (including the dirt variety) to wind our way along to the teeny, tiny town of Slick, Oklahoma. This microscopic roadside town played a notable role in my life and punched well above its weight of ~135 inhabitants in terms of an emotional imprint. During my time in Slick (c.a. 1995-1998), my Mom managed the only little restaurant-cafe-convenience-store-gas-station in town. And even though I was dealing with a metric ton of teen angst and coming out fears during this era, I had a magnificent time working for her at The Country Store AKA “Jeremy’s 1st real job”. When you worked there, you had to simultaneously run the register, monitor the convenience store area (complete with pool table and electronic dart board), cook burgers & fries and other country restaurant fare, pretend the gas pump meter actually worked (i.e. rely on the honesty of strangers) and juggle all this while shooting the breeze with the many local regulars who would somehow manage to make a single 20oz Dr. Pepper last 3 hours while they communed at the table. But looking back as a grown man now, I can really appreciate those times and how much I learned as a 15-year-old getting a crash course in multi-tasking and customer service. We stopped by the old Country Store, and it has long since been boarded up and seems to now be someone’s garage. I think it’s better that way…to have had the opportunity to walk in to a functioning cafe would have likely put a glitch in my memory banks of the place. So I’m thankful it was deceased. We also stopped by the driveway of the 40-acre plot of land I lived in with my parents and sister for several years. The gate barred any entry, of course, but it was a bit cathartic to step out of the rental car and look up toward the land I traversed regularly on foot and realize how pretty it really was. I recall loving the rock formations on the property as a teenager but also resented the place as it was so remote. And now as an adult, aren’t we all just looking for our own little plot of land to escape to from time to time? You really do have to smile when things come full-circle.
After our brief visit through Slick, we continued 10 miles along the road to Bristow, Oklahoma where I spent the last vestiges of junior high and all of high school, ultimately graduating in 1998. We spent some time driving along Main Street, pulled in to the parking lot of Bristow High School briefly, visited the local lake (i.e. where you hung out as a teenager), stopped at Sonic for my favorite blue coconut cream ice drink and also had a nice lunch catching up with my Aunt Sheila. We did the unthinkable and went to Pizza Hut’s competitor Mazzio’s, conveniently placed directly across the street. Again, this was likely for the best as Bristow Pizza Hut is AKA “Jeremy’s 2nd real job” and those stories are a future post all of their own I’ll draft one night whilst sipping wine on the balcony here in Sydney. 😉 After lunch, we had the great fortune of spending time with a close friend, Melissa. She’s now a mother to three (of whom we got to meet her two youngest!) and her partner, Jake, masterfully leads the Bristow Chamber of Commerce in his spare time. We enjoyed catching up on their porch before relocating to the middle school to say hi to her sister, Erin, and surprise their mom, Linda, with a ‘hello’ and a chat on her birthday of all days! Beyond joyful to have had the opportunity to connect after all these years!
Somehow after all of this, we still had a few more miles to go before we could sleep and continued on from Bristow to Tulsa where we checked in at the DoubleTree hotel downtown. Shortly thereafter, we met up with my Dad to spend some time together over dinner at a local Irish pub. It was fantastic to catch up with him but for some extremely bizarre reason (I’m typically very tuned in to this) we completely forgot to take a picture together. So all I have to document Tulsa is a downtown cityscape pic and an exterior shot of the pub. Major oops on my part, and despite it being several weeks later, I’m still feeling terrible about it! I promise pics in 2017 for sure. 🙂
Tuesday 22 November:
We rose early again and hit the road due east for a day in Eureka Springs, Arkansas – the perfect stopover point en route to my family’s home in Mountain Home, AR. This town is extremely unusual to the area and – as noted in the city’s tagline – it’s truly an ‘extraordinary escape’ particularly given the typical small-size Arkansas town which tends to be fairly void of an artistic underbelly. For our stay in Eureka Springs, we enjoyed accommodations at the historic Palace Hotel & Bathhouse. Now, let’s not jump to any gay conclusions on the name – this is not *that* kind of bathhouse. It’s a traditional one you would have found in the early 1920s across America – soaking tubs with mineral water and salts, personal wood barrel steamer cabinets…I wouldn’t have been surprised to find one of those machines that ‘shakes the fat’ off to be honest! I loved every second of it. Our room was also very fitting for the environment – and with an incredibly gigantic hot tub / jacuzzi that generated water so hot you could have easily boiled an egg in it. But the best part of Eureka Springs is simply to walk around town and window shop your way through all kinds of artsy, craftsy, gifty & curious little stores and unique restaurants. You’ll get a bit of a Diagon Alley-meets-Main-Street vibe as you stroll, too, which I certainly appreciate. We had a phenomenal afternoon tea at Nibbles Eatery which I would say is a “must try” restaurant whilst visiting. Dinner was pretty uninspired at a local Italian restaurant so not worth a link, to be frank, although I appreciated them letting us take the leftover wine to-go!
Wednesday 23 November – Saturday 23 November:
As per yooj (yay, phonetics), we were out the door on Wednesday AM to make the trek to Mountain Home. Although, we did sneak in a spa treatment first because, well: deserved. En route, we absolutely raided the local Super Target and filled up an entire piece of luggage with various sundries unavailable (or dramatically overpriced) back in Oz. We also had to make a rapid lunch decision, and it was clearly time to baptize Daniel in to the Church of Arby’s. If you’re reading this from a country that does not have this delectable, fast-food roast beef chain, I just want to send my deepest condolences. And if you’ve never dipped a perfectly corkscrewed, seasoned french fry into a vat of horsey sauce, I’ll just make it clear: you haven’t lived. (In the midwest, at least.)
Following our roadside gourmet, we made our way via the winding roads in to Mountain Home. This small, north central Arkansas town near the Buffalo National River – in addition to being home to my beloved mom, stepfather (Hank), nieces, sister, future brother-in-law (fist bumps) and multiple fur siblings – is also known for being the hometown to Wes Bentley of the Hunger Games films. Knowledge bomb for ya. Clearly, though, we were there to visit my family not stalk Wes (although I will forever consider his Seneca Crane beard to be most majestic).
We arrived safely at Mom and Hank’s on Wednesday early afternoon and so began a wonderful 3 days together enjoying everything that makes Thanksgiving magical. Laughter, drinking, eating, drinking, remembering good times, drinking, sleeping long enough to kickstart my liver, drinking…you know, normal stuff.
Highlights of this beautiful time together include:
Daniel and Mom taking over the kitchen duties like duplicate Gordon Ramseys.
Mom clarifying who is actually boss by way of her trademark moves The Point™ & Look Me In The Eye While I Talk To You™ – which she executed simultaneously in this rare image.
Daniel trying to disappear by way of expertly synching his attire to the wallpaper.
People being cute for the camera. (And an empty wine glass AKA ‘my nightmare’)
More cute, smiling members of my fabulous fambly.
Working on the dual selfie. Oh, who TF am I kidding – I’m on Expert Mode already.
Observing a sweet potato casserole nearly burn down the house and all our hopes/dreams.
Feasting on all the classic American Thanksgiving dishes – green bean casserole, (reconstructed) sweet potato casserole, stuffing, turkey…omg salivating IRL.
Working for 11+ hours across seven different family members to complete one helluva 1,000 piece puzzle. Think it sounds easy? Try it on a 24/7 I.V. drip of mimosas and then report back to me, oh ye of much hubris. I can guarantee complications.
VIDEO REMOVED (JUSTKIDDINGITWASNEVERLOADED)
Not featured here intentionally is footage of my sister and I playing Wii’s Just Dance with our niece. Let’s just say, it’s in the vault for future release…
So there you have it, lovely readers. We had the most amazing time visiting the fam for a few days. We woke on Saturday AM 23 November, had some incredible donuts (as one does after bingeing for 3 days on Thanksgiving dishes) and hit the road for Springfield, MO airport to start the long journey ‘home’ to Oz.
Why quotes around ‘home’ you might wonder? To be honest, it’s because I think home is starting to take on a much bigger meaning to me in my advanced age (and corresponding wisdom). Yes, I of course very much consider our awesome apartment in beautiful Sydney a home – that’s not at question. But it feels like something is missing on this huge, remote island continent. And that something is easy, regular & tangible access to family members…from those who are entirely new to the fold to those who have known you since you took your very first breath. Annual visits help but I have to wonder…………..I think I’ll actively put down this left eyebrow now and stop rubbing my beard inquisitively. 😉 😉 😉
Thanks for making it to the end of this unexpectedly long post, readers! I meant to do a quick summary of the road trip but as I started writing, I realized I had so much more to say than a few quips and insights. It was time to share on a bit of a deeper level. Hope you enjoyed as I peeled back the past. XOXO -JW