Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles, and literary devices, these works prove that Oklahoma is much more than a place, it’s an idea.
I had always thought that roadside motels were the same anywhere in America until I wound up at a Hampden Inn off I-44 just outside Tulsa. I was en route to Santa Fe. My wife and kids had already flown out to find a house and I was driving our luggage.
My mind wanders after I’ve been driving for a while. So, at first, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw every chair in the motel’s buffet area filled with people tuning banjos and guitars.
“What’s with all this?” I asked the woman at the front desk. She had long, black hair and looked like Crystal Gayle. “Phaedra” was on her name badge.
“99 this year,” she said.
“Woody,” she said.
Some banjo players were picking out the melody of “I Ain’t Got No Home.”
“Guthrie, you mean?”
“Yeah, he’d be ninety-nine this year. They’re all headin’ for the festival at Cain’s.”
“Always been more of a Lee Hazlewood man myself,” I said, referencing the only Oklahoma musician that came to mind.
“Aww, me too.” Phaedra’s eyes ignited as if she’d found the first person who knew her language. Her voice suggested windmills, farmland, black-and-white movies, at least until she began singing “Some Velvet Morning.” She had one of the loveliest voices I’d ever heard. Soon, we were trading lines—she sang the Nancy Sinatra ones; I sang the Hazlewoods.
“You should come out,” she said when we were done. “I’ll sing a couple.”
“Coupla Lees or coupla Woodys?”
“Woody tonight,” she said. “Stick around tomorrow, I might sing you a coupla Lees. You staying one night or two?”
“I’ll have to see about that,” I said.
My room was dank and smelled like old cigarettes, but after I cranked the AC up full, I slept until the phone rang. I looked at the clock—midnight.
“I sang my Woodys. What’d you decide? One night or two?”
“I haven’t yet.”
“I put you down for two. 10 PM, I get off; I’ll bang on your door.”
“If I’m here,” I said.
“You’ll be here.”
Lying awake, I thought Phaedra might be right. Maybe I’d stay another night, maybe more. But my life wasn’t like that Woody song they’d been playing. I wasn’t ramblin’ round; I had another 600 miles to travel and a family to catch up to when I was through.
I thought of saying something to Phaedra, but when I checked out, she wasn’t in the lobby. I considered leaving a note, but had no idea what I’d say.
I’d been driving about four hours when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but it was an Oklahoma line. I figured Phaedra was calling, but I just let the phone ring until it stopped. I had already crossed the border into Texas anyway. When I checked for a message, none was there.
Adam Langer is the author of a memoir and four novels including Crossing California and The Thieves of Manhattan. He divides his time between Bloomington, Indiana and New York City where he is at work on a few new novels.