A number of years ago, on a sweaty summer Sunday afternoon, I chanced through the small, almost non-existent town of Kenton, OK. The only business of significance was an old general store mouldering under a rust-splotched corrugated tin roof. The building's weathered clapboard walls only hinted of an ancient whitewashing. My main interest was the gas pumps out front, but I noted through the windows a display of dusty old bones, big bones, lots of them. A sign on the recessed front door indicated the store was open every day except Sunday. I was disappointed. I needed the gasoline, but more important now, I wanted to see the collection of fossils. I knew that Kenton was on the edge of the rimrocked foothills of the Rocky Mountains. And that Kenton wasn't far from Black Mesa, the site of a Pleistocene Era dinosaur dig. I marked the store in my mind, a must-see-place, and drove on to Boise City where I found fuel for my red 1964 MGB.
Nearly a decade later, I drove through Kenton again. This time it was not by chance. I was on a combination business and vacation trip to Colorado and with me were my wife, my young brother-in-law, and my younger son, all those I'd managed to accrue during the past decade. I drove a five-year-old yellow-green Ford passenger van, the perfect choice at the time for family camping. I timed the trip to arrive in Kenton early in the afternoon on Saturday. The padlocked front door of the general store belied the cheerful OPEN sign that hung above it; however, big old bones still filled the windows, the dust on them a bit thicker. I walked across the highway to a newer establishment, a quick stop, I don't recall the name, and talked to the clerk, a teenaged boy.
”Oh yes, that store is still open,” the boy responded to my question, “The owner's a real character. He's been open every day except Sunday for as long as I can remember, before that, too, I guess. But today, the store is closed because he is getting married -- in Boise, this afternoon.” The kid hesitated and added, “He's ninety-two years old.”
I tell this story to show how temporally-challenged I am; I'm nearly always in the right place at the wrong time. I also tell it to preface my journal entry.
Anyone who lives in Oklahoma for a time has heard about the hamburgers at Meers. Stories about Meersburgers can be read sooner or later in all state periodicals. Made from range-raised longhorn steers and sized big-as-dinner-plates, the burgers are regionally famous. Of course, I had to try one. I've wanted to for years, ever since I heard about them, but the time to do it had eluded me.
I had a close call several years ago when lo5an and I went to Archer City, TX to visit McMurtry's bookstore. It was during winter, just after Christmas. The plan was to hurry down to Archer City, visit the used-book store, which is billed as the largest in the US, then on the way back take the side trip to the Meers restaurant. That was the plan; however, it failed to include a rain/ice/snow storm that encouraged us to give Meers a miss and crawl carefully up the turnpike toward Norman before the roads became impassable.
A few weeks ago, I decided to revisit the bookstore in Archer City. I'd reconnected with an old friend from my college days who lived along the way. I could see him and also stop at Meers on the way down. In good weather, Meers is a thirty minute side trip from the turnpike. It's located on the northern edge of the Wichita Mountains, a small range said to be the oldest mountains in the United States. The range isn't much to see, being mostly buried in sediment from the newer Rocky Mountains.
Tuesday morning, I started for Meers in our white Prius. I was driving solo; my wife had better things to do. I timed my trip to arrive in Meers about lunchtime. It was lightly raining by the time I'd got there, and the road I took dead-ended at the restaurant which meanders through a set of old ramshackle buildings. The buildings were littered with signs of every sort, mostly extolling the merits of the restaurant. With very little trouble I found a prominent sign that proclaimed, “Closed on Tuesdays.” Fate had struck again.
The solo trip had been fun thus far, and I was in a rare mood. The Prius is a joy to drive. I had the stereo loaded with mp3 music from the 60s: Beachboys, Marty Robbins, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Kingston Trio, Highwayman, Irish Rovers, Brothers Four, Judy Collins and more. I chuckled and thought, “Oh well. I'll get my Meersburger on the way back.
The rain stopped. I took the road south which crossed Medicine Creek and wound up to a mountain park of grassland surrounded on every side by stubby mountains. I was in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and in the distance I could see a herd of grazing bison. The trip through the refuge was uneventful. I did stop at a Burger King for a Whopper before re-entering the turnpike. A poor substitute for a Meersburger!
I was soon in Texas and at my friends house where I stayed the night. We both enjoyed the reunion and spent many hours catching up.
We went to Archer City the next morning. There are so many barely-categorized books in the four buildings of the bookstore, it's hard to look for anything in particular. I spent most of my time taking pictures and wandering the aisles. I bought nothing and was soon ready to go. The trip was not about buying books.
I wanted to arrive in Meers by lunchtime.
This time I was successful. The burger didn't live up to the hype; I'll get the steak next time.
Trip Photos are here