A cruise up 66 and on the Pinafore

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NOTE: Started this last week. Wanted to add photos, but it was not to be -- haven't had time to edit them down to a reasonable size.

Thursday afternoon (June 17) I took off work and we drove up old 66 to Miami to see Light Opera Oklahoma's road performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore". Yes, we could have seen it in Tulsa, but I have always wanted a look inside Miami's Coleman Theatre Beautiful and thought it would be wonderful to see a performance there.

First stop was the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I remember a field trip to Hugh Davis's ARK (Animal Reptile Kingdom) as a second grader at Catoosa Elementary School, and after the whale was built and opened to the public, I remember our family going to swim there. You can't swim there any more, but the Davis family has opened the whale and the grounds to the public for looking around and picnicking. Joe and I climbed up the ladder into the top of the whale to look out the portholes. The souvenir stand was closed when we visited -- they sell blue whale souvenirs and sets of old postcards from the roadside attraction's heyday in the '60s. I was pleased to see how well-kept the place is.

Next stop was Ed Galloway's Totem Pole Park east of Foyil, another well-kept and lovingly restored collection of folk art. Unfortunately, we got there after it closed for the day, but we enjoyed looking around and noticing some of the interesting (not to say odd) details of Galloway's sculptures.

The next stop was the World's Largest McDonald's. Although I would have preferred to go on and eat at Waylan's Ku-Ku in Miami (click here and scroll down for pix of Waylan's Ku-Ku's sign and the Coleman Theatre), I knew the kids would enjoy eating over the road, and I thought it would be quicker (it wasn't). I think the claim to being World's Largest is a bit tenuous -- it has less than half the seats of the Peking location, and I think there may be one in Orlando that exceeds the square footage of this one. As the Glass House restaurant, the dining room extended from one side to the other. Now there are a row of shops along the west windows, which diminshes the effect, I think. There are Googie-esque aspects to the building -- native rock walls and planters indoors, in juxtaposition to glass walls and chrome curves -- that they would do well to exploit in redecorating the place.

(Here are some more pictures of the Coleman and Waylan's Ku Ku on Guy Randall's very interesting and easy-to-navigate Route 66 site, which includes recent photos, photos from a 1950s family vacation, and scans of old maps.)

Got to the theatre in time to claim our tickets and have a quick look around. We spent more time looking around after the show. The Coleman has completed its first phase of restoration as it marks its 75th anniversary. They have reinstalled and relit the 12 foot tall glass chandelier. Much work has been done throughout the theatre and it is beautiful, but there is still much more to accomplish. The seats are probably 50 years old and many are rumpsprung, and the lobby carpeting is a stain-hiding red, white, and black pattern that probably dates to the '50s. The signs on the mezzanine restrooms also look like they were installed in the same period. They want to install replicas of the original seats and carpeting, which featured the Coleman family crest. You can "adopt" a seat for $350 or $500 (for the front center section).

The Pizza Hut around the corner donated the cups for the concession stand. This Pizza Hut has taken an old diner and turned it into a delivery location, but preserved the chrome, vinyl, and neon look, rather than standardizing the place.

The performance of HMS Pinafore was great -- thoroughly professional and a lot of fun. Lindsey McKee was wonderful as Josephine, the Captain's daughter. While I had a hard time hearing the other ladies over the orchestra, Lindsey has a set of pipes that rival those of the Mighty Wurlitzer. Mark Watkins was hilarious as Sir Joseph, First Lord of the Admiralty.

We stayed around a bit after the show. We said hello with a couple of orchestra members we knew -- violinist Aldee Marquis, who also leads the orchestral ensemble which performs with Coventry Chorale, and bassist Jim Bates (no relation), whose distinctive trait of keeping time with his head is familiar to Tulsa music lovers. Aldee said it was a pleasure to play in such a beautiful place and that it made him think of the Orpheum in downtown Tulsa, which was even bigger and more ornate -- a shame that they just knocked it down.

Our connection with Jim: My wife had played fiddle on a Rogers State College TV show called "Oklahoma Swingin' Country," back in the fall of '89. The show was a learning opportunity for broadcast communication students. It was not a smooth production -- took six hours to tape a 30 minute show. Jim Bates played bass; Darrell McGee, the show's host, played piano; J. D. Walters was on the steel guitar; Debbie Campbell sang; and the legendary Eldon Shamblin played the guitar. I told Mikki on the way home that her "Bob Wills number" is two -- she played with someone who played with Bob Wills -- Eldon not only played with Bob Wills, but was the Texas Playboys' manager for many years.

We were running too late to drive the "sidewalk highway" -- a nine-foot-wide early alignment of old 66 -- into Miami, so we decided, at the kids' urging, to tackle it in the dark on the way home. It was not bad. We didn't meet any oncoming traffic. The road is pretty badly washboarded in a couple of places, but we didn't encounter any major holes, and we were able to maintain 20 mph most of the way.

We stayed on the newer old road through Afton and into Vinita. Vinita has a QuikTrip that seems to be lost in time, apparently planted before QT decided to focus exclusively on the big cities. It's not even on the main road -- it's a few blocks north of 66 on State Highway 2. We got gas, snacks, and a Cheap Drink for me, drove through Vinita, then hopped back on the highway at Big Cabin and sped on to Tulsa.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 1, 2004 10:22 PM.

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