This is Woody Guthrie's violin. During World War II, Guthrie served with the merchant marines as cook, and during his service, his vessel was attacked twice by German U-boats. This violin was saved twice when two boats he was working on sank; as inscribed on it "Drunk Once, Sunk Twice."
Before noon we were packed and headed towards Tulsa. We finished the last day of work Wednesday afternoon, and afterwards I was able to enjoy the freedom to do anything, which in the town I was posted, was the freedom to do nothing.
I continued to feel the stagnation as the car barreled down Highway 69 towards Tulsa. We left town with the sun still shining and a breeze warning of an impending storm. We met the rain head on about 20 miles to our destination.
I’ve never been much for plans, always relying on the spontaneity of the situation to make up for what I lacked. I had no plan when we arrived, and no idea how to spend the day as we pulled up to the Hyatt Regency.
We were too early in our arrival, so early that it would be four hours before our rooms were ready. Luckily, the rain subsided.
I left the car to stretch my legs and on the sidewalk was a sign posted of all the attractions Tulsa had to offer. A jazz museum caught my attention, and as I returned the team, they said were going to head to the mall.
I’ve never been much for malls. Perhaps it stems from the countless hours as a child I spent in them or just their general plasticity. Either way I wasn’t going.
I politely informed the team that I would not join them and would walk around until they returned. The leader seemed shocked at first.
“What are you going to do? How we will find you?”
I replied, “I’ll get lost and find my back. I usually do. I have my phone if you need me.”
As they pulled away, the realization then took root: I was alone in a strange city with a cellphone and time to kill.
There is peacefulness which takes hold when you are in a city alone. It is the same feeling I have when I am out in the countryside of Greene County, with only gravel roads and the power lines, which flow as a web, connecting those to the amenities of the modern world. It is strange, that in a city filled with people, you can be more alone than in a small town with few.
As stated in the previous column, I left the book I was to bring on the trip in my car, so my first thought was to buy a new one. If worse came to worse, I could find a corner cafe and get lost for hours in its pages. Serendipity is a strange word, actually it is a strange word to write. But serendipitously (what a lovely adverb) I asked Siri to direct me to the nearest bookstore. Decopolis was its name… a kitschy shop specializing, as the name suggests, in the Art Deco tradition in terms of the items sold. When I walked in, I was greated by a stuffed Mark Twain doll, its appearance almost as whimsical as the photos of the author. After browsing for 30 minutes, I decided on a copy of American Gods by Neil Gaiman. As I spoke with the cashier, I noticed she was reading Harry Potter. It was her first time reading it, and being the same age as me, I mentioned I haven’t read it either. I grew up too late to feel the impact of Potter-mania, so its impact on my life was limited to sister reading the novels cover to cover in her bedroom as I tortured her with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. It was then, after I told her of my predicament she recommend I stop by the Woody Guthrie Museum, located a half mile away.
With my bag in tow, I stomped my way to Brady Street.
It took a while to find it, but when I walked in, I realized my decision to walk the streets alone was worth the risk.
Some people may not know much about Woody Guthrie or his music, so a brief synopsis may be in order. Woody Guthrie is primarily known for composing the American standard, “This land is your land.” This though is limited to his true influence on music. It is hard to not speak of American folk music without speaking of Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. These two were notable artists in the folk explosion of the early 1950s into the early 1960s. Notably, Bob Dylan, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, was extremely influenced by Woody, so much so that on his first album, one of the two original songs he wrote was “Song for Woody.”
One of the most iconic symbols and phrases from Woody Guthrie was inscribed on many of the guitars and instruments he played: “This machine kills fascists.” Folk music, especially Woody’s brand, was at its core subversive, in the sense, it was music with a message. For most of his life, Guthrie traveled the roads, and hopped on boxcars during the Great Depression, moving from city to city as he sang his songs and told the stories in a voice which was undeniably American, both in its sincerity and its delivery. These events were chronicled in his autobiography Bound for Glory, a book which according to the Martin Scorsese documentary “No Direction Home” about Bob Dylan, he is quoted in saying it was one book which deeply influenced his life and future career. Perhaps the experience affected me so much about learning more of Woody’s life, what he stood for and his influence on modern music translated into $50 I spent in the gift shop. But in short, if you’re ever in Tulsa, look up the museum located on Brady Street.
This column started as a travel story, with the premise being about finding beauty in the unexpected. After reading over the words I wrote, they feel stream-of-conscious than a straight forward narrative. I don’t know if there is a lesson here. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the lesson of traveling is nothing fits together like the sharp cutouts of a puzzle, instead, a day in a strange place will always flow unexpectedly…a chance conversation which leads to a museum, and then a memory. We all know, for the most part, our day will start with us waking up, and ends when we fall asleep. But those moments in between, those are the parts which really count, which make a piece of our life, a moments which we will never have again as though a page has turned and floats away like pieces of ash with the wind.
Grant is a staff writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.