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The View from Sherlock Peoria (167)

August 14, 2005

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A Sherlockian Tour de Force

Or "How Sherlock Holmes caused me to observe 1896.4 miles of Oklahoma, Texas, and even a little bit of Arkansas, the latter of which we shall speak no further . . ."

If you have any travel in those dim back alleys of consulting detective lore frequented only by the lost, the mad, and the charmed eccentric, you may have heard a rumor of those events of which I am about to write. (In other words, if you happened to read Sherlock Peoria on the right moment, say, for instance, any time last week.) You may have wondered if such an expedition as was foretold could ever come to be, much less succeed without unforeseen disaster, sad disappointment, and the wailing and weeping of both the widows and financiers involved. Well, read on, lads and lasses, and I’ll tell you a tale of a journey into the unknown, the likes of which few disciples of the great Holmes will ever undertake.

Cue kettle drums: BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM!

I was called to the comfortable suburban lodgings of my good friend Hobbs on August third of this year for something that my neighbor, the rascal Burr, would call the pure product of high-grade brain fever. Hobbs had heard of a place in Texas called Sherlock and was bound and determined to get to it via Watson, Oklahoma. Then, to do that one better, we would celebrate the whole affair at an isolated oasis called the Sherlock Holmes Outpost. Of these, only Watson had been previously explored by our fellow students of the Master Detective, and of those, only a few dim memories remained.

It was one of those notions that only a friend could talk you into. It was one of those ideas whose very conception seemed to demand that someone take up the gauntlet. And that person was one of those someones that I might have normally preferred not to be me . . . cautious and oft-times timid fellow that I am. But Hobbs and I had shared an adventure or two previously, including at least one brush with the law, so I knew that I should probably buck up and join him on this one as well.

We hired a Caravan the day before and fortified ourselves on one last feast of brisket tacos at Manny’s in Dallas, a last-minute substitute for Hobb’s traditional Mia’s. Mia’s had closed that night due to a death in the family, but Manny’s did the job, brisket tacos and all. (A treatise on Holmes and the brisket taco will undoubtedly be forthcoming.)

Upon our return to the Hobbs household, we found Tulsa’s own Dean Clark waiting inside. Dean was the one man in our team who had actually been to Watson, Oklahoma, and his contacts and knowledges of that area would be invaluable to us. And if that wasn’t enough, Dean had one more surprise up his sleeve, or at least in a great cardboard box. He reached into the box and pulled out four tan polo shirts with our expedition logo embroidered on the left side – four shirts for the four days of the trip, an act he would repeat for every member of our crew. We would be uniformed in tan polo shirts and hiking shorts, with the occasional deerstalker for flair, on every day of our trip.

The three of us retreated to Hobbs's massive library, to look over some recent acquisitions and discuss those things that men of Holmes discuss, and were joined some time later by Hobbs's long-time friend and videographer Rick Gold. After introductions all around, Rick went back to looking over the Caravan and making preparations for chronicling our expedition for posterity. Would it be a record of glorious success, or a Blair Witch-like tragedy of snivelling horror and death? Only time would tell.

Only God, and possibly Sherlock Holmes, knows what prayers were offered up by the members of our team that night before our fateful quest began. All we knew for certain that awaited us in the bright light of morning would be fresh polo shirts embroidered with our expedition name and the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes. I read one of Lee Childs' fine military tales far into the night, as I waited for my excitement to quell.

Morning came, and I needed no alarm clock to rouse me for the adventure ahead. A shower, shave, and, yes, a fresh polo shirt, and I was ready for action. The others were as well, and we breakfasted on sausage rolls and glazed doughnuts from the local daylight doughnuts before collecting the two final members of our party for the first leg of our trip. Mike Miller, our group mathematician and encyclopaedic brain of reference,and Herb Linder, retired treasury agent and former paratrooper, rounded out the team. The scribbled notes of the occasion run something like this:

"Thursday, August 4, 2005, 7:47 A.M. -- Official departure from Flower Mound. Sound tests from videographer.

"7:59 A.M. -- Stop for gas at Sam's Club.

"8:37 A.M. -- Pick up Herb Linder at corner turf store."

Yes, it all seems very innocuous, doesn't it? Very much like a Saturday drive to the kids' soccer practice or some equally mundane event. But this was no suburban weekend routine, this was "THE GREAT WHIMSICAL SHERLOCKIAN TOUR OF OKLAHOMA AND TEXAS."

Cue kettle drums: BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM!

12:35 P.M. -- Hunger has fallen upon the group. The Caravan gets free of our guide's control in the parking lot of a county-line package liquor store and nearly runs over our group's eldest member. These hardships don't stop Hobbs from collecting two Signs of the Four, the reason for our stop in this seemingly uninhabited spot.

1:08 P.M. -- We arrive in Watson Oklahoma, for the second time. The first time we had failed to reduce speed after blowing out of Arkansas like a bat out of Arkansas, and careened right through it. We careened a lot on the road to Watson. Our goal was the Watson Elementary School, where the line "Elementary, my dear Watson!" seems to have been said one too many times, because the word "elementary" was nowhere on the school. "Watson Tigers" and a picture of a tiger were all that adored the newer section of the school. "USA 1940 WPA Oklahoma" read the shield-shaped plaque on the old stone part of the school. While we all understood the connection between Dr. Watson and tigers, as related in The Sign of the Four, the link between Dr. Watson and the WPA is a bit more unclear. As for any links between our expedition's leader and one of the denizen's of that little community, I shall leave it for him to report.

2:15 P.M. -- We finally find food at Judy's Diner in Heavener. It's Heaven-er, all right.

5:21 P.M. -- We arrive at Sherlock Holmes Mobile Homes in Schulter, where a giant silhouette of Sherlock Holmes greets the Sherlockian who's journeying north to Tulsa. I don't know if there are any collectors out there obsessive enough to buy a Sherlock Holmes mobile home to complete their Sherlockian collection (or maybe to keep it in), but if you're out there, see Nathaniel Monk at Sherlock Holmes Mobile Homes. We had a nice visit with Nathaniel and his son (the one responsible for the place's name), and learned that they would soon be making the pilgrimage to London and Baker Street once again . . . a place very familiar to them, I'm glad to say. After our curious time in Watson, Oklahoma, our visit to Sherlock Holmes Mobile Homes stands out as the point I started to feel like this mad expedition might just succeed. The legend of Sherlock Holmes has more power and range than a cynical old Sherlockian might expect in this day and age, and talking with the Monks gave us high hopes for the days ahead as we settled down in Tulsa for the night. We while away a happy evening with the Afghanistan Perceivers at the White Lion Pub, the sort of thing that needs no description for a fellow Sherlockian.

Friday, August 5, 2005, 7:30 A.M. -- We meet at the quaint little eating establishment next to the Tulsa inn where half our team spent the night (which is the Watsonian way of saying "the Denny's next to the Day's Inn"). Dean Clark, who hosted the other half of the team at his lodgings, brought the solid tomes in which the Afghanistan Perceivers have recorded their wisdom and wit for posterity. The first, The Case of the Infernal Nonsense, is a book of stories, essays, and "Anathema and Antidote" -- the last section being a particular favorite of mine as it reflects the kind of scion society give-and-take that I always enjoyed in the golden age of the Hansoms of John Clayton. The second Afghan Perceiver book, Restored Losses from the Battered Tin Dispatch Box of the Afghanistan Perceivers, leads off with some happy Sherlockian history from old hands Dick Warner and Stafford Davis, moves on to scholarship, and closes with pastiche. Of course, none of us got through these hundreds of pages at breakfast. A full day awaited.

At this point our expedition was joined by Bruce and Linda McCall, who had caught up to the rest of the team via private plane. With the full team now at eight, we met with that sage of Tulsa Sherlockians, Dick Warner, across the street from the funeral home once run by the late, great John Bennett Shaw (currently next to the Holmes Foundation -- no relation). Upon hearing I was a fellow Baker Street Irregular, Dick presented me with a Holmes Peak pin as an Oklahoma shilling. The good Hobbs, collector that he is, was quite envious, and I tried to keep my enthusiastic dancing to the tune of "I got a pih-in, I got a pih-in!" to a mininum. (An interesting side note: Dick Warner hasn't been to a Baker Street Irregulars dinner since they allowed women in. I didn't go to the BSI dinner for many years after getting in trouble for saying they should let women in. Kindred spirits, in an outcast kinda way.)

9:49 A.M. -- Looking over the barbed wire fence, the great rolled bales of hay in the field beyond, we look upon the gently rolling slopes of Holmes Peak. My Colorado relations would call it a decent-sized hill, but it definitely stands out among all of the surrounding promontories. And it's a peak named after Sherlock Holmes. Not some other guy named Holmes or Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes himself. And that makes it one beautiful piece of landscape, from the east side, the west side, any way we looked at it.

One of our team took a tumble coming back across the ditch from getting a close-up view of Holmes Peak at the barbed wire fence. As it was the highest ascent any of us made, it was near-Reichenbachian.

Time to fast-forward.

10:42 A.M. -- The Mayo Hotel. Billy the pageboy (Charlie Chaplin) enshrined next to Elvis.

1:15 P.M. -- Lunch at Port Lugano. (Well, the Enid, Oklahoma version of Port Lugano. Very nice.)

3:30 P.M. -- Wasabi-and-soy almonds at the Shell Station at Woodward. Before we pull out, a vote is taken to skip Baker, Oklahoma (and its "Baker street") and head straight on to Sherlock, Texas.

4:00 P.M. -- Our leader brings the Caravan to a halt when he sees a dinosaur made entirely of metal car rims in Gage, Oklahoma. We'll call it a "Lost World" tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, since his name didn't come up too much on the trip.

4:30 P.M. -- Follett, Texas, the gateway to Sherlock, actually has an "N. Bruce Street." Some of our intrepid band misses it as they gawk at "N. Young Street."

4:43 P.M. -- We reach Sherlock, Texas.

Cue kettle drums: BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM!

Cue tastefully quiet words: To Be Continued.

Your humble correspondent,
Brad Keefauver