I would not be in the same social circles as Ken Powers, but going to Carleton is to be open to meeting all types of people. During the summer between my freshman and junior years, I went to summer school at Stanford and there met a high school student doing one of those smark-kid programs there who became my girlfriend. She was from Beverly Hills, so I was going to go to California to spend my winter break with her, but I needed a cheap way to get there. Fortunately, I had become friendly with a junior transfer student from UCLA, who had – this was 1970, remember – an old VW Van and was looking to make a little cash giving people a ride there. Four of us signed up to ply the western 2/3 of the country in the December cold. A senior couple, Ken Powers, and me. Jammed together in a van for what became the better part of 48 hours gets you to be friends – or enemies – quickly. We decided to go directly south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and turn right to Route 66 and the long-time hip way to get to L.A. Woody, my transfer friend, entrusted me with a huge pile of maps – so important in a pre-cell phone day. I was a geography nut so pleased at going to places like Fort Smith, Arkansas, along the way, as was Ken. I always approved any rest stop or detour along the way with him and we bored the rest of our crew gazing and pointing at the maps, changing from Iowa to Missouri to Arkansas and so forth. I don’t quite remember why Ken was headed our way, but our discussions of completely unimportant topics made every mile a little less arduous in the van, Woody not letting us go over 55 MPH.We started at night, but as it took us some time to get the sequence of who would drive when, what the radio and seating rules would be and so forth. Ken and I were particularly night owls, so we would be driving in the wee hours and sitting shotgun for each other, managing the maps. We were the only ones up, to be sure, when we hit that right turn at Fort Smith – we had wanted to go south immediately to get out of the major snow belt.We realized that we were all longhaired – me the most, save for our female passenger – and Ken not so much, so we were a little a-feared of what Southern gas station and snack store owners would think of us. By the time we crossed into Oklahoma, Ken and I, at least, were getting a little giddy. “Look,” I told him, banging my finger at the Oklahoma map. “There’s Muskogee. We’ve got to stop in Muskogee.” A popular country music song by Merle Haggard was “Okee from Muskogee,” which delineated why the cowboys from Muscogee were more god-fearing and patriotic and, frankly, anti-longhair than anyone. “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muscogee. We don’t take our trips on LSD,” proclaimed the song. “Old glory is on the downtown court house. White lightning’s still the cheapest drink at all.”A neon light lit up in downtown Muscogee for a diner. Route 66 was the downtown main street in most of these towns along the way, and we presumed this was where you stopped if you were on the road at breakfast time in Muscogee. We trundled in, Ken and I laughing and the others more sedate. Our hair and van and grungy clothing were not de rigeur in this joint, but no one yelled at us, at least right off. We put in our orders and Ken and I headed toward the juke box. Sure enough, “Okee from Muskogee” was on it. Despite Woody’s warning that we were in jeopardy of not getting to California whole if we did it, Ken and I put in our nickels and pushed the button. We mostly clapped in unison with the lyrics, but we joined in the chorus, “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee…” and then whatever would come next that we could slobber through. Ken and I were slim and short, but we had moxie, I guess. Either the assembled men near the exit looked at us sternly, or we imagined them doing so. We did stop laughing long enough to get past them. Woody and the couple, I am sure, prayed that the van would start and we would be heading west in a flash…or whatever the fastest speed the van would go. We had some more goofy things that went on before getting to Beverly Hills and my girlfriend’s house, but Muscogee was what we remembered. We never became friends, but when we passed each other on campus the next three years, we pointed and said, “Muscogee,” and let out a chuckle.
-Robert Strauss ’73