Smack dab in the middle of Alfalfa County, the town of Cherokee, Oklahoma is typical small town America; bank, grocery, liquor store, Pizza Hut, motel…one motel. The Cherokee Inn was not my first choice of accommodations as I made plans to once again visit the nearby Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, the cabins in the nearby state park being at the top of my short list.
However, the lady who answered the phone at the park office informed me that none of the cabins were available for the nights I requested. I call the Cherokee Inn, my only other choice. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There is a tiny motel in Jet, Oklahoma, just south of the refuge, but from the outside, it looks more like a place you would board your dog rather than sleep there.
The female voice at the Cherokee Inn was positive.
“Yes, sir. We have a room for you, not a problem.”
She did not, however, give me a confirmation number nor did she ask for a credit card to hold the reservation. I was not concerned. After all, I wasn’t dealing with the Marriott or Holiday Inn here.
Upon arrival in Cherokee, my traveling companion, a Mr. James Richard, a cousin from Kansas City, wondered why I was making it a point to stop by the motel at three o’clock in the afternoon.
“Why so early?”
“Call it a hunch,” I said.
Having stayed at the Cherokee Inn many times previously, I was somewhat surprised to see a man behind the counter and not the lady who owns the place. I assumed he was her husband. He checks the reservations on, not a computer, but a ledger sheet with the entries written in pencil.
“You’ve been erased,” he says.
I thought he was kidding. “Story of my life,” I reply.
“No, really, you were erased for some reason. We don’t have a room for you.”
“But I made the reservation not two days ago.”
“I don’t know what happened, but we’re full.”
I’m about to launch into my full protest rant when he raises a hand. Wait.
“I can put you up at the farmhouse. It has a kitchen, a wide-screen TV, and you’ll each have your own bedroom. It’s quiet and you’ll have to the whole house to yourself.
The Cuz and I look at each other and shrug. Why not? Sounds like an upgrade.
“What brings you boys to Cherokee?” the man asked. “You ‘birders’?”
“Yeah, if birders get discounts.”
He did not smile and pushed a credit card receipt across the counter for me to sign. The total after taxes read two-hundred forty dollars.
If memory serves (not a given at my age) the last time I stayed at the Cherokee Inn, the going room rate was around sixty-nine per night and as far as I was concerned, overpriced for the quality of the room. Again, not the Marriott
“Sir, there must be some mistake. I booked a room at this motel for two nights. What is the rate?”
I blinked, but continued. “Okay, but even at eighty-nine dollars, I shouldn’t be charged more than $178. You were the one that screwed up the reservation, not me.”
He countered. “I’ll let you boys have it for $200 even. Keep in mind, you’re getting a whole house here.”
We didn’t need or want a whole house, but considering there was no other alternative other than sleeping in the back of the pickup, we acquiesced.
With the aid of a crude hand-drawn map, we found the farmhouse, 3 miles from town. In fact, I had been to this very location previously while searching for a barn owl, permission being given by the female half of the motel ownership. First impressions of our new digs was well, less than overwhelming. I’m almost positive the dwelling was a survivor of the Dust Bowl era. However, it was clean, did have a kitchen with stove and fridge, but no microwave. Living room was okay, divan, recliner chair, and the lamps actually worked. The TV was of an unfamiliar brand. We fired it up, hoping to catch a Thunder game.
The screen lit up–the feed from DishTV–informing the customer that he needed to pay his bill. Under those restrictions, Dish graciously gave us about fifty channels. The first 20 were Pay for View movies, the second twenty were pure porn, alas, also Pay for View, while the remaining ten featured reruns of The Walton’s, the NRA channel, a fishing show, a channel on how to make jewelry, and a couple of religious channels in case we wanted to be saved from our sins. We assumed watching one of the porn channels would qualify for a sin and took no chances. Didn’t go there.
The temperature was dropping rapidly with predictions for a 28 degree night. We searched for a heat source, but found only a single wall heater in the dining room, a propane job with a pilot light that was not burning. Repeated attempts at ignition for said pilot light failed miserably. After many a cussin’ (the religious channel beckoned) the thing finally lit and the old place began to slowly warm up.
The beds were comfy enough, but covered with only a sheet and a comforter that must have weighed at least forty-seven pounds. Throughout the night, my poor old body could not decide whether to sweat or shiver and alternated doing so on a regular basis.
Our morning was salvaged by a coffee pot and believe it or not, a partial package of coffee grounds. Thank you, Jesus!
We spent the day at the refuge, the salt plains, and driving around the countryside looking for old barns to photograph. Come evening, I made a pass through the park and checked on the allegedly occupied cabins. There were no lights on, no vehicles of any kind out front, not a single sign of occupancy.
The next morning and after another (insert sarcasm here) delightful night at the farmhouse, I stopped by the park office to inquire. I found that the park had only one housekeeper and she was enjoying her two days a week off, thus no clean cabins.
Welcome to Oklahoma boys and girls.