Archive for June, 2011

Michael Wallis at Gilcrease Museum

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

On June 25th, 2011, Michael greeted readers at Gilcrease Museum and read from his three new books, The Wild West: 365 Days, David Crockett: The Lion of the West and Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd. Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum is one of the country’s best facilities for the preservation and study of American art and history. The museum’s charm, beauty and art collections draw thousands of visitors from around the world to the hills just northwest of downtown Tulsa for a glimpse into the past. Gilcrease Museum houses the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West. The Museum also offers an unparalleled collection of Native American art and artifacts, as well as historical manuscripts, documents and maps.

Beyond the extensive Gilcrease collections and exhibits are its beautiful facilities and gardens. Themed gardens have been developed on 23 of the museum’s 460 acres.

Gilcrease tours, workshops, musical events and lectures provide numerous opportunities to expand one’s insight into the museum and the history it presents.

Star Dome

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Near the edge of the earth in the low country of South Carolina on an island sculpted by wind and waves they found a special place. They went there at nightfall, after a day of listening to oysters sing from the tidal pools, watching clouds of wood storks dance through pink and orange skies, and running through groves where sorcerers dwelled amongst live oaks draped in moss.

They went there when the butterflies and dragonflies and black-skinned fox squirrels slumbered and the creatures of the shadows emerged. They went there when the still black lagoon waters reflected palmettos and magnolias and only fish stirred in watery chords twisting through marsh grass. They went there knowing they were far from the canopies of fouled city air.

As regular as the tides they were drawn to their special place like moths to candles. The ghosts of Indians, Spanish mariners, and African slaves watched them take their place inside a cathedral of pines that reached high into the night heavens like ship masts anchored to the rich soil.

They looked up as one into the dome of heaven. Starlight filled their eyes. The hazy arc of the Milky Way, star clusters, and constellations — each of them figments of the human imagination — bathed them in silver light.
They stood for an eternity beneath the pure light of the mysterious stars, which evolved out of cosmic gas — stars that guided ships and fueled the dreams of poets. There was no need to speak. Speech had no meaning. The choreography of the night sky said it all.

They returned home with a bouquet of feathers, a handful of seashells, some pine cones — all souvenirs of the time spent in the celestial glow. And with the passing of each year the fond memory of their star dome brought them the light of other days. Through dark times and death and the monotony and sorrow of the human condition, just the thought of those starry nights gave them comfort and peace.

With this new year may each of you find your own special place. May you stand in a star dome and be covered in light.

Cars Land Under Construction

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Cars Land is due to open at the Disney California Adventure Park in the summer of 2012. This 12-acre recreation of the town of Radiator Springs will feature several of the Cars characters, including the Sheriff as voiced by Michael Wallis. Michael also served as a consultant for the Walt Disney Imagineering creative team during the early stages of the new theme park’s development.

The Layout from the guests perspective is one of looking down the main street of Radiator Springs, AZ, as seen in Cars and Cars 2. The main street is Route 66 coming in from the Golden State area, across from the Golden Vinerey and currently Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar. The other two entrances into the land is through a path in Bug’s land in between the entrance of Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train and Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies and through a tunnel being constructed as a part of the rockwork making up Ornament Valley from the Pacific Wharf. The two other entrances are the same path crossing through the middle of Cars Land. The path’s name is Cross St. At the end of Route 66 is the Court House/Firehouse where the street splits. To the left of the split is still unknown to many people, but it may be a backstage access gate. To the right of the split will be the entrance to Radiator Springs Racers. In the distance, the Radiator Cap and Cadillac Range can be seen.

Fort Builders

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Fort Builders

On May 7, 1955, I proudly wore my coonskin hat when Giselle MacKenzie sang the top tune of the week on Your Hit Parade. Like every one of my pals, I knew the words were true. We sang Crockett’s ballad at the top of our lungs as we built forts from old Christmas trees and cardboard boxes, transforming the neighborhood into our own version of Crockett country.”

From the Personal Introduction, David Crockett: The Lion of the West, by MIchael Wallis, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

VIDEO: Michael Wallis reads from David Crockett: The Lion of the West

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Michael reads an excerpt from his new book “David Crockett: The Lion of the West.”

Ride to Live, Live to Ride

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” — Harley-Davidson saying

Way out west on a stretch of varicose concrete two-lane, stained from the vermilion earth of surrounding wheat fields, a man clad in supple leathers and faded denim slips outside and welcomes the Oklahoma morning. Faint tracks of night stars wither and vanish and a hint of breeze stirs the weeds along a wire fence. Filled with stout coffee and plenty of courage, the man sees in a heartbeat that it is a postcard-perfect day — tailor-made for a ramble on a motorcycle. A smile buds on his lips. All is right with the world.

Mindful that a motorcycle is not just another vehicle but a distinct lifestyle, the man considers himself doubly blessed. For he will not be riding just any cycle — he owns a Harley. This fellow is a true believer. He fears no evil; lives life full bore, and holds to the opinion that on the eighth day God created Harley-Davidson.

Leather skullcap, gauntlets, and goggles in place, the man secures the straps on the saddlebags, swings a booted leg over the seat, and mounts his gleaming machine — a Heritage Softail Classic. Just a turn of the ignition key, a push on the starter button, a gentle twist of the throttle, and the brawny Harley engine rumbles to life.

As he glides off in the direction of his dreams, the rider experiences what many others can only fantasize. The process of unfettered travel takes over. All thoughts disappear of the kid’s college tuition, a volatile stock market, and the favorite football team’s losing season. Every one of his senses is heightened and at full alert. For the next several hours, man and machine blend into a sweet concoction and dance through time and space.

Convinced that life begins at the off-ramp, the biker and his Harley stick to roads less traveled. No need for maps, turnpike change, or reservations. The possibility of pure adventure waits around every curve and bend. The ride is all that matters. Time becomes meaningless. Only the aroma of succulent ribs wafting from a roadside pit reminds the rider to pause for a late lunch.

The road beckons. With each passing mile, the man astride the metal-and-chrome pony is transformed into a Chisholm Trail drover, an escaping desperado, and a Kiowa scout. He becomes a young Brando, the Lone Ranger, Easy Rider incarnate. He is nineteen once again, en route to a Jimi Hendrix concert. Images of Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey dance in his head.

Through sunshine and buffeting wind and beneath the shadows and light of heaven, the rider cruises the open roads of Oklahoma all day long. Bound only by his own imagination, he does not turn the Harley around and head for home until long after the moon rises.

Michael Wallis and Marian Clark

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Michael Wallis and Marian Clark

In 2004, best-selling author Michael Wallis and Marian Clark, the recognized authority on all culinary aspects of Route 66, teamed up to produce Hogs of 66: Best Feed & Hangouts for Roadtrips on Route 66, published by Council Oak Books. In this now classic road book, Michael regales his readers with personal stories from the historic Mother Road while Marian shares generous tips on havens of hospitality and dining options along the entire length of the highway as it makes its way from Chicago to Santa Monica. All together, the book is a savory stick-to-the-ribs stew sure to please any travelers of the open road.

VIDEO: Michael Wallis reads from Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Michael reads the prologue from his book “Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride.”

Old Roads

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

As I travel this land I witness cities coming back to life. I see buildings of value with architectural merit and historic significance saved and recycled. I hear more and more voices speaking up for the built environment, for preservation, for honoring our history and culture. I listen to children and adults of all ages who truly care about saving the past, protecting what is left today, and who also are committed to fight the good fight in the future.

I am, of course like some of you, a helpless and chronic optimist. I see no cure or hope for that condition ever changing. And for that I am pleased.

Perhaps that explains in part why I travel ALL roads. But if there is a choice involved, I choose the old ones — the historic roads — every time.

I keep in mind the words from so long ago of the renowned English artist and poet William Blake:

“Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

This country still has such roads — roads of genius.

To be sure, the land is also crisscrossed with no shortage of interstate highways and byways built to try to handle the constantly increasing glut of vehicles that crowd the lanes.

As I already told you, I drive ALL roads. So do all of you. We have no choice. Even I possess a Pike Pass to make my journeys more efficient when I traverse Oklahoma’s turnpike system.

Yet I also construct my daily life in such a way that as often as possible I shun the Pikes and superhighways and go to the winding two-lane bands of varicose concrete and asphalt. Some times I even seek the timeless trails of dirt and stone. I prefer traveling the roads of genius.

That requires not getting oneself in the position where you are forced to “make time” as some say. Like everyone I am seduced by all of the technology created to supposedly make our lives more efficient and expedient. But sometimes — sometimes — it is so good to choose an old path. Click off the cell phone, switch off the CD and the AC, roll down the windows, ease up on the gas and experience America before the nation became generic. Before the country was littered with gargantuan malls, slap dash franchises and chains that all came out of the same cookie cutter.

When you travel one of many remaining stretches of the Lincoln Highway — the Father Road — making its way through thirteen states from Times Square to the Golden Gate, you encounter a broad range of pure Americana.

When you find yourself on the Tamiami Trail with a belly full of stone crabs and sporting a fresh sunburn, you can become a Miccousouke Indian on the prowl for gators, a smuggler bringing in a load of contraband, an eight-year-old kid hoping Dad pauses at Everglades City so you can buy a carved coconut head.

When you rise and fall on the High Road to Taos in the Sangre de Cristos, you become part of an O’Keefe canvas as you pass through a litany of villages where people once uttered the language of Cervantes in this often puzzling land that time forgot.

And when you cruise Route 66 through eight states between Chicago and Santa Monica, you can transform yourself into anything or anyone you want to be — Billy the Kid, Woody Guthrie, Dorthea Lang, Tod and Buz, Ma Joad, Easy Rider, Lightning McQueen, Elvis.

Journeys down the historic roads are up close and personal. You are not as distant from the ecology of the land and from the people who live there, as you are when you drive an interstate highway. On the old roads you are physically closer and more connected to the land and the people. You use all your senses during the driving experience. Sometimes it is good and sometimes not so pleasant. You may see the woman in hair rollers mowing her lawn and smell the freshly cut grass, on the other hand you also pickup the aroma of fresh road kill. You may dine at a greasy spoon and come away with ptomaine or you may find a cafe serving a meatloaf platter worth dying for.

It can be a crapshoot. The old roads are never predictable. You find the good, the bad, and the ugly but come away with memories —both bitter and sweet — that enrich your life and stay with you forever.

Historic road treks promise the quintessential road trip for all those willing to steer clear of the predictable, the banal, and the humdrum. If, however, only the predictable will do and the notion of adventure and discovery bring on anxiety, then a historic road trip should be avoided at all costs.

These old roads are paths for travelers, not for tourists. There is a huge difference between the two. Tourists invariably stand out amongst the locals. You can tell if someone is a tourist with a single glance. They are the folks who when they go abroad always want to take America along for the ride. And when they travel in the United States, they still look and long for the familiar from their hometown. They flock to the franchise eateries and the chain motels because they know what to expect. They are not risk takers and will never take a chance, even if it could lead them to a memorable place or a person that they will never ever find again.

Tourists have a tendency to gawk at history and culture from afar. They do not wish to get too close. Also there is the time factor. Tourists are in a hurry, willing to fit in as much of the ordinary and predictable as possible as long as it is safe, cheap, and by all means comfortable. Interstate highways and turnpikes are their made-to-fit courses of choice.

Travelers on the other hand are more apt to enjoy cruising one of the historic highways. People who hanker for the hidden places off the well-beaten tourist path know that is the way to go. They are flexible, curious, and ready to discover new things and in so doing perhaps discover something new about themselves.

The Spinners

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

The Spinners

“The Spinners,” Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jan. 1, 1970. From left, Easy Gravy, Michael Wallis, Louis De Carlo, Suzanne Fitzgerald, James Fitzgerald (kneeling), Proud Mary Wall, Ed from the East, Soapy Foster.

On the very first day of 1970, we climbed into a battered red Chevy pickup truck in Santa Fe, and struck out for Taos. Joining us was our brother Jimmy, between boot camp and Vietnam, along with a band of creative co-conspirators – Proud Mary, Louie, Easy Gravy, Soapy, Ed from the East, and the pickup’s owner, Matt, who during the years of the Vietnam draft lived by the alias of T.K. Flannigan. Filled with much of the spirit that drove Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, we dubbed ourselves the Spinners.

As gypsy-footed as our name and spontaneous as our freshly-drafted New Year’s resolutions, we made the decision to leave in a heartbeat. Some of us wore remnants of our old army and Marine uniforms, others were clad in vintage cloaks and plumed hats and an assortment of colorful caps, mittens, and costumes. Between us we had a few dollars, a couple of old blankets, a bit of rum, and a lot of hope. A tarot card – The Fool – dangled from the rearview mirror.

It was bitterly cold and snow covered the ground. In deference to the low temperature that hovered in the teens, we didn’t take the preferred High Road to Taos that winds through a string of mountain villages. Instead, we chose the more direct route on the highway that slices through canyons and rock walls flanking the icy Rio Grande.

We were on a quest, hoping to find a woman we had heard and read about. We believed she could help us understand all we would need to know in order to start a renaissance. We were young and filled with optimism. No challenge seemed too great – not a seventy-five-mile ride on a frigid winter’s day in the back of a pickup, not the ordeal of securing shelter for the night, and not even the rather lofty notion that the Spinners could actually launch a major cultural movement.

VIDEO: Michael Wallis Discusses Barbecue

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Michael reads an excerpt from his book “Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation: Writings from America’s Heartland” about one of his favorite meals, barbecue.

A Writer’s Life

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

As the old proverb puts it:
Live not in the past, look instead towards the future,
But in order to know where we are going
It is well to look back to see where we have been.

As a writer my job is to depict life and its events in the way I see them. I need to stay in tune with everything going on around me. I have to feel what others do not feel. I have to see what others do not see. I have to reveal the human condition. Because of that I am difficult to live with and I know that full well. So do others near and dear to me.

Still I go on. I have to write. I have to do that. It is so important that I leave behind the best of my work. My writing must be good. It has to be. Nothing else matters but that. Nothing.

I think of John Steinbeck. I consider him on an October morning all his own.

It was the morning of October 26, 1938. Steinbeck, fighting flu and facing all the demons that writers have to battle daily, completed writing The Grapes of Wrath. The last sentence of his diary entry for that date reads: “Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.”

I know that feeling. Many of you know it as well.

Through my published books — and I hope they are good — I pray I am leaving enough of the past to help others know where they are going by looking back to see where we have been.

Early in my life I was fortunate to figure out that I wanted to be a writer. I had no notion it would be such an interesting journey and one littered with all sorts of decisions.

Writer’s decisions. Countless decisions that go into every single act of writing. Daily decisions we all face. Which way to go . . . which way to turn . . . The sweet cruise … the ride to a rendezvous with danger.

Along that path I made some decisions that were very difficult. Most I stand behind; there are some I deeply regret — more than any of you will ever know.

Yet I have no choice but to move forward. To make amends where and when I can and continue to work at what I do best. In the end, my own life is of little consequence. I know that. I remember Georgia O’Keeffe saying it this way: “Where I was born and how I lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

You need to strive to be all you can be. Make every single day your own masterpiece. Make wise choices but never be afraid of risk. Seek out the crooked paths, the roads of genius. Enjoy the journey.