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Toxic Town USA - Part Three

Updated: Aug 30, 2018


I once stopped at a brand new Route 66 roadside attraction shortly after it opened. It was a museum established in an old café and drugstore building for a singer/songwriter I had always admired: Roger Miller. I noticed it as I rolled into town on a trip to visit Harley and Annabelle late in the summer of 2005, a few years after recovering from being laid off at the hot dot-com company in Colorado. Things were finally looking up for me at that time in a lot of ways and I thought it would be fun to go through the museum to reflect on some of the days and songs of youth I had enjoyed so much.

I couldn't have been more mistaken. The exhibits in the museum were of Roger's stuff, no doubt about that, but they were meager and were all laid out dully in a single, stark white room without much creative thought or imagination applied to their placement or presentation. They reflected little if any of the artist's deep, colorful character. There was an admission fee I had to pay to get in and a sign at the entrance stating that no photographs were allowed inside. The museum also offered some of Roger's records of interest for sale (along with t-shirts and possibly some other unmemorable things of absolutely no interest to me) but the prices were all outrageously high. The descriptor "jip-joint" passed through my thought stream as I looked over the sorry little exhibits. While I was inside looking at them, I was followed around by the docent who offered tidbits of useless information I did not ask for, wishing she would just leave me alone. She seemed to be watching me too closely, almost as if I intended to steal something.

I did not feel comfortable there and I didn't feel welcome. It was depressing. I left the place after less than fifteen minutes (more than enough time to see every exhibit), regretting having stopped and stepped inside, feeling very much like I had been victimized by a typical jip-joint.

I drove the short distance from the museum down to the Sandhills Curiosity Shop to find Harley and Annabelle busily working inside. They were preparing for a Route 66 tour group due to arrive before eleven o-clock that morning–a large group from Denmark traveling the old route by bus. I stayed out of their way as they worked but they were eager to talk while they set out sandwich makings, paper plates, napkins and coolers full of ice and canned drinks, asking me what I had been up to recently and how I was feeling about it all. I filled them in on the bigger stuff then told them I had just visited the new museum up the street. They both stopped what they were doing and looked at me in a strange way that almost made me laugh out loud before they asked in unison what I thought of it.

"It was lame," I replied. "A waste of time and money for the stupid admission fee."

They laughed loud and long at that brief but pointed assessment as they wrapped up their preparations for the tour group by putting finishing touches to chair arrangements, placing tambourines and maracas in some of the seats and a few more within easy reach of others. It was a pre-show routine I had witnessed before and they were good at it, moving with smooth, practiced precision to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We had a few minutes to sit down to have a cold drink and to talk a bit before the group arrived. They began telling me all about how the Roger Miller Museum had come into being and what it was all really about. I was appalled by what I was hearing and a bit skeptical that it was true. Then the tour bus arrived and I eased back out of the way while they rushed out to greet the tourists and set into doing their thing that they did so well together.

I stood on the sidelines watching and taking a few photos, amazed at how things had turned out for Harley and Annabelle after so many years of struggle yet feeling some worry over what they had just told me about the museum, still not sure I believed it. But as the years passed, the truth emerged and it all turned out to be even worse than they had described to me that late-summer morning.

Much worse.

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