Just One More Night: A Trip to Elk City, Oklahoma
9:13 AM EDT on October 5, 2021
The last time I lived in Elk City, America was the summer of 2011. I was 19-years-old and my only responsibilities were...
1. Washing my own laundry and
2. Making sure I didn’t stay out too late past my closing shift at Flix on 6 Movie Theater that I overslept through my opening shift at the coffee shop on Main Street.
With an inflated sense of self-confidence, optimism, and general know-it-all attitude that only the freshman year of college could bring, I was restlessly counting down the days until I could return to my “home” in an OSU dorm and get the hell out of my hometown.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than ten years since I’ve lived in Elk City, especially since the closet in my old bedroom at my parents’ house still has the slight salty smell of “Flavocol” movie theater popcorn butter from housing my old work pants for so many years.
This past weekend, I took my husband for a stroll down memory lane and a drive 109 miles out west on I-40 to visit my hometown and take part in my favorite annual festivity: The Elk City Historical Society Flea Market.
Spanning the entirety of Elk City’s historic Ackley Park, the annual Flea Market is a hodgepodge collection of pickup beds, folding tables, and canopies hosting an eclectic array of antique dolls and dishes, handmade crafts, fried food, and a cubic eff-ton of WWII memorabilia.
It’s also where as a teen I once scored an original Sgt. Pepper record for $2 from some guy’s Oldsmobile, complete with the original cutouts and a musky smell I didn’t realize was weed until I attended my first music festival as an adult. Long story short, there’s something for everybody at the Flea Market and everybody goes. Hell, I even had an old coworker schedule his wedding for Flea Market weekend because he thought that all of his family would be in town anyway. He was correct in his thinking.
This year’s Flea Market was a little different than the last one I had visited over a decade previously.
The tent selling knock-off Tommy Hilfiger-esque merch was replaced with one of at least four booths advertising “Trump 2024” flags, no one was hosting a ring toss game to win chicks and ducklings, and the only records I found were a stack of soaking-wet Charlie Pride albums.
But, there were still a lot of fun booths and tables to sift through. As the City of Elk City website boasts, when it comes to the annual Flea Market, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” As long as you have $5 and patience, you won’t leave empty-handed.
It's fine. They're probably all squibs at this point.
This find put the “Blessed” in “Blessed Mother Reba McEntire.”
We wandered around the grounds for about two hours, enjoying the cute boutique booths local shop keeps had set up, daydreaming about dropping $200 on a badass welded metal sculpture of a turkey, and waiting for the frozen lemonade stand to open.
Eventually, my husband made it out with an October 1977 copy of “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine” while my 4-year-old niece found enough costume jewelry and $1 puzzles to keep her entertained for a solid 25 minutes.
We then cavorted over to Main Street to find an excuse to spend the rest of the cash we pulled from the ATM before the Flea Market.
Visiting downtown is always a bittersweet experience for me. After spending most days after school as a kid meandering along the busy sidewalks blowing my allowance, is hard to believe that both the malt counter at Schwartz’ Drug and mom’s western wear store have been closed for years now. But this past weekend, I was happy to see how much life was being breathed into the century-old shop buildings nowadays.
One of our first stops was BTB’s Records and Rarities. Nestled on the corner of Main and Broadway, this records shop is as vibrant in color as it is sound. Though I could have spent a solid six hours shuffling through the hundreds of records lining the walls of the small shop, I spent a good half hour admiring the collection, catching up with the owner and old friend, Brady, and enjoying Tame Impala album spinning on the record player behind the counter. I then exchanged $5 for a copy of Vanilla Fudge’s greatest hits, wished his mother well, and made my way down the street.
Next was lunch at Major Bean Coffee Shop. If you are ever traveling to Elk City—or even passing by on I-40—you MUST stop at Major Bean for an 1885. It’s nothing but an old-fashioned Dr. Pepper with a shot of espresso, but it’s everything you need to be caffeinated and motivated enough to keep up with your average 4-year-old running on half a grilled cheese and soda. We enjoyed lunch with my parents and grandmother before making it to the annual Carnegie Library Book Sale just in time for the noon tornado sirens to go off across the street.
The WoooooWOOOOOOOOOwwwwooooWOOOO seems like it lasts a lot longer when you're with a 4-year-old.
The rest of our time downtown was spent admiring the sweet Willy Nelson swag at 580 Mercantile and waiting for my niece to decide on a pair of sneakers at Carrol’s Shoe Corner. I spent a few moments standing outside of the building that once held my mom’s shop, taking in the changes. The Summer 2011 was also the year of a historic drought that led Western Oklahoma farmers and cattlemen’s livelihood to bleed out as crops were stunted and cattle had to be sold for pennies on the dollar. Since then, oil field booms and busts have created economic uncertainty and threatened the small community’s wellbeing.
But standing on the sidewalk of Main Street last Saturday, you wouldn’t have known it. Time and time again the community of Elk City has pulled together and continuously invested in itself to survive and thrive. The shops on Main Street, new elementary school, and expanding community center are all products of that investment. A city can only give to its citizens what the citizens give to it.
As my 3-day visit came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel proud of my old hometown. 19-year-old Hayley couldn’t wait to leave Elk City. 29-year-old Hayley is already looking forward to coming back.
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