ARCADIA — When Aubrey McClendon thinks about Route 66, his thoughts turn not just to trips to California, but to the road's darker history as an escape route from Oklahoma.
"I had always been fascinated with the road going to California,” McClendon said Monday. "I read ‘The Grapes of Wrath' and wondered what it would be like to be starved out of Oklahoma.”
No such exodus could be seen Monday when McClendon's own contribution to the mother road, "POPS,” opened at 5:30 a.m. Monday to a line of about 40 people.
Customers spent hours in the Chesapeake Energy chief executive's tribute to soda pop, snapping photos of the giant pop bottle along the Route 66, waiting for a table in the small cafe or simply browsing through the hundreds of varieties of soda on sale in the convenience store.
The crowds continued throughout the day, confounding McClendon's plans for a quiet opening without any publicity. Manager Marty Doepke encountered one news crew after another as customers packed the landmark's old fashioned lunch counter, convenience store — and grabbed up soda brands usually unheard of in this part of the country.
"We did our very best to keep this quiet, but word spread quickly,” Doepke said. "The last three or four days we had to have someone at the door to keep the public out.”
Admitted stalkers included Barbara Johnson, who shared lunch at POPS with sister-in-law Joy Jeffrey and grandchildren Brandon, 7, and Madison, 9.
"We saw it all lit up last night when we came by to check on it,” Barbara Johnson said. "So we came back again today. It's just so neat, so different for this area.”
The Johnsons left after sampling three different varieties of soda.
Those keeping an eye on the first-day crowds included Hardy Watkins, director of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism.
"We know this is a business, but it's also an attraction,” Watkins said. "It's on Route 66, and with the unique way they are putting this concept together, it's going to make people want to stop. I think Route 66 will see a nice impact from it.