Above Photo: OKC Skyline from Skydance Bridge.
It had been over 30 years since I had been back to Oklahoma. For one year in 1984/85 I lived in Enid, Oklahoma with my oldest sister, who was stationed there at Vance Air Force Base. I remember it being very flat and very windy, with a windchill in the winter that could cut through you like a knife. As a teen from Mississippi, Oklahoma was like another planet.
When I returned to Oklahoma on October 16, 2015, I found a place more reminiscent of the South and its customs than I recalled. Oklahoma shares the Southern passion for sweet tea, flavored instant grits, okra, pimento cheese spread, Stuckey’s pecan logs, and “y’all,” which made me feel right at home. (Although I’m not quite sure what’s up with those massive croutons they give you at steakhouses. What are you supposed to do with them? Crumble them in your salad? Eat them like toast?). While at the RVing women’s convention I shopped at the local Homeland grocery store in Shawnee on several occasions. The store manager remembered me on my last visit, thanking me profusely for choosing his store. He was very sincere.
And the people are sincere, and helpful. In the town that started Sonic Drive-In’s, I opted for the burger at the Brown Derby – a Shawnee institution. I listened to the radio as I ate lunch, and I knew better; Honda CRV’s are notorious for draining the battery quickly in accessory mode. When my car wouldn’t start, I called AAA. I poked my head into the kitchen to let the staff know why I was still there, and the cook said with a pleasant drawl, “Well, what seems to be the problem?” I told him it was likely the battery, and he and his buddy had the car jumped in no time flat.
Accents are thicker in Oklahoma then I remembered. The dirt is redder than I recalled. But two things matched my memory to tee: the flat terrain, and the wind. When Rogers and Hammerstein penned, “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain,” they weren’t kiddin’.
Let’s face it – Oklahoma in not Nirvana. Indian tribes were banished there, to lands inferior to those from which they were driven. Land was given away for free during the Oklahoma Land Rush. Then, let us not forget the Dust Bowl, forcing desperate families west along “the Mother Road,” Route 66. (Granted, the Dust Bowl affected many more plains states than just Oklahoma.)
God bless the marketers; they are hard at work in Oklahoma. Did you know that Interstate 35 south of Oklahoma is known as “Adventure Road?” Grab a map and look at what is south of Oklahoma City.
Signs throughout Oklahoma, big and blue and white, tout the virtues of the next town. They say something like:
See [City Name!]
Oklahoma is also described as, “America’s Corner,” a moniker apparently conjured up by the Oklahoma City Commissioners.
Which corner, exactly? The military boys in Enid, many hailing from the East and West Coasts, used to say, “Oklahoma is the A-hole of America.” I don’t suppose that would look very nice on a sign.
Even Oklahoma City, the state capital, misses the mark for me. Everything about it feels anorexic. Yes, the city has distinct neighborhoods, like Bricktown and Automobile Alley, but they feel forced and not organic.
The skyline is not fit for any snow globe. Two blocks from Stockyards City is an entire community of Hispanic people who do not seem welcome to mingle with the diners at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse.
My Sunday night in Pottawattamie County best sums up my Oklahoma experience. My friend and I decided to have dinner and cocktails at the Grand Casino. When we entered, we could count all the gamblers in the casino on one hand. The bar to the main restaurant, while open, seemed rather dark. We sat down to order a drink. The bartender informed us that no wine or hard alcohol can be consumed in Pottawattamie County on Sundays. Beer only.
What the hell?
Of course, I am familiar with dry counties. I lived in one as a child in Mississippi. But that was decades ago. Who in Oklahoma cares if I have a drink on Sunday night? Better yet, who drew the line that beer was okay but bourbon was not? I did a little research, and 25 out of 77 counties in Oklahoma do not allow liquor by the drink. Of the remaining 52 counties, 18 do not allow individual drink sales of hard alcohol or wine on Sundays.
C’mon, Oklahoma. Join us in the 21st Century.
Post Script: As I stated in the About section of the blog, part of this journey is to figure out where I want to live next. I am experiencing every new place through that filter. As you will see from the comments below, some of my observations were not pleasing to a Sooner State native. All I can really say about that is this is not Condé Nast magazine, and I am not on the payroll of the Oklahoma Tourism Board. I find his indignation curious, as I said some really nice things about Oklahomans too! Oh well, you can’t please everyone all the time.