A California Girl in Oklahoma: Slight Culture After-Shock

Goodbye PCH...

You're Moving Where??

When I suddenly announced that I was packing up and leaving Southern California, my family, friends and neighbors were surprised and sad. When I told them I was moving to Oklahoma, some of them started to laugh. They couldn’t understand why I would move to the land of rednecks and leave year round gorgeous weather and the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and let’s not forget the 24-hour traffic jams and highest taxes in the nation.

California was the place of my childhood, and the place where I raised my two girls. Now I was leaving.

What my family, friends and neighbors also did not know or understand was that I needed to leave. My hometown abruptly became the place where I almost lost my soul to a sociopath. I had to find a way to heal, start fresh and try to bury the turmoil that haunts my psyche each and every day. But that is another story still to be written.

So, in my adventurous move to the Midwest, I said goodbye to the palm trees, the ocean breeze, and In-N-Out Burgers, and said hello to cattle country, flatlands, and extreme weather. Yes, there was a bit of a culture shock.

One Year Later...

Now I admit Californians may have a reputation of turning a bit snobbish if there is not a Neiman Marcus or a Jaguar dealer within a 20 mile radius. After all, everyone knows that bling and botox are synonymous with Orange County. But since I don’t have a Jaguar and never tried botox, I thought I would be immune from exuding any essence of California snobbery.

A year later, I’m happy to report that I am surviving and thriving in Oklahoma. I have continued to exist in spite of snow drifts, tornado scares, and lightning storms. And, yes, I have thrived despite the fact that there is no Bristol Farms, Nordstrom’s or Del Taco.

But, don’t call me an Okie just yet.

The Californian in me still snickers when I take my dry cleaning to the “Cowboy Cleaners”, and I still wonder what they were thinking when they came up with so many odd names for towns. Like Hooker, Bowleg, Bushyhead and Gotebo. Are you kidding me?!

I have come to accept the fact that there are more bad hair days than good (they don’t call it the dustbowl for nothing), summers are unbelievably hot, and winters are unbelievably cold. I have also come to the conclusion that there really is a correlation between country music and road rage. While I poke a little fun, there really are some advantages about living here.

Oklahomans are genuinely friendly folks who seem to come from a place of simplicity, humility, and concern for one another. The women will strike up a conversation over the bakery counter at the grocery store or over the cute tops in Dillard’s. The men are the first to say “hello” quickly followed by “ma’am”. The clerk at Sam’s Club even volunteered her husband and son to deliver tables and chairs to our new office. Yes, this is true, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in shock, because this would never have happened in California.

Road Trip

While I revel in the friendliness of the population, it doesn’t change the fact that I am still alone. Alone in Oklahoma. Always the romantic, I would sometimes find myself wondering if there could still be someone out there for me. Perhaps it will be here.

There is a gentleman I recently met who somehow managed to jump start my damaged heart. Like me, he is a transplanted Oklahoman. He is also kind and smart, and he wants to show me the more beautiful places in Oklahoma. My self-imposed confinement within the parameters of my home, office, and shopping mall may be coming to an end.

On this particular Saturday, which was a beautiful spring day, Ned and I packed a picnic lunch and headed toward Roman Nose State Park about 75 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Yes, really. Roman Nose. The Californian in me is snickering again.

We drove through miles of open rural, green landscape dotted with what the locals call “red dirt”. The clay dirt in this area is a dense, deep mahogany red. Very beautiful, except when it gets on your car.

About halfway to Roman Nose, we stopped in Okarche. Okarche is very small. It is less than a square mile in size, and it’s a town that time seemed to have forgotten. We peeked in at Eischen’s Bar, a local landmark more than 110 years old and the oldest bar in Oklahoma. I was surprised to learn its claim to fame is not for inventing a cocktail made with Jack Daniels and grape Kool-Aid. Actually, it is famous for serving the best fried chicken in the state, sans silverware and plates. They bring you pickled onions and a stack of white bread, and the rest is up to your fingers and teeth. Although I must say, I’m excited to visit any place featured on the Food Network, and Eischen’s appeared on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. This place definitely is a dive, but I can see a fried chicken and okra dinner in my future.

Source

Entering Roman Nose

A little later we pulled into Roman Nose, and Ned gave me my first Oklahoma history lesson. The park is not named for facial anatomy reminiscent of my maternal grandmother, but rather for Cheyenne Indian Chief Henry Roman Nose. The park was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the President Roosevelt’s New Deal. There is a lake, golf course, lodge, restaurant, campgrounds, picnic areas and wilderness.

We found a tree bordered secluded corner of the picnic area and set a tablecloth, linen napkins and fine china on a picnic table. Our picnic lunch menu consisted of bite-size horseradish and beef tortilla roll ups, hot wings, and a spinach and artichoke pasta salad.

Ned and I talked. It was one of those deep conversations that connect two people. Between the two of us, there are more than a hundred years of life experiences. While some people call these experiences “baggage” I prefer to think of them simply as life stories. These are the experiences that shape us into the people we are today.

Between Ned and me, we have so many true stories to share – some great and some not so great. Over time, I will want to hear all of Ned’s stories. The neat thing is…Ned also wants to hear mine.

After lunch and our heart-to-heart, we laid a blanket on the ground and sat in a couple of beach chairs. Looking up I could see the contrast of the sun-sparkled green leaves of the trees against the backdrop of the deep clear blue sky. Ned and I sat back in our chairs and closed our eyes.

There were no crowds, no boom boxes, no traffic, and no noise. There were just two people, and the peaceful sounds of the birds and the breeze.

At that very moment, I realized it wasn’t California that I had been missing.

Rumor has it that an In-N-Out Burger may be opening in Oklahoma. I think I’ll ask Ned to go with me to get a Double-Double with cheese.

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