Oklahoma City is OK
Such a peculiar name, Oklahoma a multisyllabic word that would take me a minute to rhyme with. Rodgers and Hammerstein come to mind, a chorus of voices singing that it's okay. A state whose capital city is named after it - the way some third world Central American countries do with their major centers of law making. Almost the center of the country when you look at a map of the United States even though far succeeds it's academic standards and cultural flair. I was always a bit curious about this part of the country, the people from there I knew seemed to speak with curious accents, not quite full of the brash twang used by other southerners. Many I knew spoke slowly, and cautiously, emphasizing every spoken piece of speech as if somehow, a word improperly used, spoken to suddenly, spat out into the atmosphere would disrupt the careful balance of the universe, and the dust storms that were certain to erupt in Dallas, would turn into typhoons in Tennessee and tornados Tallahassee.
When a child, my parents packed me, my brother and sister into our Chevrolet Cavalier - the front end was a bit mangled from a deer it run into while the previous owner was driving through Canada - and moved us front a town in the Eastern Seaboard state of Maryland to Phoenix. During the commute we stopped at many rest stops with restaurants, Stuckey's, crossed through a few time zones, saw the Gateway Arch, a meteor crater almost a mile across and drove through the Texas Panhandle and saw a few signs that read Oklahoma. During the seven day, six night drive, my brother ad I would make up games: the headlights of a car behind us at night were two motorcycles driving next to each other. We searched for license plates from our home state as we moved westward, a little bit anticipatory, a little bit afraid, searching for something familiar.
After moved past West Virginia, cars with Maryland plates became a bit rare. Iowa, Illinois, Indiana crept up. I looked for corn in Iowa, because I had heard so much about how that state was filled with this crop. We always came back to the license plates though. Certain that if we saw one that said Maryland on it, we would know that person, or perhaps have seen them before at a restaurant or marketplace, or at least rest assured that someone in our neighborhood was acquainted with this stranger, sharing the same highway as us, far from what used to be our home. License plates though taught us one thing though. States have slogans and everyone is unique. Missouri was the Show Me State, in New Jersey there were lots of gardens, in New Hampshire, you either lived free or were dead. New York was where all the Empires were. And of course Oklahoma, was OK.
An example of an OK license plate
Have you visited Oklahoma City?
Just a few thoughts here
Well I certainly don't intend to go into the history of the Midwest or of Oklahoma. I just want to highlight some of the points of my visit and talk about some of my experiences. It actually is quite a fascinating state and had a lot to offer. The weather when I was there, was cold, but I did not see any snow. Being that it was winter cold should have been expected, but it certainly was not any more unbearable than some of the winters I have spent in Phoenix, Tucson or Fresno. Nor any colder than all of the summers in San Francisco.
What did lie in the back of my mind however, was the fact that Oklahoma is in a part of the country known as Tornado Alley. That meant to me that at any given time, a tornado could touch down without warning. I was cautious to look around the city for those sirens which the city is supposed to have. Some of them with multiple horns for maximum volume. I did fear the tornados, the way I always feared earthquakes when a visitor was coming to see me in California. It may have seemed irrational, that a storm would occur while I was visiting this state famous for such acts of nature. The chances of me seeing such a site were rare but the possibility was still there and I was prepared. In a strange way, even though I would never wish to be caught up in 150 mile hour winds carrying debris that were as serious as shrapnel, I was curious about the phenomenon: I wanted to bear witness.
a typical tornado siren
My visit to Oklahoma City was inspired by the recent phone call from someone I knew in grade school, who had come into my contact through a social networking site and had recently settled there. The call had come at an unexpected time, because I had not seen this person in many years. His younger brother had been killed in a motor vehicle accident several years previous - while I was an undergraduate in college. I had not been to Oklahoma before and was a bit curious. I had a free ticket to anywhere in the United States as well, from a seat on a flight I had given up during a trip to New York. I agreed to be bumped because the flight was overbooked and I would, in exchange, be given a boarding pass good for anywhere in the United States. I will never make the mistake of doing that again. I had to make my way from LaGuardia to JFK in the rain. And with my long curly hair and slight beard, going through the TSA lines was a bit of a gauntlet. Never stray from your path were some words of wisdom I had heard previously and forgotten. Not again. No matter the incentive in the future. However you look at it however, Oklahoma would be a bit of a vacation.
Do they have tornado sirens where you live?
A Terminal at the Oklahoma City International Airport
A Few First Impressions
I realized this time, that I did not like flying. It was an activity I used to enjoy and look forward to when I was younger and in college. At this point in my life however, flying became more of a chore. Something that I looked forward to the way I would a root canal. I would be relieved when it was done and the pain was over. However, walking to Oklahoma from California was not really an option and I didn't want to sit on a Greyhound Bus. The last time I checked, there were no rivers joining the two states either, so kayaking was not even an option. And then of course, I was totally unprepared for this, renting a car was a bit difficult. I had to wait because there was a rodeo in town and even though I had thought to book a room in advance, I didn't reserve a car.
Oklahoma City - like most state capitals, is centrally located
One of the spots I had heard about in Oklahoma City was called Bricktown. As you might guess by its name, there is a lot of brick there. Buildings, sidewalks (ironically I will comment on this later in the article), overpasses, streets, were all made with brick. From what I can gather, the brick was forged out of the clay found in the nearby riverbed. It was quite exquisite, quite regal to see so much architecture composed almost entirely of brick. Unfortunately my tourist partner - the one who invited me to Oklahoma City - was not much of a sightseer. And of course, I guess I can be sympathetic to his situation. Living in the Bay Area, going to the Golden Gate Bridge with your visiting guests, gets to be a bit tedious. However, I was enjoying the crisp whether, the nice smells and the new sights. The air here was much clearer that the hazy atmosphere over the Central Valley where the dust from the farming coagulates with the exhaust fumes from the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles just over the mountain. The sky here was a pure azure, every breath clear and crisp as after a fresh rain.
Would you like to visit Bricktown?
The Entrance to "Bricktown"
Unfortunately I don't recall many of the places I visited in Bricktown. There really wasn't much going on at the time, but I do remember a woman in a bookstore there saying that sometimes they have activities and street fairs. Small concerts. Food events. I had come at the wrong time, and certainly am looking forward to a visit in the future. A glance at their website today shows activities such as concerts and sporting events. Of course, the Oklahoma City Thunder were not fully established in 2008.
Of course things are probably much different today: the pictures off the website seem as if the brick were cleaned up a bit, the riverbed must have been dredged and now there are boating options available, and of course, there are more people around. It is still a nice memory though.
Some more views of BricktownClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Capitol City
With a population of roughly 610,000 Oklahoma City is the 27th largest city in the nation and the largest in the state. It is also the capital city and because of that, I had to pay a visit to some of the important government buildings. I've always been a fan of the architecture you see in these types of structures. They all seem to make an effort to build themselves after the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. There is always an interesting energy there, as if you can feel the powers behind the lawmaking efforts, vibrate in the structures that surround you.
One of the places I had to see when in Oklahoma, of course, was the site of the bombing. You may recall that in April of 1995, the Federal Building there was demolished by a bomb placed there. There are little chairs set up to memorialize those who were killed in the attack. Well wishers have also set up signs, flowers and other gifts to remember those killed.
Well, I was a little bit surprised when I saw some of the famous people from Oklahoma: Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, The Flaming Lips. I saw the National Cowboy Museum and there were many pieces of art there that I remember from the textbooks when we were studying the Westward Expansion movement. For what I thought was a little hoe dunk town located somewhere ambiguous in the Midwest, Oklahoma City was a little more than okay, it was quite spectacular.
There was quite a bit to see too. The Art Museum and a wild animal sanctuary were among a couple of the other places I recall seeing. I've posted some pictures to share. I am not sure what the glowing things are, but I think this was part of the art exhibit as well. The city turned out to be quite cosmopolitan and modern. This was unexpected.
What is your favorite place to visit when going to a new city?
The above images were taken from the modern art museum I believe. Quite a site. I think they're samples of blown glass filled with Noble Gases. I'd heard of Johnny Bench of course, and Mickey Mantle. The Flaming Lips - no, but I would later find out they were a popular rock band. I guess the locals were pleased to see some local boys make it. Although I have to admit that when I mentioned my trip to Oklahoma City and talked about the Flaming Lips, I got some strange looks from people. One guy actually cleared his throat, looked around him, then looked at me and backed away slowly. Perhaps it was the way I said it.
My trip to Oklahoma City was very pleasant and actually, even though the acquaintance I was visited with wasn't exactly excited about showing off his city of residence to friends, I was glad I went. The weather was a bit cold and I had a nice conversation with a fellow in a Walmart concerning portable heaters. The store was actually almost selling out of them which made me wonder about their popularity. Either people would buy them and then dispose of them during the summer months or there were a lot of new people continuously moving into Oklahoma City, into housing units that were absent of any heating mechanisms other than what could be obtained by a portable heater.
I let this fellow in line in front of me. We actually arrived there at the same time. He looked like someone from Oklahoma and talked a bit like I would expect one to. He wasn't that old, but the air about him said "Old Timer". He was from a different generation. He smiled and thanked me for the courtesy - I didn't think it was necessary, but I appreciated his politeness. I knew my tan skin was sometimes a curiosity among people I meet, but then again, I am trying to get over my own sense of self bigotry.
"Not many people would do that fer you", he said to me.
"It's not a problem", I responded, not knowing why I mentioned any problems because there were none.
"These heaters," he paused and lifted up the box with the device in it, "they keep you real nice. Can heat up a whole room".
"They look real nice," I said. "Keep you real warm".
"Yes and it was sure cold the other day, 29:.
"Does it ever snow here"?
The folks there seemed friendly enough. One thing I noticed though and I don't know if this is true any more or not. I actually looked it up the other day and there was a bit of a discussion about it. There are no sidewalks. At least in town. I wanted to go out for a walk from the hotel where I was staying and I had to either walk in the street or on the grass. No sidewalks anywhere. Very odd.
I was happy to have visited Oklahoma and hope to go back again some day. The people are friendly, the city bustling and full of curiosities. There is a unique and warm culture there. Museums, libraries, parks, memorial gardens.
It's been almost a decade and I miss it already.