My family traveled a lot when I was growing up, spending at least three weeks every summer pulling a trailer around the country, visiting cities and camping in national parks. It instilled a footloose happiness that continued once I left home, taking road trips with friends at spring vacation and tacking sightseeing days onto business trips.
But I never visited Oklahoma.
It wasn’t a conscious omission: the state just never lay along the way to somewhere else, and I never had a personal or business destination down there to draw me in. The gap eventually became a running joke: Oklahoma was one place that I was going to try to avoid visiting my entire life. My daughter joked that if she ever wanted to keep me out of her wedding, she’d hold it there.
My son moved down to Tinker AFB for his Air Force training, just outside of Oklahoma City, and is due to deploy up to Alaska as part of the wing patrolling the Russian border in a few months. I had a trip to Minneapolis and it was a good chance to see him before he moves out of reach. So, it was time to square my shoulders and trudge into the Sooner State.
- Oklahoma is rolling and green, instead of the expected flat and dusty. Parts of it remind me of the Netherlands, pan-flat and dotted with farmhouses, a continuous roll of landscape from my feet to the vanishing point at the horizon. And the wind never stops blowing.
- There are wonderful bits of contrasting color: bright purple trees and bushes flowering in the warm spring sun, and wide, shallow river basins with watercolor accents, intense cobalt red dotted with viridian scrub and sienna rocks.
- Oklahoma has a lot of trucks, and American flags fly everywhere that trucks congregate. Most businesses and many homes had flagpoles, while the biggest flags rolled in the stiff winds above the truck dealerships. Even the New England-style churches had fluttering flags beneath their slim white steeples.
- I could not find a cowboy hat anywhere, although cowboy motifs were everywhere. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is in Oklahoma City and is worth a visit to see the Remington paintings and the movie memorabilia. There is a fine line between gritty reality and iconic symbolism in the Western legend, and the museum blends the two at every turn. It’s a bit like the ubiquitous blending of God and Country throughout the state.
- I may not have had a better, or bigger, steak than the T-Bone at Cattlemen’s Restaurant. Advertised as “George Bush’s Choice” (apparently W was the only US president to eat there) it was aged and tender and one of the experiences I really miss in the Netherlands. Add the baked potato, grilled mushrooms, red wine on the side, and cobbler for dessert, and its a true classic. The restaurant sits adjacent to the Stockyards, and trucks rumble by filled with pungent cattle: I don’t think the table get’s closer to the source anywhere I’ve seen.
- My TomTom Navigator was just an orange hole throughout Tinker AFB: I hadn’t realized that the maps didn’t cover the base; Google Maps is similarly featureless although, curiously, Google Earth has detailed and labeled satellite views.
- There was no escaping the billboards lining Interstate 35. They tend to be unique and fun, whether advertising local chains like Love’s or universal brands like God.
- It was really great to get a weekend of family time again, and to get a glimpse of the air force environment, Will’s work and his leisure life