I just got back from a week in Oklahoma, my native land, where my people are buried. And though I’m glad to be home, overjoyed to have the job I do and happy where I’m at, I still was a complete wreck on the plane, crying my eyes out watching Tulsa County slip away out of the tiny airplane window. I wore my sunglasses on the plane – I usually make fun of people who do that. But maybe they’re trying to hide their tears too.
It was cloudy, so my view was a bit obstructed. It cleared closer to Texas, and we began our descent into DFW in time for me to see the Red River snaking across the view. “We need rain,” I thought, my one-generation-removed-from-the-farm mind still kicking in.
In a few hours, I would be in New England again. I finally stopped crying once I left DFW on the second leg, but the tears came back on my road back to Bristol from Bradley. I was listening to Oklahoma music – I thought I’d better get all those emotions out now, before I go back to work. I certainly don’t want to cry in front of an NFL Hall of Famer or anything.
But I was thinking a lot on the drive home. About why I’m not in Oklahoma anymore. It’s not permanent, as I know I’ll be back there to retire whenever that is. Or whenever the Thunder want to make me head of communications… whichever comes first. But anyway, I thought of a co-worker of mine at ESPN who flat-out asked me once, “Why do people live in Oklahoma?” This was after a tornado, not just a general condemnation of the Sooner State. As I drove home, I thought of some of the reasons I love it, but also a few why I don’t. So without any further ado…
WHY I LOVE OKLAHOMA…
- The heat. I was a few moments into a 90-degree Monday afternoon when I realized I just can’t hack the heat anymore. Fortunately, 99 percent of Oklahoma is cooled to the hilt with the best AC money can buy. But I’m quickly becoming an East Coaster who can’t tolerate anything over 80.
- The politics. Seriously, I’m sitting with my friends, many of whom have children, are teachers or just interested in education, and I’m realizing just how bad the schools and government are. Seriously, people, put politics aside – who cares who’s wrong and who’s right? You’re getting lapped by everyone else because you take tax breaks out on kids. This will have long-reaching effects. People won’t want to stay to raise their kids if the schools are the worst in the nation. And the job market isn’t as good as it should be. Oklahoma is an affordable state with natural resources out the ying-yang. If you wreck it now, it’s going to wreak havoc for years and years to come. What happened to the lottery saving education? Where is that money going? Quit trying to marry church and state again and let your kids get smart enough to make their own decisions.
- The roads. Yes, we pay high taxes in Connecticut. But our roads – even after 100-plus inches of ice and snow this winter – are in great shape. I got carsick on Oklahoma roads this time. Fix your infrastructure, or it’s all going to come crumbling down someday.
Now on to the good stuff.
- The people. Oh my God, it was great to be around people who genuinely seem to care about each other, even if they don’t know each other. I was in Reasor’s in Tahlequah on Saturday and saw so many people saying hi, thank you, excuse me, etc. – Hey, New England: It’s called human kindness. Try it. You’ll like it. Today, back in Bristol, I went to the grocery store and acted like an Oklahoman again. I will NEVER lose that part of myself, I hope. And besides – all my friends are there. I will never forget that. We had a full house in Tahlequah at Arrowhead, to celebrate the life of one of our great friends. I love them all, and realized that I couldn’t lose them if I tried. (And why would I do that? They like me in spite of me!)
- The weather (but not the heat). I had missed thunder and lightning so much – I got to hear and see it again. Also, thanks, weather gods, for the absolutely PERFECT Saturday afternoon on the Illinois River in Tahlequah! I also miss that winter lasts about 45 minutes, not six months like Connecticut.
- The food. Holy shit, ya’ll. Oklahoma food is just so much better than anything in Connecticut. Taco Bueno is so, so much better than anything they attempt to sell as “Mexican food” up here. It’s funny to see them try up here… but not funny to eat. Blargh. My first stop was Bueno, my last was Rib Crib. I somehow lost weight on vacation, but I think it’s because I was walking a lot.
- The accent. Because it makes everyone up here go, “Where ARE you from?” It’s not Southern, really, and it’s not Texas. It’s Oklahoman, and it’s a thing of beauty.
- The music. Woody Guthrie started it. Let’s not let Crazy Wayne Coyne finish it…
- The heritage. A little bit of everything we are — mutts, half-Indian or 1/128th Choctaw, whatever you are. We look different than people do on the East Coast. And it’s beautiful. Oklahoma girls and boys are… well, HOT!
- The way it makes me feel. Oklahoma, for me, is a state of mind. When I first arrived last week, I walked off the plane and my Inner Oklahoman was fully engaged, like it had been on standby for three years, ready to spring back to life. It’s slower. It’s friendlier. It’s peaceful. And it’s home – always has been, always will be. The bones of my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many friends take up residence in Oklahoma dirt. I ran my 1969 Cutlass into the weird wall in the parking lot of the Braum’s on 32nd in Muskogee. I got on stage with Tripping Daisy at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa (and had many, many more great times there, both pre- and post-air conditioning.) I drank to excess for the first time in Park Hill, Oklahoma, in a trailer full of people who would go on to become some of my best friends. I have fallen in and out of love, made and unmade friends, lost family, gained even more family, and found that I had to leave to get where I wanted – all that happened in Oklahoma – 36 of my 39 years were in Green Country. It’s who I am.
I could go on and on like this. And I guess crying every time I leave is going to keep happening, so I had better save some of it for the next trip. I’m going to leave part of myself in Oklahoma every time I go, I guess. But really, I’m already all the way there, and taking part of me to Connecticut every time I leave the Red Dirt State. It’s where I know I’ll end up someday, even if I talk real big about how I’m going to live out my days in San Francisco.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to do anything I want with my life, and moving to New England will help make that possible, thanks to my career and the wonderful company I work for – but I know that, for me, all roads lead to Oklahoma. Despite all that stuff I said above about what I don’t like about Oklahoma, I know I’ll be back. And when I do get back, meet me under that Oklahoma Sky.