When I Went To Oklahoma (More Than A MmmBop)

The night was still; completely silent. The dim light of downtown Tulsa cast only a slight glow over the living room, but what illuminated the darkness most was the moon. In the absolute peace of the moment, I was restless—it was almost impossible to sleep in the stifling, soundless hours of the early morning.

Already, I was too used to the sirens of New York, the shouts in the street, the J train rattling past my window. The city sounds, in their frantic, disturbing way were… soothing. The nothingness of the Oklahoma night was, for me now, little more than an anxious intermission. By the time the sun rose, I had barely slept.

Addie was alive in the morning; I needed coffee. We had met earlier that year in London and she’d invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her family in Oklahoma—she was always on fire, one of the fastest women in Oklahoma (literally, the girl ran marathons like I watch TV), Addie put my urban lethargy to shame.

On the first day we drove out to the tall grass prairies and went on “safari” with the wild bison. They swarmed about Addie’s car and we tried to be quiet but couldn’t hold in our laughter when the animals would mount each other, moaning with an explicit wildness and thrusting lustily.  When we learned that the bison could jump 6 feet vertically and horizontally, we closed the sunroof, scared that one might land upon the car, it’s thrashing bison legs stuck inside the cabin with us, beating about our faces.

Addie played Willie Nelson and when the sun was setting over the sun-burnt horizon I begged her to play Bruce Springsteen and we rolled down the widows and screamed “Born To Run” at the empty yellow fields we were flying through. The countryside began to invade my lungs and with each fresh breath I took in something of my own sun-burnt country, and the smells of grass and animal shit threw me momentarily back to Greece and afternoons spent motorcycling across nearly deserted islands. I began to feel at home in Oklahoma’s sprawling landscape, and I eased back into the car seat, feeling as light as a feather and drunk in the fading light.

On our way back to Tulsa we pulled into a small, one horse town: Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Addie wanted to go to the American Legion to drink with the veterans but it was closed, so we went to the only other bar on the meagerly populated strip of road. The bar was as I’d seen in movies about small town America—cloaked in mystery, a cement block with no windows, a heavy wooden door and a neon Budweiser sign blinking intermittently by the entrance.

Inside, we were confronted with the stench of dried beer. There was a fat Cherokee woman in sweats behind the bar, a tall Cherokee man occupying a table in the order of the room (he was standing by a raised bench, and was close to 7 feet tall, by estimation), and a younger man at the bar in a cap. Addie and I took a seat at the bar next to the man and each ordered a Bud. We paid $2 each and tipped an equal amount.

The man next to me was smoking and I turned to him tentatively. “Is it OK for us to smoke in here?” I asked.

He laughed heartily exposing several missing teeth, “sure thing, honey,” he drawled, pushing his lighter along the bar to me. I lit a cigarette and smiled at him.

“So where y’all come from?” he asked us in his deep Southern accent. I answered that I was from Australia and his whole face lit up.

“Hey ma!” he exclaimed at the woman behind the bar. “This young lady here’s all the damned way from Australia!” He looked back at me, his eyes flashing, “do y’all know the Crocodile Hunter?”

His mother laughed. “He loves the Crocodile Hunter,” she informed us as she leaned across the bar and gave him an affectionate clip across the ear. She walked around and took a stool next to him. “And where are you from, darlin’?” she asked Addie.

“Um, Tulsa…” Addie trailed off as the two stared at her in wide-eyed awe.

“Oh the big city!” the woman exclaimed, “aren’t you just a lucky little thing then?”

We continued to banter in this way, all of us laughing and learning about one another. The toothless man was 24 years old, and worked on the oil fields of Oklahoma. He’d never been as far as Tulsa, but he loved everything to do with Australian culture, and absorbed my stories with a childlike wonder. Soon, the bar owner came in, a moonlighter whose daytime job was Mayor of Barnsdall. He pushed beers into our hands and refused to have us pay.

“It’s not often we have Australians and girls from Tulsa ‘round these parts,” he’d say, offering us some nuts, another Bud, or a cigarette. Then he disappeared momentarily and reappeared, beaming, with a digital camera in hand. “Y’all stand together now,” he said, pushing gently into the man and his mother (who happened also to be the Mayor’s son and wife), “we’re going to hang this photo in the Mayoral office!”

And so we had our photo taken, somehow ceasing to be the tourists and instead becoming the attraction. Mom (by this stage we were a little bit tipsy and calling the lady mom, as did the others) invited “Big Tom” who was still in the corner drinking beers and reading a paper to join us. He grunted and waved a hand dismissively at her. “He doesn’t say much,” mom whispered to us covertly, “but we love him.” She dissolved into giggles.

Another man entered the bar at that moment. He was short and squat, fat as hell and about a million years old with deep wrinkles weaving chasms across his weathered face, and not a tooth in his gaping mouth. He breathed heavily and sat at a table at the back of the room. “Mom!” he called out, “bring me a beer!” Mom giggled and acquiesced.

“This is Uncle Tom,” she smiled, “he’s older than Barnsdall itself!”

Uncle Tom grunted at her and look at us searingly, “I’ve lived in Barnsdall my whole 65 years,” he proclaimed with a light but proud thump on his chest. “And I can tell you where all the trucking routes in America will take you, I’ve been truckin’ just as long.”

And so Addie and I started calling out numbers and Uncle Tom would tell us exactly where the route began and where in ended, and we fell into a sort of reverie.

When it was time to go we left reluctantly. We all hugged and made vague promises to come back, all the while mom laughing. “You girls aren’t gonna come back through these parts, but that’s OK! Just don’t forget us!” she said, squeezing my shoulder. They all stood by the door waving us out, and as we pulled into that still Oklahoma night, and raced though the pitch blackness to the modest lights of Tulsa, we didn’t say anything to each other at all; we just sat in stagnant darkness with our new secret, luxuriating in our own smiles. TC mark


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  • Anonymous

    Welcome to “real” America, ladies.

  • David Enevoldsen

    I grew up in Tulsa, OK and moved to Washington, DC about a year ago. I’m actually going home to visit next week and your article has made me realize why I love that state so much.

  • http://twitter.com/Dee_Robinson Danielle Robinson

    Gee, thanks for the glowing review of my home state and city (Tulsa).

    Yes, if you stray out to the boonies in any state you’re bound to find a few toothless people.  However, Oklahoma has a lot more to offer than driving zoo experiences, and dive bars.  As for Oklahoma smelling of “grass and animal shit,” well, you were out by a wildlife preserve, what do you expect?  Any regular pasture or prairie in Oklahoma, and you probably wouldn’t be smelling that.

    As you experienced, though, we are incredibly friendly people, and can strike up a conversation with anyone we meet.

    The next time someone wants to get a look at what my awesome state has to offer, I will not refer them to you.

    • Megan

      You are crazy. She is describing one small part of her trip to Oklahoma, and it seems to be a pretty glowing review

    • Rachel Butters Scotch

      Yeah not sure why you took this so negatively. It left me with a smile on my face, and wanting to go to Oklahoma.

      • http://twitter.com/Dee_Robinson Danielle Robinson

        Sure, but it’s unfortunate that it seems to be what people mention first when they recount their experiences in Oklahoma.  There really is culture here, not just starry eyed locals who say “hey ma!” a lot.

        I’m glad you all are curious about Oklahoma, but for real, most of the people here are not like this.

      • Pfft

        yeah oklahoma- culture capital of the world! 

    • guest

      I <3 Indian Nation Turnpike

    • Katgeorge

      I didn’t mean to offend Oklahoma! I loved it there and I can’t wait to go back. This is just one day of a 10 day trip… And I meant it to be a happy story, because I really did just love the place so much! I’m sorry you misinterpreted it.

      And for the record, I love the smell of grass and animal shit–it’s the most wonderful, familiar smell to me, I didn’t mean it to be derogatory. 

    • Katgeorge

      I didn’t mean to offend Oklahoma! I loved it there and I can’t wait to go back. This is just one day of a 10 day trip… And I meant it to be a happy story, because I really did just love the place so much! I’m sorry you misinterpreted it.

      And for the record, I love the smell of grass and animal shit–it’s the most wonderful, familiar smell to me, I didn’t mean it to be derogatory. 

  • Guest

    Why is Danielle so pissed? I am way more inclined to visit OK after reading this than I was before. Nice piece.

  • mallory

    i’m with you danielle. i’m a sooner born and a sooner bred but went to school at NYU. There might be more to do in NYC, but the people in Oklahoma are a million times better looking and actually know how to have a fun time unlike uptight Yankees who take themselves far too seriously.

    • Guest

       go back home then, please!

  • http://flavors.me/amydanielle Amy Stage

    This was beautiful to read. I have always wanted to visit Oklahoma and now the spark has been rekindled.

  • Steve Seikel

    I’ve done my fair share of traveling and it seems that Oklahomans drink with more passion than any other demographic. 

    Come visit me next time! I’ll show you the same thing and more.  Also, Tulsa has a lot of genuine dive bars with genuine people.

  • Anonymous

    I was in Oklahoma for 3 weeks in December, and everybody was so friendly and polite there! They didn’t look at me like I was dumb when I asked questions like why are chicken eggs white (In Singapore, chicken eggs are beige and duck eggs are white) and if we can buy beer on Sundays (because such alcohol rules don’t exist in here). 

    • Seikel

      Well, you can purchase 3.2 beer on Sunday. and all high point beer is sold warm. :..(

      • Anonymous

        There are no 3.2 beers here! But yeah, this kind lady told us after we acted all stupid afraid of being unholy or something by trying to buy alcohol on Sundays! Haha

        Alcohols are SOOOOOO cheap in OK!  We went Citywalk and it’s just too cheap. Over here, jaggerbombs are SGD$16 and in Citywalk is was 3USD. Woosh!

    • Pfft

      why are they white?

      • http://www.facebook.com/seikel Steve Seikel

        it’s the bread of chicken that makes a difference.

      • http://www.facebook.com/seikel Steve Seikel

        it’s the bread of chicken that makes a difference.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, what I was told was white hen = white eggs, brown hen = beige eggs

      • http://www.facebook.com/seikel Steve Seikel

        Kind of, but then where would green eggs come from? it’s just the breed. (rock island red, Dominicker  etc.) 

  • Luvmyhubbymike05

    I love you and your writing! You always seem to put a smile on my face <3

  • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

    you say addie

    first thought: adderall?!?
    second thought: the black american girl

    true story

  • Okieatlarge

    Danielle, as a native Tulsan and 4th-generation Okie, I feel no hesitation in saying that you, Miss, are an idiot. 

  • giiist

    gooooood you fucking suck. i couldn’t make it past the first paragraph

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IY2TN43UOPHZNXMU56TXZAEVBY tracie

    You didn’t offend Oklahoma sweetie, don’t worry about the negatroids.  Your physical descriptions about the locals were somewhat harsh but having been raised here and lived here on and off for most of my life I can honestly say a lot of your observations are true, uncomfortable as they may sound to Okies.  When I first saw the title I cringed because I 100% expected to read the minuscule observations of an outsider looking in and snarking all over this state and its inhabitants.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case.  

    Oklahoma has many things wrong with it; politicians, crime, pious hypocrites, drugs, water disputes, prejudice, sexism, and abject stubbornness to change.  Now except for the latter, name one place on earth that Doesn’t have the aforementioned troubles as well?  Just one will do.Yes, we have our issues, but so does your state, and yours, and yours, and yours.  That comment was addressed to any readers with a superiority complex btw.  Now with that said, what’s right about this state?  An awful lot really.  This state has been heralded by many as one of the friendliest states they’ve ever visited or lived, and this is by people who have been All Over.  There’s hardly any place in Oklahoma that if you’re broken down or have a flat tire, even on some lonely stretch of road, that someone (or in reality many someones) won’t stop and ask if you’re okay or if they can call someone for you.  I don’t know if you can attribute that to the Holy Spirit or just trying to pay it forward because someone once helped them.  Who knows, even I don’t know.  The sunsets and clouds alone are worth coming here for.  Seriously.  Because of how Oklahoma is situated, we get the most amazing weather and cloud formations.  And the sunsets are enough to make you wanna stop your car and cry.  Bountiful lakes, gorgeous scenery, hunting, fishing and when you’re tired of the country the cities have most of everything you could want; musicals, plays, art museums, amusement parks, ghost tours, riverwalks, live music, Renaissance festivals, teppanyaki, sushi.  There’s no shortage of sushi here.  I appreciate the “Nub and Digger” story Kat did, I do.  And I respectfully request everyone back off of Danielle because she meant well.  I understand her animosity because all too often southerners (Oklahomans) are bashed to smithereens.  We’re the running joke the coasts like to make fun of, we’re a “flyover state”.  But that’s because they don’t know any better and maybe that’s just as well.  I get the feeling we wouldn’t want those kinds of people here anyway.  So please, Kat, feel free to come back any time and experience all the sides to Oklahoma possible.  There’s so much more you didn’t see.  We’d love to have you.  :)

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