Stop number six on my turding tour of these United States was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This trip was planned on a whim in October of 2017. Frontier airlines was running an absurd sale and I decided to pull the trigger on a quick 30-hour whirlwind trip at the end of November. Since I'd only be gone a little over a day, I needed none of Frontier's "extras" like carry-on luggage, or a seat, or human dignity, so I was able to fly for $80 round trip. I had always wanted to fly somewhere without luggage, so I just stuffed my phone charger and an extra pair of underwear in my jacket pocket and headed to the airport.
I was hungry after my flight and headed straight for George's Happy Hog Barbecue just down the road from the capitol. I ate myself silly on rib tips, sausage, and corn bread as the locals watched afternoon reruns of Bonanza on an old tube TV. I was charmed.
I headed up the wide boulevard/public park that led to the capitol. The first thing that strikes one upon approach to the Oklahoma State Capitol is that there's an oil derrick right on the front lawn. Oil is a HUGE industry in the state and in 1928 a giant well was discovered underneath the city. Now, the capitol had been constructed from 1914 to 1917, and when it came time to decide whether or not to drill directly underneath the building in 1941, Oklahoma said YEEEEEHAAAAAW! Fair enough, Oklahoma. I mean, why let someone else drink your milkshake. This has to be one of the most unique features of any state capitol. Time will tell I reckon.
Another unique fact about the Oklahoma capitol is that it's topped with a 22-foot statue called The Guardian, by sculptor Enoch Kelly Haney, the only capitol building with a Native American figure at its top. Furthermore, the dome of the building itself was only completed in 2002. The building had been designed to have a dome in 1914, but the state could never muster the funding to finish it. I mean, it's not like there was just piles of oil money lying around for things like capitol domes. The dome was constructed using a synthetic concrete designed to match the color of the 90+ year old stone of the rest of the building.
I learned all of this from my (state capitol trademark alert) adorable elderly tour guide. His name sadly escapes my memory. I'll be sure to take note of future tour guides' names. To my delight, I was the only person on the tour. In addition to the oil well, the dome, and the state's first female governor, he told me a fun little story about how during the Obama years some petty Republicans in the legislature were constantly removing the President's portrait from the wall in the chamber. Real mature guys. How far we've come since then.
The Oklahoma capitol also happens to be going through the (state capitol trademark alert) pains of renovation. Scaffolding and tarps and blocked entrances and exits and temporary construction offices abound. All of this makes it slightly difficult to find a bathroom. Nevertheless, I persisted, accomplishing my mission within about 3 hours of landing in OKC.
Next stop was the Oklahoma History Center right next door to the capitol. Oklahoma is a state with a truly fascinating history. The relocation of Native Americans from all over the continent, the land rush, the oil boom. There's a not-so-subtle exhibit about the history of "free enterprise" in Oklahoma, which I assume is a traveling exhibit on loan from the Ayn Rand museum. They've got a replica of the Winnie Mae, the airplane of Oklahoma's favorite son adventurer/pilot Wiley Post. He was the first man to fly solo around the world, and he had a badass eye patch. They also have a souvenir penny machine!
I spent the night in an AirBnb just down the boulevard from the capitol. This was obviously a strategic move, since the timing of a bowel movement is tough to predict. Thus, it's wise to stay as close as possible to the capitol to increase my chances of success. It was a beautiful old home, not quite mansion-sized, that belonged to the Secretary of Agriculture for the state, so that was kind of cool. After a very comfy night's sleep I departed in the morning for Holey Rollers Donuts to indulge my other travel passion. This place has superb donuts made with all natural ingredients. Pure delight.
Then I made my way downtown to see what the city center had to offer. It was midday Thursday, and I found things to be unexpectedly sleepy. I'm used to Denver, where downtown and the city center are booming in a big way, and it seems like Oklahoma City isn't quite "revitalized" yet. They've done some redevelopment for sure, but it seems the businesses and residents haven't come back to downtown just yet. Everyone there is probably just moving to Denver. One excellent little gem of the downtown area is the American Banjo Museum. You can learn all about the history of the banjo and see the world's largest collection of banjos on public display, over 400 instruments. I would liken it to the climactic scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with all the shimmering golden chalices and bejeweled goblets, but with banjos. There is also a very cool exhibit on geetar legend Roy Clark. Though not really known for his banjo skills, the dude absolutely shreds guitar and he hosted Hee Haw. A great little museum, worth all 8 dollars, but their GODDAMN SOUVENIR PENNY MACHINE WAS OUT OF ORDER!
The final stop I had to make was The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. This was absolutely breathtaking. I had read about it beforehand and thought I knew what to expect, but the actual experience was incredibly powerful and moving. Part of the original exterior complex of the Alfred P. Murrah building still stands overlooking the memorial, which is set within the former footprint of the building. The 168 empty chairs are staggering to behold. The museum overlooking the memorial is one of the best I've ever been to. It's packed full of authentic artifacts and first-person accounts of one of the earliest national news stories I really remember vividly. I think that's why it resonated with me so much. Presidents' homes and Civil War battle sites are cool, but, damn, I remember the Oklahoma City bombing. I was in 8th grade. We watched it on TV in class. 23 years ago this month. I developed a mild obsession with the subject after I got home. There is an excellent PBS documentary available on Netflix that I highly recommend.
After that somber experience I quickly downed some tacos and caught an Uber to the airport to fly home to Denver. It was a fun little trip. Here are the key takeaways:
-Everything in Oklahoma City is also an oil well.
-People had a hard time believing I just came to OKC for the hell of it.
-Much like Salt Lake City, OKC has that "Why the hell is there an NBA franchise in this city?" feel to it.
-Seeing the bombing memorial - seeing an event I remember so well presented as history - reminded me I'm getting older.
Next stop, the Land of Enchantment.