Strolling into the Oklahoma state fair, I observed what I can only assume is the typical scene. The scent of salty corn dogs mixing with sweet smell of fresh cinnamon rolls. Turkey legs in hands, like a Thanksgiving feast gone both savage and tastier. The lights of the Gravitron ride flash like a UFO. My mouth watered at the same time that other stomachs turn on tilt-a-whirls.

People wove in and out of each other’s paths – on to the next food stand, livestock pavilion, carnival ride, tent of cowboy hats and rhinestone jeans. Meanwhile, I was on the very important mission (after only a short detour to Indian tacos and goat stalls) to see my very first rodeo. To witness what kind of man/woman risks life on an angry bull’s back, and what most common kind of man/woman wants to watch that.

The arena sized smaller than I had anticipated, but this was a pleasant surprise. Our seats would be much closer than I had expected. We arrived at our seats with plenty of time to spare, and we were located at the front row of the upper level. The perfect location to watch people walking the aisle between levels. I’d never seen so many cowboy boots and flannel shirts in one place. Ever.

It was a fashion show with nearly every girl dressed to impressed – curled hair and all. I watch tall girls and short and fat and slim. With pointy toed boots and round toed boots (and a handful with regular shoes like my flipflops). Cut-off Daisy Dukes. Lacey dresses. Rhinestone jeans and floaty blouses. I couldn’t get enough of seeing all the different country-chique ensembles! As for the men, I even enjoyed observing the large presence of flannel, as I found this quite manly and appealing. Greg laughed at me as my head turned back and forth to take it all in.

I found myself wondering how I would dress to manage to pull off my own version of country-chique. And which style and color of cowboy boot I would most likely wear – considering that obviously I have no country accent, no real knowledge of country music, and definitely no experience in living in below the Mason-Dixie line. Ultimately, I may never try the look myself (unless Greg and I end up with a hefty plot of land and a goat). But I know at least that I loved how it looks.
Then the lights turned off and back on to signal the beginning of the show. A little man in striped socks was in the middle of the arena next to a big yellow barrel. A rodeo clown. I’ve heard of them before but this was the first one I ever saw live or otherwise. Not as funny as expected, but he did some trick horse riding, some cross dressing (as Miss Rodeo Queen), and some running from bulls.

Meanwhile the rodeo itself kicked into gear and it was terrifying and exciting at the same time to see. Someone could have gotten seriously injured or killed right in front of my eyes. The bulls were massive, powerful, and unpredictable. I found myself gasping aloud at many falls, my hands tight on my mouth as I hoped the bull would be careful with his hooves. And yet, every bull rider, survived relatively unharmed. It was surreal to witness that kind of danger in real life.

rodeo with the clowns to the rescue

And then, as if all that wasn’t enough country pleasure, the night ended with a little Jake Owen concert.

I just loved it all. I loved the fashion watching more than anything, but still I loved it all. So if you didn’t go to the state fair this year, try it out at least one night next year!

After finally getting my driver’s license at the age of sweet sixteen, I remember taking our first family road trip out of the state. It was a long drive from Indiana to Maine and back, but between my dad, my older brother, and me, we planned to rotate our turns at driving. I couldn’t wait for my turn, until I realized for the first time that not all states or metropolises run by the same road rules.

My first shift of driving went straight through Cincinnati, and it turned out to be nothing like driving in Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, I could drive in the middle lane (of three lanes) and conveniently stay there until I needed to move back to the right to exit. But in Cincinnati, many lanes exited on the left. And many lanes also exited to the right. And somehow even though I had picked a middle lane on the five-lane interstate, I soon found our van in a far-left exiting lane that I did not want. Terrified of hitting the fancy sports car on my right, I signaled my blinker and slowly switched back into the non-exit lane, but my danger was not over. This happened again and again – to the left and to the right. I couldn’t believe that the Cincinnati city planners would choose an interstate system so much more complicated and different than Indianapolis. Needless to say upon our return, I was not the driver through Cincinnati.

Eventually I became more comfortable with lane changes, and years later when I moved to Chicago, I was un-phased by its traffic and the need to frequently switch lanes in tight traffic. I’m sure even Cincinnati would no longer scare me. But even still, now I’ve found myself surprised once again by the different roads and driving habits of Oklahoma.

First of all, I was surprised to encounter the dangers of Oklahoma’s various unpredictable lengths of merge lanes on the interstate. Sometimes there is a long merge lane. Other times, even though there is a long entrance ramp for increasing speed, the distance in which you’re expected to merge is only a few car lengths. And sometimes, there is no merge lane at all, just a long ramp with a yield sign at the end of it. (See the picture below as an example). The worst part: not knowing what you’re going to get on a unfamiliar ramp until you’ve nearly run out of road.

Lastly, the stop lights are quite different here compared to those of Indiana. Yellow lights in Oklahoma are extremely short, and once a light turns red the opposing light immediately turns green. This means if you want to turn left when you have neither a green turn light nor a red turn light, you must still wait behind the white line. Only when there is a break in traffic or a green light specifically for you, then you can move past that white line for your left turn. For Oklahomans this may sound obvious, but in Indiana as well as many other places, it’s normal to ease a full car’s length into the intersection with the assumption that there will be time to turn left after the straight lane’s light turns yellow and before the opposing light turns green. I’ve already seen one accident in OKC because of this. I’ve also seen several close calls, but fortunately then the drivers with a green light stopped and waited for the left-turner to get out of the intersection. Based on the number of times that I’ve watched these incidents with my hand over my mouth in worry, I can truthfully say that OKC left turn lanes are dangerous for assuming drivers, many of whom I imagine are ignorant out-of-towners.

When I came to Oklahoma, I for once was not one of these silly out-of-towners. Instead, I observed my husband drive for several weeks before I ever sat behind the wheel. But watching all of these unaware drivers nearly get hurt, I got to thinking that there should be some sort of warning out there to tell people of the various unusual driving practices across the country. I even browsed the Internet this morning for articles available, and couldn’t find many answers. I guess it’s just expected that people are always going to be smart defensive drivers.

Consider for a moment: Did it occur to you when you last went to a new state/ big city, that you might be facing different city planning and new driver expectations? It’s so easy to assume that driving anywhere is going to be just like driving in your homestate – but please be defensive and never assume. I hate seeing so many wrecks all the time from careless mistakes!

But hopefully you’re already a cautious driver and can find the diversity of the road fascinating rather than dangerous.

P.S. If you’re lucky enough to be a brainy programmer, please consider making a “defensive driver” app to accompany GPS systems. I mean, it would be great if my GPS told me, “you will have 30 yards to merge” when speeding up my entrance ramp – or when entering state lines, “Welcome to Oklahoma. Please be cautious of short yellow lights.”

“Only I can speak bad about my mother.” Let anyone not related to her say something bad and there will be words. Right?

That sort of logic is usually in reference to family, but the longer I thought about it, I realized that we have that mentality for everything that we claim as our own. It could be the products we use, the friends that we have, our jobs, our homes, our alma mater, our anything. They are a reflection of us, and we feel some sort of responsibility in protecting those things tied to us. Or at least, I feel that way.

Last month, I had the misfortune of being teased for the first time for being an Oklahoma resident. Over the phone with a Californian I tried to pronounce a name that I’d never seen before. I struggled through the syllables and then the Californian said, “That’s not bad for an Oklahoman.” I froze. Like the person had just splashed me with cold water. I was offended for both myself and Oklahoma.

I could have said that in the last eight years, I’ve traveled to 15 countries on four different continents; I’ve lived abroad for a total of 3 of those years; and I speak four languages. I could have said that Oklahoma has a fair share of international residents. I could have even denied that I’m an Oklahoman (although Indiana would probably make no difference in this Californian’s eyes). But in the end (in part because I was at work), I gave no response. However, it got me thinking about the emotions of possession. If someone said such a thing about Kentucky, I might have chuckled just a little bit. But it was about my current home state, and that bothered me.

It’s funny to be offended by someone making fun of a state that hardly reflects who I am or who I will become. But I guess that means I’m warming up to Oklahoma (it’s sure enough warming up to me at 110 degrees and higher! And I guess that makes me human, for being offended by an insult upon something that is an extension of me and my life choices.

Taking the interstate, our motorcycle drove out of the city and into the empty fields of the country. The setting sun was still hot, but the wind blew fast. My jeans were tight but my hair hung loose. I rested my hands on Greg’s waist and leaned relaxed against the backrest. A little bit dangerous and a little bit free. We sped past cows and an old wooden windmill until at last we reached a small town of little two-story brick buildings, wooden houses, and a few stop lights.

We parked at a bar that was so large and yet still managed to be so crowded that we had to wait 10 minutes for just one barstool to open. I sat down with Greg by my side and saw what luck we had with the seat. The stool happened to be right in front of the kitchen where we saw tray after tray of fried chicken and okra get set out to cool. Other cooks threw together a quick plate of nachos or Frito chili pie. The menu was small but every item was popular. We decided to go with the most popular and ordered a beer, a coke, fried chicken and fried okra.

Watching the fresh chicken come out with a side sweet and sour pickles, I could tell already why the bar was so crowded. Greg pointed to a picture on the wall. The chicken at Eischens is so famous that the Food Network’s Guy Fieri himself has featured it on his show. Yum!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/eischens-bar-video/44808.html

In the end, despite a hefty wait, the food was just as good as I had hoped. I didn’t even mind the wait since it gave us an excuse to stay in the bar longer and observe the interesting crowd. Some patrons were dressed to flirt, others like casual summer sports fans, and others even chose to wear some weird fake black mustaches.

So with bellies full we hopped back on the motorcycle in the dark of night. We headed back towards the city whose lights we could already see from the bar. On the road, fireworks went off on our right to advertise a store selling them. We kept on going towards home, but just before we made it, we stopped at Lake Heffner. A cool breeze blew off the water and we watched another show of fireworks going off downtown. Bright flashes and bulbs of red, white, and blue.
What a great country we have. Happy almost Fourth of July.

Today, I realized that I’ve really become part of a corporate routine. I was out of my office by 5pm and had reached the expressway by about 5:05. Same as every day. And then in the next lane over, there it was again. The silver Nissan Cube. The same unique car that I see on a regular basis at the exact same time in the exact same place. Did I mention that I live in OKC and this isn’t a coworker? You’d think this would be a coincidence to always see the same obscure car in a big city full of strangers. But that’s the funny thing about routine.

I’ve come to such an 8 to 5 routine that I’ve actually started to recognize the cars of my fellow commuters.

I wouldn’t recommend getting married and moving to a new state at the same time. At least not as a woman who’s also planning to change her name.

First, if you’re moving states, you must:

  1. Get an Oklahoma driver’s license (rather than a simple renewal, in OK, that requires a trip to the DMV and then a tag agency)
  2. Get an Oklahoma registration with a transfer fee (at a tag agency)
  3. Get an Oklahoma license plate (at a tag agency)
  4. Get a new Oklahoma-based car insurance agent
  5. Submit a post office address change
  6. Register to vote in Oklahoma

Second and much worse, if you’re changing your name, you must change:

  1. Your driver’s license
  2. Your social security card
  3. Your bank account and credit cards
  4. Your passport
  5. Your work documents, logins, email signatures, business cards, etc
  6. Your car registration
  7. All your other billing accounts (cell phones, rent, energy bills, etc)

Those are some hefty lists. They don’t even include more personal tasks like joining bank accounts, household goods, and cell phone plans. And the worst part is, once you start, you must complete everything quickly and in the right order. I myself had some pretty tricky times trying to sort it…

Before I even got started with my to-do list, I made the mistake of signing the marriage certificate with only a first and a last name. A week later at the DMV, after an hour and half in line, I found out that my signature meant that I no longer had a middle name. But I’d already waited so long and I was so shocked that I took my two-name license anyway. I started the transformation from one name to another, not realizing how complicated it would be.

If I ever want to reclaim my middle name (which I do), I have to get an OKC district judge to sign an amendment on our original marriage license. Only on Fridays at 10:30 a.m… Very specific. So ever since, I procrastinated changing anything because I didn’t have the time to skip work on Fridays to visit any judge. But that meant I was stuck. There was little point in changing things to the wrong name only to have to go back again and change it again. But it was also difficult to have a driver’s license that didn’t match anything else.

For example, T-Mobile had to run a credit report when we signed up for a new cell phone plan. My social security number and credit card were still in my maiden name. My ID was not. I was so nervous but luckily they let it slide.

Then unluckily at a store, I tried to pay with my credit card. The cashier asked for my photo ID. Naturally they didn’t match, and she couldn’t take my word for it. I had to pay in cash.

So now I walk around with extra documentation to prove (with photo ID) that I am both names should I encounter more problems. And I’m still stuck in limbo, waiting for a free Friday to roll around.

I wouldn’t undo any of my decisions that led me to this point, but still, you’ve been warned.

A healthy relationship requires regular dates to keep the romance going. And a healthy relationship with your city requires the same thing.

The other day, I had some errands to run in Midwest City and decided that instead of taking the interstate from our OKC apartment, I’d take the back roads. I didn’t intend to make a date of it, but that’s what happened. I wasn’t looking to fall in love with Oklahoma City, but that’s what happened.

First I made my way over to some boutique shops that I’d seen the week before near our wedding site on Western, somewhere between 63rd Street and 39th Street. I needed some bridesmaids gifts and hoped to find some uniquely Oklahoman things there. I peeked into an antique store that oozed character, then an “urban western” store that sold cute dresses and rustic home décor, then a beads store that let you make any jewelry you desired. The most interesting however was an international goods store that sold a large amount of Cinco de Mayo-looking pottery, Native American jewelry, and Indian Christmas tree ornaments. I walked into the store and the shop owner’s 4-year old daughter immediately offered me a free pair of incense sticks; I left with a jade ring and a smile. Who knew you could find hippy children and colorful skull pottery in OKC?

Next I drove down 36th Street and saw military camo helicopters propped up on steel poles. Turned out, it was a museum I’d not yet heard of. And there were two other museums right next to it that I also hadn’t heard of. Without knowing what happened to me, I started imagining what fun it would be to take our future children here. I was already planning field trips ten years down the road from now.

I rolled the windows down, took in the sunlight and air, and eagerly watched both sides of the roads for the next surprise. It was mostly green grass and old buildings from there on out, but I loved it anyway.

I ended at my destination of a greenhouse in someone’s back yard that sold me succulents. The owner surpassed my expectations. I had ordered 100 baby succulents to give as party favors at my upcoming wedding. I expected small things that barely grew a leaf, but instead they were a full array of blooming rosettes, puffy sprouts, and pretty pale greens. And she even threw in a few extras at a negotiated lower price. (She didn’t even try to rob me when I mentioned they were for a wedding.) Who doesn’t love that kind of feel-at-home customer service?

 

I could have gone driving for more adventures. In the end however, I had a fiancé who was waiting for me at home. I missed him and couldn’t wait to tell him about my exploration, and so I finally went home via the interstate.

It was funny, though, that day. I never expected that a little alone time in my car driving around could make me love OKC so much more. I encourage you to do the same in your city. Take a car alone, drive around, and see if it makes you happier about your present life and where you live.

Also, especially if you live in OKC, let me know what you find.

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