A couple of months ago, I told y’all about our quest to hit the remaining eight U.S. states on our to-visit list.
(For those who missed it, we realized we had seen 42 of 50 U.S. states, and set about seeing the rest. Because this is an unplanned checklist, though, the eight states are severely noncontiguous and in some cases limited in apparent tourist appeal: Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Montana, Delaware, and North Dakota, which we did visit.)
Over New Year’s, we knocked off another one: Oklahoma. I also think we’re beginning to identify a travel rubric for nontraditionally-tourist-attractive cities.
Case Study: Oklahoma City, New Year’s Weekend.
1) You want to find the small museums. Not the Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History or that sort of thing. Aim lower. Oklahoma City is home to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and also the magnificent Museum of Osteology. The former has statues, paintings, and sculpture, all Western-themed, plus a museum of cowboy history featuring things like John Wayne’s guns. It’s also home to the Rodeo Hall of Fame, which features a lot of casual use of words like “trampled” and “gored.” The latter museum is an exhibition of skeletons — hummingbird to whale. It may also be the most subversive place I have ever visited, as the layout of the place could easily carry the name “Museum of Evolution,” and it is smack in the middle of one of America’s less evolution-friendly communities. The Banjo Hall of Fame was great, too.
2) You want to find the hipsters. Mustaches, sweaters, corduroys, and messenger bags are reliable markers of interesting food and beer, even in cities like Fargo and Oklahoma City. You’d think those artisanal Yuppies would have migrated — perhaps the Holy Grail is to say they were a resident of Fargo before it was cool — but as long as they have a neighborhood staked out, you’ll have a place to go for good coffee and craft cocktails and locally-sourced sandwiches and interesting breakfasts. (Plus ironic hand-painted greeting cards and T-shirts, if that’s your sort of thing.)
3) You want to find a ballgame. Sport doesn’t matter. Minor League Baseball, NBA basketball, roller derby, horse racing, whatev. You get to enjoy yourself for a few hours, do some top-drawer people-watching — the crowd in attendance at an Oklahoma City Thunder game on New Year’s Eve is fascinating — and catch some of the local flavor in a setting you can contrast. (Pawtucket fans, for example, are a thousand times more polite than Red Sox fans; the Thunder precedes the national anthem with a prayer; the Ft. Worth Stockyards Rodeo is excitingly laissez-faire about letting the bulls try to jump into the stands.)
4) You want to engage the locals on their terms. We were there during the Oklahoma-Clemson playoff game, so we drove the half-hour to Norman and found the “Sooner Legends Inn & Suites,” a University of Oklahoma-themed hotel. It was amazing. Every inch of the place — hotel and restaurant both — was covered in memorabilia to the point where we genuinely wondered which was worth more, the memorabilia or the hotel. The bar and restaurant were both jammed. (The bar is separated from the restaurant by swinging doors, because it is still legal to smoke in the bar in Oklahoma. This in a state that did not repeal Prohibition until 1959.) The only other crowd I have seen this into a game on television was when I went to the German Cultural Center (or whatever) with a friend to watch Germany win the World Cup. Happy Germans are scarier than unhappy Oklahomans. We left at halftime, as things were not looking good for the Sooners and Oklahoma is a concealed-carry state. No sense taking chances.
5) You want to figure out what the dominant immigrant culture is and eat that food. We had delightful breakfasts at Café Antigua: sausages I had never heard of and handmade tortillas and sweet plaintains and a thin green salsa that was so delicious you could disregard the fact that it melted your ears. It was a sort of a Caribbean-fusion joint. So good.
So we had 72 hours in Oklahoma City, and successfully entertained ourselves with Oklahoma-ness for about 68 of them. We saw The Force Awakens with the remaining hours because we have a system, but you can only work it so far.
Two states down, six to go.