Oklahoma City, Oklahoma turned out to be the best stop in my recent run of the Great Plains states out of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. My first complaint, however, goes to the taxi company who were there when I needed then when I arrived - I stepped out of the bus station and right into a taxi. However when I asked the hotel to call a taxi for me when I checked out it took them at least five minute to answer the phone and then a further 45 minutes to turn up. The driver got lost at one point, which added to the delay. How do you get lost down a long straight road that has hotels all down it?!
Anyway that's why I got into town later than I had anticipated and my first stop was at the Greyhound bus station to buy my ticket and check my bag. This place, as opposed to every other one I've left from, actually takes your checked luggage off you; the rest of them tag it and tell you to carry it to the bus when you're called.
The first hurdle came when I asked for a ticket to Albuquerque, New Mexico and he gave me one for Amarillo, Texas. I asked about this and he said it was policy, when using a Discovery Pass like I have, to only sell a ticket to the next major point and then I would have to buy another ticket from there. That annoyed me because for three months I haven't had this and the guys were telling me it had been standard policy for the last five years. So this meant that at Amarillo I would have to get off the bus, lost my seat, buy another ticket and hope I got back on. Either that or explain to the driver and hope he let me save my seat while I got a new ticket. The bus gets serviced there anyway so everybody has to get off for an hour regardless.
The second hurdle was that if I checked my backpack right then at midday it would go on the 3pm bus, which was next. Otherwise I could wait three hours and check it then. Well, that would mean sitting around for three hours rather than seeing the city so I checked it straight away and made sure it was going all the way to Albuquerque so I just needed to pick it up at the end.
Once I had disposed of that problem I set off to explore. The nearest of the sights I wanted to see was the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. This is at the sight of the 1995 bomb blast that destroyed half of the federal building. The memorial was very nicely done and the museum was extremely detailed in its recounting of the bombing and subsequent rescue efforts and investigation.
I left there feeling a little depressed and walked the two miles up to the state capitol building. It was too hot (a high of 94F/34C) for that kind of thing but it was worth the effort because the building loomed large from a few blocks away. And I could also see the oil pumping going on in its grounds, just as my guide book had said. I went through the usual security, although they were a lot more jovial than most, wanting to know where I was from and so on. Then I found there was a guided tour of the building starting in ten minutes so I expressed my interest in it. I asked if the cafe was closed and the lady in the visitors centre apologised and said that it was. I asked if there was a water fountain or anything around and, bless her cotton socks, she went out the back and returned with an ice cold bottle of water for me for free.
I was taken to a nice cold room with seats to watch an introductory movie for a short while. It wasn't what I was expecting. Rather than telling me about the history of the state it covered various aspects of the culture. The one I walked in on was the hunt for Bigfoot. I gave up partway through and the lady, Linda, started the tour. I was the only one on it so it was a good one-on-one conversation as we went around. She had recently been to England to visit a friend and, unlike most Americans who just go to London (as I would do if I were them), her friend took her to Weston-Super-Mare, Bath, Wells, Swansea, Cheddar and other places.
The thing that made me almost laugh was that Oklahoma only became a state in 1907. It was the 46th state in the union. It's so young! And what surprised me was that the capitol originally didn't have a dome because when the building was built it was 1914 and soon the US got involved in World War I and so the governor decided not to waste resources on a dome during wartime. But it wasn't until 2002 that they put the dome on - now that's a big construction delay!
The building itself was very impressive. The state senate and house are beautifully decorated, as is the supreme court. And the main rotunda has so many colourful murals depicting Oklahoma's history, and Native Americans feature heavily because Oklahoma was there the US dumped a lot of Indians before deciding to let people settle there. That is why the capitol's dome is topped with a bronze statue of a Native American Indian.
My guide, Linda, was very nice and knowledgable and always conscious that I didn't have much time and walked as quickly as possible to get me around everything. I also got my absolute best state souvenir so far here and one of my favourite photos. Linda took me into the Governor's outer office and asked one of the assistants, who she knew, if I could get a souvenir. So I was given a postcard, a badge with the state seal and a large photo of the current governor. The best photo was when I was shown the Blue Room where the governor and others give press briefings and I asked if she would mind taking a photo of me at the podium. Imagine my surprise when I leaned forward to tell her which button to press and my instructions came booming out of all the speakers. They had left the mic open.
After the tour I wanted to go to the state history museum so I was given directions of how to get there - take the tunnel to the east parking lot and cross the street from the far corner. So I went down to the tunnel and as I entered it a woman in uniform was right behind me. I could see she was some kind of security or police and she was right behind me all the way. I felt nervous being tailed even though I'd done nothing wrong so to break that I turned round and started talking to her. She turned out to be a very nice person and I reckon not much older than me. I still respected her because she had a gun. She was an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer doing some overtime. I didn't get a chance to ask, hilariously, which roads she'd been patrolling within the building because she was busy telling me that Santa Fe, my next stop, is really nice.
At the end of the tunnel she wished me a good trip, told me to have fun and went off to her car. I managed to get through the conversation without making an inappropriate comment about extra-curricular use of her handcuffs, so I survived unarrested. I found the corner of the lot and was disappointed to see I had to walk a long way up the block to a crossing just to come back again. Like a good boy I did that and found my way to the museum entrance. By that time it was 4pm and it closed at 5pm so the nice girl on reception let me in for free. I got some of what I wanted out of the exhibits I had time to see. I wanted to see more about the Oklahoma land runs in the 1880s. The city of Oklahoma City went from literally nothing at sunrise to a city of 10,000 people at sunset after the opened to borders of the state for settlement.
To get back to the road down to town I could either retrace my steps to the parking lot and walk down from there or, what I did do, which was to find a single road that needed crossing, which would get me onto a strip of land that would lead me all the way to where I needed to be, and then wait three minutes for a large, safe gap in the three lanes of traffic and run across. Far less effort that way.
I caught the bus back downtown to avoid that two mile walk again. Then I went out to the Bricktown district, a fairly new redevelopment area to put restaurants, a theatre and stadium into a formerly run-down warehouse district. There were many restaurants to choose from and I chose a simple looking Italian place. Unfortunately I think I picked the worst one of the lot. It was like a canteen - you order your food at the counter and my spaghetti and meatballs was even ready by the time I'd finished paying. It was heavy on quantity and light on quality, but it was quick and cheap, and I had a bus to catch so that was good. Actually I ended up with far too much spare time before my bus out.
So as I said Oklahoma City is the best place I've been to in the recent Great Plains states, although downtown still didn't have much going on. (I say recent because I went to St. Louis on the way up to Chicago and that would be the best overall).
If you look at a map of the US and draw an imaginary line from North Dakota all the way directly south to Texas I have been to every state on that line and to the right of it, with the exception of South Dakota, which I am going to later because I'll pop back into the southwest corner of it to see Mt. Rushmore.
I'm very much looking forward to the change in scenery that New Mexico will bring. I just hope I get there okay. Well, since I'm writing this from New Mexico I obviously did, but it didn't quite go according to plan. Tune in next time to see what happened...