by Joe Baxter
When I’m bumping shoulders with my Okie family, I’m bumping shoulders with the best of ’em! I’ve been avoiding crowds for years. I don’t normally attend big concerts, ball games, or the state fair. I suppose that folks who live and work in places such as New York City or Chicago or Paris are used to bustling sidewalks, busy stores and restaurants, and SRO entertainment events. Not me, baby. One of my favorite things about living in the Sooner State is that there’s usually plenty of room to move; ELBOW room. There’s always a way out. We can flee the company of the tightly-packed masses if we so desire. We can get away or we can get right in the middle of it. Lots of folks don’t have that luxury. I think that the best thing about living in Oklahoma is that folks are so darn FRIENDLY. It’s my favorite thing about living here.
Okies can (and will) walk into the Tank & Tummy and pass the time of day with the clerk and the folks standing in line around us, like we’ve known each other all our lives. When I’m traveling in other states, I try to be pleasant. I try to pass the time of day with folks, and they look at me like I’ve got two heads and I’m trying to sell them a car warranty. That CVS cashier in Maryland seem absolutely shocked that I smiled, made eye contact and asked how her day was going. She was looking around in a panic, trying to figure out what was wrong with this ol’ hick-sounding guy, and why in the world he was actually TALKING to her. That ol’ gal at the Shell station south of Muskogee just grinned and told me all about her twin grandkids who were graduating high school that evening. That’s the difference.
Since I’ve been volunteering at the Arcadia Round Barn, I’ve noticed that it’s not unusual for Route 66 travelers to remark about how very NICE Okies are, compared to other states along The Route. As an official “greeter,” I do my best to represent our state and our communities. Depending on the recipients of my charms, I try to leave a good impression. I hope travelers get back to Europe or Asia or North Dakota and tell ALL their friends how nice strangers can be to each other in Oklahoma. I want them to marvel out loud about how that old redneck guy at the Round Barn was so happily eloquent, despite sounding like he was talking around a mouthful of grits and hog jowls
It’s been my experience that most Okies will surprise ya that way. We are a pretty sharp bunch, politics aside. I hope no true Oklahoman resents being called an “Okie.” Back during the Dust Bowl, when po’ folk had to flee the state in order to survive predatory banks, harsh weather and hard times, “Okie” was used as a derogatory term. Go ahead, call me an “Okie,” I don’t care. I wear it as a badge of honor. Those folks were tough, resilient, and loyal to their families. They did what they had to do. They still do.
Further, understand that it takes an Okie to use the term “Okie” in a truly complimentary manner. If I call you an “Okie”, that’s a compliment. And even if we encounter someone who says the word “Okie” with that particular little sideways sneer that comes straight out of the pre-WWII orchards of the West Coast, we can just smile to ourselves and walk on, because we know that Oklahoma is still the best-kept secret in the country. Y’all don’t let that cat out of the bag, and we’ll keep the crowds on the small side.
Maybe I can suck it up and go to a concert someday. Ya’ll have a great Oklahoma day. Who loves ya? This ol’ Okie, that’s who. jb
RESIST: The urge to retreat into your shell like an ol’ turtle. Put your best self out there! Stick your head out and smile your best turtle smile.
EDITOR’S NOTE. Joe Baxter is one of my favorite people. He loves music, the Round Barn, his wife Jean, a club sandwich from Farmstead Cafe, Route 66 and America (not in that order). A songwriter and musician, he has a way with words and can turn a phrase such that you want to listen, or in this case, read for a while. If you are one of his “face friends” on social media, you know he can get you thinking with his posts and musings. He’s letting us post them here on The Luther Register! We’re trying something new. Find Joe at the Arcadia Round Barn where he is the head conversation aficionado catching stories from Route 66 travelers from all over the world. Thanks Ramblin’ Joe! ENJOY! – dawn