Dakota…in Oklahoma!

There’s a bright golden haze on my post-graduate career!

That’s because this past week two weeks ago I visited Oklahoma, the sooner state, which is a stupid nickname if you look up the reason for it on wikipedia.

aaron oklahoma

My impressions of Oklahoma are mostly colored by the musical, Oklahoma!, which is a karaoke favorite of mine, and Senator James Inhofe, who is a least favorite of mine. So its an oil and gas and farming state in the middle of Bible country. So I was disappointed not to see any corn, but going along the highway between the airport and the Embassy Suites I did see some signs celebrating Jesus and also Toby Keith, who is apparently the Jesus of Moore, Oklahoma. Amidst the strip malls with Kohls and Chipotles and AMC movies there was a big sign telling me I was driving by “the Home of Toby Keith.”

tobyKeithAmericanRide

Cool?

Unfortunately, then, I didn’t see much of Oklahoma culture. The closest I came to experiencing something new and different was the mini-field trip the journalists took to Oklahoma City to the site of the bombing which took place 20 years ago.

I found the museum more interesting than ‘good’. It’s not a happy event, so there’s that. The first part of the museum tour is a bit…inelegant?…as you’re taken into a room mimicking a hearing in one of the offices of the Murrah Building, when SUDDENLY THERE’S A BOMB FLASH AND EVERYBODY GET DOWN etc. From there you are taken to scenes of the destruction, although you’re also given a history of the buildings that were either destroyed or damaged when the bomb went off.

Scattered throughout two floors are bits of wreckage from the day, some displays describing the history and the emergency response team, the investigation, etc. Probably the best, or at least nicest touch, in the museum is the interactive exhibit where they’ve recorded the families and friends of victims talking about them, thus celebrating their memories even in a small way, which is how we ‘should’ recognize these kinds of events.

The part of the museum I found a bit distasteful were the overbearing religious messages and the large section of the museum essentially dedicated to preserving Timothy McVeigh in infamy. While the punitive zeal surrounding the trial is understandable for such a gross man (and his accomplices), to make him the central character in the story of the Oklahoma City Bombing is wrong. Yes, it was an act of ‘terrorism’. But no, this wasn’t some sinister conspiracy at play, it was just some crazy murderers who achieved an unthinkable one-off act of violence. Although no domestic psychopath has really reached the magnitude of the bombing episode, you can also see McVeigh as a forerunner to the lone gunmen acts from this century, the Dylan Roofs and Eliot Rodgers who aren’t just killers but also vain crusaders, murderous media whores who think they’re sending a message. I don’t know if this started with McVeigh, but you can see from that point in 1995 to how the modern media has indirectly encouraged these episodes by repeatedly giving them and their deranged ideas undeserved exposure.

TIMEcover

I found the grounds outside to be far more moving than the museum tour. There is a tree which survived the bombing and stands set off from a reflecting and a sad sculpture titled “The Field of Empty Chairs”. It’s nice to just walk around there and think about things like senseless violence but also hope for the future.

Oklahoma_City_National_Memorial_viewed_from_the_south_showing_the_memorial_chairs,_Gate_of_Time,_Reflecting_Pool,_and_Survivor_Tree

There’s not much else to say, even about the conference. I was intimidated. It took me four beers during free happy hour to introduce myself to people. A lot of them were ‘real’ journalists with jobs and credentials that made me want to be a journalist so that I could come back to the conversation some other time when I didn’t think they could see right through to my core laziness.

But I did collect some business cards. And I made some too. $500 for 20, good deal. Wait.

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