There's no point in asking Rand McNally or AAA for the actual location of Dustbury, Oklahoma, and if you're one of those gadget-happy folks with a Global Positioning System, you'll find very quickly that you can't get here from there.
Then again, people on the coasts too often have no idea where Oklahoma is, let alone some mythical townlet therein. All they know about the 46th state is that it's somewhere in that big flat area between California and New York, and that these days it elects to public office people who, in other states, would find their speechmaking limited to "You want fries with that?"
Consider, then, that before this area was officially Oklahoma, it was Indian Territory, mostly because the Great White Father in Washington, having failed to dispose of the original native population in the standard Western Civilization manner plunder, pillage, slaughter and burn decided to round up as many tribes as possible and park them in a convenient central location with the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay. Manifest-destiny types, however, insisted that they be allowed to settle anywhere they damn well pleased, and on the twenty-second of April, 1889, a couple minutes before noon, a section of Indian Territory was officially opened up to basically anyone who could spell well enough to post a "No Trespassing" sign. Some time after twelve-thirty, officials found out that more than a few folks had jumped the gun and already parked themselves on a piece of turf, a group which subsequently became known as "Sooners", a name which even today is painted on most flat surfaces within a 90-mile radius of the city of Norman.
Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and promptly disappeared from the public consciousness, only to stumble back in at the end of the Thirties upon the publication of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a book which shocked the world and annoyed the empire-builders in Oklahoma City. A local newspaper blasted Steinbeck for casting aspersions upon this great state, mentioning only casually later on that the author of said editorial hadn't actually gone to the trouble of reading the book. Descendants of the same idiots run the same newspaper today, and they haven't learned anything from the mistakes of their forebears; after all, those forebears made a ton of money, and therefore must be the chosen ones of the Almighty.
Speaking of the Almighty, it is often suggested by outsiders that (s)he has no actual interest in Oklahoma, usually in the context of "How can you live in that godforsaken backwater?" But they're missing the point. Robber barons and moronic sub-statesmen and tornadoes notwithstanding, this isn't at all a bad place to be. The sun shines most of the time, and the feeling is laid-back; while wages are definitely on the low side, the cost of living is not disproportionately high; and for every single example of Oklahoma stupidity and venality you see in the media, I can show you a dozen examples of Oklahoma brightness and kindness. I've done a stint on the Left Coast and one on the Right, but just about half my life has been spent here among the Sooners, and for the most part, we get along just fine.
Walt Whitman, singing of himself and his contradictions, said: "I am large, I contain multitudes." So, too, does Oklahoma. Much is made about striving for excellence, but it's always understood that "excellence" will be determined by a handful of movers and shakers, not by any inherent merit. There is money in and around the bigger cities lots of it while much of the rural population remains dirt-poor. And the ongoing clashes between the classes make for an existence which is anything but dull. In our heart of hearts, we want ritzy suburbia, but we know how hard it is to shake off the red clay of the country. Upscale, but still possessed by poverty: call it Dustbury the dream home on the edge of nowhere. In more ways than one, it's where I live.
Posted 22 November 1997
License plate graphic courtesy of Acme Labs.