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Oklahoma is OK: They have lots of Dale Chihuly glass!

And they even have their own Underground. When the Seattle SuperSonics move to the Sooner State, they'll miss some things but not others. After a visit, our correspondent compares and contrasts.
Dale Chihuly glass in Oklahoma City

Dale Chihuly glass in Oklahoma City Sue Frause

Sonic fast-food restaurants are headquartered in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause)

Sonic fast-food restaurants are headquartered in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause) None

Ford Center in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause)

Ford Center in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause) None

Oil derricks in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause)

Oil derricks in Oklahoma City. (Sue Frause) None

I wasn't exactly over the moon about flying to Oklahoma City for a conference.

It's not that I have anything against the capital of Oklahoma. I'd never been there, and what I knew about it could fit into a kid's cowboy boot. The top three Oklahoma items that came to mind were (a) Oklahoma!, the first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; (b) the Oklahoma City federal office building bombing in 1995; and (c) the Seattle Sonics defecting to the Sooner State.

I decided that in my spare time I'd pursue (c) the Seattle Sonics defecting to the Sooner State.

In my unofficial poll, conducted at several watering holes over the course of three days, the majority of bartenders/waiters/imbibers were excited about the arrival of the Sonics. When I asked one twentysomething sports fan if OK City was big enough to support a NBA team, the mild-mannered gent puffed up and said, "When the New Orleans Hornets played here from 2005-07 after Katrina, we had better numbers than they did."

OK. Don't mess with those OK boys.

On a hot, windy afternoon, I went to see where our metronatural men will eventually be playing. It's downtown and was an easy stroll from my hotel. The Ford Center, named after the car company and not the prez, is your typical multi-use arena. Built in 2002 by the city at a cost of $89 million, the brick-and-concrete structure is currently home to the Oklahoma City Blazers (hockey) and the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz (arena football).

It's got 49 private suites, 48 restrooms, and seats 19,599 for basketball. Foo Fighters, a band that is three-quarters Washingtonian, is performing there on July 17.

I decided to dig a little deeper and give our Seattle boys the inside scoop. Here's some stuff y'all should know before you fly southeast for the winter:

  1. There is no Space Needle. But there are oil derricks everywhere, including one at the State Capitol, named Petunia. That's because they had to drill in the first lady's petunia patch.
  2. There is no Experience Music Project. But there is the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Dale Chihuly glass in the world. It started out as a temporary exhibition, and the Oklahomans were so enchanted with his glass and drawings, they dug deep and wrestled up $4 million to purchase the collection. The centerpiece is a 55-foot glass tower in the atrium. There's an OK connection, too. Chihuly's wife and artistic partner, Leslie Jackson Chihuly, is from Oklahoma City.
  3. There is no rain. Well, they do get rain, but it's condensed. While Oklahoma City has 30.89 inches of rain a year over the course of 82 days, Seattle has 38.60 inches of rain a year over 158 days.
  4. There is no Seattle Underground. But there is the Oklahoma City Underground. I couldn't figure out why I never saw any people on the downtown streets, and somebody finally explained they're most likely walking underground in a 20-square block area. It connects 30 downtown buildings by tunnel or skyway. Good during heat waves and tornado watches.
  5. There is no Dick's. I'm assuming Seattle's roundballers frequent Dick's Drive-Ins, and if they're like me, they have a craving for a Dick's burger now and again. But Oklahoma City is the worldwide headquarters of an appropriately named drive-in chain, Sonic. They have drive-ins in the U.S. and Mexico but have yet to move into the Seattle area. I tried a burger/fries/Coke at the airport before flying home and give them a C (the fries were particularly gnarly).
  6. There are no Seattle Mariners. I have no idea if basketball boys watch baseball boys in the off-season, but you won't find MLB in Oklahoma City. They do have the Oklahoma RedHawks, a Triple-A baseball team and the Texas Rangers' top farm club. There's also auto racing at the State Fair Speedway, horse racing at Remington Park Racing Casino, and international rodeos, team roping, and world barrel racing.
  7. There are no mountains or water. Not entirely true. The Oklahoma River runs through the city and you can row, kayak, or dragon boat at the Chesapeake Boathouse. This spring, the USA Canoe/Kayak Team Trials were held at the boathouse. The Bricktown Nationals hydro drag race event is the largest one in the U.S., with river speeds of more than 225 miles per hour. As far as mountains, the only one I could find in Oklahoma City was Stone Mountain. It's a tile and flooring company. Leave your skis at home, boys.
  8. There is no Ride the Ducks Seattle. You've probably been annoyed by those crazy quackin' tourists toolin' around the city in those weird amphibious buses. You're in luck in OK City. No ducks. My suggestion for a tour is the Bricktown Brewery, which opened in 1992 as the state's first brewpub. Located in Oklahoma City's historic district of Bricktown, they also have live music and big screen TVs.
  9. There is no Pike Place Market. Maybe watching flying fish isn't a big deal for the Sonics, but you're gonna miss that place. There is the Oklahoma City Farmers Public Market, an 80-year-old institution located on six acres near the downtown core. Just don't count on them tossing any salmon.
  10. There is no Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. He was the first witness to testify during the City of Seattle's lawsuit to keep the Sonics from marching off to Oklahoma City. Oklahoma's current mayor is Mick Cornett, who is in his second term of office. Last year, he put Oklahoma City on a diet, hoping to change the culture of obesity in the city. He even went on The Ellen Degeneres Show to talk to Ellen about the OKC Diet. As of June 10, 2008, the 18,500 people who signed up have lost more than 85,000 pounds. No word if Mayor Nickels is going to implement the diet in his own back yard.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 2, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

No Water?: No water? Really? Oklahoma City has 22.3 square miles of lakes within a half-hour's drive of the city center. Lakes Hefner, Overholser, Stanley Draper, Arcadia, and Thunderbird. I'll concede your point about the mountains, although if you drive to Lawton...

Posted Wed, Jul 2, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: No Water?: Well, of course by water I mean real water :-). Oklahoma does have more man-made lakes than any other state, with more than one million surface acres of water. And they have 11,611 miles of shoreline, according to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. But it just ain't the same as looking out at Elliott Bay, Lake Union, Lake Washington. Know what I mean?

Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks: As an ex-Washingtonian and current Sooner, I think you did a pretty good job of portraying some of the highlights of Oklahoma City (especially considering the short time you were here). While I'm not particularly a big NBA fan, I am glad we are getting the team though I feel for the fans in Seattle. One thing you failed to mention is that the players and staff will be able to live extremely well in Oklahoma City compared to Seattle in terms of housing and cost of living. Additionally, the people here really are nicer. Thanks for a fair article!

LTC W

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 5:22 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Thanks: I did fail to mention how nice the people in OKC are -- I'm not sure if they are nicer than Seattleites, it's just a different sort of nice! And yes, the real estate prices / rents are considerably lower than Seattle, with some lovely neighborhoods. Of course on a basketball player's salary, price is generally not an issue, although the staff will benefit from the lower cost of living.

Posted Thu, Jul 3, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for being courteous: Thanks for the nice article on your short visit here. Don't be posting this on any of the Washington Sonics fan boards though ... you will get stoned!

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 5:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Oklahoma City has more than what you Published: OKC does have a Space Needle, and even a monorail. I know you probably just stayed downtown, which is a good idea - but there's a little more to the city given the suburban sprawl that happened. The two aformentioned exist at the State Fairgrounds (you did mention the grandstand where the auto-races are) but also there exists OKC's Space Needle and monorail. Unfortunately, the outgoing director dismantled the track but the part of it was preserved for prosperity. You didn't mention that OKC has a REAL DOWNTOWN CENTRAL PARK (Myriad Botanical Gardens and Park) and you forgot to mention that OKC has boat rides (Bricktown Canal Water Taxis, OK River Taxis) even though OKC doesn't have the Duck disturbance. Oh, and Dick's is NO CONTEST to many burger joints in Oklahoma City - and Im not talking about Sonic. You should have gone to Johnny's Charcoal Oven - way better than Dicks, or Burgermaster, or anything else in Seattle. You did not mention that OKC has a thriving Gay District, and a growing Chinatown area - called Asia District, and a real hispanic downtown known as Capital Hill. All of this could have been discovered from wikipedia. You should have disspelled the myth that metro OKC is actually has more ethnic minorities as a percentage than does metro Seattle. OKC has greater numbers of blacks, hispanics, and native americans than does Seattle - OKC isn't quite as pudunk as people like to think. It's not Wyoming, you know (no offense but WY is pretty podunk) and OKC wont be the smallest NBA market - SLC and New Orleans have smaller MSA's (Memphis soon will be smaller). ... Your article was very nice - comparatively - but it really didn't give a true picture of OKC's rather cosmopolitan and attractively urban side now did it. There's much to OKC that will be liked by Sonics players and fans who visit - it's not Seattle, but it's much better than OK.

rchilde

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Thanks for being courteous: Ha! Yes, several fans have told me I was too soft on OKC. I should fess up that I've only been to three Sonics games, so that probably doesn't qualify me as a fan. One was when Lenny Wilkens was playing with them back and the other two? Jack Sikma was on the team, I think he had a perm then, and the other was some free tickets that were given to my husband. I did go to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks play and it smelled like a zoo in there. Earlier in the week it had been the venue for Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bayley Circus. Phew! Also, it seemed that most of the folks were dressed in cocktail garb, women in heels and pearls and guys in dark suits. Not much polar fleece. And my third and final game was watching the Phoenix Suns play the San Antonio Spurs in SA. I got in "trouble" from one of the security guards for taking a photograph of the Suns -- specifically Charles Barkley -- as they came out of the tunnel. I still have the Barkmeister's photo -- it's on my sun's bulletin board.

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

I liked OKC: You're right, I was there only three days, and attending a conference most of the time. I did go to the Myriad Botanical Gardens (walked through them to take the picture of the Ford Center). And one evening the conference attendees went on a cruise on the Oklahoma River. And of course I went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (impressive and sobering) and the National Cowboy & Western Museum (fun). What I wrote was not a comprehensive tourism piece or encyclopedic entry about OKC -- it was a snapshot of my brief time there and my reaction to the Sonics heading for browner pastures. All done with a fairly good dose of humor, I think.

Posted Fri, Jul 4, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

It's Not Who We Are: Sue, thanks for such an even-handed piece. We in OKC don't see this situation as a city vs. city battle. I've been to Seattle, and think it's a marvelous town, easily the most beautiful I've visited. The view from the ferry to Bainbridge Island is breathtaking.

None of us wanted to get a team this way. I would have had no problem with the Sonic finishing out the lease. Major league sports are a part of a city's history, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth (as well as others') to take a team that's been there for decades. While I think the decision to reserve the colors and name was a classy one for Bennett, having the history duplicated in the Ford Center is questionable to me.

Good luck to all the b-ball fans out there in the Emerald City, and thank you, Sue, for the nice piece.
acolyte

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