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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.