What I learned in Oklahoma City

Posted: Aug 03, 2005 12:00 AM

I'm a city boy, born and bred. I've lived in Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass. Even though my parents are native Midwesterners (Chicago), the closest I've ever come to country living is vacationing in Wisconsin. So when I was invited by the people at Supertalk 930 WKY in Oklahoma City to guest host on one of their afternoon radio programs, I was very excited.

 Many coastal city dwellers like to look down on religious red staters. It's no surprise that Hollywood paints inhabitants of the Midwest and the South as backward, often inbred, straight out of "Deliverance." Anyone with a twang is labeled a hick by those on the coasts. Looking down on country dwellers gives lots of city folk a sense of superiority, secure in their knowledge that they are more tolerant, broad minded and intelligent than the yokels in the boonies. After all, out in Los Angeles and Cambridge there are strong gun laws, high taxes and atheistic churches. What could be more enlightened?

 Well, after spending a few days in Oklahoma City, it's even clearer to me that the coastal elitists have everything upside down. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from folks who live in the heartland:

  Looking people in the eye isn't a crime. It's amazing, but when you've lived in big cities all your life, you are conditioned not to look strangers in the eye. You're taught to be afraid of strangers. If you walk down the aisle in a supermarket, and you happen to catch someone's eye, God forbid, you're supposed to look away to prevent awkwardness. If you don't, they might think you're rude, simple or perverted. Saying hello is never permitted, but if you do say hello, make sure to be subdued about it. After all, it's not like these people are your friends . The basic assumption underlying the city attitude is this: People are natural enemies. Strangers are scary. Don't interact.

 In Oklahoma City, the opposite is true. You look people in the eye, you smile, you say hello. Maybe you even ask how they're doing. Looking away is considered rude and furtive. People aren't natural enemies, in the country view. In the city, such friendly effrontery is considered bold beyond belief.

  God still has authority. Quoting the Bible in the country isn't a sign of intellectual weakness; it's an appeal to the authority of true morality. Coastal liberals love to label the religious as simple-minded bigots led astray by a few Bible-thumping hucksters -- just ask Howard Dean, who stated during his presidential campaign that red staters were misdirected into voting based on "God, guns and gays." Red staters aren't misdirected -- they happen to believe in Judeo-Christian notions of right and wrong. While "morality" remains a dirty word in the big coastal cities, it's part of the regular lexicon in the country. Yes, people sin in the country, but at least they recognize that they're sinning. In the city, by contrast, people create alternative religions (see secular liberalism) to excuse their misbehavior.

  There's plenty of time. In the city, everyone's in a rush. We walk fast, we drive fast, we talk fast. We are efficient, tireless and rushed. No matter how hard we work, there never seems to be enough time. Every minute must be packed with activity. In the country, people seem to realize that life is made up of millions of minutes and that driving yourself crazy isn't worthwhile in the long run. Yes, working hard is vital -- you won't find harder workers anywhere in the United States than in places like Oklahoma City. But family and leisure can be just as important and renewing as work.

 People in the country aren't ignoramuses; they aren't hicks; they aren't boobs. Speaking with a drawl doesn't connote sloth; fearing God isn't a vice; morality and kindness aren't mutually exclusive. Slandering those in "flyover country" is a hobby of many in the city, but it takes that same "flyover country" mindset to keep America prosperous, vibrant and strong.