The special nature of this country was brought to mind during a recent journey to retrieve my son after his first year of college at the University of Kansas. I was to fly to Kansas City and drive back to Los Angeles, but an unexpected diversion in that plan reminded me of our country’s greatness.
I left LAX on my Southwest flight at 9 A.M. to arrive at 2 P.M. central time. The flight was beautiful except for a seatmate who made too many lavatory trips, interrupting my movie. Everything was wonderful until we were ready to land at KCI (Kansas International Airport) where there were thunderstorms. The pilot was scared of a little lightning so we hung in a holding pattern. Southwest planes do not carry loads of extra fuel so we were soon diverted to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to sit on the tarmac.
While preparing to be a victim of one of those long “sweatfests” I looked at the map and saw Tulsa was pretty much due south of Kansas City and on the road toward Los Angeles. Since there was no clear indication of when we might again attempt our final leg to Kansas City, I had the idea for my son to drive south to Tulsa, and we would push on from there. I went to the flight attendant and asked if I could get off the plane. I had my luggage and could depart without any particular inconvenience. Simultaneously, the pilot decided to head for a gate and humanely let us off until we had a secure time for a landing in Kansas City. I called my son and told him to start driving to Tulsa.
I was now standing in Tulsa’s airport wondering what I am going to do for the next 4+ hours when the wheels (in my brain) started to turn. It came to me that I have a friend who is frequently in Tulsa because his company’s headquarters are in Bartlesville -- not too far from Tulsa. During a call to my friend, I explained the facts – this was my first time here and inquired as to where I should go and what I should do. Of course, as one who lives on the coast, it is ingrained in me that places like Tulsa are “backwater” towns. With a few phone calls and emails, the owners of my friend’s company, who I had never met, had arranged to have me let at a business club of which they are members in downtown Tulsa.
Arriving by cab, I took the elevator to this club called the Summit, located on the 32nd floor of the local Bank of America building. I entered this beautiful club in my shorts, knit shirt and athletic shoes. I apologized for my inappropriate dress, but the people there did not care because I was a guest of Peggy and Tom.
They sat me at a table that had a magnificent view of the Arkansas River. The sunny clear day allowed a view that went on for twenty-plus miles each way, as this is a very flat part of the country. The view was just staggering. Why was I not told of the beauty of this part of the country? This majestic river bordered by beautiful tree-lined areas was captivating.
The staff filled me with some pretty fine grub and plenty of ice tea as I settled in to await the arrival of my son. I took out my book, muted my cell phone and started soaking in a part of America that I had never experienced. Other than driving through Oklahoma on my way home after 9/11, my closest experience in this state had previously been provided by Rodgers and Hammerstein. I had no comprehension about what a wonderful area this part of the country had become.
Early evening faded into nighttime and people started arriving for dinner. Two couples were seated in the table next to me. One of the ladies spotted my KU cap parked on top of my luggage. She mentioned she had graduated from KU in 1954 as had her husband, although their dinner guests were both Oklahoma Sooners. After I again apologized for my informal attire, we engaged in conversation. They had me pull up a chair and delayed ordering their dinner for almost an hour as the five of us talked as if we were long lost friends. They told me all about their wonderful city which Forbes magazine recently ranked the 5th best place to live in America.
I begged off so they could finally order their dinner and I called my son who was near arriving. The picture perfect weather had now turned into rain as can happen in this part of the country during spring. When my son landed in front of building, we stood there hugging in the rain for what seemed like an eternity.
We pushed on from there to Oklahoma City. The next morning we visited the Oklahoma City Memorial, dedicated to those who died at the Federal Building bombing. We drove on to Amarillo where we stopped at the Big Texan – home of the 72-ounce steak. Only in America could you have an experience like this where people would challenge themselves to eat this behemoth. A man had come from Norway to try his hand at tackling this chunk of sirloin. The experience was pure Texas.
For the next two days we drove through New Mexico, Arizona and finally to California. Interstate 40 parallels the historic route 66. As we motored through, we passed many iconic towns well known to Americans through popular songs.
This entire journey reminded me how very fortunate we are to live in this magnificent country which, for the most part, is underappreciated. To many of us, Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer. The fact that we are meant to spend the day remembering those who have sacrificed themselves to allow us to live this fine life is often lost.
Hopefully from reading this, you have focused on your own family and friends who make your life special. You have recalled a day when strangers may have done you a good deed simply because you are a fellow American. Maybe you will spend just a smidgen of time remembering those great people who loved our country and what we stand for enough to defend it and pay the ultimate price for that love. And possibly you might remember how blessed we all are to call ourselves Americans.