Cross Country 2005 - Local Flavors

Reprinted from West Meets East

I've been blowing across the U.S. as quickly as possible up to this point, grabbing a meal at the most convenient place. But when CJ found out my dinner in New Mexico consisted of a small pizza purchased at a convenience store, she chided me for not trying out the local flavors. So when I entered Cherokee country in Oklahoma yesterday and saw a billboard advertising buffalo burgers, I pulled off the road. The burger was small and symmetrical (like it had come from a frozen stack of identical sliders), and tasted the same as any beef burger, but I've had worse. Interestingly, despite the restaurant's proclamation that it was an "Indian Trading Post," I didn't see a single non-white person in the joint (employee or customer). Come to think of it, I'm not sure I saw a single thin person either. And though all of the tables were served by teenage girls, the prettiest of the bunch was the one with the lazy eye.

Further down the road in Oklahoma, I finally pulled off I-40 for some sightseeing. In fact, I have resolved to stop to see a sight in each of the remaining states on my journey (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia). As I cruised through Oklahoma City yesterday, I exited and drove around until I found the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 terrorist attack. They've created a very beautiful park where the Murrah Federal Building once stood, a place that offers peace and invites reflection. A large expanse of grass covers the exact footprint of the building, with long rows of glass and bronze chairs representing each of the 168 victims. The memorial sits below street level, so some of the walls along the side are the actual foundation of the building, where you can still see broken stone and burnt, bent steel. The overall feeling of serenity was enhanced for me by the fact that downtown OKC was deserted. I've never seen a major city so devoid of people and cars. I looked over the plans for the World Trade Center site when I was in New York City just two weeks ago, so having experienced what they've done here, I'm sure the WTC memorial will be similarly solemn and peaceful.

I landed in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the end of the day, just over the Oklahoma border. Taking CJ's culinary advice again, I sought out a sports bar in Fort Smith's bustling downtown (okay, so I was just about the only car on the road). I felt pretty strung out by the road when I arrived, but after a couple of pints of Fat Tire pale ale, a rack of BBQ ribs and some football, I felt like a man again.

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