A trip to the Nations


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At trip to the Nations
By Bobby Neal Winters
There are those who believe that simply because Kansas and Oklahoma share a common border which is several hundred miles long there is really much difference between what is north of the border and what is south of the border. Au contraire. (Or is it oh con trair? I never could figure out what a trair was.) Due to Oklahoma’s unique heritage, which blends the South and the American Indian, in some ways it is like its own country.
Whenever my family and I go to visit my mother there, we go through customs at a little quick stop gas between Quapaw and Miami. It is a handy place to stop because it is on the northern edge of what I’ve come to refer to as “the great rest-stop desert.” It has nice restrooms with signs on the wall that remind you to wash your hands to prevent spreading Hepatitis A, and it sells various and assorted barbeque entrees I’ve never been quite brave enough to eat in spite of those signs.
Though I can’t say I’ve memorized much Shakespeare, I do remember what he said about discretion and valor, so I make it a hard-and-fast rule never to eat food cooked at gas station when I am still four hours from a friendly toilet. Whatever pleasures gas station barbeque might afford are not worth the risk of dying in paroxysms of agony along the side of the road, at least in my opinion.
Rather than run that risk, I have my family wait another hour-and-a-half to eat in the Port of Catoosa. This is an honest-to-goodness seaport that is a hard day’s drive from the ocean. As I understand the history of it, its existence is due to the efforts of United States Senator Robert S. Kerr back in the good-old-days before “pork” became a four-letter-word, if you know what I mean. Say what you will, but when you’ve got a Senator who brings home a seaport to a completely landlocked state, then you can believe you are getting your money’s worth.
This time, as I took the first exit from Interstate 44 after having left the turnpike, my family was treated to a seeing billboard-sized TV that was proclaiming the joys of Cherokee Casino Gambling. I had been vaguely aware of such things going on down in the Nations, but this was the first time I had seen it proclaimed with Vegas-style glitz. It made we wonder if this new pride was due to the recent state questions passed by the voters of Oklahoma concerning the issue of gambling.
I only get this sort of information through an eye-dropper from my brother, and he is rather selective in what he chooses to tell me. However, right after the election he said that some of the people from his church had taken up a collection to contribute to the anti-gambling cause but had never gotten around to actually giving it to the folks who could spend it to defeat the proposal. After the issue to allow gambling was decided in the affirmative, there was the question about what to do with this money. While I don’t know what the final decision was, I did hear someone made the suggestion maybe they should buy some lottery tickets with it.
We made it past the Casino’s and on to Momma’s without adventure and had our Thanksgiving in safety there.
The day after Thanksgiving, we all took a trip up to Norman to visit a museum. On the way there, we went through the town of Slaughterville. You may remember me having mentioned Slaughterville in this space previously. On that occasion, the good folks of PETA had offered the folks in Slaughterville $20,000 in veggie burgers to change their name to Veggieville. As I was driving through the town, I noticed the only thriving business there is a place called “Big Belly Barbeque.” I’m thinking the folks from PETA had never actually visited this town or maybe they had and knew their veggie burgers were safe. On the other hand, veggie burgers are safe pert near anywhere.
We went on to visit a world-class natural history museum in Norman. It’s very good and lends credence to the rumor there is an institution of higher learning in Norman, whose name I can’t seem to recall now. The museum docents are very friendly and told us about the Clovis culture, the Folsom culture, the Mound-builder culture, and all of the other many indigenous peoples who’ve crossed Oklahoma in their day. Seeing that and learning the world’s largest allosaurus was found in Oklahoma kind of made me proud. The allosaurus is dead, by the way.
Afterward my brother introduced us to a restaurant chain called “Johnny Carino’s,” which specializes in “Country Style” Italian food.
Now, if you are a cosmopolitan individual, or even if you aren’t running for your dictionary right now to see what cosmopolitan means, you might believe this was a restaurant that specialized in Italian peasant cuisine.
What we have at Johnny Carino’s is a marrying of Italian food to southwestern culture. I shuddered in horror when my brother ordered Italian nachos, but I shuddered in delight when I tasted them. My brother, who is undergoing the rigorous process involved in becoming a Southern Baptist deacon, is now using all of his missionary zeal evangelizing this place. “Say ‘hallelujah’ brother and pass the antipasto!”
We said our goodbyes in the Johnny Carino’s parking lot and made our way out of the nations and on home.
(Bobby Winters is a professor of mathematics, writer, and speaker. You may contact him at bobby@okieinexile.com or visit his website at at www.okieinexile.com.)