#27 and #28: Florida and Oklahoma

This picture of Oklahoma’s welcome sign, taken when I entered the Sooner State on Interstate 44 back in September, has been sitting on my MacBook’s desktop forever. It’s time to post it — and write about visiting both Florida and Oklahoma for the first time last year.

One of my goals this year is to visit a state I have never been to before. It was an unofficial goal last year, too, and will likely be a yearly resolution until I have visited every US state. In 2015 I visited both Florida and Oklahoma for the first time and have been meaning to post my experiences and impressions — mostly so the Oklahoma welcome sign is accompanied by some text and no longer burning into my laptop screen.

I don’t feel like writing about Florida. There’s nothing I’m dying to say about the Sunshine State. Florida had no appeal to me before I flew to Miami in April for the annual conference and it has no appeal to me after visiting. (In general, the South has never interested me.) Wetting my feet in the Atlantic Ocean did fulfill a desire to do so, but other than that I did not care to do anything else while in Miami. It may be cool to go to Key West and visit Hemingway’s house, but I don’t see myself returning to Florida unless I have to. Been there, done that, and can now add it to the states I have visited.

I was eager to visit Oklahoma because, as Tone Lōc might say, it was a hole in a donut that needed to be filled. The Sooner State was bordered by states I had already visited and I was finally able to fill it in in September when I drove through it on my way to Texas.

Every state is unique and does things a little differently then others. Highway signs and markings, in particular, are things that can vary state-by-state. The differences are not huge, but each state has its own traditions and quirks. Spotting those differences is something I have always enjoyed. The differences, no doubt, say something about those who live there. I only drove through Oklahoma to and from Texas, so I can’t say my visit painted a vivid and comprehensive picture of the state and its people, but a couple things stood out:

• The speed limit is 75 on the state’s many turnpikes, so my foot rested heavier on the accelerator while cruising along Interstate 44. I’m not a speed demon, but I enjoyed it. Seventy-five is a nice, round number (though crooked as hell visually), and it seems to be around the international standard for freeway speed limits. I am a fan of adjusting speed limits to match the speed motorists drive and think 75–80 mph is an ideal range.

• Speaking of the speed limit, the speed limit signs along the turnpike featured a second sign that warned “NO TOLERANCE.” No tolerance for what? Speeding? Or perhaps something else…

• There were also “DO NOT DRIVE INTO SMOKE” signs along the turnpike. I had never seen those before. According to a Yahoo Answers forum, prairie fires are common in Oklahoma and the signs advise drivers not to drive into smoke because “visibility during a fire is almost nothing so you risk running off the road, getting stuck, hitting another vehicle or running right into the fire itself.”

• Along the road, I kept seeing cars with license plates I had never seen before. At first I thought they may be state-issued specialty plates, but upon closer inspection I saw they were Native American tribal nation plates. I did not realize many tribes register vehicles and issue their own license plates for use on public roads.

• Speaking of the tribal nations, there were also signs posted on the reservation borders like “ENTERING CHEROKEE NATION.”

• Interstate 44 was well-maintained and well worth the $2 toll. However, once I exited the turnpike at Big Cabin the condition of the roads worsened. I drove down US Highways 69 and 75 toward Denison and the ride was pretty rough. That surprised me, especially since I assume the winters in Oklahoma are much milder and do not subject the roads to as many freeze-thaw cycles. The freeway shoulders through the Lake Eufaula area were so littered with shredded rubber that I thought every piece of every blown tire in the world must be picked up and dumped there.

• Somewhere along US 69, probably in Muskogee, was the biggest Kum & Go station I have ever seen.

• Somewhere close to the Texas border, I passed a car dealership that was giving away a massive storm shelter with each vehicle purchase.

• Big Cabin is located in Craig County and signs mark the county line on US 69 in each direction. Instead of using all caps or capitalizing the first letter in each word, as one would expect from a county line sign, I am pretty sure both signs said “cRAIG cOUNTY.” Apparently, there is a shortage of capital C’s in Craig County.

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