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A day in OK city


Once into Oklahoma City, I wasted no time in securing an advance ticket to Kansas City. In essence, OK City didn’t feel like a city in any respect, in spite of its size. Haunted by tragedy, a bomb-blast had ripped apart the Murrah Building in the city centre on April 19, 1995, killing one hundred and sixty-eight people, nineteen children included. In its place, a divine memorial plaza moved me to tears, two pillars — separated by a shallow pool of water — anchoring the layout. The pool bore much in common with D.C.’s Reflecting Pool, conceived and constructed along similar lines, provoking all visitors to meditate on life’s brevity. There was also a garden, The Field of Empty Chairs, within which stood a strategically placed chair for every person who had died, such chairs arranged in nine rows, indicative of the floor number upon which they’d worked. Across the road, a whitewashed statue of Jesus appeared bereft. It was accompanied by the heartbreaking inscription, “And Jesus Wept.”

Empty chair memorial, Oklahoma City

I prayed for an hour, entranced by a chain-link fence swaying in the breeze, smothered by poems and photos borne out of OK City’s longest, hardest, darkest day. Solemn visitors flooded the plaza, tossing coins into the pool, adding to the hundreds already submerged. A few visitors were relatives of a young woman killed in the blast. They lived nearby, paying their respects at the same time each evening.

I paced away, my mind racing, contemplating the preciousness of life, staggered by the manner in which death can rudely intervene at any time. I counted my blessings, awestruck by the city’s ability to cope, to function in the aftermath of such a monumental tragedy, its most disparate communities having strengthened their bonds with one another, shared grief the most potent of binding agents.

I couldn’t help but wonder why that building in particular had been targeted. Incredibly, it had stood between two churches, both of which survived practically unscathed. Who knows which way The Man Upstairs was looking that day. Does God ever close his eyes? Further along Robinson Avenue, a back-to-back run of churches culminated with the Renaissance-styled Old First Christian Church. Complete with a grand dome, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in Florence.

Nearby, a building had been transformed into a museum thematically focused on the blast’s fallout, its long-term impact. Out front stood a colourful array of tiles, hand-painted by local children. One of them reciprocally asked the simplest yet most poignant question breathable: Can’t we all just get along? Yards away, the outright indignation felt by those most closely affected by the blast had been distilled into words. Sprayed on a wall by a member of a Search & Rescue team, the message for whoever read: “We search for the truth. We seek Justice. The courts require it. The victims cry for it. And God demands it.” But can justice ever be reaped when the crime against humanity is so heinous?

Oklahoma streetview upwards

Signs for Bricktown constantly assaulted my vision wherever I roamed. Intrigued, I followed one such sign beneath a railway line to emerge in a relative Shangri-La of an area packed with bars and posh restaurants. Finally, I’d discovered where everybody had been hiding. They were there, living it up in what appeared to be OK City’s primary Entertainment District, a multiplex cinema, the city’s baseball stadium and an attractive canal (upon which short “twilight cruises” could be enjoyed) within walking distance. Beside the water, a huge amount of condos were in the throes of being erected. According to a boatman, sixty percent of them had been bought before the foundations had even been dug. Privy to the attraction of the district, I jingled my pockets, wondering how much a two-bed suite might cost.

In step with the falling darkness, I trekked past the botanical gardens, pausing at a pizzeria to pick up a Meat Feast 12-incher for $6.50, reluctantly breaking into my fast-dwindling notes. So hungry was I that I initially warded off the waifs lured by the scent. Five slices in, I was stuffed, the table turning as I tried to find somebody to whom I could donate the rest of my pizza, my colourblind eyes cursing my stomach with every laboured step.

060116shutterstock_206750314 (2)As I waited for my bus, a twenty-something guy leapt out of nowhere, sprinting for his life towards the gardens, only for a police cruiser to cut him up. A lone cop shot out, arresting the man following a short chase fuelled by angry shouts from both parties, both men resenting the act of running, despite the temporary necessity. The Hunted had allegedly stumbled through the terminal a short while earlier, vying to offload cocaine to passengers with young children, a Greyhound employee having executed the essential 911 call.

Hankering after a souvenir to commemorate my sojourn, I spotted a dusty carousel of postcards inside the terminal, decisively selecting an edge-curled corker depicting the city’s scintillating skyline. Expecting a swift transaction at the cash-desk, I was unwittingly serenaded by the middle-aged counter assistant. ‘Well, well, well, young man… today’s a momentous day!’ he announced. ‘Oh? For the nation or city?’ I tentatively queried, suspecting it to be so many decades to the day since the city had been founded as part of the first Oklahoma Territory Land Rush. ‘It’s momentous neither for the country nor city, but specifically for our terminal,’ he cryptically elaborated. The twisted smile flashing my way did little to curb my blossoming confusion. Surely I couldn’t have been the first Englishman to stop by? I told him as much. ‘You’re close,’ he teased, going on to reveal that I was the first person to have bought a postcard in all the years he’d worked there. ‘Amazing, eh?’ he chuckled, his stubble-pitted face cracking into a smile as I offered him the required thirty cents. ‘And you can put your money back where it belongs!’ he jovially fumed. ‘I mean, if a fella who ain’t from around these parts shows an interest in our city, he shouldn’t have to pay for the pleasure, so the card’s on me. You have yourself a nice trip now.’ I didn’t mind if I did.

For more information about Steve Rudd, visit www.steverudd.co.uk or “Follow” him on Twitter @ruddontheroad. Pictures courtesy of Shutterstock.

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