Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Crossing off more states

Earlier this year I made a bucket list. This is a group of things I want to accomplish in my lifetime. A few of these things have happened and a lot of these items are a work in progress. One specific work in progress is the 50 state challenge. My goal is to visit each of the 50 states. My goal is not to just be in the state, my goal is to spend a good amount of time in the state and experience it. It is difficult to define what "experiencing a state" means. I define it as getting an idea of the culture in the area and doing at least 1 thing that locals do. That could be eating a famous meal, spending time at a landmark, or going to a festival or event.

This year I was able to cross off Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma from my list. I actually had the opportunity to visit Texas twice this year, which is good because it is such a huge state and it is not fair to cross off the list by only visiting 1 city. I was able to go to San Antonio in April and Fort-Worth a few weeks ago in early December.

San Antonio was a lot of fun with a lot to do. I was at a conference so I was not sure how much time I would have to myself to explore the area. I was lucky that the conference I went to did not structure your entire day for you, so I got to spend a significant amount of time outside of the convention center. We were staying in a hotel right off of the River Walk area which is a downtown type area but has a lot of touristy type places. I had a chance to walk along the river and eat at a few of the very many restaurants that are located along the sides. If you are a fan of Tex-Mex food, San Antonio is the place to go. The hotel we were staying at is also right near the Alamo, which I was told would be a huge disappointment. If you enjoy history, the Alamo is a must stop.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to explore the city of Fort Worth. Fort Worth is a great surprise of a city. Dallas gets all of the glory which makes Fort Worth a hidden gem, so hidden that there was never a time where anything felt busy. No waits at restaurants, art galleries, or traffic. This was for a conference so I tried to take every scheduling break to take advantage of what the area offered. I went to AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys), stayed across the street from the Water Gardens (A small but very unique and visually appealing park of fountains and waterfalls), and spent a day downtown for shopping which turned into spending 2 hours at an art gallery. The cool thing about the gallery is that it features the art that was in the home of Sid Richardson (Oil Tycoon) who had 2 favorite artists (C.M. Russell & Frederic Remington) who focused on the wild west, which was still the wild west when they were painting in the late 1800's and very early 1900's. The best part of this trip was that once the conference ended, I stayed down there for a few more days and traveled north for a bit.

My dad flew down to meet me in Fort Worth in order to cross off another state from his list. We drove north on interstate 35 to go to Wichita Kansas. When we were in Wichita it was surprising to see how many bars there were. We stopped at the Museum of World Treasures which is located in an old town area. If you ever go to Wichita, I recommend staying here because you can spend all day just walking around and admiring the buildings and roads. It is all brick and reminds me of an old New England factory town except that the buildings are not run down. These buildings are still in great shape and are not struggling to find tenants. Later on in the night, my dad and I went to a sports bar to watch the college football games that would be deciding the playoffs. We had great seats at the bar which had 2 huge projection screens showing the games. around 8 pm both screens changed to a Wichita State basketball game which was a blow out. As frustrating as it was to miss the play off games (with the exception of the last 2 minutes of the Mich. St. vs Iowa game) it was great to see how much spirit the locals have for their college. The next day we drove down to the Arkansas River looking for something to do on a Sunday and stumbled across a Native American history park that was very cool. It is a small area at the gates of the actual Native American History Museum that has facts, music, and a statue at the center of it. It also happens to be at the intersection of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers which makes it only accessible by 2 walking bridges. We then went back to the old town area to have lunch at a brewery that we tried to get into the previous night. It was a great brewery in a building that was built in 1908. If you have a chance, look up River City Brewing Company. After lunch we headed south to Oklahoma.

Our first stop was the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. OSU is home to the largest student union in U.S. It is over 500,000 square feet. It was Sunday so no offices or stores/restaurants were open but it was still busy with students studying and getting homework done. We walked around campus a bit and saw a few greek houses and academic buildings. These buildings were gorgeous and surprisingly large. From there, we headed to Oklahoma City. Not the types of people to waste precious time, we went to Top Golf to hit the driving range. My dad is not a golfer but was able to hold his own after we got a bucket of beers and were able to have our own section where we immediately put on the football games. Then we headed to our hotel where we had about 12 minutes to enjoy happy hour before the shut down their free drinks and food. We met a fellow traveler who is from Virginia and spent about an hour talking to him. The next morning we had breakfast and headed to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and Museum.

The Memorial and Museum was a very moving experience. It was a truly horrific act of terrorism in an attempt to disrupt the U.S. Government. It was a message that the government needed to pay for the things that it did. This happened because of extreme beliefs. It is scary to think that people are starting to share extreme beliefs against other human beings now. People are having extreme beliefs against Muslims and Syrian refugees. Looking at the damage that was done at the Federal Building in OKC, this is something that these refugees see everyday in their home. It amazes me how quickly we forget that. It amazes me how quickly we can say that we are a diverse and welcoming country but then turn away people. I am also amazed that people say there is no racism but we are specifically turning away a specific type of person or people. The museum is a reminder that when tragedy happens, true Americans will help.

We left to go see the local stockyards. This is where cattle sales are held. When we got to Oklahoma I was not sure what to expect. OKC is a city and not much different than going to Manchester, NH or New Haven, CT. Going to Stockyard City (Neighborhood of OKC) I realized that this was my expectation of Oklahoma. It was not a trip back in time but a different way of living. Every store in the area had leather goods, cowboy hats, and boots. Every restaurant served steak (We stopped at a place voted the best steak in Oklahoma, Cattlemens), and apparently it is a dumb question to ask what fried pie is (Asked our waitress. It is a fruit pie that they fried). After that we went to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This was a very cool museum which highlighted artwork, sculptures, and movie paraphernalia that had to do with the west. They had statues and a replica town to show you what life was like in the west during the 17, 18, and early 1900's. That is a long time but not much changed building or fashion wise. The things that did change were the tools that were used. In some sense, a lot of the lifestyle in Oklahoma has not changed, just the technology.

After that we departed back to Fort-Worth with a quick stop at the University of Oklahoma. The campus was beautiful and had older buildings that reminded me of an Ivy League school. It was interesting to see the difference between OSU and OU even though they were both built in 1890. We stopped at an OU hotel and bar which had a ton of OU sports memorabilia. We stopped on the way to get a fried pie and then made our way back to Dallas- Fort Worth to head to the airport the next morning.

It was a great trip and I learned a lot. I ate great food and really got a sense of the culture. Now I need to start planning my next trip.