Oklahoma: Red Dirt Rites of Passage

Oklahoma: Red Dirt Rites of Passage

By Elijah Hartley

If like me, you were born and raised in Central Oklahoma, or have lived here for a while, then you probably have encountered a few unique experiences that other people across the world cannot fully understand or appreciate. For example, if you know what a mesocyclone is and you are not a meteorologist, then you are probably from my neck of the woods. Regardless of how you feel about living in Oklahoma, these shared experiences should be a source of pride. These common experiences remind us that even though Oklahoman’s may not always agree on things like politics or the roundness of the earth, we can all agree on the weather.

We are all in this place together. We all suffer the same summer heat, we all watch the same funny/terrible car and furniture commercials, we all laugh at David Payne when he says funny stuff we don’tunderstand, and we all have lost our shorts in the wave pool at White Water. Just like distanttribes and villages, Oklahomans have our own set of strange customs and weird foods that make us unique. It is within this context that I want to highlight some of our red dirt rites of passage.

Throughout human history, the rite of passage has developed to signify a meaningful transition in a person's life. While the rite of passage can take many forms, it is usually a challenge, a quest, or an experience that makes a person stronger or wiser. It is a way to understand and appreciate your roots. It is a way to embed yourself into the cultural fabric that surrounds you.

In the U.S., common rites of passage include activities like getting a driver's license, going to prom and graduating high school. If you are religious, then you may get Baptized or have a Bar Mitzvah. For the most part, we should consider ourselves lucky because modern rites of passage in the West are mild compared to those of other cultures or older times. Depending on tribe or time, you could have been required to kill a lion with a spear, wear gloves filled with Bullet Ants, or spend many days in nature without food or water, alone.

It is hard to compare killing a lion with going to prom, even though I can imagine both require a good deal of footwork and probably a strong drink or two. Outside of that, I can say little to reconcile the two. What I can say, however, is that the modern world demands modern challenges. If you showed a lion-killing Maasai warrior the Silver Bullet roller coaster at Frontier City and explained to him that you would go upside down and there is a decent chance it will stop working, with you on it, I would like to think he would be as reluctant as I am about lions.

With that in mind, I have put together a few rites of passage that are unique to the Oklahoma landscape, enjoy.

Tornados - Everyone in Oklahoma has a tornado story. If you have lived here long enough, you have heard sirens and have probably seen a tornado first hand. Most Oklahomans are amateur meteorologists just by virtue of living here, and most of us handle the threat of tornados with a cool bravado that is not found outside of the Great Plains.


The Oklahoma State Fair - Navigating a maze of heckling carnies or trusting your life on some questionable machinery takes courage. Sure, every state has a fair, but the Oklahoma State Fair is an extra special blend of carnies, corn dogs, and crazy.

 Braums and Sonic –It’s a bummer that Oklahoma doesn’t have an In and Out Burger, but the fast-food gods compromised and gave us Braum's and Sonic instead. I met an ice cream connoisseur in California once who paid $40 bucks to have a half gallon of Braum’s mint chocolate chip shipped to his house. We always want what we don't have. Just like the Braum’s banana split, the Route 44 cherry limeade was a staple of my childhood. In high school, Sonic was a universal meeting point, a place to regroup and replenish.

 The Omniplex - That’s right, the OMNIPLEX! Some may now know it as Science Museum or whatever, but for me, it will forever be The Omniplex. It was probably the same planet changing Pluto haters who changed this thing too. If you were like me, you had to go here as akid, and it was probably one of the best days of your elementary school life, period.

 Double Park Season Pass - I spent a lot of hot summers at Frontier City and White Water. On a slow day, my friends and I would just stay on the Diamondback until we were sick or float the lazy river looking for money. Our parents would drop us off for the entire day with $5 bucks and pick us up at dark. Since 5 dollars isn’t enough for anything at either of these places, we had to look for lost money just to stay alive.

 Falls Creek - People I talk to tend to have a love/hate relationship with Falls Creek as adults. Spending a week in the beautiful Arbuckle’s doing camp stuff and flirting with the opposite sex is a fun experience. On the other hand, strict rules and going to church six times a day is not for everyone. Love it or hate it, if you go to Falls Creek, you will remember it for the rest of your life (and maybe the afterlife too).  

 Crybaby Bridge - There are many variations on this urban legend, but they are all essentially the same. There is an abandoned bridge in the country that was the scene of a horrific car accident or suicide involving a mother and her baby. If you visit this bridge alone or at night you can hear the ghost of the baby crying. I grew up in Moore, and our Crybaby Bridge was on SE 119th St, where it dead ends east of Kitchen Lake.

 Texas Tattoos - This one may only appeal to the 30+ crowd who came of age when tattoos were still illegal in Oklahoma. This pilgrimage was made by many people in my generation, (including myself). This journey was usually done last minute, late at night and to Gainesville. No Ragrets.

The Ballrooms - If you like live music, then chances are you have been to Cain’s or Diamond Ballroom. Driving to Tulsa to see a show at Cain’s with a car full of friends was always a fun experience. We would listen to the album of whatever band we were going to see on the way and have ample time to get pumped. It’s been my experience that this pilgrimage takes practice and a dash of finesse if you want to do it well.

 Hilo Club – Consideringthe recent controversy with the above mentioned Braums, I figured I would add the Hilo to this list. The first time I went to the Hilo also happened to be my first experience going to a drag show. Being a young, straight man, I was pretty naïve to LGBT culture at the time. After that night, (which also involved some Lunchbox’s at Edna’s), I learned how amazing and fun cultures other than my own can be. I learned that Oklahoma is full of interesting and diverse people and I learned that I should not try to climb weird buildings after a night of drinking. Drag show or not, the Hilo is a cozy little dive that has been the beginning and end ofcountless OKC adventures.


 I know this list is far from complete and there are many more rites of passage I could add, but I’ll leave at ten for now. Tell me if you agree, disagree or want to share your favorite rites of passage, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.