OOOOOOOOOklahoma: THEN.

When my boss at McBee Systems in Denver told me I was being promoted from sales rep to district manager, I was surprised. McBee never promoted anyone with less than five years of experience. But it was scary because Rich couldn’t tell me the district I was being offered — only the regional manager could give me that information when I met with him — in St. Louis — the next day. It didn’t matter, really. As much as I loved Denver, I was a single mom and had to do what was best for myself and Abbi.

In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d won my class award by over two months’ production, had won a trip to Tahoe my first year and won their Crest award both years. I was always in the top 10 reps in the country, so maybe it wasn’t a reach.  What was a “reach” was the glares I got from three other people in the office who had worked for the company longer than I had who were not offered promotions — ever.

It was late December of ’87. Really late. My interview was December 30. I was lucky to get a plane ticket on short notice, but got the return as open ended because I had no idea how long I’d be there. I was lucky to make it home the same day.

The regional manager was waiting for me when I got off the plane and we settled down in the Delta Priority lounge with a Coke for me and coffee for him. “It’s Oklahoma City, ” he said. Hmmmmm. I knew that if you folded the US map into a four-sided square, Oklahoma was smack dab in the middle but beyond that, didn’t have a clue. He told me the pay, that he felt good about hiring a woman to replace a female manager, that they would buy me out of my lease in Denver, pay all my relocation expenses including utility deposits, closing fees on a house and even the fees to get a drivers’ license and register my car. I’d stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks until I could get settled. Oh, and I’d start on the 8th. WHAT? Holy crap, Bat Man

I called my ex in Omaha where Abbi was staying for the holidays and asked if he could keep her for another week. No way I could pull this off with a 6-year old tagging along.

Long story short, within three weeks, I’d bought a house, had Abbi enrolled in a private school, and had started my new life.

That’s when things got interesting. One woman in the office was beyond ticked that she hadn’t been promoted, even though she’d never approached her quota and had never won a corporate award of any kind. She immediately asked for a transfer to Dallas, and it was granted. Tulsa was no longer covered. The past manager came in (hers was a medical situation and she left on good terms) and told me I couldn’t find a better secretary than the lady she called “Radar” because she anticipated everything Riqui needed before she needed it. She knew all the clients well, had good relationships with our referral bases, and could be a great asset.  Of course, I wasn’t going to start from scratch, so she stayed.    It was only when I got back to Denver that I looked at our monthly newsletter and found that Oklahoma had been scratching to get to the bottom of the pit for years. The district had never been successful. In looking at that report from a different perspective, I also realized that all the female managers were in Level 4 or 5 districts — the lowest, smallest, with the least chance at a great income. And most of them had been in the same spot since their promotion. Dallas was the largest female-managed office. It didn’t matter — I’d find a way to use it as a stepping stone. I’d been a star before, and I’d be one again. And I was; winning more awards than any other female except one in the nation.

Just what I needed. A 6-year old who had endured 9 moves in 7 years and refused to make friends because as soon as she got close to someone, one of them got transferred. A district that barely existed. No reps. Didn’t know a soul in town. And the movers had broken or lost half of my belongings. The first thing I did was join a singles networking group — kill two birds with one stone.

The first thing that hit me, literally, was the weather. I drove from Denver to Oklahoma City and parked my car in the hotel’s lot. The next morning it was gone. Covered in snow. Invisible. The hotel manager assured me “we don’t have weather like this.” Bull. It was like that all winter. And summers. That first summer was the first time I could remember when I got a haircut shorter than shoulder length. Zero’s were the norm in winter, and 100+ temps were the norm in summer. And of course, there was tornado season from March through at least the end of May. That was always fun.

Both airports, Will Rogers World Airport and Wiley Post are named for men who died in plane crashes. That was disconcerting. And there were no direct flights to anywhere but Dallas.

It was about a month before the real surprises started.  I met the group for cocktails one night. The first thing one of the ladies said was, “Take off your glasses, honey. You don’t want them to know you can read.”  I didn’t. Figured the first time I spouted a four- or five-syllable word, they’d figure it out.

Then, I was asked on a date. He was a good old boy — jeans, hat, belt buckle, boots, big-old-tricked-out-truck. I didn’t realize he was wealthy until I noticed that his Cartier watch was surrounded by diamonds. This guy made money just walking around. He still amazes me. 

We had a great first date — two-stepping lessons, a nice dinner, great conversation, lots of laughs, and I was excited about having someone to talk to in the future…..until the end of the date that first night when he drove me home. As he was opening the front door to my new home, assuming he’d be joining me for the night,  he asked me, “So, have you ever been with a guy with a really long dick?” WHAT? Are you freaking kidding me?  In spite of that, (No, he wasn’t invited in) we dated for awhile. About four months. Then, one day he informed me he couldn’t date me anymore. I was a little surprised and asked why. His response was that he “didn’t know how to date someone who didn’t need his money.”  I told him how sad it was that he saw himself as only a wallet.

The second person I dated didn’t see my house for some time. We met for cocktails or early dinners — times when Abbi was either in school or spending the night with one of her new schoolmates. Again, I held off on any intimacy because I didn’t want to add any more stress to Abbi’s life than she was already going through. Then, I finally invited him to pick me up at my house for our next date.

He came all the way to Mustang (my new house was in a no-man’s land. We were in the Mustang School System, had Oklahoma City services, which meant an emergency call could take up to two hours for a response, and had a Yukon address.)

He drove by the country club at the entrance to the development, past the lovely golf-course homes, and to mine. He got out of the car and immediately said, “I can’t date you.”  This was getting old. When asked why, his response was, “You make more than I do.” Once again, are you kidding me? With more money, you just buy a bigger boat.

The third had no problem with me having a good job with a nice income and didn’t even care I lived by the country club.  He wanted to get married right away and merge our checking accounts. Of course, he’d manage the finances. That was man’s work.

What the f–k had I gotten myself into?

The work front wasn’t much better. Bank presidents wouldn’t see me because I was a woman. When we set up booths at CPA association, Bankers conferences or other seminars, the attendees automatically assumed that my 23-year old sales rep with way too much Delta Chi in him was my boss.

It took a full two years to break down those walls.

The job that was so easy in Denver was back-breaking in Oklahoma City. I’d drop Abbi off at school at about 6:30 a.m., head straight for the office, and pick her up at the latest time possible, 6:00 p.m.  I’d given up the dating front and enjoyed hanging out with the professional singles group. They gave me my own bi-line, AnnAlogies, in the Single Life Newspaper. It was a good support group — but the “professionals” weren’t really – at least the women weren’t. Most were secretaries, low-level bank managers, office managers, etc. There weren’t many women in real professional jobs in Oklahoma City in l988.

The day I caught Abbi walking across the edge of the bathtub, we got in the car and I drove her to 10th & Reno, where she was enrolled in beginner’s gymnastics lessons. It was a stroke of luck that the closest facility was Dynamo — home of Shannon Miller, and her coaches, Steve Nunno and Peggy Liddick. Peggy is now coach of the Australian national gymnastics team. Abbi needed no-nonsence, goal-oriented direction and an outlet for her frustrations, and gymnastics filled the bill. In no time, she was on the Intra-Mural team and then the Level 5. It wasn’t long before we were spending entire weekends at gymnastics meets; usually one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

In spite of the fact that Oklahoma still wanted their women barefoot & pregnant, or at least in lower-level positions, we were carving out a good (but dateless) life.

Culturally, it was challenging. The Waterford Hotel had a great band that played on weekends, The Burton Band. A club on the west side of town close to my house played great rock and roll music, and I spent more than one night dancing the night away (the owner found Jesus and turned it into a church in ‘about 93). The first time I took Abbi to the ballet — Swan Lake — it was performed to canned music. I kept expecting to hear it skip and see what the dancers would do.  No opera company. The civic theater was kind of a “if you’re not from here, you’re not invited to join” crew, no civic chorus to join….The Paseo district had nice cafes and gallaries, and that was a breathe of fresh air. And every April, there’s a week-long arts festival. My office made it a practice to close the down for a day of bonding, looking at cool art and eating carnival food on the company dime. 

When we later had to choose between private school and Abbi’s gymnastics and enrolled her at Mustang North Middle School, of course, she tried out for cheerleader. She didn’t make it. We were informed later that though hers was the highest score, she wasn’t “really’ from Mustang.

We found that, though the people were “friendly,” they didn’t become “friends” easily.

The strangest phenomenon was that no one left the state. Even for vacations. They were spent at either Lake Eufaula, Grand Lake or Texoma. If they were really desparate, Thunderbird. We used to take kids from Abbi’s class to gymnastics meets so they could say they’d been out of the state. Abbi was the only one who had ever been out of the country.  They didn’t even go away to college — pick one: OU/OSU/UCO. Or a junior college and transfer to one of the Big 3 after two years.

Over the 18+ years we were in Oklahoma, several things changed — some for the better, some, not so much.

OKC brought in an A-ranked Arena Football Team, The Wranglers, and Abbi made the dance squad. She had great opportunities here she wouldn’t have had anywhere else — Became a nationally-ranked cheerleader and dance squad girl, won numerous national championships in both cheer and dance, as well as at least a dozen All-American awards during junior high and high school. Her collegiate dance team was NDA National Champion in 2003, and since her scholarship eligibility was up with dance, she switched to co-ed cheer and the team won NCA National Champion in 2004. They also were the National Champion Academic Team. She coached several nationally-ranked squads and was paid $1600 to choreograph 3-minute dance or cheer routines. Without that background, she never would have been recruited to start the cheerleading program at California Baptist.

She got a great education at University of Central Oklahoma, and we both made friends there who will be be ours for life.

But the town had no personality. No identity. It was kind of a cow town. And they started removing everything tha gave it personality — like the fun bridge over Western Avenue that people had painted on for generations. It was a tradition to post game scores, wedding proposals, birth announcements, Fred (hearts) Dinah on the bridge, and it had been painted over so many times there was no way to remove it. It was a city treasure. And then, it was gone.

And then 9/11 happened. For the longest time, we were only known for the bombing. That’s a day I’ll never forget……one of those times like, “Do you remember the day JFK was killed?” Of course. We now had an identity; one founded in a disaster.

Having said that, after being here a month in 100+ degree temperatures, I’m thinking of staying…..and tomorrow, I’ll tell you how the city has changed and why I may be putting down roots again. As you know, my life never turns out quite the way I anticipate. I kinda like it that way. If you’re not moving, you’re not getting anywhere.

So, until tomorrow, Be careful out there.