"Where are you from?" Oklahomans invade Las Vegas

by Jordan Green

Where are you from? When my family and I give folks a warm Oklahoma “Howdy” on our journeys, that’s the first question we’re asked. It’s the twang.

We have drawn-out vowels and soft consonants. Especially when we say “Y’all.” Spectators might also find something unique about our wide Okie smiles, prominently displayed where masks are not required. Something about the way my family and I talk and act (and maybe even smell) just seems to blare: “We’re from Oklahoma!” And no matter where we go, we seem to run into other people who are, too. Or at least folks who are genuinely curious about what we do here.

And what we don’t do. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Las Vegas.

My sister graduated from high school in May (Congrats again, Sis!), and so my family and I took her to Sin City to celebrate. It was her request. What else can you expect from a soon-to-be college student?

Our first night in the desert, we stopped at a Walgreens near our hotel to pick up some snacks we’d want to eat in our rooms. We moseyed up to the counter, plopped the snacks down and extended that hearty Okie welcome we love so much. The man behind the counter almost seized with excitement when he heard us speak. Ecstatic, his eyes opened wide and fixated on us. “I like your accents,” he said. “Where are you from?”

We proudly proclaimed that we’re from the Sooner State. He began asking a line of questions. I still remember the confused look he had as he stared at my ball cap. The black-and-white hat had an outline of the state on it. He stuck his hand across the counter, extended his index finger, pointed toward the portion of the state we call the Panhandle and asked, “What do you do over there?”

My sister replied that we do nothing there — and that, in reality, no one does anything there because there’s nothing to do. He didn’t quite understand her response. To add context, I told him the area is sparsely populated and nestled between two other states. He seemed to get it. As we left the store, I could practically see him glowing with excitement. Perhaps he thought he met some cowboys and cowgirls who rode into town on horseback.

I didn’t want to tell him any differently. I’d hate to burst his bubble. Several other folks in Vegas asked us that question about our geography during our stay. Even as we started our flight home, we found ourselves being quizzed again.

Always in a friendly way, though. As we boarded a plane at Denver to make our connection to Wichita, I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant. I greeted her and thanked her for her work. Lord knows flight attendants don’t have an easy job these days, dealing with rude, unruly and impatient travelers.

I’ve always figured that a simple greeting might just help someone have a better day. “Howdy!” I said.

She looked at my ballcap, and her eyes opened wide. “Where are you from in Oklahoma?” she asked. “Elk City?” For once, I was surprised. That was an uncommon and interesting guess.

My family’s from Sayre, just 15 minutes away. Then she told me her husband’s family is from Waynoka in northwest Oklahoma. I couldn’t help but smile. Waynoka is just down the road from Alva, where I go to college. I told her I’m a Northwestern Ranger.

“You have a beautiful campus,” she said. She heaped even more praise on the area, though I can’t explicitly remember all the niceties. After all, I was off duty without my reporter’s notebook.

As our plane sailed through the sky, passing through cotton candy-colored clouds, I thought of the folks I’ve gotten to meet through the years thanks, in part, to my western accent. If I talked any other way, I might not have been able to meet them.

Even though these encounters are typically fleeting, they’re still meaningful. That’s why I love being a newspaperman: Every day, I get to learn about and tell the stories of unique individuals, each of whom leaves a mark on my life in some way. I love asking people questions.

Questions help me meet new people who make life seem fresh and vibrant. Sometimes, those people turn the tables and question me. And before long, I feel like I’ve made a new friend. So, where are you from?