Having been raised in the Oklahoma Panhandle, one gains a firm belief in the quality of the people that live there. At times, the weather is harsh and if one is in the business of agriculture, everyone’s fortunes can hinge on the weather and its fickle notions.
The people there are generous and helpful, almost to a fault. I’ve known of one man who lived on a long lonely stretch of highway with not a gas station for over 60 miles. He always kept a 5-gallon can of gasoline out by his mailbox at the highway. When I asked him about it, he explained that he figured two things out with that gesture. He could be helpful to those who didn’t think to fill up when they should have and it also kept people from siphoning gas out of his vehicles.
For a long time, I used to explain to folks that the people in Oklahoma (as a whole) were friendly and helpful to a fault, especially when compared to the people of New York City. By that same measurement, the Panhandle people were more friendly and helpful than the downstate Oklahomans.
I have been to New York City once in my life. When I was serving in the Army and was traveling overseas to my foreign duty station, we did an overnight stay in NYC. Anyway, the pedestrian traffic almost drove me nuts. The people were like large groups of people walking together, based on the timing of traffic lights. One could be walking along in a space between crowds and be fine until they caught up with one.
It also seemed that they were all in a hurry and certainly weren’t friendly or caring at all of a stranger amongst them. I never gave it a thought that they were mostly strangers to themselves as well, even though many of them may have walked the streets towards busses and subways together on numerous occasions.
When the group of seven of us went to JFK airport to fly overseas, we couldn’t find seven seats together. There were lots of empty seats, but usually only with two or three seats before there were 2 or three sitting together. Looking around, I could see nothing in our boarding area and we still had hours to go before departure. So, I just plopped my duffle bag in the middle of the floor, out of the way of traffic in the concourse, and sat down on it. The others followed suit and we were our own little world in the center of a mass of seemingly unfriendly people.
Following that experience, I had always felt that the New Yorkers were just aloof and unfriendly. After the 1993 bombing of the World trade center, I began to see some of the people as being real and those that were suffering really tugged at me. However, I figured it was just a situational thing and that as soon as things “got back to normal” the people would get back to normal.
Then came April 19, 1995 and the still morning of Oklahoma City being shattered with the sound of an explosion tearing apart the Murrah Federal building and the eventual killing of 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6 years old.
To this day, I remember the image of firefighter Chris Fields carrying out the small dying body of little Baylee Almon. It was an image that touched a nation, seeing that little girl so helpless to what had happened. If I remember correctly, it was a lot of civilians who first responded to the emergency, being as they were already in the area. Little Baylee Almon was handed to the fireman because it was thought that a trained rescuer could better help the little girl. She died later in the hospital.
(Photo taken by Charles Porter.)
As the rescue efforts began and operated for about two weeks in the “Rescue” operation, all the workers at the scene would have to do is say that there was a need for a particular product, such as gloves, knee pads, foot pads for the search dogs, or whatever else may be needed. The citizens of Oklahoma City would then head to the stores and buy what was needed. It was very uplifting to see one’s fellow citizens responding to even the smallest of requests with such fervor.
At the time, I was worked for a major car rental company, whose reservations office was in Oklahoma City. I remember a call from a potential customer who was enquiring about a car rental somewhere. She asked me about my accent and where it was that I lived.
After I told her, she told me of the story that she worked in one of the World Trade Center buildings and that after the Oklahoma City bombing, the workers in those buildings made up huge cards that a lot of the WTC employees were signing to send to Oklahoma City. At that moment, I had a whole new attitude towards people from other parts of the country, especially for those in the World Trade Towers in New York City.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we, as Oklahomans, got to reach out to them in their time of horror and grief. Ever since that day, we two cities are linked. One citizen of New York, known locally as “Hard Hat Andy,” has even commented that our two cities share a bond that will be hard to break. It is my hope that the citizens of New York will forgive me for my previous bad comments about them.
Rescue teams and others from all around the country came to try to help during the rescue and recovery period after the Murrah Building bombing. I remember one team of rescuers that scrawled a message on a wall in the area of the building. They were a part of the Oklahoma Bomb Disposal Unit. I think that section of wall has now been cut out and placed in the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. (I don’t know for sure, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to go it.)
That message from Rescue Team 5 has a meaning for the disaster sites of both New York City and Oklahoma City. It certainly speaks to the idea that if the blood of Cain’s brother Abel cried out to God, then all the innocent lives of the destruction in two cities must also cry out.