By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
It was a simple question. Direct and to the point, asked not to produce a thoughtful answer, but instead to elicit laughter.
On Wednesday night, Gary England, the recently retired TV weather legend who kept us advised about our state’s rapidly changing sky conditions for more than 40 years, appeared on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”
Naturally, the talk quickly turned to tornadoes, specifically the killer storms that devastated the state this past May.
It was then that Colbert asked the key question of the interview: “Why does anyone live in Oklahoma?”
“Well, that’s just occasionally,” was England’s answer, referring to the fact that, mercifully, tornadoes are far from a daily occurrence. The crowd laughed.
But that left the question unanswered. Why does anyone live in Oklahoma?
We do have volatile weather. Our springs are stormy, our summers usually blistering and our winters can be fraught with frigid temperatures, snow and ice.
Oklahoma also has more than its share of natural disasters, from severe storms, to wildfires, to earthquakes. We have yet to experience a tsunami, so that’s in our favor.
The question is infuriating because it implies we are defined by our weather. That’s only part of the puzzle.
There are roughly 3.8 million of us, based on the 2012 Census Bureau estimate, living in 1.67 million households.
The majority of those people are gems.
When disaster strikes, Oklahomans respond. In times of trouble, Oklahomans reach out. In times of need, Oklahomans care. That is, after all, the Oklahoma Standard.
And in the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy, Oklahomans stand strong.
In terms of charitable giving, Oklahoma is No. 11 in the country, with residents donating 5.6 percent of their income in 2012. Between 30.1 and 35 percent of us volunteered for something in 2012.
Our state is the 20th largest in the country, spanning 69,903 square miles, 24 percent of which is covered by forest. Of the rest, 1,224 square miles is covered by water, giving the state 11,611 miles of shoreline, more than the non-tidal coasts of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Oklahoma has four mountain ranges and more ecological regions per square mile than any other state.
Oklahomans are credited with inventing voice mail (Gordon Matthews, a Tulsa native), the personal computer (Edward Roberts, an Oklahoma State grad), the parking meter (Carl Magee), the yield sign (Clinton Riggs of Tulsa), the shopping cart (Sylvan Goldman) and the electric guitar (Beggs’ Bob Dunn).
Oklahoma gave birth to Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Bench, Garth Brooks, Ralph Ellison, James Garner, Chester Gould, Paul Harvey, Ron Howard, Tony Hillerman, Mickey Mantle, Jim Thorpe, Reba McIntire, Patti Page, Brad Pitt, and many more.
Oklahoma’s cost of living is low, No. 1 in the nation according to the 2013 ranking of the best states to live in, as compiled by CNBC. Between 2006 and 2010, the state’s gross domestic product grew by 10.6 percent, even in the midst of the great recession. That’s why CNBC rates us as No. 2 in terms of the cost of doing business.
The state’s unemployment rate is 5.3 percent, while the national rate is 7.4 percent.
Oklahoma boasts more miles of the original “Mother Road,” Route 66, than any other state. The road spans about 400 miles across Oklahoma.
And that’s not to mention football, or the Thunder, for that matter.
Not that we’re perfect, far from it. We rank far too low in overall health, too low in life expectancy, far too high in obesity, smoking and diabetes, far too low in teacher pay, way too high in unwed mothers and far too high in underage drinking.
But other states have their issues, as well. We could easily ask, “Why does anyone live in California?” with its sky-high cost of living, crazy traffic, crazier people and earthquakes, or “Why does anyone live in North Dakota?” with its harsh winters and miles and miles of miles and miles, or Texas, or New York, or any other state, for that matter.
So what’s the answer? What would you reply if someone asked you, “Why does anyone live in Oklahoma?”
I’ve got an answer. Because it’s home.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.