April 2007 Column Winner

Maybe we do need an alien

By David Gerard, Muskogee Phoenix

Muskogee needs an alien.
I vacationed in New Mexico the week before last, and Roswell's downtown prospers because of an alien.
I don't know that positively - I was there only a couple of days - maybe they've done other things right, but it seemed the alien made the difference.
Roswell's downtown was bustling, with the UFO Museum and Research Center smack dab in the middle.
If an alien had visited Muskogee, we, too, might have a bustling downtown and city.
What sort of supernatural luck or providence rocketed past us and landed on Roswell in 1947?
I guess we could make up an alien. But you can't just make up an alien. It has to be the real thing. People can see through a phony alien.
Roswell's got the real thing, substantiated by many Roswellians and documented in its busy museum.
It's not even that great a museum. The walls are lined with too much small print - newspaper pages, government documents and testimonials. It's tedious, without the pizzazz an alien should offer. Most visitors, like me, zipped through, but the place was full at $5 a pop.
Yet the guy at the counter had a sense of humor. He had a British accent, so I said to him, "You aren't from around these parts."
"Nope, I'm the alien," he said.
That's what we're lacking in Muskogee, a sense of humor - and an alien.
Our trademark - unfortunately - is an inane song "Okie from Muskogee." I get hate mail every time I write that, but it's true.
Merle Haggard - God bless his little outlaw country heart - was searching around for the name of a city that would complement "Okie," which, of course, we know is an uncomplimentary term.
Haggard said that. He said he wrote a song documenting "the uneducated that lived in America" in the late 1960s.
But many people here view the song as some sort of politically and culturally astute observation.
OK, so the song was cute, catchy. It also was abject humor.
That doesn't mean we can't capitalize off it. We need to play it for what it's worth, not try to give Okie a meaning it doesn't have.
So just as the Roswell Wal-Mart paints aliens and alien spacecraft on its storefront, ours should have an Okie - a cowboy flying by in a pickup, the cowboy spitting tobacco juice out the truck window, the pickup spewing trash out the truck's bed.
I'm sure that just as Roswell decorates its town with little green men, Muskogee could come up with an appealing Okie characterization, a Dogpatch-like female no smarter than a fifth-grader.
I can hear the complaints already, but visitors will soon discover that there is more to our town than Okies.
Roswell is more than aliens. The Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is outside Roswell, and within an hour's drive are two mountainous wilderness areas. Also east of town are the Bottomless Lakes, weird sinkholes along the Pecos River. The town is home to the New Mexico Military Institute and five museums, including a modern art museum. And Roswell has a symphony orchestra (Roswell is only a little larger than Muskogee, by the way).
Yes, visitors coming here to see real live Okies will discover there is more to us than trailers, dilapidated couches on porches, old cars up on blocks in front yards and chickens, goats and horses in the back.
There is more to us? Isn't there?
Maybe we do need an alien.