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JUST BACK FROM

SOMETIMES CITIES HAVE your number. For most of my life, Oklahoma City had mine.

It started with a baseball game. It was my first trip to The City (as folks in Oklahoma called it). I was 15 years old, and we were playing in a state-championship tournament. We were leading by three runs when a player from the other team dove for home late in the game. He landed on my shin guard (I was the catcher), broke his collarbone and had to be carted off by ambulance. The entire ballpark now blamed me, and their collective hatred willed the other team to a last-inning comeback victory. It was the last baseball game I ever played.

I chalked that up to one bad experience, but during the next 15 years, every time I had reason to be in The City — to pick up a friend who’d been in an accident; to bail my cousin out of jail; stopped for speeding; stuck there in an ice storm — it was a trying experience. Granted, all my fault, not OKC’s. But still.

I stopped going for a decade, convinced that ours was a doomed relationship.

For this trip, then, I decided I would go ninja. Sneak up on it. Enter under the cover of darkness. Perhaps if it didn’t see me coming, I could find the good times my friends tell me are to be had there.

Things did not start off well. I settled on the new (to me) downtown dining-and-entertainment district, Bricktown. I arrived late in the evening, sure that hotel space would be plentiful. Not so much. The first three hotels I visited were booked. Even the huge downtown Sheraton had only one room available. Bonus: I had an extra queen bed in my room for pillow-fort building and emergency napping.

My plans were again thrown out of kilter as I wandered down through Bricktown. Not that the area wasn’t pretty cool — lots of bars and restaurants, a few boutique shops, even a canal that runs through its center — but most places had already rolled up the carpets by 11 p.m. And I put money in the parking meters — even though I didn’t need to, as it turned out. So I went to bed hungrier and poorer than I was when I’d arrived. It was clear: OKC knew I was there. And it was mocking me.

Like any good travel ninja, I was going to put up a fight. The next day was spent taking in all the interesting touristy things downtown has to offer: the astonishing Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, honoring those lost in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building; the spectacular Myriad Botanical Gardens; the young stars of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, who won a hard-fought home game that evening.

A thoroughly fine day, to be sure. I was still wary, though. My long day’s journey into night was not yet over. As I lay in my second-bed pillow fort, flipping through the local weekly newspaper and plotting my late-night excursions (Bricktown comes alive late at night on the weekends), I spied what would be the ultimate test of whether I could truly have fun in The City: a Flaming Lips show. Next door to my hotel. That night. Starting within minutes.

Surely OKC would allow me a fun time there, I thought. The Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma City. Their live performances are legendary spectacles, full of dancing fans in costumes, extravagant productions and front man Wayne Coyne crowd-surfing across the audience in a giant inflatable plastic ball (shown above).

I ran next door, my heart full of hope. The convention center was teeming with fans. The first two I saw were wearing giant puppet costumes. The next two were dressed in authentic, detailed superhero costumes (the Flash and Green Lantern). If you don’t think this didn’t excite me even more, then you don’t know me.

It was as glorious as I could have imagined. Two hours of a trippy, rocktastic sound-and-light show, a communal hug from the 10,000 fans there and a few thousand balloons dropped on us at show’s end. It was like a birthday party for 40-somethings.

“I do believe all the cool people in Oklahoma City are here tonight,” Coyne announced. I think he was right. More important, it proved that the city I remembered, the angry one that threw bad karma at me, was long gone. In its place was a surprisingly youthful and sophisticated prairie town, one that, if it ever had my number, had clearly lost it.

The fact that the gate to the hotel’s parking garage wouldn’t let me exit and that the security guard and I kinda broke it trying to fix it and that it scraped my rental car real good — I’m choosing to call that unrelated happenstance.

Editor’s message: Yoshimi, they don’t believe me/but you won’t let those robots defeat me.