Adventure Guy’s first job out of college was completing a management development program with Conoco. The program provided excellent training and was recognized throughout the industry. The only problem? It was located in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the original company headquarters. The good news was that he would spend one year completing the program and then be transferred into Houston, the current company headquarters. I was finishing college at the time, so our plan was to marry after I graduated and he was transferred. I would find a teaching job in Houston, and all would be well.
You may have guessed already that things did not work out exactly as planned. Only a few weeks before our June wedding, the director of Adventure Guy’s division determined that it would make more sense for Adventure Guy to stay in Ponca City to complete his first independent engineering project, which was based in Wichita Falls, Texas, a city closer to Ponca City than Houston. All of the sudden, instead of moving to Houston, I was headed for Ponca City, which has a population of around 30,000 people but feels much smaller. Did I mention I wasn’t certified to teach in Oklahoma? I’ve always told Adventure Guy that my willingness to follow him to Ponca City must forever prove my dedication to him and our marriage.
While the location was not ideal, the circumstances we found ourselves in led to real bonding with the other MDP trainees, all of whom were young, recent college graduates. We hung out together in bad bars, roadtripped to the nearby college town of Stillwater, and spent hours enjoying ourselves on beautiful Kaw Lake. I worked as a legal secretary for a local law firm and made more money than I would have as a first-year teacher in Oklahoma at that time.
Nine months later we were indeed transferred into Houston. The best part about it was that all our friends were going with us, all the Conoco employees having finished up their first projects. We are still close to a number of these people as well as to several who joined us in Houston, having completed the MDP in Denver, Atlanta, or Lake Charles. We enjoyed life in the big city, buying our first houses, eating in decent restaurants, and eventually beginning families. Little by little, people were either transferred back out into the field or chose to leave the company for other opportunities. And suddenly, it’s been 17 years since we were all living back in Ponca.
About a year ago, Adventure Guy’s boss from Conoco decided it would be fun to have a reunion of the people who were in Ponca City during the two years she spent there. She single-handedly pulled off the get together that took place this weekend. People arrived from multiple states to converge on the company party room for barbecue and catching up with each others’ lives. It was fun to hear about who was still working for the company and what had happened to those who had left. Several people had brought old pictures, and it was amazing how little the group had changed. Adventure Guy and I got to spend most of our time with another couple we’d lived near in Houston and have kept up with but not seen in a number of years.
The town itself has, unfortunately, not changed for the better. Since our move, Conoco merged with Phillips, and most of the Oklahoma managerial positions were moved to Bartlesville, the Phillips headquarters. The shift in demographics is obvious, and the town has the feel of one that is in decline. At one point, as I stood outside a convenience store looking at the desolate landscape, I turned to our friend and said, “We actually used to live here. Can you believe it?” He replied, “I just try not to think about it.” Though I haven’t thought about our life in Ponca City for a long time, the thing I know I’ll never forget is the friends that we made during that time.