Taking the pulse of Tulsa

downtown_tulsa_ok.jpg  Clearly visible from the banks of the Arkansas River, punctuated by the archeological remnants of the oil and gas industry, we head into downtown Tulsa and an impressive skyline. It is seven p.m., a Friday night, still light out, the sun’s dim glow from the west palpable, and the entire area is devoid of people. The architecture is stunning, notably the Oklahoma Power Company, the Atlas Life neon, the Philcade, but all somewhat eerie when the streets are empty.I have an instinctive feeling that Tulsa is a rich town, in its history, its culture, and the embrace of the arts. But it does seem strange there is no visible gentrification or renaissance of the importance of a rowdier past. Think of bricktown in Oklahoma City, LoDo in Denver, the San Antonio canal, Bourbon Street, or Wrigleyville in Chicago. You deserve better; this is not a minor league city.  180px-atlaslifebuildingtulsa.jpg    Parched and thirsty, Jack and I end up in a runyanesque Irish bar, Arnie’s, on Second Street. Located adjacent to the Blue Dome, a landmark Gulf Oil gas station, Arnie’s may be in an environmentally contaminated zone, but what price ambience ?  Although this saloon had been cited the previous week by the health department for having a dog in the bar, we were welcomed like old friends. Me with a twenty ounce draft of Harp’s lager and a dish of cold water for the little terrier. Or maybe it was the other way around. In spite of local regulation, most dogs are cleaner than the patrons, and in Ireland, man’s best friend is welcome in every pub. Why not, then, side with Irish law ?        bluedome.jpg    In the days here, we met only friendly, gracious people at every turn. We even met two Okies from Muskogee, who, even though the refrain from the popular song says they are proud, weren’t quite sure what they were proud of. Another line from the same tune goes, ” we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo “. If you drive south and southeast of Tulsa and see the population growth, that seems self-evident.

Nearly everyone would ask us something like: This your first trip here ? Then solemnly, “how do you like it ? So far ?” Translation:’ do you think this is dullsville, backward, or as objectionable as everyone seems to think ?’ My answer to that is that I love it here. “You do ? Then welcome to Tulsa !”    

There seems to be a collective sense of self-condemnation. A systemic need to be apologetic for a non-existent inferiority complex. A lot like the Canadians, only with a southern drawl. You’re better than you think. You may park a vehicle in the front yard, but look, you’re not like Missouri where the cars on the lawn have no windshield, or Kentucky where the wheels are missing. You don’t hurry home at dinnertime because you’re afraid you’ll miss a telemarketing call.  

We’ll be back later to examine religious zealotry and its effect on building design, but for now, we gotta run.

My phone’s ringing.

Oat La Homa

We’ve been through Oklahoma before, but never stopped except to refuel…..in this, the birthplace of gasoline. Pointed southwest toward Tulsa, my dog, Jack, is dreaming of girls, squirrels, and something to eat. Stop one is the visitor center on the turnpike.

I’m welcomed warmly by the docent; a lovely, petite, silver-haired lady in her 80s, which also happens to be the temperature at nine AM. Offered free coffee, a map, any of hundreds of brochures, and a clean restroom, I turn down the coffee offer, the very reason I had to stop for the mensroom. After exiting the building, I hesitated, briefly, then returned.

“Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to have any dog biscuits, would you ?”, I asked politely.

Jack was outside just craving a munchie.

“No sir, all we can offer is free coffee”.

He doesn’t swear, drink coffee, or even smoke, the perfect tourist, I thought to myself.

“Wasn’t Will Rogers the native son of Oklahoma ?”, I inquired.

“Yessuh he is, right up the road, from Claremore, only about thirty miles, we have a wonderful home and museum, named the turnpike afta’ him, would you like a brochure ?” she replied without taking a single breath.

“No, no I would not. But in 1931 Will Rogers was asked to define a friend. With the familiar stroke of his chin, he drawled, ‘a friend is a man, who, before he invites you, asks your dog if he’d like to stay over….that’s a friend’. So maybe you should have some little dog treats”, I reminded her dryly.

“Well I’m sorry suh, we only have free coffee”.

Class dismissed.

You know you are in Tulsa when you realize the people on the frontage roads are driving faster than you are on the interstate. We settle into your average redneck trailer park, complete with speed bumps, barely a deterrent to the rugrats on skate boards. The residents are friendly, have most of their original teeth, an abundance of tattoos, and an infatuation with monster trucks and country music.

The next-door neighbor, armed with Coors Lite, admires our old Excella rig and asks me, ‘whatcha you call it’ ? I reply Suite Home Alabama, in an attempt to remain both adaptable and flexible south of the 37th parallel. He chuckles, offers me a cold one, and reminds me that the weather, as promised, is the world’s largest outdoor sauna. If they were to hold a “dry tee shirt” contest here, there would be no winner. Everything measurable is in the 90s, even some waistlines.

We’ll be back, weather permitting, in a few days, to taunt Tulsa.