OOOOOOOOOklahoma: NOW

A lot of things have changed.

It still confuses me that things like the ice skating rink where Abbi trained for awhile and my JoAnn’s Fabrics are now antiuque and consignment stores. And there too many blocks of empty buildings — like on Western that used to be alive with “ma & pa” businesses.

My favorite consignment shop, Nearly New, isn’t as cool as it used to be. But maybe my style has changed after living in California for six years. The Keeshan Hound is still guarding the store, and there’s a cool sign on the door that says, “No Pets: There is a dog inside, but he works here.”

That’s where I used to go for some of my designer stuff for work — bought a beautiful, red Anne Klein suit that I adored and it was a great place to pick up last-minute cocktail dresses. They used to have a great, brand-name shoe collection. Now, if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s pedestrian. The purses are pretty much Coach and Brighton and I’m more a Louis and Fendi gal.

But the town itself has blossomed. It’s unfortunate that the turn-around from being “That city that had the bombing” to where it is now, was in many ways predicated by another disaster, Katrina. When the NOLA basketball team came here to play, they had better attendance than they did at home. But they promised to return to New Orleans, and did.

The NBA figured out that little-old-cow-town Oklahoma City really could support a major-league team, and we got the next franchise, The Oklahoma City Thunder. And boy do they get support. But the neat thing is that the coach takes all the new players to the bombing memorial and tells them, “this is what you’re playing for — a community — not just a team.” That’s paraphrased, but you get the drift. And if you listen to the players, they get it. It’s their home, not just a job. If you watch the games and hear “OKC. OKC.” over and over, you get it too. It’s not “The Lakers.” It’s not “The Jazz.” It’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. Period. End of story. And the seats are filled every single game. Have been since the first game. Until that stupid shooting, the jumbotron outside the stadium drew a couple thousand people who were content to stand and yell for their team even if they couldn’t get tickets. Heck. It might have been more fun.

Downtown and Bricktown have come alive. Downtown that used to SHUT down by 6pm now has trendy cafes and reasons to be there after dark. The beautiful old Skirvin Hotel, which (I believe) was once part of the old-time-prestigious Fontainbleau chain, is now renovated to its former glory.

Chesapeake Energy has taken over the town. The first time I drove down 63rd Street, it blew me away that Pearl’s restaurant and so many other businesses are now Chesapeake buildings. When I left, Chesapeake was in office space downtown.  

Bill and I lived in Hawaii, where the locals joked that the state bird was the towering crane. Now, that’s kind of true here. Chesapeake is totally rebuilding a whole section of the city. And that’s a good thing. Chesapeake Energy has been listed as one of the Top 100 businesses to work for five years running.

Oklahoma City is creating jobs. Or at least, Chesapeake Energy is creating jobs. So is Devin Energy.

It thrills me that many of Abbi’s friends have opened their own businesses. Chris Kennedy (half of the duo who were the sons I never had) now owns a thriving antique store. Meiki (we never called him John) opened a restaurant. His parents owned an Italian restaurant that always kept the kids fed and watered, and John carried on the tradition. Others have photography studios and retail shops. These kids are going to be leaders of their communies; along with those who are  already active in philanthropic and civic endeavors. They will change the world they live in. You’ve got to admit that’s cool.

A guy I dated way too long had a lifetime of unconventional jobs….trained pastry chef, semi-pro hockey player, lived in Mexico making a living hustling golf, and when I met him he was playing bridge for a living. A damned good one. That intrigued me because I had always squeezed myself into the corporate box. One day he told me to “do what you love to do and demand that life pay you to do it.” I didn’t know how, but pounded that wisdom into Abbi’s and all her friends’ heads while they were growing up. They followed that directive and have chosen to not let the corporate box do to them what I allowed it to do to me.  And the ones who have “gone corporate” haven’t let it define them. It took me much longer to figure out how to do what I loved to do and trust the universe to make it happen. But, better late than……right?

The flip side is that way too many new jobs are being created by restaurants and fast food chains. There are whole stretches of road with nothing but Carl’s Jr., Taco Mayo, Chick-Fil-A, — six or seven in a row. And there are as many new upscale restaurants as there are bars and churches. That’s a lot. 

 Unfortunately, there was a great biker bar on NW 63rd that had the very best burgers in town. It’s now…..wait for it…..a seafood and oyster bar. That’s just wrong.

I used to love to drive to Stillwater to get Hideaway Pizza because there was only one location. Now, the fun is gone. There’s one on Western in OKC. Granted, I still love the pizza. But the fun was the trip. Like when I lived in Omaha and we’d drive an hour to Lincoln for Valentino’s pizza, stand in line in the rain to get in, and buy a pizza for there and a half-baked one to take home. There’s something about not being able to get it just anywhere.

What hasn’t changed is the political climate. I’m pretty sure you’re not even allowed to be left-handed here.

On Turner Turnpike, coming westbound from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, there used to be a huge white billboard with “I Vote Democrat” in black script. Underneath it, someone had spray painted “My IQ is 12.”

Let me tell you how Republican Oklahoma is.

Mary Fallin, when she was lieutenant governor, was accused of having an affair with her state trooper/bodyguard. He was fired and had to sue to get his job back. She wasn’t chastized. Her husband was an official dirt-bag dentist who was accused of a lot of things from drug use to…….     Anyway, there was enough bad stuff and dirt on both sides that the judge, in a landmark decision, gave the house to the kids. Our esteemed Lt. Gov. and her husband had to take turns moving in and out of the house for visitation.

So, what did Oklahoma do with their slutty lieutenant governor? Made her governor, of course. (Did I mention you’ll be able to hear her speak at the Republican National Convention?)

It reminded me of West Virginia when Arch Moore, who never was present for senate votes, ran for governor. He ran against Jay Rockefeller. (As in John D. IV) Jay and his wife, Sharon Percy (daughter of Senator Chuck Percy of Illinois) had come to West Virginia as Vista Volunteers. Sharon started the headstart program in Charleston.

I asked mom why she was voting for Arch Moore, who had never done anything for the state in all his years in office, over Jay Rockefeller, and her answer was, “Because he’s one of ours.”

Of course, Arch Moore went on to be indicted for embezzling and was removed from office. The next election, Rockefeller won and he’s now West Virginia’s senior senator in Washington.

(But I digress.) People here don’t discuss politics. They either just look at me when I make an offhand comment and don’t respond, or get mad.  Start yelling. With no point of view other than, “You Liberals!” My best-friend-sorority-sister, who wanted me to stay with her while I was here, now doesn’t return my phone calls or e-mails. Another close friend “unfriended” me on Facebook — not because he doesn’t consider me his friend, he says, but because Facebook should be just for social intercourse. That’s certainly his prerogative. I still love him and respect him. He inspires me in so many ways. I just don’t understand how someone as smart as he is can look at a man who would drug a horse to make it more saleable and believe he can be trusted.

But it’s still Oklahoma. Where the strong survive. Farmers continue to farm, even in years like this one where the draught totally wiped out the corn crop., along with their source of income. People lose their homes to tornados and rebuild. Communities stick together. People who went to grade school together become fraternity brothers in college and now their kids have play dates and will grow up to become fraternity brothers. Oklahoma is physically a hard place to live. But it’s a good place to raise children. 

Gas is much less expensive here than in Cali, but I’m buying more. Even though the turnpike now goes all the way OKC,  you better have a bunch of quarters because every now and then you have to stop drop $1.15 into a container because they’re not manned.  (Bring extra. Sometimes, it miscounts.) It still takes 30 – 40 minutes to get anywhere, but that’s not because of traffic. It’s because the city is sprawled out in every direction. A full-blown car wreck will slow you down by maybe ten minutes…….but if you’re travelling from Norman to Edmond, pack a lunch.

It’s never going to be New York City. Hell, it’s never going to be Kansas City. Because it doesn’t want to be. It will forever be OOOOOOOOOOklahoma, where the wind comes whipping down the plain, with its honest, hard-working,proud, giving, sometimes bullheaded citizens and where the Oklahoma City Thunder will win the NBA Championship this year — and we’ll still love them if they don’t.

I may have an interview Saturday in Stillwater. Nothing solid yet. But if I should get the job, I’ll take it. Stillwater has been one of my favorite places since the first time I went there as district manager with McBee Systems. It’s a college town — like Boulder — where the town’s primary business is the university (OK, Boulder has Coors). I could walk just about anywhere necessary from campus, and everything else is within a couple of miles. It’s beautiful country, the people are smart and witty. And OSU has an MFA program I could start next fall.  If the snow gets too high to open the door, I’ll stay inside.  So, we’ll see.

If not, well — you know my life. I’ll let you know what happens next.

So until tomorrow, Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel, stay safe out there.