Travel: Oklahoma City, America’s Best Weekend Getaway Secret

I’ve been to Oklahoma City twice in my life.  Both times didn’t disappoint.

The fact is, this place is way too cool, and has way too much going on, and yet, when you think of weekend getaways, when was the last time that Oklahoma City came up?  I’m willing to bet that if you’re from Oklahoma, or Western Arkansas, you didn’t think of OKC once.

That’s a shame, because aside from an massive amount of US history, covering many time periods, all located in around the greater OKC area, there is plenty to do for both families, and young adults, without bumping into each other.  How many places in the US can host both audiences, and claim that?

First, I’m going to talk about food.  I shared some of the offerings with my private circle, but I have to tell you, even a whole album on Instagram isn’t going to do justice for the food in OKC.

OKC has a plethora of Italian cuisine.  You’ll find plenty of offerings, whether it’s Stella in the north end (1201 N Walker), Patrono (305 N Walker) which is closer to downtown, or Zio’s in Bricktown (12 E California), there are plenty of options to get your pasta on.  Italians have had a long history in OKC, though understated, much like the city itself.

When I go to OKC, I pass by all those great offerings, and go straight to the barbecue.  Look, you can talk about Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and all that is great.  None of it compares to Oklahoma Barbecue.

Oklahoma barbecue goes all the way to the Trail of Tears, when Choctaw and Cherokee Natives that were marched from Alabama and Tennessee came to the area now known as the Osage Reservation.  They brought with them “hogfires” which is quiet similar to the Hawaiian tradition of roasting a whole pig on open flame.

As cattle ranching took full hold in Texas, and the meat markets in Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, and Eastern Wisconsin, cattle needed places to overnight, and coincidentally Oklahoma served as a great location to feed cattle on their way north.  Eventually the idea of ranching took hold Oklahoma, and soon beef cuts were incorporated into Oklahoma’s fine tradition of hog cooking.  As the 20th century roared, so did the style of Oklahoma barbecue.   An emphasis on wood that produced fragrant smoke, less reliance on sauce (a Texas trait), but definitely the type of sauce ingredients you’d find in Kansas City.  Oklahoma also incorporates Bologna Sausage into their repertoire, which you won’t anywhere else in the barbecue ecosystem.

They serve green onion, cut at the root, to neutralize the smokey flavor the meat leaves behind, because Oklahoma barbecue carries smoke with it.  It’s not over the top, nor does it dry out the meat like heavy smoke can sometimes do.

My favorite places when it comes to this delicious cuisine, Blu’s BBQ and Burgers (612 N Robinson), Earl’s Rib Palace in Bricktown (216 Johnny Bench Drive), and Bedlam BBQ (610 NE 50th Street).

I won’t go heavy into the menus, because the real experience is figuring things out for yourself, but I will tell you can’t go wrong at any of these places, but to give you a heads up, yes the ribs at Earl’s are too good to be true.  And Blu’s offers a side called a Haystack.  You’d be crazy to pass it up.  Bedlam has a side called green rice….you’d also be crazy not to order it.

When you visit OKC, make sure to visit Bricktown.  It’s a former warehouse district, turned entertainment mecca.  Plenty of local acts, even The Flaming Lips make appearances from time to time, and are immortalized in Bricktown by the aptly named “Flaming Lips Alley.”  For my money, I like to hang out at Mojo’s Blues Bar, nestled at the west end of the alley, near the back end of Bricktown’s canal and riverwalk, which features a water taxi, with corresponding history spoken from the driver/tour guide.  If you go to Mojo’s, be sure to bring cash, to tip all the bands performing, and keep your drink orders simple.

Outside of the bars, and there are plenty of them, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers play in Bricktown at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.  It’s tops in AAA ballparks, and is certainly built to standards you would associate with major league parks, minus the capacity.  That said, you could take a family of six, eating in the stands and still keep the bill below 200 bucks at the end of the night.

Of course, Seattle’s prized franchise, the Seattle Supersonics now play in OKC under the alias Oklahoma Thunder.  If the NBA interests you, that is downtown, several blocks north of Bricktown.  But I’ll be frank, I liked OKC better before they brought the NBA to town.  I could say I’m bias because I don’t care for the NBA, but that’s not the issue.  The issue is the endless road construction projects that are found every few blocks, to redirect traffic, to widen lanes, all to accommodate the arena.  It makes for a drag, but in the end, it’s progress, and progress always has a toll.

A mere six miles south of downtown is the Cherokee Heritage Center, which is the proverbial end to the Trail of Tears, where the iconic statue by James Fraser, The End of the  Trail sits for all to see, and reflect on the results of greed and ignorance.

Equally as sad, and more intense in the present is back downtown, across the street from Blu’s BBQ & Burgers.  The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (620 N Harvey).  The ebb and flow of manicured beauty, and remnants of destruction is too much for my soul when I visit.  Every time I visit OKC, I visit this large chapter in our history, and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t mention that I cry.  I can’t stop crying when I walk into the courtyard, where the north side of the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood.  I take in the inscription along the large concrete pillar entryways, showing the time explosion started, and the time build finally collapsed, a mere two minutes after the bomb went off.  I cry at the sight of the pretty tile art provided by children through the world, all informed by adults of the terrible day.  But mostly I cry at the site of the bronze chairs that are all neatly organized.  There are large chairs for adults, and small chairs that represent are most grime realizations, the brutal, horrific death of 19 children and infants.

I was a middle-school aged teen when the bombing happened, and the weight of that day didn’t reach me until many years later.  But forever more, whenever I visit the memorial, I cry at the sight of all those tiny chairs.

I can’t say this is the note I want to end on, as it’s never good to end a travel piece on such a raw, sour note.  But in the case of OKC it works.  The bombing was and is egregious.  But it did help bring the city together, something that had long disappeared prior to that awful day.  I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway with your friends, or a new place to take the family, you have to go to Oklahoma City.  It may not have the kinds of things that you associate with a vacation, but it has lots of new things, and historic things worth your time.

Oklahoma.  It’s not typical, it’s anything but.  I wonder if they’ll buy the tagline?

Thanksgiving: How Should we Spend this Holiday?

Last year I wrote about Independence Day and how our forefathers made clear that it was a holiday meant to be celebrated with our neighbors, rather family.  If your family happens to live on the same street, that would be the exception.  But, by and large, our forefathers we quite clear on what the importance of Independence Day was for our country, and that it was the people to our left and right that we should be celebrating with, as it was those people to our left and right that fought hardest along with us.

Another holiday that gets misconstrued thanks to advertisement is that of Thanksgiving.  It’s a holiday that turns our airports, railroads, and even bus stations into a fiasco.

The movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles dissected this very issue through the genius comedy of John Candy, and help from Steve Martin.  In the movie, Martin an ad-man, is trying to get home promptly prior to Thanksgiving from New York City to Chicago.  Candy, a travelling salesman bumps into Martin on his way to his gate, and the two are reluctantly attached at the hip for a three or four-day fiasco that has them landing in Wichita, Kansas, getting stuck in a pasture in Missouri (if I recall correctly), and in between catching rides with some of the Midwest’s most stereotypical redneck types.  It’s funny, and a bit typical.

At any rate, the movie centers around Martin’s immense desire to get home to his family, where his parents have flown in already, and kids are waiting, and so on and so forth.  And, it’s a nice a movie to play during Thanksgiving, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But, the problem here is that this movie is likely the product of an onslaught of nonsense that travel agencies, airlines, and Amtrak has sold to all of us for years prior to the 80’s: we should be with family during Thanksgiving.

I grew up in a house that demanded it.  In fact,  I believe that the most terse words I’ve heard from my mother were times I had to confront the fact that I would not be home for Thanksgiving.

And being with family during holidays is great.  I wouldn’t suggest it to be a bad thing, necessarily.

But, I will say that we’re not doing the holiday of Thanksgiving justice, in the way it was defined by our forefathers.

For one, look back at the original Thanksgiving.  It was a major feast between pilgrims and native Americans.  They came together, broke bread, corn, fish, and lots of other food that would likely scare us all the way it was prepared.

It’s fair to say that at this particular Thanksgiving, there were family members among the larger group.  But the difference here was, that these people were all neighbors together.  They lived separate lives day to day, and although there was much in the way of interaction prior to this one day, they didn’t necessarily rely on each other from minute to minute.

From this Thanksgiving, came many Thanksgivings that brought us to 1776.  All of these Thanksgivings were with neighbors, the people most close by proximity.  And true, families still were living together, or in the same town as one another, but the idea of sitting down with your neighbor played a more important role.

You may wonder why that is.  I can tell you, it’s because people had Christian values, and were living the example of how to treat their neighbor.  That is why Thanksgiving in the past was a very neighborly endeavor.

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the case now.  All of this air travel that we put ourselves through, because we have little in the way of vacation to take, because we had to take all our vacation days in the summer.  It’s madness.

Part of the fabric of our country is developing meaningful relationships with those closest to us, and that’s our neighbors.

I heard one person talk about the fact that when it came to raising money for medical bills, they didn’t know what people did before Go Fund Me came along.  I can tell you what they did.

First, medical bills were not nearly as high as they are today, so that’s helpful.  Second, their neighbors pitched in.  I know that might throw some people off, but the fact of the matter is, neighborhoods in the US were at their strongest when the neighbors were their closest allies.

And now we’ve let all that slip away.  It really didn’t take long.  I think as a kid, growing up in the 80’s, quite a bit of that sunk in then.  And yes, there was some of it developing even as far back as the 40’s, thanks to racism, classism, even politics.

But the age of technology has truly wreaked havoc on this concept of being neighborly.  Somehow we’ve reached a point where we have more in common with a total stranger than we do the family living right next door for the past ten years.  How can you not think that is sad?

So if you’re truly interested in doing something about this issue, consider creating a traditional Thanksgiving in your neighborhood.  But don’t look up recipes from the Pilgrim era, you’ll hate them, and it will be sure to keep the neighbors away for good.

I think in the end, you’ll find the wisdom in developing solid bonds with your neighbors, and sharing in the delight of a holiday or two with them.  The airlines will get plenty of your money come Christmas!

OKC Memorial: Did We Learn Anything?

I recently spent a long weekend in Oklahoma City to promote my recent project, an anthology of veteran’s which encompasses many veterans, from many walks of life, and many experiences.  With the exception of career, there is nothing any of us have in common.  Not in interests, culture, upbringing, style, attire, absolutely nothing.

As we all know, Oklahoma City has the displeasure of being the location of one of the saddest parts of US history.  On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a U-Haul truck full of fertilizer and explosives, rigged to explode, targeting the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, found between North Harvey and North Robinson Avenues.

The bomb killed 168 people inside the building, and injured 680, and effectively destroyed half of the building, not to mention causing serious damage for 16 blocks.

McVeigh’s plot, which was assisted by Terry Nichols, came about because of their ideological views, and their disagreement with the actions taken by government at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.  In both instances, federal agents began investigations into firearms and other weapons acquired by the groups at each location, and whether it was legal to possess them.  In both instances, there has been wide disagreement about the volume of illegal weapons that each group had, but in the end, what was factually reported by our federal agencies was a small amount of truly illegal weapons, that on their own, may not have garnered the aggressive investigative efforts that the groups initially garnered.

However, while the motivation of these two men is still subject of some debate, what I want to talk about is their actions.  McVeigh had said publicly that he was not aware of a daycare being located in the building, making that discovery over the course of his “canvassing” or scouting of the building.

He passed over another federal building he targeted, because it had a florist shop.  But yet, when actually walking inside the Murrah Building, he managed to miss the fully-windowed day care, in the hall lobby.  He was asked about this on the stand, and said had he known there were children present, it might have given him pause.

Regardless, I can’t imagine the disillusionment McVeigh had to visit daily to carry out this plan.  And the fact is that he left the area, and if not for a traffic violation 90 minutes later, he might still be out in the wind today.

During my trip, I spoke to many long-time OKC locals, who spoke about the tremendous healing affect that this incident had on the entire city.  At the time, OKC was an unsafe place to be.  There were strong-arm robberies at will, muggings, break-ins, and wide spread violent crime that seemed to target strangers to the actors at an elevated rate.

But the sheer violence of McVeigh’s act brought the entire city together.  By and large, the citizens realized that life in OKC could not continue down the path it was, and maintain a place that people would want to live in, let alone spend any time in.

Since that ever tragic day, OKC has rebuilt much of it’s downtown, has worked hard to bringing relevant artistic elements to the area, to celebrate the many communities that make up the city, and to embrace the uniqueness and charm that only can be identified as being that of OKC.

Today we see a very similar scenario playing out at the national level.  We have extremists on the left and right scales of political ideology battling one another on city streets, throughout our entire country.  We no longer have room to speak with others, especially others that are determined to talk in rhetoric and circular logic.  There may be true value in ignoring such tactics, but it does not mean it’s wise to ignore the person.

It doesn’t mean you need to treat them differently either.  It does mean we need to decide individually what it is that we hold dear, truly.  I for one want an immigration system that will be followed and respected.  That doesn’t mean I want immigrants to be shunned, or foresaken, or to have previous agreements ripped away.  None of that holds to American values, and we would be foolish to engage in such third world politicking.

At the same time, there are people that want to vilify those like me who stand for a rule of law that is pragmatic, and sound.  They are extremists, just as those who chanted over and over again that building a wall is a solution.  We should not be so ignorant to identify that both these views are extreme, and truly have no business guiding our country.

At the same time, I respect that there are those that view my words as some sort of threat.  Technically they might be.  But there is no intention of threatening anyone, and having sound, pragmatic law is not a threat to anyone, except to those that break the law.  Perhaps that sounds circular.  But consider our past.  If we did not have sound laws that respected a true view of right and wrong, would we have made it as far as we have?  Would the US still be what it is, after nearly 250 years of existence?

I appreciate ideology, it’s a great place to start from.  But ideology can’t be the only thing guiding rules, law, how we think, or what we fight for.  When you do, you produce extremism.

And quite honestly, one need to go no further than 620 North Harvey Avenue in Oklahoma City to see what raw ideology produces.  The aftermath of which is something too hard to stare at.  Admittedly, I cry so much when I visit the Memorial that I can’t even make it to the museum.  This time I got in the door, and 45 seconds later bolted back out.  I don’t want to live in the aftermath of the Memorial every second in this country, everywhere I go, and I don’t believe anyone else here wants to either.

It’s going to take everyone who’s shouting for their cause to sit down, truly consider what it is they are saying.  If all you are doing is spouting ideology, you are not helping, and it would be best for all of us if you stopped and found a quiet place to park yourself.  You are adding only vitriol, in both what you say, and who you say it to.  It’s not going to produce anything positive.

Be honest with yourself, no matter where you sit on the spectrum, because more than ever we need both sides to accept that there are some very wrong things they are promoting, and there are some very right things they are promoting.

If you are idolizing people within your spectrum, that’s not helping us either.  No matter who’s President, they are only as effective as Congress, and we haven’t had an effective Congress in many years.  You can’t blame that on any President.

Don’t think of this as a call to centrism, because it’s not.  True functioning ideas to fix problems need to prevail, no matter where they come from.  Fabrications, “full-court presses,” and ideology are not going to help us get any of the solutions that we truly need.

In the beginning I mentioned how the group of veterans that I worked with on this project, Walk with Warriors, came from very different backgrounds, and very different places in life.  But somehow, we came together, vividly.  We didn’t know each other before, and it may be difficult for us to stay in touch after, but we came together as one and continued in that vain as we worked to promote our project, and reach an audience we didn’t define.  Time will tell if we were successful, but we tried, and never fought with each other over ideology.  It may seem a small, mild example, but it’s people working together.  I’d like to think if we can do this, then the rest of us can do this too.  We can be big boys and big girls, who sacrifice our ideology, for what it is truly fair and beneficial for all.

For my part, I think after visiting the Memorial, I’m going to search my own ideas and see what really matters, because it’s only fair that if I issue this call to action that I embody it.

Perhaps the future will find me in an even better place.  Until next time!

Walk with Warriors Book Launch

There is always some nerves involved in a new endeavor.  Even the most consummate professional has that feeling when going into a new situation.

Such was the case when I appeared for the Walk with Warriors book launch, held in downtown Oklahoma City at Rose State College’s Innovation Station.

It’s a very neat spot, with MakerBot supplies and equipment, lots of Lego’s, and a massive electronics charging bay that surpasses any of the charging stations you see at the airport.

I’m not sure what goes on there day to day, but what I do know is that it was an incredibly vibrant spot for a book launch.  We made a success of it, with 12 of the 22 authors making appearances.

Oklahoma City is a college football town, in particular, the epicenter for Sooners fans.  This town lights up on fall Saturdays, and though we were a week away from the official start of fall, it was week two of the season, and the Sooners were on the road in Ohio.

Here’s what many people don’t understand about college football towns that don’t have a professional football following; college football is life.  People, even when the team is on the road, tailgate at the home venue, they bring out large televisions to watch the game in the parking lot, they barbecue (more on that another time), and they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until the game, which was a night game, is over.

The Sooners play in a town a few miles south of downtown Oklahoma City named Norman.  And so, that wreaked a little havoc on our launch.  The crowds that might typically form on a Saturday downtown didn’t materialize.  But like the true soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen that we are, we handled the situation the best we could, by applying a full-on blitzkrieg to anyone who was within sprinting distance of the venue, and telling them our story.

I have to admit, it’s not the tactics that I would have associated with a book launch, it had its advantages.  Because, it’s something we’ve all trained for and carried out, in one way or another.

And in terms of sales, the results were in: we sold dozens of copies, all with signatures from the whole lot of us.

Oklahoma City was wonderful to Walk With Warriors, and we couldn’t have been more appreciative.  Maybe on the second go around we won’t try to overtake college football Saturday.  Oh, did I mention we’ll be putting together a second installment?

See you then!

Travel: August in Puerto Rico

I consider myself lucky because I get to do a fair bit of travelling in my new lifestyle.  Something my former career wouldn’t allow for on the regular basis I now indulge.

And with that new found flexibility, I find myself frequenting a certain region….the Caribbean!

Ah yes, there’s truly nothing better than being in a hot and sunny locale with strong drinks and good books.  Laying on the beach, without a care in the world.  If you think your therapist does a good job working through your issues, try five days in Caribbean during the non-peak season, and you’ll accomplish a year’s worth of couch time.

At any rate, I’ve frequented foreign islands in the past, but this time I thought I would go where my driver’s license allows, and in this case, I chose Puerto Rico.

What a fantastic island!  I stayed in the Santurce area, which is the far north coast of San Juan.  Directly to the west is Old San Juan, and if you’re looking for that traditional Latin-Caribbean landscape, it’s the place to go!

If you don’t know, Puerto Rico is a fish fan’s paradise.  They have ample charters available, all geared towards grabbing those large red snappers, dolphin-fish (Mahi Mahi for those scared to use the word “dolphin”), and many other delicious seafood that swarms the region.

Be advised, that while much of the Caribbean has calm waves and water for miles around, Puerto Rico does not.  In fact, Puerto Rico has some very well-known surf spots on the island, that attract those in the know.  The waves are not what I would call difficult, but they are definitely different from what you may be used to in Caribbean.

That said, if you are into fishing, this kind of wave activity can be helpful in certain circumstances.  For one, it means that schools of fish, particularly tuna, will be moving in and out, and constantly fighting for position due to the water.  This means that their tired, and not always aware of their travel path, meaning that you can grab some big steals when you would normally be waiting out the calm.

At the same time, if you’re a beach goer, and you have children, you’re going to need to be cautious about where they are in relation to you.  These, though I said not difficult to contend with, are indeed strong, and they can move you without you realizing it.  Especially for kids that aren’t high school age, this can become a deadly scenario without any frame of reference.

If the quality of fishing I briefly described caught your attention, the food in Puerto Rico is as well.

Puerto Rico has their own bread, Pan de Agua, that has a sweet quality to it.  But it’s not so sweet that you would automatically label it as such.  After having ‘Pan’ with three or four of my meals, I have serious questions about all this white and wheat bread I was being given throughout the years.

The beaches are great, except that if you go out in the early morning, say to watch the sunrise (and they are absolutely stunning in PR, I highly recommend this!), you might find that hotel guests and even some locals have strewn trash about from the night before.  And that’s a bit sad.

Surely, travelers are to blame for much of this, but that anyone would ruin a gorgeous beach with trash is just, well, trashy.

That said, much of the employees of the businesses along the beach put in a lot of effort to clean up, and it’s certainly commendable.  I felt like these folks are unsung heroes, and I hope that when you visit, you make sure to thank them for their efforts like I did.

The hospitality of staff here is consistent with what you find in the US, nothing terrible, nothing extraordinary.

There was a bartender at La Concha’s Sunday brunch that lined us up with a lot twists on mimosas that were absolutely delicious!  Even if you’re not a mimosa drinker, try the Soursop version, it’s well worth it.

It’s unfortunate, but Puerto Rico is in massive debt.  One local told me 1.5 trillion, several others said that was a stretch, stating the total was around 72 billion.  What was clear was that with the government beyond broke, not much was getting done, and it was up to private investment to solve the gap.  I hope that doesn’t mean more taxes, because Puerto Rico as a tourist destination is already more spendy than anyone in the industry would like.

Since I left on August 29th, Hurricane Irma hit, and it appears that flooding has caused the bulk of problems faced.  That’s a good thing, in that much of the infrastructure is not in ruin, albeit that roads could become suspect from the water exposure.

What I would say is if you’ve been thinking about going to Puerto Rico, and you’ve been putting it off, come December, when it’s too cold in the contiguous 48, take a trip south and spend some time (and money) in Puerto Rico.  You’ll love the experience, and the people will love to do fair business with you.

Until next time!