Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Further Adventures in Okie-Homa

As I've stated here before, I consider myself a native New Yorker who had the misfortune of being born in Oklahoma. While New York is always the city where I feel most at home and grounded, I spent most of my formative years in the Great Plains, primarily Oklahoma City, Kansas City and St. Louis. So spending time in Oklahoma is always a bit surreal.

Since my trips to Oklahoma City are usually brief and business or family related, I tend to be isolated in the leafy, northwest suburbs with all the familiarities of Best Buy, Cheesecake Factory and Macy's. It's a part of town that has all the generic familiarity of Royal Oak, Michigan; Thousand Oaks, California; or Danbury Connecticut.

Even its once boarded up, vacant downtown area has since been renovated with a veneer of the dreaded "new urbanism" akin to Santana Row or the area surrounding AT&T Park back home in the Bay Area. The centerpiece of downtown is Bricktown, a completely safe, generic, manufactured place that could be anyplace in the U.S. and is in no way organic or reflective of the city's history, culture or diversity. You'll find all the people from the suburbs sipping Skyy martinis on the edge of the water that could just as easily be in a similar spot in suburban Toronto or the waterfront in Baltimore.

So tonight I decided to take a tour of the rarely seen parts of town, especially the areas immediately west and south of downtown. I've not been there in years. There has been absolutely no development of these areas, and their deterioration rivals anything in West Oakland or the worst parts of Detroit. There were enough spooky things and people that I feared slowing down let alone taking pictures. But I did manage to snap a few shots in the less dangerous parts of the decaying wonderland.
Just south of the river is a forgotten neighborhood called Capitol Hill (that is not on a hill, just a slight rise in the prairie). Once a working class gringo neighborhood, it is now the heart of the Hispanic community. All the taquerias made me feel like I was back home in the Mission. I saw one pedestrian in six blocks.
Just west of downtown I passed a hug homeless encampment larger than most in San Francisco. Ever wonder where the homeless folks in Manhattan went after the mid-1990s? Out west in Oklahoma, apparently, and they are much spookier than the ones in San Francisco. Going further west, still within a few blocks of the glistening towers of downtown is the abandoned, enormous Spanish style farmers market building that later served as an antique mall before being emptied.
In addition to homeless people, I've never seen so many stray dogs. Easily 50 in a five block radius. This guy seemed almost friendly until I started to open the car door, and he was more intimidating than the homeless people. He almost looked rabid.
He was hanging out with his buddies at this place. There were blocks and blocks of this type of structure.
This is the view from Capitol Hill heading back north to downtown, a weird mix of grain mills, auto shops and urban decay. Sort of Children of the Corn meets Blade Runner.
Back in the homogenized northside 'burbs, I was pleased to see a few non-franchised landmarks are still in operation.
And who could say no to a Big Bevburger? Uh, me.So, I ended up eating here, Zorba's Mediterranean, that had just opened on Monday. It was actually not half bad.
I also passed on getting a drink at the famed Hi Lo Club but could not resist nabbing a shot of this landmark bar.
A number of its patrons likely live here on Carey Place, a pleasant three block stretch of Hollywood/Spanish style bungalows. Back when I was in grade school, my aunt lived two blocks over and would take me to parties where her bachelor friends served daiquiris and played Scott Walker and Dusty Springfield records. A decade or so later I went to bachelor parties there on my own.
Despite its super-white image, Oklahoma City has a large Vietnamese population evidenced by this huge Asian supermarket. I could pass for Bolsa Boulevard in Orange County's Westminster.
And it wouldn't be complete without a shot of the landmark milk bottle building, now a French Vietnamese bakery.

Finally a shot of a once threatened pair of landmarks, the gold dome bank that how serves as the home Sierra Club and other non-profits and the tower patterned after Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper, Price Tower (actually in Bartlesville, Oklahoma) is being converted into condos.

Okay, now you know more about this city than you ever wanted to know.

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At 9:20 PM, Blogger jason said...

actually you've completely intrigued me about small feat!

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Jason - Actually there is a fascinating, unseen underbelly here that even I as a native rarely saw but can't turn away from as a traveler. Sadly the city promoters want to promote a generic, bland, tasteless city that is as boring as any other suburb. Interestingly, Holly Hunter is in town to promote her new series "Saving Grace" which locals are split over. It presents a gritty, real version of the place that's too much for some. Stories of squalor on the Lower East Side or gangsters in Chicago never turned people away from those cities, so I think they should embrace Holly and her series.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger kimy said...

great travelogue and picture show! glad you nabbed some sign shots - but of course!

I will also endorse holly's new show. excellent - definitely a different take on 'the ubiquitous cop show' both in terms of locale and character.

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Thanks for the tour.

But what about the (in)famed drag scene?

At 7:54 AM, Blogger marxsny said...

You took this tour in a surrey with the fringe on top right?

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Joy said...

This is great - I knew you'd make it interesting!

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Man, good thing you don't hate the place or anything.



At 6:48 PM, Anonymous LeeAnn said...

You passed up a Big Bevburger? Shame! Actually, Beverly's was bought out of the family that owned it for decades several years ago. It's still much the same, I hear.
I love that you showed the unseen part of OKC - that's the part I remember best. It's certainly where all the character is.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Bryce Digdug said...

I love the milk bottle. The dog is cute.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Kimy - One of my coworkers met Holly today. She and the producers are in town to have more scenes shot in OKC not LA. They want a shot of Holly driving her Porsche past the big bank with a cross lit up in its windows at Christmas.

Salty - The Melts have retired, and it's just no longer worth the effort.

Mark - They were all taken. This weekend is the state's Centennial, so they were in great demand.

Joy - Huh, you thought Oklahoma City would not be interesting?

ER - Actually there's much I love about the place, especially when I get a chance to see the quirky, rough edges such as in these photos and not the bland suburbs.

By the way, as a Conyers, Ga., native, I don't think Holly belongs to either of us.

Leann - I don't think those Bevburgers are vegan.

Bryce - I think the dog was rabid.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger drlobojo said...

Dang, when I heard about this post over at the Erudite Rednecks place they told me you were showing the bad side of OKC. You didn't even come close. You left out my house for example. It has recently be declared a public nuecence. As for pedestrians (re:the dogs) would you walk there? Nobody in OKC walks anywhere outside their own neighborhoods. That's why we invented parking meters. Everybody wanted to drive and park. So we found a way to tax the parking at any rate.
Saving Grace has great potential and I do like it. I think what ER was saying about Holly Hunter was more of a carnal nature than one of origin.

Next time you visit, check out the old Mulligan Flats area along first street between Penn and May Ave's NW.
And....go get some Lamb Fries at the Cattlemans Restraunt on Agnew Ave. It is one of those '1000 places you should see before you die' locations. Go at lunch when the locals go there.

Oh yes, and go back to the Vietnamese market at night the orange neon palm trees are a site to behold. Right across the street is Lidos. Try some of their French-Vietnamese coffee, staight or over ice.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dr. Lobojo - I think it was Mulligan Flats that I was driving through that freaked me out so much. Man, it made UN Plaza in SF look like Menlo Park by comparison. Talk about mean streets!

I have been to Cattlemen's in years past. Yes, it has some interesting local color, but the food is a sure way for immediate cardiac arrest. I'll stick to the Vietnamese food on Classen.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Mulligan Flats: Houses with dirt floors.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger T$ said...

how could you say no to bev??

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

T$ - I was easy. I just said, ""Remember, you want to be svelte to impress those boys in Barcelona."


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