I remember I was in the TV lounge of my dorm in Richmond, VA in 2001, watching Enter The Dragon. We didn’t have cable in our dorm rooms (or air conditioning, or heat), and I didn’t have many friends yet, so I spent a lot of my off time in the TV lounge. I’m pretty sure we watched the entire Bruce Lee catalog, as well as more BET than I’ve seen before or since.
A symptom of growing up in suburban Northwest OKC was that I wasn’t used to walking everywhere. I didn’t have the proper equipment. My $17 Payless sneakers had worn completely through in a month walking the Victorian streets of Richmond, so I patched them as best as I could, by wrapping them in duct tape. The result was predictably hilarious.
“Nice kicks, man!”
“Oh, yeah, um…Arts and crafts, I’m bringing it back”
I’m used to deflecting criticism with humor. That’s one of the skills you get by growing up fat.
My friend Ayana, (a lovely lady who I had a bit of a crush on) chimed in: “Hey! Back up! He grew up in Oklahoma!”
At this point it’s worth pointing out that I had spent the previous decade or so verbally abusing my adoptive home, plotting to escape at the earliest convenience. In this moment, however, I was filled with defensive indignation.
“What does Oklahoma have to do with it?” I spat. Ayana looked justifiably affronted.
“I was just trying to take up for you, you don’t know what things are like out here.”
I apologized, and on further reflection, she was right. I didn’t know what things were like out there. That’s why I came back.
I can’t help but feel that the Oklahoma City I grew up in and the one I inhabit now are radically different. The professional civic boosters would have you believe that this is a case of urban renewal done right, the rising tide lifting all boats. There is probably some measure of truth to that, but I think something else is at play. People who would have left 10 years ago, kids who are the same age as I was when I left, are deciding to stay. I can’t pretend to know the motives of these kids, but I suspect they are staying for the same reason I am; things are changing for the better, ordinary people are building something remarkable, and we want to be a part of that.
The concept for okc.net would likely strike many back east and up north as far-fetched: A literate, left leaning, free form magazine produced in and focused on the Southern Plains’ 4th largest metropolis. It’s not our fault; we’re from Oklahoma, just simple folk, with our cows and wheat and show-tunes. I think it’s rather because we’re here, because we aren’t saddled with 400 years of history, that we can aspire to do incredible things. Even the landscape- rolling gracefully into the infinite, under dramatic skies- seems to speak to something fundamental in our character. The wind is at our backs, and the future is forever ahead of us.
We at okc.net aren’t naive. We know there are challenges, but we reject cynicism. Labor Conquers All Things. We aren’t a snarky blog, standing above the fray with a sneer, and we aren’t glad handing capitalists hailing the Next Big Thing coming to Bricktown. (I, for one, hope we never ever get a Hard Rock Cafe, and I have long been a proponent of opening Woody Guthrie’s This Bar and Grill Kills Fascists next to Toby Keith’s establishment.) What we aspire to be is the voice of the smart, self directed, independent and hopeful. We will reject anti-intellectualism as well as snobbery, we will question our self appointed leaders and our upstart rebels equally, and we willnever shy from the idea that tomorrow can be better for all of us- southside, northside, eastside, westside.. Our history proves it.
All of this started because I saw a link to “365 Things to do in Richmond Virginia” on one of my Facebook friend’s pages and thought I could do something similar for OKC. 13,000 friends later, here I am.
I was talking to him a few months ago on the phone.
“Hey, I read something about Oklahoma City in the New York Times!”
“It said you guys have good Vietnamese food?”
“Uhhh…yeah, we do!”
“I’ll have to visit…I love pho.”
“Orange County probably has better pho, dude….”
“Yeah, but that’s all the way in California, and you always had good things to say about Oklahoma. That botanical garden looks sweet.”
I didn’t know I had good things to say back then. I guess I did. I definitely do now. That’s what this page is about. I don’t want you to move away. I want you to stay and help. All of the ever so cool youth magnet cities you might want to move to are the result of people like you staying in their communities and doing the work- starting, supporting, and sustaining things that they liked, standing up to be counted, keeping the faith. The alternatives- apathetic grousing or joining the ranks of Austin/Portland/Chicago/NYC carpetbaggers- aren’t alternatives at all. Either way, you’re primarily a consumer, not a citizen.
Finding a place to live shouldn’t be the same as picking a restaurant for dinner. It’s possible to have real legitimate grievances with a place and still love it. It’s possible to disagree without enmity. It’s possible to see a need and try to fill it. It’s possible to go a full hour or more without the world stepping forward to entertain and delight you with some super awesome organic DIY underground street event (sponsored by Red Bull). A city isn’t supposed to be an urban themed amusement park for the young, beautiful and privileged. It’s supposed to be a community, and a community is a complex, messy, beautiful thing. Like Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
There’s no reason we can’t be great. Your crazy dream, whatever it is- that can happen. It can happen here. I believe in you, and I want to help.