Southern Road Trip, Pt 2:

The People, Places, (And Pokemon Go) Of Tulsa

Tulsa, Oklahoma: a mid-sized American city for which one likely relies on stereotypes to conceptualize; conceptions of ranches, oil, and cowboys.

At least that’s what I had thought upon arrival.

What I discovered was a clean, prosperous, (and surprisingly hilly) city that had its mix of neighborhoods–and characters. I’d like to call Tulsa “bright,” if I may describe a city that way. Yet we start when it was dark, ’cause after the wedding I attended the first day I arrived, my friend Will, his wife June, and I went out to hit the town.

A bar with fancy wooden booths; a bar with a bunch of arcades from the 80s; a bar with outdoor seating and bean bag toss. Such exclamations of social life were nonetheless overshadowed by the simple conversations with area residents during my time in Tulsa.

***

After the bars, we went to a famous outdoor tourist attraction, a structure called The Center of the Universe. From Wikipedia: “…a concrete circle at the apex of a rebuilt span of the old Boston Street Bridge between 1st and Archer Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma is known as the “Center of the Universe”. The spot produces an acoustical anomaly…”

This anomaly is a loud echo heard only by the person standing and making noise from the center of this circle. It is a phenomenon only to be experienced firsthand. But I can share that around this attraction, nearing midnight, some Tulsan youth were out enjoying the cool, late-night hours. Rather than a coffee shop or bar, they sat here outside, playing Pokemon Go and crocheting Pokemon Go figurines.

I engaged them for a few moments to learn about their life and business out this night:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M29vzxROe0A

After this interaction, it was time to go home. The next day was seeing Tulsa in the day time.


Oklahoma marks the west end of the Bible Belt. I had figured it the west end of the American South, but I’d later learn from residents at a nursing home in Memphis that Tulsa was the West, period. Pretty much anything west of the Mississippi River, they said.

No debate about it being in the Bible Belt, though. So it’s appropriate that the first place Will drove me was to Tulsa’s famous Christian University: Oral Robert’s.

Only 50 years old, the college started with just a few buildings and a man’s dream. Today, Oral Robert’s University stands as a prominent Evangelical Christian college in the US. And we went to this university’s prominent structure: the giant praying hands.

The university states on this monument its mission to educate the “whole man”: mind, body, and spirit.

We left to be with nature. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised to have been greeted at the park with the technologically-inspired.

The beautiful, open grass area dotted with large trees had its lower edge lined with a creek, which itself was filled with tadpoles and full-grown frogs. Back near our car were those searching for fake animals. Yep, young people playing Pokemon Go.

You may find this gaming craze annoying, but I’ve found the silver living. Here were a bunch of people at the park that ordinarily wouldn’t have been. Then, in an unexpected follow-up to my recent piece about how this game is integrating the races around the Twin Cities, I found a guy who said the same thing about Tulsa.

SC King organized this meetup of free food and drink advertised on a handmade sign taped to the building they met near. I approached to see this man cosplaying as a doctor character from the game.

I asked SC how this all got started, and he said he was inspired by how Pokemon Go brings people together. The young man passionate for social justice had been dejected by the world when he walked downtown one recent day and was uplifted by the groups coming together playing this game.

“People instantly approached and asked me if I played,” he said. “We just kept on talking.”

He later stated on his Facebook page: “What I saw was something incredibly profound. A world that is breaking apart, people were coming together.”

SC continued this sentiment to me at the park.”The world coming together through Pokemon.”

Next we went downtown, where Will showed me his office–and view.

When not out and about, life for me in Tulsa was life as Will and his family lived it: meals at their dining room table, watching the kids play Minecraft, and talking with the adults–oh, and a few good dips in the pool, which as a Minnesotan I’m not used to but could certainly get used to.

Thank you, Will, June, and family for hosting me in Tulsa.

***

Will is a transplant from Minnesota. At the wedding mentioned in last week’s post, I spoke to a few locals who had a little more history with Oklahoma.

A young, bearded, accent-less Oklahoman said this was one of the last states settled and made official in the US. As such, Oklahoma is made up of an influx of relatively recent newcomers.

“It’s a melting pot,” he said of Tulsa in particular, his girlfriend coming from Vermont. “We have vocabulary [of the south] but not the accent.”

Besides the accent, perhaps this explained a lack of unique, Oklahoman culture. Things in the Tulsa, anyway, felt mighty contemporary and neutral.

From wealthy neighborhood:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXzbzizONaw

To the impoverished:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCmKv4USGjk

(Excuse the shaky videos as these were streamed live on my Facebook profile. And when showcasing the poorer neighborhoods of the city, I need to mention something I’ve recently learned about Tulsa’s history: the white-on-black race riots of 1921 that decimated the black neighborhoods of Tulsa.)

Back at the wedding I met an Oklahoman couple, both born and raised in the state and now have a family of Oklahomans of their own. I’d like to think they represent best what this city and state today are all about.


On July 25, I said goodbye to Oklahoma to visit its neighboring state Arkansas. Here I would mine for diamonds, stay in a city with an abundance of crystals in the mountains (and water coming out of the mountains), and got to know some extraordinary folks that you’ll get to meet as well.


Originally published at theperiphery.areavoices.com on August 6, 2016.