Saturday spottings

Apparently my haphazard attempts at lawn care are at least slightly appreciated; a neighbor informed me that the yard "looks nice," which is far more kindly an evaluation than I'd give to it.

(Mental note: There is a GFCI-type circuit breaker installed in each of the outside electrical outlets. It's much easier to check it, and quite a bit faster, than it is to go poking around the breaker box.)

Seen a couple of blocks away: an Oldsmobile in Classic GM Vanilla, inscribed with the words "VOTE KHOURY," presumably a reference to Karen Khoury, one of the four Republicans seeking the state House seat for this area, which is being vacated this year. I didn't get a look at the driver, inasmuch as I was trying to avoid running over things at the time.

Sign at a restaurant a couple miles north: "BUY DAD SOMETHING HE NEEDS THIS YEAR — A DRINK."

Saturday spottings (again)

Some of the things I saw around town today:

Bill Graves, one of the looser doorknobs in the Oklahoma House, is being term-limited out of a job, and Mrs Graves isn't going to be handed the District 84 seat on the proverbial silver platter: one Democrat and a fistful of Republicans are chasing this position. One of the GOP chasers is evident Greg Kihn fan Sally Kern, whose campaign signs bear the nonce word "KERNservative."

Also on the campaign trail is District 2 Commissioner Jack Cornett, no relation to OKC Mayor Mick Cornett or to your blogging Cornetts, whose reelection signs this year contain an actual line-drawing of a cornet. Let us hope this mnemonic notion does not occur to, say, Senate District 25 candidate Dennis Loudermilk.

At a stand inside the supermarket, a woman was handing out cans of C2, the new Coke that they hope won't be another New Coke. After twelve ounces of the stuff, I am prepared to say that it's okay as a diet Coke, but no match for the Real Thing™.

(Update, 4:30 pm, 20 June: Chris Lawrence, whom I trust implicitly in such matters, says that C2 probably makes a better mixer with vodka.)

Saturday spottings (once more)

Just driving around town doesn't mean anything unless you see something, after all.

Last Monday, IBC Bank completed its acquisition of what used to be Local Oklahoma Bank, and they wasted no time pinning up temporary signage at the local facilities. This was the first time that I'd noticed the IBC logo, which contains the usual outline of the 48 states — and right below it, an outline of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. So far as I can tell, IBC doesn't actually have any branches in Mexico, but the location of its headquarters — Laredo, Texas is not only right on the border, but it's the southern terminus of Interstate 35, known informally as the NAFTA Highway — hints that they'd love to tap into the burgeoning Latino market. And by no coincidence, that's what we have here.

Habitat for Humanity has completed and sold the two houses they built in East Heritage Hills, and I wandered by today to see the results. I was properly impressed: it will be a while before these structures start to appear weathered, but stylewise, they fit in nicely with the smaller Craftsman homes that dominate that strip between Broadway and Robinson.

Conventional wisdom, seldom all that wise these days, holds that women pick out their vehicles on the basis of space and reliability; men have the need for speed. Anyone who's ever seen She Who Is Not To Be Named pushing a sandal to the floorboard should know better than that, but the stereotype somehow persists. As has been my wont of late, I struck up a conversation with a woman at the supermarket; she drives a '99 Mazda Millenia, and yes, it has the brand's traditional aversion to repair shops, but what she most appreciated about it, she said, was the little supercharged V-6's ability to put her in front of anything that wouldn't move out of the way while she was trying to merge onto the freeway. And until such time as ODOT rids us of the last of these two-car-length on-ramps, there's absolutely no substitute for good old Zoom Zoom.

Saturday spottings (with vegetables)

I was threading my way back from Sears' repair location, which is tucked away southwest of the Capitol complex, and eventually I found myself at 23rd and Classen, where Beverly's Restaurant had been bulldozed into oblivion to make way for the city's 726th Walgreens store.

Beverly's, of course, was an Oklahoma City staple for years, and their Chicken in the Rough was briefly franchised to other eateries. And while this location had been closed for some time, Beverly's Pancake Corner, west of Penn Square, still serves breakfast and lunch, so it's not the end of an era. Yet.

Besides, it could have been worse. Walgreens at first tried to get a different corner of this intersection: the one occupied by the Gold Dome.

North of 23rd, the new Asian District signage is in place, white on red in the sort of font one expects to find in ads for Chinese restaurants. A letter to The Oklahoman last week complained about the whole idea:

Since when can Oklahoma City Councilman Sam Bowman and his steering committee decide for the city to allow people to put up signs designating a certain district for a certain group of people? Will the Chamber of Commerce and other city leaders let Hispanics and any other group decide to put up signs on city property to claim a certain district?

The chamber's Drew Dugan says putting a brand on a district gives the business owners "pride." He may see it that way, but I don't think the majority of the citizens would agree. Why segregate an area for any group of people? I thought we were getting away from identifying any group of people from everyone else.

Which is a reasonable point, but identifying a mile of Classen Boulevard as an Asian District hardly constitutes segregation. For one thing, it's not a reflection of housing patterns; Americans of Asian descent live all over the city and in the suburbs, not just around this area. For another — well, Tom Waken, who owns property on Classen and elsewhere, and who sits on the Asian District Commission, sent this to the Mid-City Advocate:

The Asian business people staked out Classen Blvd. in 1975.... they are responsible for bringing Classen from a dying area to a place where business is thriving and property owners and business owners are paying more taxes into the city's treasury than they were previously.

I am for any ethnic group who will build up our great city to proudly display their own district with their signs. It is good for everyone who lives in Oklahoma City.

And that initial arrival of Asian-owned businesses got this area, and the strip of 23rd just to its east, known informally as "Little Saigon," a name which has persisted all these years; it's not like anyone should be at all surprised by this.

Will we eventually see Latino (around, say, SW 29th and Western), African-American (NE 23rd and Martin Luther King), even gay (NW 39th and Pennsylvania) districts? I'm thinking we will, and I'm thinking it's just fine with me.

Saturday spottings (part cinq)

The transformation of the Samurai Club on May south of Grand into — well, I have no idea what's going to replace it — continues apace: the new architecture is Standard Suburban Medical Office, minus the bogus roof extensions over the doorways, which could mean almost anything. No signage yet; in fact, the old Samurai marquee is still in place, with only a few missing characters here and there.

Tuesday marks the opening of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, the last of the MAPS projects, at 300 Park Avenue. And "300" seems to be something of an understatement: the facility stretches across the entire 300 block, from Harvey to Hudson. It's an imposing structure; the only trick is actually getting there, since Harvey terminates at Park and it's one-way north, meaning you have to take either Hudson or Robinson south, meaning quite a roundabout if you're coming from the downtown Business District where all the signs are. Still, accessibility wasn't a problem Friday for the book-passing ceremony, in which books were literally handed down, one person to the next in an enormous chain, from the old library at 131 (not 301) Dean A. McGee to the new one.

A nearby salon is pitching "pedicures for men and women," which at least seems nicely nondiscriminatory, and to tell you the truth, I was at least slightly tempted: while my instincts tend toward the retrosexual, I am also sufficiently self-indulgent to be able to come up with a justification for it. Besides, I'm somewhat curious as to whether they'd charge me extra for these size-14 clodhoppers.

Saturday spottings (yet again)

The Montgomery, Richard Tanenbaum's transformation of the old Montgomery Ward store downtown into upscale corporate apartments, continues; I have no idea what he's done to the interior yet, but an enormous amount of accumulated crud has been scraped off the art-deco exterior at 500 West Main, and I can only wish he could work similar magic on the former Holiday Inn next door, newer yet somehow grubbier. The Montgomery, we are assured, will open in October.

Also being spruced up are some long-abandoned buildings along Walker, including a couple of former car dealerships, which are being converted into fresh office space. When the 65-foot clock tower on the northeast corner of 4th and Walker was built this past spring, it looked ever-so-slightly silly, but now that work has progressed, it fits nicely into developer Rick Dowell's design scheme. Eventually Dowell wants to build a high-rise residential tower, assuming the market for downtown housing isn't saturated any time soon.

Then there's the headquarters of Oklahoma City Beautiful, which has moved a mile up Classen without actually leaving its building: the original structure, near the now-departed Beverly's on the corner of 23rd, was picked up, driven up the street, and deposited near Memorial Park at 36th.

Of course, not everything I saw today was a sign of Better Times Coming. Up on the Lake Hefner Parkway I caught sight of a Scion xA with the vanity tag BRITFAN. Britain? Britney Spears? Brittany spaniels? Who knows?

Sunday spottings

Actually, none of these were spotted today, but I forgot to do a "Saturday spottings" this week, and anyway a couple of those would actually turn out to have been detected on Friday, fercryingoutloud.

One of them involved Major Tom, wherever he may be: parked in front of one of those Nichols Hills demimansions, I saw two huge (given the width of NH streets, which isn't much) trailers identified as coming from "Ground Control," which turns out to be a landscaping/yard-maintenance operation way out in the northeast quadrant. Small thing, perhaps, but I assure you, had Timi Yuro not been on the stereo at that moment ("What's a matter, baby, is it hurting you?"), I'd have burst into a couple of stanzas of "Space Oddity." I have no shame.

A few blocks south of there, the building which houses a well-established cosmetic-surgery practice is getting, um, a facelift.

And seen in the parking lot at Albertson's, this bumper sticker: "John Kerry for President — of France."

Sunday spottings (for once more)

Someone once asked why I would go to the trouble of visiting parts of town that are generally considered, um, less desirable. It's simple: I don't want to get into the habit of thinking about a 600-square-mile city in terms of the few blocks that surround my house. Things happen all over town, and given the priorities of the press, which enjoys harping on tragedies even more than boasting about some dubious manifestation of "progress," I'd just as soon see for myself.

So I was near Linwood and Blackwelder today, where small firms under the general heading of "light industrial" vie for curb space with homes built around the time of World War I. And every other block, there's a church, and this being Sunday, those churches were busy. (I caught sight of an old-fashioned revival tent on a double lot.) A few black faces, but mostly brown; kids on bicycles, men unloading trucks, women in their Sunday best.

Now the roads through there aren't great, and I suspect the rest of the city's infrastructure is probably an upgrade or two behind schedule, but this struck me as a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood. (I spot-checked a couple of houses for sale, and you can still buy in around here for thirty-five to fifty-five thousand.) Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?" I, for my part, am loath to tear up an area of affordable housing just because it's not pretty.

Saturday spottings (on time)

Construction has begun, it appears — I saw no signage, but the location and the size match up — on the Embassy Suites hotel on the eastern edge of Bricktown, which is supposed to open in January 2006, and which will give owner John Q. Hammons three of the five major hotels in downtown Oklahoma City. (Hammons also owns the Renaissance and the Courtyard by Marriott; the other two are the Westin — scheduled to morph into a Sheraton — and the not-yet-reborn Hilton Skirvin.)

Meanwhile, Harkins Theatres says its new 16-screen motion-picture showplace will open on the first of October. I've got my doubts, but I figure they'll do their darnedest, especially since the Centennial Fountain near the entrance is now up and running.

I saw quite a few new Bush/Cheney yard signs today, though no new signs for Kerry/Edwards. On the other hand, Kerry stickers seem to outnumber Bush stickers, at least on the cars that were in front of me. Whether this reflects anything other than what the local parties were able to hand out this past week remains to be seen.

A billboard on the south side: YES ON 712 / Education and Jobs. State Question 712 [link requires Adobe Reader] is the State-Tribal Gaming Act, which provides the following:

The Act contains a Model Tribal Gaming Compact. Indian tribes that agree to the Compact can use new types of gaming machines. These machines are used for gambling. Compacting tribes could also offer some card games.

If at least four Indian tribes enter into the Compact, three State licensed racetracks could use the same electronic gaming machines.

The Act limits the number of gaming machines racetracks can use. The Act does not limit the number of machines that Indian tribes can use.

The State Horse Racing Commission would regulate machine gaming at racetracks. A tribal agency would regulate authorized gaming by a tribe. The Office of State Finance would monitor authorized tribal gambling.

Proceeds from authorized gaming at racetracks go to:

  1. the racetrack;
  2. the owners of winning horses,
  3. horsemen's organizations,
  4. breed organizations, and
  5. the State to be used for educational purposes.

Some of the proceeds from authorized gaming by Indian tribes goes to the State. The State would use these proceeds for educational purposes and compulsive gambling programs.

Pitching this as an "education and jobs" measure, I believe, is highly dubious.

And just a little bit of Mitsubitching to the fellow in the dingy white Diamante: if you're going to have dual fart-can exhausts, you might consider actually fastening them to the car rather than have them dangling a few inches above the pavement.

Saturday spottings (time-warp edition)

It's not a jump to the left and then a step to the right; this time we're going backward and forward.

Back in August I noted the demolition of the building at 23rd and Classen that once housed a Beverly's Restaurant, and it occurred to me this morning that it had been far too long since I'd sampled any of the wares therein.

Beverly Osborne's first restaurant, dating to 1921, was just north of the State Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard; eventually there were half a dozen across town, the last to be built being the Pancake Corner at Northwest Expressway west of Pennsylvania, which sports red floor tile almost identical to the tile on my bathroom floor. Time, attrition and urban renewal took their usual toll, and now the Pancake Corner is the only Beverly's remaining. Still, it's hard to imagine that it was much different in the Good Old Days than it is now: it's a classic diner of the old school, everything happens right up front so you can see the level of chaos for yourself, and while prices are inevitably higher, the menu and the recipes are largely unchanged. I should be in such good shape when I'm eighty-three years old.

The Harkins Theatres in Bricktown aren't even eighty-three hours old yet, but they were doing a semi-brisk business for a Saturday afternoon, perhaps because four screens (including the monster Cine Capri) were devoted to the weekend's big debut, Shark Tale. Being the sensible soul I am, I went after lunch, reasoning that the Big Bevburger ($4.95 with fries) was likely to be more substantial a meal than the $5.50 Giant Popcorn at the concession stand. (I did, however, fork over three and a quarter for a box of Raisinets, because — well, just because, okay?)

Two weeks ago I said something to the effect that I'd be surprised if they made their first-of-October opening on time, and indeed they did, but there's a reason I trust my gut: about two-thirds of the way through Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a section of ceiling molding and the backing material came crashing to the floor. (I suspect it says something about Sky Captain that hardly anyone noticed the crash, what with all the crashing and whatnot on screen, duly reproduced in Dolby® Digital.) The offending section was directly above an aisle, and no one in the auditorium was even close to being affected by it, but Harkins management was properly appalled, and everyone at that showing was comped with a free pass for the inconvenience suffered, while staff hurried in halfway through the credits to make the repairs.

We jump now into the realm of the timeless. A chap from a local Baptist church rang my bell this morning and handed me a package of light bulbs. (Good ones, too: GE Soft White Longlife 60-watt.) No catch: it's just part of their outreach. And, well, why not promote Eternal Light with something good for 1500 hours or so?

Sign at a Kelly-Moore paint store: 100% CARB FREE PAINT. I should certainly hope so.

And to the long cool woman in a black dress who was posing for photographs in front of, and darn near on top of, the Centennial Fountain around three o'clock: thank you, thank you, thank you. (Words fail me otherwise.)

Saturday spottings (Etruscan edition)

On the south side of the campus of St. Gregory's University, a small (850 students) Benedictine school in Shawnee, Oklahoma, is the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, founded in 1914 by Father Gregory Gerrer, a Benedictine monk and an artist in his own right.

It's always worth the half-hour trip (35 miles, but traffic on I-40 tends to move at close to 80 mph once you're past Tinker Air Force Base) from the city to Mabee-Gerrer, but this year they have something literally unique: Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures, the first-ever showing of 225 pieces of jewelry from the collection of Count Vittorio Cini (1885-1977), passed down to his daughter Yana and made available by her husband, Prince Fabrizio Alliata di Montereale.

In addition to the Alliata-Cini collection, Etruscan Treasures features items that were imported to Etruria from other Mediterranean venues — Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia — that inspired the Etruscans' own artifacts. (For instance, to supplement an image of an Etruscan sarcophagus, there's an actual Egyptian sarcophagus from the museum's permanent collection.) There are workaday items and luxuries, reproductions of typical clothing based upon statuary, everything you'd want from a serious archaeological dig.

But the exhibition inevitably is dominated by the jewelry: small, intricately detailed, constructed with incredible precision using highly-sophisticated techniques. (A local jewelrymaker who contributes to the Antenna Audio tour program has actually duplicated some of the pieces; the reproductions can be bought at the museum at prices which reflect the difficulty of the task.) I quote from the catalog ($27.50) description of one piece in the collection:

Disc-shaped earring decorated with a six-petalled flower of beaded wire and central granule, inscribed in concentric circles of twisted, plain and spooled wire. Suspended from the disc is a pendant in the form of an inverted three-sided pyramid with a grain on the tip, decorated at the edges with spiral-beaded wire.

And they were doing this around 350 BC, mind you.

Of course, the greatest Etruscan mystery is "Where did they go?" We know that Etruria, whose borders correspond roughly with those of present-day Tuscany, eventually became part of the Roman Empire, and we are learning that some vaunted Roman innovations were derived (or blatantly copied) from Etruscan work. The exhibit is a celebration of Etruscan culture at its best, but it's also a grim reminder that no civilization, however sophisticated, lasts forever.

Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures runs through the end of October at Mabee-Gerrer. It's a national exclusive: this is the only place in the entire country to see this exhibit. And unsurprisingly, the museum register records visitors from all 50 states. (New Hampshire, says the front desk, was the last.) If you're anywhere in the vicinity, or even if you're not, it's worth the trip.

Saturday spottings (on their own shelf)

This series has gotten to the point where it's almost not unpopular, which suggests that I maybe should give it its own category. Which I did.

Heritage Park Mall, on the west side of Midwest City (which is on the east side of the county), has been a rather gloomy place for years now. Built for three and a half anchor tenants, they've had to make do with two: Service Merchandise, in the "half" spot, has now closed all its retail stores, and Montgomery Ward is history. And while everything in the mall isn't suffering — Dave will be happy to know that El Chico still dishes up the Tex-Mex to good crowds — the general atmosphere has been one of "So when are they going to put this place out of its misery already?"

Not so fast, Bucky. The buzz was positive today, and while no one is saying for sure until the contracts are signed, the word is that a big-box appliance store, most likely Best Buy, is going to take over the Wards spot. (Circuit City once had a store across the street, but it died quickly, and its space is now occupied by a Goodwill store.) To me it seems like an odd place for a Best Buy, which normally shuns malls, but it's a fair distance from their other stores in the area, and with the local Sight 'N Sound chain having been sold off, this might be the time for Best Buy to make its move.

I go past it every weekday morning, but it's usually an hour or so before sunrise, so I didn't notice until today that the Guest House Inn, an old motel once a fixture of the no-longer-around Classen Circle, has been torn down. I have no idea what's in store for the lot; access from I-44 is not wonderful, and I suspect that antique dealers around this area have reached a saturation point. And somehow I doubt that people wanting to crash after a night at Edna's will crawl two whole blocks to the Courtyard by Marriott.

Coming back from the supermarket, I managed to get behind not one but two purveyors of pure pollution: a first-generation Dodge Intrepid and a going-on-fifteen Mazda 929, both of whom were spewing roiling plumes of noxious white smoke into the air and into the ventilation systems of everyone who wasn't fast enough to switch to Recirculate. I don't want to hear anything more about greenhouse gases and other dubious bugaboos until somebody does something about these easily visible and highly verifiable mobile smog machines.

Saturday spottings (in a roundabout way)

The intersection of NW 10th, Classen Drive and Walker Avenue has been a mess for a long time, simply because it's a five-way intersection (though Walker is one-way north) and the lights are synchronized with the price of beets in Tegucigalpa or something equally implausible. As part of the 10th Street Beautification Project, aka "How do we keep St. Anthony Hospital from moving out of midtown?", the city has begun replacing the intersection with, heaven help us all, a rotary. (Readers from northeastern states may snicker now.) Detours are set to one block beyond, and are actually fairly clearly marked, which didn't stop some ditz in a powder-blue Ford pickup from wending southbound on Walker from 10th as I passed through on 9th.

A bit farther west, the Linwood Place neighborhood, towards the far end of the old westbound trolley line, is in spruce-up mode for the annual Home Tour tomorrow. Before I got married, I lived about two and a half miles west, and I used to take 19th Street to work, simply because the houses, especially through this area, were so darn gorgeous; almost thirty years later, they still are.

Closer to home, they've scraped off the southeast corner of NW 39th and May, which old-timers will remember as the onetime home of Shotgun Sam's Pizza Palace. None of Sam's successors did really great business, and the now-vacant lot will shortly become home for David Stanley Ford, which is moving across May. Stanley's place will be taken over by Lowe's, which is putting in one of their home-improvement stores. (Yes, there was a Builders Square at 36th and May, and yes, it's vacant, and no, Lowe's didn't want it: too small.)

Finally, a note from the back yard. Most of the trees around here in autumn end up with yellow or brown foliage, and not especially wondrous shades of either. However, my two sweetgum trees, a species with which I was not familiar before moving here, shed leaves just this side of stop-sign red, making for an interesting color display — and, unfortunately, making the need to rake more obvious.

The Finch Formerly Known As Gold