- ABOUT US
Nathan Gunter, Senior Editor
By Nathan Gunter
August 23, 2018
I’ve been thinking about my city a lot lately. For the past several months, as construction orange has been Oklahoma City’s dominant color, I’ve been joking that it’s going to be a very nice town when they get done building it. From my home near Northwest Thirtieth Street and May Avenue, my way to and from work has been variously impeded by the construction of the MAPS 3 streetcar, the rebuilding of I-235 near the I-44 interchange, and, recently, a crew digging a hole on Northwest Thirtieth between Penn and Classen.
I admit, these efforts on occasion have led me to scream some things from behind the wheel of my car that probably made Jesus slap his forehead in befuddlement. But this month, two sort of miraculous things happened that have made me fall in love with this city once again. The first happened last week, when I got to sit with Oklahoma City mayor David Holt for a little while in his new office in City Hall.
During our meeting, Mayor Holt pointed out two things that have stuck in my brain for the past week. The first was a map of the city that hangs on the wall opposite his desk. While we talked, he pointed toward it and said, “You see that blue squiggly line going through the middle of the map?”
He was referring to the river named, variously, the North Canadian or the Oklahoma.
“I try to remember that we’ve never had a mayor from south of that line,” he said. “This map helps me remember I’m the mayor of all of Oklahoma City.”
Holt seems serious about honoring and listening to the diverse voices, viewpoints, and communities in Oklahoma City, and that was exciting to hear. It’s easy to see this community—indeed, this state—as a monolithic collection of just one or two types of people, but the truth is, it’s a rugged, beautiful patchwork quilt of cultures, languages, cuisines, belief systems, and worldviews.
The second thing he showed me was the conference room off his office, the walls of which were, until this year, lined with portraits of former mayors. Holt has replaced them with photos of Oklahoma City children. And not just any children—the portraits reflect the city’s demographic makeup and serve, he said, to remind him and anyone else meeting with him in that room who and what it is, exactly, they’re working for.
I left the meeting energized. I left it wanting to get in the car and road trip not out in to the wild Oklahoma countryside but down urban streets into parts of town I never see. Then, as happens, I got busy, and the buzz of inspiration hummed unheeded in my ear.
Then this morning, I lay in bed and read the first several chapters of Boom Town, the new book by Sam Anderson that was born from an article in the New York Times several years ago. In the book, Anderson says, “I have come to believe, after my time there, that Oklahoma City is one of the great weirdo cities of the world—as strange, in its way, as Venice or Dubai or Versailles or Pyongyang. It is worth paying attention to, on its own terms, independent of any news cycle, strictly for the improbability of what exists there, all the time, every day.”
I once spent four months in one of the “weirdo cities” Anderson names—in college, I lived for four months in a gorgeous palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, next door to the Guggenheim museum there. I’ve spent an entire day walking, entranced, around great, strange towns like Ljubljana, Slovenia; Cork, Ireland; and Manhattan, where, in the fall of 2002, I had a standing appointment with myself every Wednesday to start off at Grand Central Station and get lost.
But Oklahoma City is where I returned to time and time again; where, when my plane lands, I feel my entire body relax into the knowledge that I am, at last, home.
So the next time I’m out driving—I’m headed to Artspace at Untitled tonight to participate in a panel discussion for artists and arts advocates hosted by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition—I’m not going to get all pissy and moan about the construction. I’m going to do what we should always do in the middle of process: Take a visual snapshot, imagine what it’ll look like once these projects are done, and the ones after that, and the ones after that. I’m going to embrace my city exactly as it is, I’m going to dream a dream of what I hope and believe it one day can be, and I’m going to jump in where I can to help make that dream a reality.
I’m going to stop slouching toward the result, impatiently groaning about things getting done, because building a community—that work is never done. It happens every day. Instead, I’m going to road trip my city a little bit. I’m going to try new restaurants I’ve never heard of. I’m going to take a few nights before the summer ends and go out to the Bricktown Ballpark to watch our minor-leaguers play (they’ve got a series against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox tonight through Monday). I’m going to find new local coffee shops, bookstores, bars, and bike routes.
I’m going to drive by where they’re building Scissortail Park south of downtown. I’m going to remember how, when I was seventeen, I’d drive my old beat-up car down to the downtown post office—which stood where the new park soon will—at 11:30 p.m., because I had a scholarship application or college essay that had to be postmarked by midnight, and that was the only post office open that late. I’ll remember the faces of the postal workers, who got to know me by name, and how I’d always wind through the colorful streets of the south side back home, windows down, looking out on the place I call home. Now, I’ll let the construction shade of orange I see everywhere be my sign that, as Sam Cooke sang, “A change is gonna come.” Just like it always does. Just like it always will.
Oh hey, also? Sam Anderson is signing copies of Boom Town tonight at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum—with discussion moderated by Mayor Holt—this Saturday at noon at Best of Books in Edmond. And lest our Tulsan friends feel left out, he also will sign books as part of a Booksmart Tulsa event Monday evening at Magic City Books. Go meet him.