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Livin' on Tulsa Time Christmas 2019

Christmas with the family never grows old. Once again we gathered in Tulsa. If my memory serves me well, I have made it every year but one since Mom passed away in 1997. That one came a few years ago when the Tulsa contingent celebrated a skiing Christmas in Colorado while I enjoyed Christmas in Portland.

I was first to make the scene, with an early morning flight Thursday the 19th, Alaska Airlines to Dallas, then American for the short hop to Tulsa, on the ground at 3:40 p.m. Flying is my least favorite part of Christmas, but this leg was clockwork with all departures and arrivals right on schedule. Next in was Rachel, my niece, who got a ride with friends from Austin to Oklahoma City on Monday. Trani (brother) and Candace (sister-in-law) picked her up at 9:45 that night (I stayed home so the car would be more comfy because less crowded on the drive back). Nephew Dan and Maribel celebrated with her family in Minneapolis on Christmas Eve, then rose at 3 a.m. Christmas morning to take one of her brothers to the airport before hitting the road to Tulsa, rolling in at 5:45 that evening.

So what is there to do in Tulsa anyway? Far more than I had time for in a single week. Coffee shops, brew pubs, and restaurants abound. The Gathering Place is a top-notch riverfront park. Philbrook Museum of Art, Gilcrease Museum, home to the Bob Dylan Archive Collection, and the Woody Guthrie Museum are always good for a visit. Ditto for Circle Cinema, one of my favorite movie houses. John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park memorializes the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The park is sobering because of the awfulness of the riot and massacre, moving and hopeful in giving voice to the previously untold story of that dark moment in the history of Tulsa and our history as a nation and the role African Americans played in building Oklahoma. Hikes at Turkey Mountain and runs along the riverfront trail are other Tulsa highlights. And these are just things I have taken in on past visits.

My weeklong stay kicked off in grand fashion with the annual Tulsa Runner Christmas party Thursday night. Trani supplies beer and meat that his pal Glenn smokes for barbecue brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and some truly delicious little sausages that will have you feel your arteries clogging up as you savor each bite. Party guests bring more beer and wine, side dishes, and dessert for the gala event of the season.

The guest list is made up of store staff, Trani's running pals, and a certain bohemian lefty poet and runner from Portland. I caught up with friends and acquaintances from years past, Julie from the store of course, who is training for a triathlon in 2020, Pastor Bill Webb, marathoners extraordinaire Greg Bigler, Jennifer McConnell, Terri Cassel, and David Jordan, who has run three marathons with me, and others. And I made a few new ones, like young Ashley who works part-time at the store and is excited about going off to college next year where she has found a running program that is a good fit for her. Nice conversation with Greg about my fall reading (Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris 1940–50, Simone de Beauvoir's novel The Mandarins, and Deirdre Bair's bio of Beauvoir), and near evening's end Bill and I slipped off to the side a bit and in lowered voices, it being Oklahoma and discretion the better part of valor, talked a little politics.

A good diner for breakfast is a treasure, and Tulsa has a fine one in Brookside by Day (BBD). This turned out to be a BBD Christmas, as I ate there three times, twice with Trani, once with Candace (short stack of pancakes on two occasions, scrambled egg, home fries, and biscuit and gravy on the other, and always more diner coffee than is strictly speaking advisable).

As for dining, along with the traditional holiday feast of ham on Christmas Eve and turkey and dressing Christmas Day, we hit Lone Wolf for rice bowls one night, and as always when I come to Tulsa we enjoyed an excellent dinner at India Palace. The India Palace version of chicken korma, one of my go-to dishes, is slightly different from what is served up by my friends at India Oven in Portland but just as tasty.

Among this year's high points was Sunday's trek to Oklahoma City to catch an Elizabeth Warren campaign appearance at her high school gym. An enthusiastic crowd packed the gym while a raggedy bunch of the MAGA types outside demonstrated for Trump and against socialism. The next morning Trani read a news report that said the demonstration was organized by the Republican Party. If that is the best they can do, maybe it is a good sign. On the other hand, Trani pointed out that in Oklahoma they do not really need to do better.

Warren is a marvel, so intelligent, so likable. She bounded about the stage in a casual red sweater, clearly enjoying herself, with energy and vigor anyone would hope to be graced with at seventy. Natural and at ease interacting with supporters, she came across as authentic, a happy warrior fighting the good fight for an agenda born of values many of us share. Nothing of her message was new to the three of us, nor I imagine was it new to pretty much anyone present that night. Nonetheless it was interesting to take in the entire speech rather than the sound bites, video clips, and debate appearances with which we are familiar. We were impressed and came away more sold on her than ever.

Monday brought a new adventure when Candace delivered me to Peoria Avenue at 36th Street in the Brookside District to check out the new Aero BRT bus route that runs along the Peoria corridor north to downtown and beyond, south to Oral Roberts University, Wal-Mart, and the shopping center that is home to Nordaggio's Coffee where Trani likes to go for an afternoon latte and I hit for an afternoon espresso and journal session to get out of his hair at the store.

My initial plan had been to take the bus to the south end of the line for a Nordaggio's visit, then have Trani run by to pick me up to spend the remainder of the afternoon hanging out at Tulsa Runner. The day was lovely, with afternoon temperature in the 60s, so on the spur of the moment just before noon I decided to add some downtown wandering to the program. Unfortunately, I set out with no preparation beyond maps of the bus route and downtown coffee shop locations Candace printed for me. Next time I will try to procure a good paper map of downtown if I have yet to dip my toe more deeply into the 21st century with an upgrade to a smartphone. The afternoon wandering was fine anyway.

I got off the bus at Peoria and 6th across the street from Centennial Park. A stroll through the park took me to the grim heart of downtown Tulsa, all office buildings, hotels, and parking lots. I found my way to S Main Street and up to Foolish Things Coffee Company on 10th Avenue, where I enjoyed an espresso and took a couple of photos. I did not linger there because I did not have any sense as to how long it would take to get to Nordaggio's. Not long at all, as it turned out, as my arrival at the bus stop on Peoria at 11th coincided with the approach of the bus (the Aero runs every 15 minutes during weekday peak periods, every 20 minutes otherwise and on Saturday, and every 30 minutes on Sunday), and the ride itself was around 30 minutes tops.

Trani swung by Nordaggio's to pick me up after another good espresso and journal session (previous ones at Nordaggio's and Shades of Brown in Brookside).

(photo: artist at Nordaggio's when I was there on Friday)

When we got back to the store he handed me a gift from Greg Bigler, a copy of his paper Traditional Jurisprudence and Protection of Our Society: A Jurisgenerative Tail, American Indian Law Review, Vol. XLIII, Number 1 (2018–2019), autographed with a touching inscription. I have read about half of it thus far. The paper is quite interesting, with much to contemplate and ponder offered from a perspective in which I am not well-versed.

I met Greg sometime not too long after Trani opened Tulsa Runner in 2003. It is always good to see him. Along with the many marathons he has run, his credentials include J.D., Harvard Law School (1985); LL.M., Wisconsin Law School (1987); District Judge, Muscogee (Creek) Nation; and Attorney General, Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. For somebody this impressive and such a good person to boot to think of me as a friend gives hope that maybe I have not gotten everything wrong after all.

Lest I leave the impression that 'twas all fun and games, let it be noted for the record that Trani and I raked a boatload of leaves in the backyard on Tuesday and Wednesday and Candace cooked up a storm. Good times.

We held off opening gifts until Dan and Maribel made it and we put away the dinner feast. The wait for the gifts was no more torturous than one might expect. I know a lot of families cut down on the presents, if not eliminating them altogether, once the kids are grown and the elder generation approaching their dotage. We still have too much fun with the giving and receiving to dispense with the tradition. It does not get much better than the feeling that comes with seeing someone light up upon opening a gift you have given.

And then it was over, the days having flown away. Dan, Maribel, and Rachel would be in Tulsa until today (Sunday). I headed home on Thursday morning. The Tulsa airport was quiet, the flight to Dallas on time and uneventful. Then, misadventure.

My itinerary had a layover in Dallas of close to three hours. That was doubled by the three-hour flight delay shown on the monitor when I got into the terminal after arriving from Tulsa at 11:40. Things went downhill from there. The flight was canceled sometime around 4 in the afternoon. The gate agent got me ticketed on a 6:15 flight to Seattle Friday morning with a connecting flight to Portland, reserved a hotel room for the night, and gave me vouchers for two meals at the airport. I picked up some food for dinner, retrieved my checked bag after an Alaska agent located it and got it sent to the baggage claim area where it was supposed to have been waiting for me, and took the hotel shuttle to the Wyndham Garden. Once checked in and up to my room, I wolfed down a meal of baked beans, mac and cheese, and cole slaw, hit the hotel bar for a beer, and was in bed, wiped out, at 8 p.m., with a wake-up call and my phone alarm set for 3:30.

Both Friday flights had slight delays for various reasons. The Seattle airport was a zoo. I made it to Portland around 11:30 a.m. My checked bag did not, having failed to make the transfer in Seattle. It was delivered to my home at 6 that afternoon. And the clouds lifted from my spirit. I was bone-tired and experiencing a mix of melancholy and good memories. Good as it is to be home, already I miss them, those I love dearly, at their homes in Tulsa and Minneapolis and Austin. The plan is to rendezvous with Trani and Candace in San Franciso this summer. Something to look forward to.

Best wishes to all in the coming year! Let's make it a good one!

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