A REAL ID adventure on the Mother Road

Sarah tag agency
My daughter Sarah celebrates after getting her REAL ID license at the Diamond Tag Agency in Chandler

We pulled into the gravel lot of the Luther Tag Agency this morning about 8:40. What luck, the first ones there.

Then I saw the paper sign attached to the door. Tag Agency closed the week of June 14-18.

I laughed out loud. My daughter didn’t see the humor.

Here’s how we got into this situation. Sarah needed to renew her driver’s license by the end of June. It needed to be a REAL ID license.

So, when I was in the Edmond Tag agency to renew a car tag last week, I asked about getting a driver’s license there. The helpful woman behind the COVID-proof plastic window told me I would need to make an appointment. The next available slots were something like two months out.

“But you can go to the Luther Tag Agency and just walk in,” she said.

Perfect. So, this morning we left the house about 8 am on a mission.

When we saw the Luther agency was closed for the week, I Googled the Wellston Tag Agency about 12 miles farther east on Route 66.

We headed down the Mother Road, Wellston bound. We got to the Wellston Tag Agency about 10 minutes before it opened, and were the second customers in line.

After the tag agent finished with Customer No. 1, he asked how he could help us. I said we wanted to get a REAL ID for my daughter sitting next to me.

“We don’t do driver’s licenses here, never have,” he said (with a straight face). “But you can just walk in at the Chandler agency, which is about 15 miles east on Route 66.”

Sarah OnCu
Sarah poses at Wellston OnCue as we head to Chandler.

I was laughing again as we walked out the door. My daughter was fuming, because I had us on a wild goose chase.

We headed east again on the Mother Road. We pulled into the lot of the Diamond Tag Agency about 15 minutes later. There were cars, and people going in and out.

Luck was with us this time. After a wait of only about 15 minutes, the agent called us to the counter.

Yes, he could do a REAL ID license. We turned over our folder of documents, and within about 10 minutes Sarah became the first person in our family with a REAL ID.

We thanked the tag agent, headed out the door and pointed the car back to OKC.

This time, we bypassed the Mother Road and took the Turner Turnpike back to town.

Even if the tag agency gods forced us to drive the Mother Road three towns over, we still got our kicks (and REAL ID) on Route 66.

In softball, there is always joy in Mudville

OU Women
OU softball players lead fans in a cheer during a break in the action at the Women’s College World Series

As I was watching the Women’s College World Series game between OU and James Madison the other night, I was fascinated by how much enthusiasm and joy the players bring to the game.

They cheer and chant in unison in the dugout, they celebrate big hits, runs and good fielding plays. The OU players even came out of the dugout a couple times to lead fans in a cheer.

I fired off a text to a friend who was also watching the game on ESPN. “Softball needs some unwritten rules that suck all the joy out of the game just like baseball,” the text said.

I was kidding.

But it made me realize how much of a contrast there is between baseball and women’s softball. In baseball, it’s all about “respecting the game” or “respecting the opponent.”

No emotion allowed.

Translated, that means you never, ever act like you are enjoying the moment after a home run, a strikeout or a big fielding play.

OU HR
OU player celebrates a home run as she rounds the bases

Baseball has been losing fans by the millions in recent years, and I’m convinced that the ridiculous unwritten rules have played a role in that. Today’s fans — especially young fans — want to see games played with enthusiasm and emotion.

If you’re curious as to what the unwritten rules are that baseball lives by, here’s a pretty good description I found on the major league baseball website. 

There is evidence of late that some of the unwritten rules are being rewritten. I’m talking about the way that big hitters like Fernando Tatis Jr. flip their bats and pause to watch their home runs go out of the park before celebrating as they round the bases.

So far, it appears that no one has retaliated by hitting Tatis in the head with a 98-hour bean ball. So far.

But baseball always wants to draw a line in the sand, and there seems to be a hard line drawn at emotion.

By contrast, the women’s game is such a breath of fresh air. I’m taking joy in their joy.

Their game is a celebration, and I’m celebrating along with them.

We need a Streetcar with a purpose

OKC Streetcar
OKC Streetcar at the Cox Center stop in December 2018

Let me say first that I love the OKC Streetcar. I love to ride the rails of any sort whether trains, subway or streetcar.

Especially OUR Streetcar.

When the OKC Streetcar launched in December 2018, I made a day of it. I took Edmond’s CityLink bus to downtown OKC,  walked over to Leadership Square and caught the tail end of the opening ceremony followed by the launch of the inaugural ride.

Then I walked over to the Library stop, caught the second Streetcar that came by and rode the entire downtown loop, which took almost an hour.

The next month, downtown for a Thunder game with my family, we parked near the Chesapeake Arena and caught the Streetcar up to Automobile Alley, where we exited and walked over to Hideaway Pizza for a pregame meal.

We then caught the Streetcar at the OCU Law School stop and rode it back down to the Cox Center, from where we walked into the arena just as the National Anthem was being performed.

So, yes, I love the OKC Streetcar.

But there’s a problem.

I have no reason to ride it because it’s a Streetcar that goes, well, nowhere. It’s a loop through downtown from Bricktown to Scissortail Park up to NW 11th Street and back down.

As much as I love the rails, our Streetcar wasn’t built for a commuter who would love to use it to get to downtown instead of to ride around downtown in a loop.

As much as people don’t like to hear it, it was built as a tourist attraction.

So, from my point of view, the OKC Streetcar doesn’t serve the population. You see Streetcars go by all the time that are virtually empty. The numbers recently released by Embark show that lack of ridership, although as it pointed out, the Pandemic did it no favors over the past year.

But we have the Streetcar and I still love it. I’m just trying to figure out how it can be made more useful to a commuting population.

For instance, perhaps there could be sort of a commuter lot on the north edge of downtown devoted to people who drive in for a big event like a Thunder game or Scissortail Park concert. They could park at the lot, take the Streetcar on down and not worry about finding a parking space.

Now that would fill an actual need.

My friend, whom I will call “Steve”, suggests a faster Streetcar and new routes.

“Speed and a spur to populated areas to make it a commuter option,” Steve said. “It just takes way too long to get around the segments.”

Thank you, Steve. A commuter option is exactly what it needs.

New routes would be a major financial hurdle at this point. But the Streetcar needs desperately to connect the OKC Innovation District, the OU Health Sciences Center campus and the Capitol — and NE 23rd Street — to downtown.

Someone please make that happen. Then we would no longer have a Streetcar to nowhere.

We would have a Streetcar with a purpose.

Fun at the ol’ ballyard — life returns to ‘normal’

Panoramic shot of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on 2021 Opening Night

Life as we knew it returned on Thursday, May 13. The Oklahoma City Dodgers opened the home portion of their 2021 season at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

My friend Casey Harness, a long-time season ticket holder, called me early in the afternoon and said he had an extra ticket with my name on it. I cleared it with the home office and agreed to join him at the park about 6:30 p.m.

Masks were optional, as it turned out.

Although the Dodgers lost the game (as they did all but one of their six season-opening road games), it was a special night. Seating was limited and spaced out, but the crowd of about 5,000 still brought enthusiasm and noise.

Here are the top 10 things that made it an awesome night for me:

FREEDOM: The Centers for Disease Control announced early Thursday that Americans like me who are fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus can shed their masks outdoors,  as well as in most indoor situations. I was conflicted upon first arriving at the ballpark. I wore my mask as I entered – as did about say, 30 percent of the people I saw – then took it off after entering the club level food area where I met Casey. I put the mask back on briefly as I waited in line for food, but then took it off and never wore it again the rest of the night.

FRIENDSHIP: On my left sat Casey Harness, my host who invited me to sit in his seats with him. Casey and I worked together at i2E, Inc., beginning in 2009 and have remained friends for over a decade.  On my right sat Ed Godfrey, a long time friend and colleague at The Oklahoman who was actually at the game to write an opening night fan experience story.

WEATHER: It was a spectacular night for baseball with clear skies and warm afternoon that cooled off after dark into a night that could still be enjoyed without any sort of jacket. The only thing missing was a giant full moon rise in the east.

CONVERSATION: One of the great things about watching a baseball game in person is that the pace is conversation friendly. Casey, Ed and I tackled all sorts of problems last night, including the OKC Thunder’s ongoing tanking dilemma. And the new largely unpopular baseball rules that put a man on second to start play in each extra inning. Oh, and the extreme defensive positioning that plagues all of baseball these days.

BALLPARK EATS: The tickets that Casey has come with unlimited food service, so our group sampled grilled burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, chicken strips, peanuts, M&Ms, beer, water and even a hot cup of coffee late in the game when there was a hint of a chill in the air.

FUN AT THE OL’ BALLYARD: The Dodgers have a fun bit between innings late in the game where fans dance (mostly) badly and cameras broadcast their (lack of) talent on the giant hi-def scoreboard screen. There were the usual kids dancing wildly, girls and then a couple of 20-something guys who suddenly ripped off their T-shirts like they were World Wide Wrestling contestants. Laughter erupted throughout the stands. Later, I spotted the shirtless guys sitting behind the first base dugout and giving the umpires the business. Must have been dollar beer night.

PREDICTIONS: The Sacramento River Cats – our foes for the night – had the bases full at one point with two outs. I offhandedly predicted a “weak ground ball to second” to end the inning. The batter ripped a hard ground shot just to the right of second, and the Dodgers’ second basemen made a great stop, got up and threw him out to end the inning. I took credit for calling it, of course.

HIGH-TECH: As far as I can tell, Dodgers tickets now are all digital and sent to your phone, which are then scanned when you enter the front gate. I put my ticket in my iPhone’s electronic wallet, then scanned the URL code at the entrance. It worked great. But have the folks still carrying flip phones been left behind?

FIREWORKS: The opening night game was followed by a spectacular opening night fireworks show that was incredibly loud. There are two hotels located just over the left field fence. The game ended about 10:30 p.m. Can you imagine the unexpected jolt that sleeping patrons received? Followed by angry calls to the front desk, I’m sure.

DO IT AGAIN: There’s not much time to wallow in self-pity after a baseball loss. Teams routinely play every night during a homestand, and this year teams are playing the same opponent six straight to cut down on travel during the pandemic. They do get Wednesdays off this season. Anyway, the Dodgers and River Cats are back at it again tonight. I’ll catch this one on the radio.

A playlist to take you back in time

Album covers

On my way to the dentist one day a few years ago, the song “American Woman” came on the radio. It was followed by Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and then “A Horse With No Name,” by America.

A wave of nostalgia hit me so hard I almost had to pull over.

I was no longer in my car in the 2010s.  I was a teenager in 1971 sitting in a 1965 Pontiac Catalina (look it up) in Fort Smith, Ark.

This was almost a song-for-song playlist of the music I was listening to in the early ’70s just as I was completing high school. If there were such things as playlists back in 1971.

We had a new FM radio station in Fort Smith with the call letters KISR, which played Top 40 hits and was immensely popular among high school students. Its play list rotation was really small, so you heard the popular songs again and again.

Pontiac CatalinaI wouldn’t have had FM radio in my Pontiac — a hand-me-down from my dad — but that’s the memory that washed over me when I heard the music from a distant time.

Isn’t it amazing that hearing the opening riff to a single song — Neil Young’s “Ohio,” for instance — can instantly transport you back in time to exactly where you were at when you first heard the music?

Sitting in a car. Dragging Main Street. At the lake. Hanging out at someone’s house.

It puts you right there again. It’s almost like Deja Vu (all over again!).

Turns out, that there are studies on the subject of how music can take you back and rekindle vivid memories from decades ago. And how music creates waves of nostalgia that make you emotional for a time long gone.

It even occurs with more recent music and memories. Whenever I hear Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” I’m right back in Chesapeake Energy Arena waiting for KD, Russ, Serge and the rest of the Thunder to hit the court.

“Home’ was the pregame warmup music for an entire season back in the good ol’ days of the Thunder. How I miss it.

The music carries me back.

The press credential: A story

Weldon ticket
Ticket printed in Fort Smith, Ark., to 1934 college football game

My friend Mike Burrows in Denver finds and sends out all sorts of sport-related photos and news stories he comes across.

Mike and I worked together at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith back in the late ’70s. Today, he is retired from the Denver Post, and I’m retired from The Oklahoman.

Anyway, this morning Mike sent out a photo of a ticket to an Alabama-Mississippi State football game from back in 1934. What caught my eye was the name of the Fort Smith company that printed the ticket, which was in small type at the very bottom.

The ticket and the name of the printing company brought back a vivid memory from my SWTR days.

One day in roughly 1982, the paper’s editor, Jack Moseley, abruptly called me into his office and shut the door behind me. I was the paper’s Sports Editor at the time.

“Did you give someone a press credential to a recent baseball game in Houston between the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals?” he asked.

Why, no I didn’t. Why?

Turns out that someone with a press credential from the SWTR showed up in the press box and disrupted a radio broadcast at the Cardinals-Astros game in the Astrodome.

Apparently, the SWTR “reporter” helped himself to the free beer served to reporters. And overindulged, to be nice.

Then he decided he wanted to meet Cardinals announcers Jack Buck and Mike Shannon.

So, he wandered around the press box level until he found a door that led into the radio booth from which the St. Louis announcers were calling the game.

The “reporter” burst into the room unannounced and caused a commotion. During the game. While Buck and Shannon were attempting to call it.

Needless to say, security was called and the guy was escorted out of the stadium.  Astros officials called Moseley demanding to know why he sent this guy to cover the game.

That’s when Moseley summoned me into his office.

Since neither of us knew what happened, an investigation began and soon revealed the SWTR “reporter” actually worked at the Fort Smith firm that printed the press credential. He merely added his own (real) name on the credential and showed up at the Astrodome.

Comedy ensued, I suppose.

It’s a funny story today, but there was nothing funny to me about this cringeworthy story 40 years ago.

A night to remember with Howard Schnellenberger

Howard Schnellenberger on the OU sidelines in 1995. (Oklahoman photo)

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the news that former University of Oklahoma football coach Howard Schnellenberger passed away this morning.

Schnellenberger coached OU for one unspectacular season in 1995, and was fired right after the 5-5-1 season ended.

By OU standards, it was a disaster.

Schnellenberger came to OU with decades of football success on his resume and the confidence of a Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It just didn’t translate to success with the Sooners.

Although I was just an outsider looking in that year, all I could see was a pompous old man who thought his mere presence would inspire success.

Then fate brought me together with Howard for one night in 1995.

I was working as a Business News reporter at the time for the Daily Oklahoman. One of my beats was writing about Oklahoma agriculture.

You might remember that the Oklahoma Farm Bureau made Schnellenberger their spokesman in an ad campaign in 1995.  The ads appeared on Oklahoma TV stations and mainly featured Howard squinting into the distance as words described the value that the Farm Bureau brings its members.

Many folks thought Howard was an odd choice for the Farm Bureau. In fact, here’s something that Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel wrote back in ’95:

“Sudden thought: Why did the Oklahoma Farm Bureau select Howard Schnellenberger as its marketing spokesman? Aren’t most of those folks OSU graduates?”

But Schnellenberger’s most recent job before OU was that of football coach at the University of Louisville, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau at the time was a Kentucky native. So, there was a thin connection. 

Howard Schnellenberger (Oklahoman photo)

Then one day, out of the blue, my wife and I received an invitation from the Farm Bureau to attend a “media night” at Applewoods Restaurant. OU coach Howard Schnellenberger was the special guest speaker.

Paula and I loved Applewoods and its famous apple fritters, so of course we agreed to go.

Turns out, a local television reporter and I were the only “media” members at the dinner. And only about a dozen people total were at the Farm Bureau event.

Here’s all I remember about that night. Howard stood over our tables and droned on in a low monotone for about 30 minutes. I remember nothing about what he said.

My wife had an interesting experience, too. Howard’s wife, Beverlee, was with him and sort of latched on to Paula as her new best friend for the night. She never stopped talking.

I couldn’t wait for that painful evening now 26 years distant to be over.

And it wasn’t long before Schnellenberger’s tenure as OU coach was over, as well.

Rest in peace, Howard.

Bonus: Watch and read an oral history of Howard Schnellenberger at OU published by The Oklahoman in 2011.

Grateful for the impact of Jerry McConnell

In 1983, I was a very raw young sports reporter at the Southwest Times Record (SWTR) in Fort Smith, Ark., with dreams of some day working at the Dallas Morning news.

Fort Smith was my first stop out of college, and I worked on the sports desk, then the news desk for a couple years, then back to sports as the Sports Editor.

But I dreamed of Dallas and working with the likes of Blackie Sherrod and Randy Galloway. I even wrangled an interview there but came up with no job and the advice to gain more experience.

Then one day a friend with whom I worked on the SWTR news desk — I’ll call her “Patti” — suggested that I send a resume to the Sports Editor of The Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. His name was Jerry McConnell, and Patti had worked for him when he was the managing editor the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock.

So, I fired off a resume to Jerry with absolutely no expectations.

By coincidence, my timing turned out to be perfect.

One of the Sports copy editors at The Oklahoman had just quit, and football season was starting.

Jerry gave me a call and asked me to come interview. I drove over to OKC and met with Jerry and his Assistant Sports Editor, Bob Colon.

Jerry hired me, and I relocated to OKC in early September 1983.

Turned out that I was not well prepared for the daily pressure and grind of The Oklahoman Sports Desk. We put out three editions each night, sometimes fully remaking almost the entire section between editions.

I was mistake-prone and unlikely to make an edition’s deadline on any given night. I had no design skills.

But Jerry was a patient editor and boss. Rather than scream at me, or worse, fire me, he allowed me to make my mistakes, and gently helped me grow as a professional. He also was in the office every night until at least the first edition was finished, so he was accessible.

Jerry also shared many fascinating stories from across his long career. I loved to sit and listen to him spin a yarn in his gravely baritone voice.

So, I’ve always been grateful to Jerry for his kind and steady hand as a boss and a friend. He eventually retired from The Oklahoman and moved back to his hometown of Greenwood, Ark.

In retirement, he wrote a book, an oral history of the Arkansas Democrat.

Jerry passed away last June at the age of 92.

To my regret, I only recently learned of his death. You can read his obituary to see what impact he had on his profession and the community, both in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Jerry touched the lives of many, many people in the newspaper industry and beyond. I’ll always be grateful for what he did for me.

My friend Patti was one of those for whom Jerry made a difference. Here’s what she had to say about him:

“He was a super friend to me and taught me a lot in Democrat days… He passed peacefully at home just after we last saw him. His last words to me were, “Love you too babe”… He liked you a lot. I will miss him ever!”

Thank you, Jerry McConnell, for bringing me to Oklahoma City and making a difference in my life.

Oklahoma Innovation Model seeded invention of ‘Socket-less Socket’ for prosthetics

Jay Martin discusses his prosthetic invention during OCAST interview in 2018

In a recent appearance on the Innovate That podcast hosted by Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell,  Oklahoma City inventor and entrepreneur Jay Martin told how his work with NASA inspired his company’s prosthetic innovation known as the Socket-less Socket.

Listen to the entire podcast sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and hear Jay describe his work on NASA exoskeleton designs and how it carried over to his own company, Martin Bionics.

A recap of Jay’s comments that I wrote appeared in the March 17 edition of the Journal Record. (subscription required)

However, space limitations for that article prevented inclusions of several comments Jay made about the impact OCAST and the Oklahoma Innovation Model have had on his prosthetic design work over the years.

I thought they shed some light on how critical state support of innovators like Jay can be, so I’m posting his comments in this blog.

Prosthetics displayed at Martin Bionics

All of these comments are from Jay Martin made during the Innovate That podcast:

Martin on the value of OCAST

If you look back at the history of Martin Bionics, there are several significant pieces in that timeline, in that story line that have OCAST’s name on it. At the very beginning I was practicing clinical prosthetics and had some ideas for some new prosthetic designs and ended up discovering OCAST. I went to every workshop OCAST had. I learned how to write grants, taught myself how to write patents, along with OCAST’s help in some of those workshops, and ended up winning my first OCAST grant, I think, while I was either still in residency or just out of residency. That was really the launching pad for me.

That really shaped the entire trajectory of my career. I ended up winning a number of OCAST grants over the years for technologies we were developing, but the impact to the amputee community has been significant from OCAST funding. And, obviously, Martin Bionics’ growth and trajectory and all of our staff, we can all thank OCAST for so many of those significant pieces of our journey. It’s a great resource we have here in Oklahoma. It’s incredible. I’ve encouraged so many other entrepreneurs to check it out because it has really been lifeblood for us to really accomplish some things that otherwise we would not have been able to.

Martin on the Oklahoma Innovation Model

When I was first starting, I was green. I knew nothing about entrepreneurship, grants, patents or any of that, so I was hungry to find information.

(Editor’s note: The Oklahoma Innovation Model includes OCAST, i2E Inc., the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs at the University of Oklahoma.)

All of those are incredible resources. Anyone who is young on their journey on entrepreneurship or advancing or creating, they are incredible resources and I’ve always found there are staff members in each of those organizations who are standing by ready to help, ready to answer questions and ready to go to lunch with you and download information. They are there to help us be successful. Absolutely incredible resources.

We have a real gift here in Oklahoma that some other states don’t have.

Why locate Martin Bionics here in Oklahoma?

I was born in Oklahoma, grew up in Norman, worked in Oklahoma City in my adult life. Oklahoma is a great place, and from the standpoint of entrepreneurship, the resources we have, you have OCAST and all those other great organizations there, but in addition to that we have relatively low cost of living, we have really nice people, we have a really progressive city that is amazing. It’s not too big, just the right size. We have rush minutes, not hours. It’s just a great place to raise a family, to live, to work and to play.

There’s enough industry in Oklahoma that there’s really a talented pool of applicants for hiring. So we’ve been able to grow our business compared to the coasts for a fraction of the price.

Watch a video interview OCAST conducted with Jay Martin from 2018:

Ten-minute tour of OKC’s Grand Palace

The new OKC convention center looks out over Scissortail Park.

The first thing I noticed about the new Oklahoma City Convention Center as my wife and I walked toward the entrance Saturday was its proximity to everything.

To our left, directly across the street from the Convention Center was the massive Scissortail Park. Next door is OKC’s new Omni Hotel. The OKC Streetcar stop was just north of the hotel.

And to our surprise, we spotted Mayor David Holt sitting on a bench by himself outside the Convention Center. Naturally, we introduced ourselves and posed for a quick photo with him (of course) before walking on.

Now that’s proximity!

Saturday was Open House for the new OKC Convention Center, so I signed us up. Turned out to be an awesome experience, although not just because of the tour.

We decided we had enough time to grab some lunch before scheduled tour time.

As we waited in line to be seated at the Omni’s OKC Tap House restaurant, we spotted some long-time friends I’ll call “Brent and Valeri.”  We joined them in the outside seating area.

It had been years since we had sat down and visited with this couple, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Time passed, and before we realized it, we were 30 minutes past our scheduled tour time.

So, we paid our tab and walk over to the Convention Center. We faced a time crunch because Paula was scheduled to receive her first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine in 45 minutes, with a hard deadline.

That left us about 10 minutes to tour the massive Convention Center.

Remember, this $288 million facility was entirely paid for with MAPS 1 cent sales tax. It features 200,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 30,000 square foot ballroom, among many amenities.

And it has that new car smell.

So, we rushed to the entrance and were greeted by ushers who pointed us to the escalators. We went up to the third floor.

There we found a long balcony that overlooked the park and featured an awesome view of downtown.

We snapped photos. We turned around and walked into a massive banquet room set up with tables like the dinner was tonight. We took photos. We looked down over the entrance three floors below. We took photos. We poked our heads into a smaller conference room maybe 50 seats arranged around tables. We took photos.

Then we hurried out.

It’s a grand palace, but our mini-tour didn’t do it justice. The vaccine was calling.

We’ll be back.