Life can take a surreal turn at times. Like this: One day almost two decades ago, I was standing outside a wireless telephone store across from Penn Square Mall when a big black limousine pulled up.
A door opened and I hopped in, where I was greeted by former OU football coach Barry Switzer. The King himself.
I am not making this up.
Turns out, I was the technology reporter at The Oklahoman at the time. My editor asked me to accompany Switzer as he surprised the lucky winner of a prize offered as a promotional special by the wireless telephone company.
As I sat in the seat next to Coach Switzer, he began to ask me what I did at the paper, about my family and where I grew up. When I said “Arkansas,” he reacted as though he had just found a long-lost relative.
You probably know that Switzer is an Arkansas native, the son of a bootlegger. He’s also friendly, conversational and full of stories.
We had a great time as we rode to Midwest City to pick up the winner. Switzer told me stories from his life in Arkansas and people he knew from Fort Smith, which is my hometown.
By the time the assignment was over, I felt I had known Barry Switzer for years. It was like saying goodbye to a favorite uncle as I got out of the limo.
I’ve written all of that because I met another Oklahoma legend with a big personality this past week, and it felt like deja vu all over again.
My friend Steve Buck asked me to serve as a room monitor in Norman at the spring convention of the organization he leads.
As I was stationed outside the door to my assigned room before the workshop began, I turned and found myself face to face to Mike Turpen.
If you’ve lived in Oklahoma any time at all, you know Turpen is long-time co-host of the Flashpoint issue/debate show on KFOR in OKC. He is also a former Oklahoma Attorney General and chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
“I’m the last Democrat in Oklahoma,” Turpen joked after we introduced ourselves.
As Switzer had done years ago, Turpen wanted to know about where I worked and what I had done for a career, where I was from, who my wife was and what she did. Her name is Paula, I said, and she was a school principal before retiring and now works for a non-profit organization.
“Oh, she’s famous,” he said.
I laughed. My wife later told me she’s certain she has never met Turpen.
As we stood talking in the hallway of the convention center, Turpen opened his briefcase and handed me a little booklet he has written. It is entitled “10 Qualities for Survival and Success in the New Millennium.”
I admitted to him that I had misspelled his name in the paper years ago. He brushed it off as no problem.
Turpen was a presenter at one of the workshops at the convention, so he headed to his assigned room, which was just down the hall from mine.
“May I come in and take your picture,” I asked?
“Sure,” he replied. “Just email me a copy.”
So, I took the photo that is at the top of this page and later sent him a copy from my iPhone.
“Hello Mr. Turpen” I wrote with my thumb as a greeting before spell-correct on my phone got ahold of it.
It came out “Hello Mr. Turpentine.” I failed to self-edit and hit “send.”
Turpen later sent me a “thank you” for the photo. He didn’t mention that I had misspelled his name AGAIN.
I saw something Friday evening at an Oklahoma City Dodgers game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that I’ve never witnessed before: A 9-inning professional baseball game played in 2 hours and 14 minutes.
And it was a fun, action-filled game between the Dodgers and the Sugar Land Space Cowboys that was won by OKC 3-2.
Thanks to new rules that mandate no more than 14 seconds between pitches — 18 if runners are on base — the game moved incredibly fast.
There seemed to be no complaints by players or managers over the mandated fast pace. However, there appeared to be a Sugar Land player called out at one point because he wasn’t ready for the pitch in time.
I was able to witness the Dodgers game thanks for my friend Steve Buck and two of his children. Steve had an extra ticket and invited me at the last minute.
We had a blast and got to see the most exciting play in baseball — a triple — hit by Dodgers outfielder Drew Avans. The next time up Avans surprised the Space Cowboys by laying down a bunt and getting an easy single out of it.
We saw OKC’s Jake Lamb hit a 2-run home run in the third inning. We saw future baseball hall of famer José Altuve bat for Sugar Land on a rehab assignment. Altuve got a couple of singles, but also was called out on strikes.
Steve and I began to notice the incredible pace of the game after about three innings, which had taken maybe 40 minutes of playing time. We were headed into the fifth when the game reached an hour of playing time.
We saw three OKC pitchers hold Sugar Land to only single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, and nothing more. Then we watched Sugar Land’s Zac Rosscup shut down the Dodgers over the last 1.2 inning and noted that Rosscup has not given up a single run this season over 9 innings. Nothing but zeros.
We celebrated the seventh inning stretch by singing badly, then Googling the history of the seventh inning stretch because we wanted to know how it started. If you must know, it was started by President William Howard Taft at a game in Pittsburgh in 1910.
You can look it up yourself.
Even though we were tracking the swift pace of the game, the final three outs came so quickly in the 9th it caught us by surprise. We headed to our cars at 9:19 pm on a game that started at 7:05.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through games that started at 7:05 and by 10 pm were only in the 7th or 8th innings.
It was a refreshing change, and appears to be more than a short-term trend.
For reference, here’s an article I found that shows just how much the pitch clock has impacted the length of games throughout the minor leagues.
Dodgers radio announcer and communications director Alex Freedman later tweeted that the Dodgers and Sugar Land games averaged — AVERAGED — 3 hours and 34 minutes last year. So far this year, the first five games have gone 2:51, 2:23, 2:58, 2:14 and 2:32.
I’m hoping that Major League Baseball will embrace the pitch clock ASAP.
It’s that it is so rarely invoked because fielders at this level rarely misplay a popup in the infield like that.
Casey, who is a long-time Dodgers season ticket holder and has attended far more games in recent seasons than me, questioned the call. Why was the batter out before the ball even hit the ground? Why weren’t the runners running?
Well, if the fielder purposely dropped the ball and there was no infield fly rule, the Isotopes could have easily turned a double play. Maybe a triple play if things fell right.
Casey was not satisfied with that answer.
“This is archaic, unnecessary and downright confusing,” he said.
OK, but baseball was created in the 1800s and the rules were developed long ago. They (mostly) make sense to me.
Turns out, Casey has other ideas to make the game more interesting. He’s been watching a lot of women’s softball because the OU women’s team has been so dominant in recent years. Especially this year, when they are still undefeated and currently 36-0.
“Why not eliminate the pitching mound so pitchers don’t have the advantage of throwing downhill?” Casey opined at one point during the game. “Softball pitchers don’t need that advantage.”
“Are you going to let them move up to 43 feet?” I asked?
“Sure, if they want to pitch underhand.” (Smirk).
OK, Casey, you’ve gone a bridge too far.
Instead of the infield fly rule or the pitching mound, we could be arguing over the dramatic infielder shift that has gained popularity in recent years. If you squint at the photo at the top of this post, you will see that there is only one infielder to the left of second base.
The shift is designed to take away hitting lanes for left handed batters and has a lot of detractors. Rules changes may be soon coming.
Meanwhile, let’s enjoy softball for what it is and let baseball continue to entertain us with its sometimes quirky rules like the one that results in an automatic out when the ball is put in play.
Something big for all Oklahomans recently flew under the radar locally, and I thought BlogOKC would be a great place to shine some light.
OKC’s TokenEx received a Series B investment round of $100 million.
$100,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros.
If you are unfamiliar with the company, TokenEx developed proprietary technology that “desensitizes” critical information by replacing it with tokenized placeholders that have no relation to the original inputs.
So, if a hacker breaks into a company’s server and steals sensitive data such as credit card or Social Security numbers, tokenization renders the information useless to the data thief.
Co-founded by Alex Pezold, CEO, and Jerald Dawkins in 2010, TokenEx is located in the Port164 office center in far northwest Oklahoma City. It employs 72 people who are constantly innovating improvements to the tokenization software.
The latest investment round was led by Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based K1 Investment Management, LLC, which led me to ask Pezold about location implications for TokenEx.
Pezold was adamant that TokenEx was, is and continues to be an Oklahoma-based venture.
“TokenEx always has been and always will be an Oklahoma-first business,” he said. “We continue hiring locally and actually relocating professionals into the state of Oklahoma! Of course, due to the pandemic, our hiring practices have adapted accordingly so our business can thrive. “
The latest investment round will allow TokenEx to expand its “go-to-market capabilities” while enabling it to continue to create new products and solutions, Alex told me.
Pezold and his team built this business amid an extremely competitive market, yet drew investor interest from more than 10 different potential equity partners before the K1 Investment Management deal.
“We selected K1 Investment Management because of their progressive practices around partnering with and growing their portfolio companies,” Alex said. “K1 has already been a great partner to TokenEx, and we expect our partnership to progress nicely as our cultures blend extremely well – and we are aligned as partners with our goals.”
Demand for TokenEx’ tokenization solution continues to increase in urgency. There were 1,862 data breaches last year according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals.
Meanwhile, new legislation was proposed in Oklahoma designed to protect data privacy, and similar laws are being adopted around the nation and the world.
“As we’ve seen even here in Oklahoma recently, legislation around protecting privacy data for Oklahoma constituents is only increasing, which is the opportunity we will capitalize on in he next 2-5 years,” Alex said. “The good news, TokenEx is already protecting both payment and privacy data today, so it is only natural that we will continue growing in both addressable markets.”
I’m proud that TokenEx was created in Oklahoma and continues to be an Oklahoma-based company.
The avalanche started with a phone call from an unknown Oklahoma City number at 8:30 am. The next followed a few minutes later from Denmark, Wisconsin. Then Alex, OK; Luther, OK; Wynnewood, OK; Oklahoma City again (and again); an unknown location; Binger, OK; and on to Colfax, Iowa.
Before the day ended, a total of 17 calls from unknown numbers reached my phone.
But they didn’t reach me.
Monday was just a typical day of robocalls –SPAM calls — from shysters and scammers desperately trying to get me to pick up on the call. They spoof both area codes and local phone numbers to entice people to answer.
Then they either make a gimmicky sales pitch or a false warning of dire consequences if you don’t make a payment IMMEDIATELY.
There are federal laws on the books to allegedly prevent these SPAM calls, but they seem to have little no impact. Consumers can also have their number placed on a no-call list. Good luck with that.
Fortunately, I downloaded an app from AT&T called Call Protect, which directs any call from an unfamiliar number to voicemail. So, my phone doesn’t ring, and I only receive a text notification of the call if I choose to.
I figure if it’s a truly important call, they will leave a voicemail. So, if my air conditioner guy calls, he’ll leave a message and I will call him back ASAP.
Sometimes, the SPAMMERs do leave voicemails. Typically, it’s the same exact message from a different person. “This is Alexa from the office of the state…” is how most of them start out.
SPAM calls are unrelenting, with waves of them coming in day after day. I’m mostly unbothered by them, but I fear for folks like the elderly who still have landlines or don’t have cell phone call blockers and feel compelled to engage the SPAMMERS when they pick up on a call.
I want to shout “DON’T PICK UP!” to my relatives, but it’s not my decision.
In the meantime, the calls continue to come in, one after another. Obviously, SPAMMING and scamming must be is a lucrative field.
My plea is for the best and brightest programmers out there to create a real solution to halt this problem. Call Protect is a start, but there has to be a real answer.
SPAM calls need to end.
Here are some tips I found on the FCC website that might be helpful.
Editor’s note: Although I attribute the concept described in this post to radio talk show host Dan Patrick, my friend Don alerted me to the fact that it was originally floated by sports guru Bill Simmons. So, I want to give credit where it’s due, and a salute to Simmons for a worthy idea.
On the list of things in this world that make me crazy, you can put the concept of “tanking” by professional sports teams close to the top.
If you’re not a sports fan, you should know that tanking means a team is trying to maneuver for the best possible draft position. It does that by having as bad a record as possible at the end of the season.
Sometimes it’s called ‘The Process’ (wink, wink).
Teams tank not by asking their players to not play hard, but by manipulating the roster so their least experienced get most of the playing time. I offer the Oklahoma City Thunder’s mostly G-League lineup down the stretch this season as Exhibit A.
Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel put it best last fall when he wrote “losing is the path to winning.” The idea is that if a team is horrible for two, three, four seasons it will eventually be able to draft the next ‘unicorn’ that will turn it all around.
Meanwhile, local fans lose incentive to follow their team and actually show up at games. The thousands of unused seats on a nightly basis at Paycom Center this season is a prime example.
I wrote about my opposition to tanking and the need to take a “win now” philosophy before the season began. You can read it here.
But today, I’m here to offer an alternative to the tanking strategy that will keep fans more engaged as the season concludes. I credit this idea to radio talk show host Dan Patrick, who proposed something similar on his show earlier in the season.
Here’s how it would work as I envision it:
The NBA would create an in-season, six-week tournament for the bottom teams in the standings. The league would set an in-season cutoff date of February 28 with the six teams with the league’s worst records qualifying for the tournament.
Then for the remaining six weeks of the season, qualifying teams would play to win as many games as possible before the season ends. The team that has the best record in the season-closing “tournament” would be awarded the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Teams would have every incentive to put their best roster on the court. Fans would have a reason to show up and cheer their local team down the stretch.
The league could make a big deal out of the tournament, with separate nightly standings, maybe even a trophy for the winning team. The rest of the draft order for the bottom six would follow according to their finish in the tournament.
However, it needs a name. The Race to Save Face? Bottoms Up? Sprint to the Finish? I’ll let the marketers handle that.
My friend Steve poo-poos this concept because the league’s conferences are not balanced talent-wise. But he’s a tanking enthusiast and wears unicorn-colored glasses.
So, what does happen if the team with the seventh worst record on Feb. 28 loses so many games that it has the league’s worst record by season’s end?
That team is shut out of the tournament, so it only gets the seventh pick in the draft order. But it has no incentive keep losing, and that’s the point.
Thank you, DP, for sharing this idea.
So, what’s keeping the league from adopting The Race to Save Face and creating some excitement for bottom-feeding teams?
Nothing that I can see. Let’s destroy “The Process.”
Our 2-year-old grandson suffered from a case of cabin fever this afternoon, which meant that toys were strewn across the living room and nothing pleased the frustrated boy.
We decided a road trip was in order.
As I gathered Solomon into my arms and carried him to the car, my wife asked me where we were going. I told her I didn’t know, but would let her know when we got there.
So, we pulled out of the driveway about 2 p.m. with no destination in mind, but thinking about discovering a cool coffee shop in a nearby small town.
I headed northwest out of Edmond and decided that Kingfisher might make a good destination. It’s only about 40 minutes from our house, and I love the Main Street look of its downtown.
I figured the town with a population of about 5,000 was bound to have a local coffee shop or two.
Sure enough, we passed a billboard advertising a coffee shop named Strange Brew Coffee House and Tea Room as we entered Kingfisher’s city limits. And that’s where we landed at 2:50 p.m., 10 minutes before its 3 p.m. closing.
The shop was empty except for “Trent,” our barista, as we stepped in. I apologized for barging in so near closing, but he welcomed us in. I ordered an iced mocha and looked around the place as Trent made the beverage.
Strange Brew — also the name of an Eric Clapton recording — has sort of a classic rock theme with posters and faux records on the tables. Trent wore a Led Zeppelin T-shirt that matched the decor of the small shop.
I placed Solomon on a chair at the bar and explored for a few minutes. Trent said the busiest times were early mornings on certain days and the 11 o’clock hour during the work week.
The iced drink arrived within a few minutes, and it was perfect for an 80-degree March afternoon. Trent also rewarded Solomon with some complementary whipped cream for the road.
We loaded back in our car and headed east out of Kingfisher precisely at the Strange Brew’s 3 p.m. closing time.
For a Saturday afternoon drive that began without a destination, Kingfisher and the Strange Brew made it an excellent road trip. And Solomon was a happy boy as we pulled back into our driveway.
Now I’m plotting future drives on the road to nowhere.
As my wife and I sat in the living room this afternoon, I casually mentioned to her that I’m thinking about taking our 10-year-old Chihuahua, Sam, out for a walk.
Immediately, Sam shot off the couch, where he had been sleeping, and raced to the front door.
“Whoa!,” I said to Paula. “It’s like he’s monitoring our conversation and waiting for certain code words.”
Sam’s reaction is like that of the Echo Dot we have in our bedroom that might not react to anything for months, but responds the instant you say” ‘Alexa, what’s the temperature outside.’ “
Meanwhile, Sam impatiently snorted and pawed the door as we continued to talk. Of course, I then had to find my shoes and the leash and a ‘doggie bag,’ to clean up after the dog.
By the time I collected everything, Sam was running in a circle and barking in the foyer.
All of which reminded me of an episode of the old Andy Griffith show where a visitor to Mayberry is impatiently pacing on Andy’s front porch as Barney and Andy are spending a lazy afternoon.
Barney says he’s going to go home, take a nap, then over to Thelma Lou’s to watch a bit of television.
But he never moves. Instead, he repeats his intentions about three times before the visitor has had enough and yells at him to ‘just do it!’ You can watch the hilarious scene from ‘Man in a Hurry’ below:
Finally, I found my shoes, the doggie bag and the leash, which I managed to clip on to the restless Chihuahua.
Out the door we went.
The episode has repeated itself in our home countless times over the years. It shows there’s more to this 9-pound canine than meets the eye.
He’s always listening for the magic words. Careful what you say.
Paul and Suzanne Whitmire are “urban missionaries” who serve a vast underserved population in the heart of Oklahoma City at 9th and McKinley. Cross & Crown Mission was launched in 2001 by the Whitmires and others from their home church group. They immediately began rehabbing a dilapidated old church property, and for the last 20-plus years have remade the surrounding neighborhood and the lives of many of those they serve. Paul and Suzanne emerged from the church I attend when it was known as Quail Springs Church of Christ. Our congregation, now known as The Springs Church of Christ, still supports our urban missionaries two decades later. Paul recently took the time to answer a few questions about his ministry for this BlogOKC feature.
Question: Where were you raised and what did you do in previous life before Cross & Crown?
Answer: My father was a minister. While living at home, we lived in seven different towns, mostly Texas. I graduated high school in Houston, college from Abilene Christian University. I served as a youth minister in Fort Worth from 1979-1984, youth minister in Edmond from 1984-1992, operated an antique business from 1992-2001. Began Cross & Crown in March 2001.
Q: Tell me the story of how you came to launch this ministry in this part of the city?
A: We considered moving to Honduras. God moved us to 9th and McKinley. Most people said ‘don’t go to that area.’ God said ‘go to that area.’ (For more on the founding of Cross & Crown Mission, read this story by Bobby Ross published in The Oklahoman in 2001 ).
Q: Who has worked with you and your wife, Suzanne, over the years to advance the ministry?
A: The work was originally shared by our house church with the ultimate plan to be primarily operated with people from the community. God keeps sending people. Some receive and leave, some receive and come back for more, some receive and come back to be a part of giving to others.
Q: What obstacles have you faced in this journey to provide ministry through the Cross & Crown Mission?
A: Big obstacles early. Most were because we said ‘but how?’ Finances, trust of the community, paying the bills, getting enough food. Someone asked early on if I knew how much it would cost to make the old building usable? I told him I know someone that has more money than we could ever need. He wanted to know the guy’s name. I gave him my Bible.
Q: What population are you serving, (and how have you gained their trust over the years?
A: We serve whoever shows up. About 65 percent are hispanic. The group with the most to fear. We try to meet their request; we ask to pray; we act humbly. It has worked. Many gave fake names early, then shared their real names later.
Q: How do you balance providing for physical needs and well being of those you serve and being a spiritual influence or leader for them?
A: We have discovered that graciously meeting physical needs eventually leads to them asking the question of ‘why?’ You get the rest.
Q: How would you describe the impact Cross & Crown has had on the neighborhood surrounding your location?
A: Early into the work, housing became an ongoing need. We followed Isaiah 61:1-4 and decided we would ‘restore the places long devastated and renew the ruined cities.’ It has significantly changed the landscape.
A: Sunday morning worship; Monday-Wednesday: food pantry, clothing, furniture. Wednesday: legal aid; Thursday-Saturday: projects in the neighborhood. Primary focus: being in the neighborhood constantly to meet people’s needs, being Jesus to others.
Q: How often do you offer worship services?
A: Worship service: Sunday morning 10:30-12, English and Spanish.
Q: From where have you drawn your volunteers over the years?
A: Our volunteers come from around the city or live in the neighborhood or are in our housing programs. Our paid staff are all self-supported missionaries , such as myself.
Q: How do you measure the success of your ministry?
A: I wish I knew how to measure success, but I trust God with that. I knew if they were hungry and we fed them; needed clothes and we provided them; they were thirsty and we gave them drink; homeless and we housed them; alone and we invited them in; were drunk for 40 years and we helped them to be sober for one day; never thought God loved them and we showed them love, led them to Jesus, became family when they had none; then it’s a good day to me.
Q: How has the ministry expanded, and its mission changed or evolved over the years?
A: The ministry began with food from ours and your pantries, then relationship with the Regional Food Bank, relationship with Walmart, Dollar General, pastry shops. Taking people home with us — to 11 properties to house people; two attorneys to address legal needs to 150 partnering attorneys available. From after school with children in basement to new Youth Center, to Classical Arts school for neighborhood children. And on and on. In the midst of the pandemic we began a south side mission in Capitol Hill. It’s known as the Christian Service Center, with Luke Whitmire as director and minister.
Q: How do you describe yourself to people you meet along the way?
A: When people ask what I do, (I say) ‘I’m the director of an inner-city non-profit.’ Then it’s up to them to be curious. An hour later they have a pretty good idea of what I do, and maybe wished they had been satisfied with my first answer. It’s normal that I will be in tears, and maybe them, as well. God is pretty amazing.
Q: How can local people contribute or participate as volunteers?
A: Donate or volunteer. Donate almost anything if it works. Clothes, food, appliances, furniture, cars. Call Paul at (405) 232-7696. Volunteer — let’s get past COVID.
Q: What else would you want readers of this blog to know about you or the Cross & Crown mission?
A: This work is the Lord’s. He wants it to be the work of all of us. We need financial donors, we need prayer warriors, we need material donations.
Q: What do you want to say to the people of The Springs church, where you were when you began the ministry?
A: The people of The Springs were there with us when we began in 2001. They have supported and prayed for us continually. They have never burdened us with expectations or demands. They have faithfully been family to us and blessed us richly. We are not alone because of you.