March 11 and the end to life as we knew it

The scoreboard told the story on March 11, 202

We all remember March 11, 2020, as the day that life ended as we knew it.

It was the day that the Jazz-Thunder game at Chesapeake Energy Arena was postponed because a Utah player tested positive for COVID-19.

A single NBA game postponed in Oklahoma City was the first falling domino in a cascade of millions of others around the world.

OKC was the center of the COVID universe that night.

The Oklahoman wrote a terrific oral history of that night in OKC that you don’t want to miss.

My family will always have vivid memories of March 11. I was home, parked in front of the television waiting for the game to commence.

Meanwhile, my wife met her mother, like we often do – or did – at Chesapeake Arena and waited for tipoff from their seats in Section 206.

I’m not sure who suspected something was up first. As the television broadcast went on, I recall the Thunder announcers talking about a delay, but not knowing what was causing it.

In the arena, my wife and her mother noticed the delay too.  They were expecting tipoff at any second.

But it never happened.

“The moment that stands out to me,” Paula told me, “was the two Thunder employees running out and huddling at midcourt with the game officials. We didn’t know what it was about, but we knew that something was up.”

At home in my recliner, I speculated to Paula in a text that the game might be delayed because a player had tested positive for COVID. I was repeating a rumor I saw on Twitter.

She texted back what she saw from her seat, which was that players were being herded off the court. The Thunder tried to distract the crowd for a few minutes with what would have been the halftime entertainment.

But fans in the stands were left to speculate among themselves what was happening. Some grew restless, she said.

Finally, the Thunder announced that the game had been postponed on orders from the NBA. Fans were asked to leave in an orderly fashion.

Paula and her mom slowly left the arena, but not before she took an awesome photo of the scoreboard that announced the postponement. No one panicked, although there were a few boos after the announcement.

It wasn’t until she got home that it was confirmed what we all suspected. Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.

We both wondered if she and all the other fans in attendance were in danger. Was Gobert even there (he wasn’t)? What did it mean to the rest of the NBA season?

I remember that the TV coverage continued for some time after the game was cancelled. But I recall very little of what was said, because the implications of what had just happened were all I could think about.

Turns out that the NBA did shut down after March 11, followed by college basketball, Major League Baseball and most of life as we knew it.

Paula’s photo has served as my Twitter and Facebook background for exactly one year. I’m retiring it today, replacing it with a happier photo shot at an OKC Dodgers baseball game two years ago.

It’s time to move on with our lives.

A COVID tale: Is there power in the blood?

The IMMY COVID test site at UCO back in November 2020

Let me tell you a COVID story that began four days after Christmas 2020. My wife woke up feeling extra tired and a little “off.” A day later she had a slight fever and lost all sense of taste and smell.

So, right before New Year’s, we decided to go have COVID tests for both of us at the OU Health Sciences Center. Paula’s test came back positive for COVID. Mine was negative.

Within a day or so, the only symptoms remaining for Paula were loss of taste and smell. I had no symptoms and felt great, even though we are together roughly 24 hours a day during the pandemic.

At the end of the next week, we went back for another COVID test. Paula was positive again. I was negative again.

So, we waited another week and went back for tests. This time both Paula and I were negative.

All of which leads me to the question of how did I remain COVID negative when I live with a COVID positive person? We eat together and sleep together.

My 87-year old mother had her own theory. She suggested that my blood type – O-negative – afforded me immunity to the COVID virus.

I laughed. She had nothing more than conjecture to base that on.

However, I Googled the topic and came up with a report from a 2020 study that showed people with O-negative blood DID show a certain immunity to COVID. Not immune, but less likely to get sick from it.

More confirmation was received this morning when my friend Debbie Cox sent me the link to an article that reported an even newer study.  It showed O-Negative people and those with type B blood were less likely to get sick from COVID than their Type A counterparts. 

Here’s a clip from the article:

“Published on March 3, 2021 in the scientific journal Blood Advances, the study indicates that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, appears to have a blood type preference. In particular, COVID-19 seems to gravitate towards blood group A in respiratory cells. The study also shows that there’s no preference towards respiratory or red blood cells in type B and O blood groups. It’s worth pointing out that the study does not show that people with blood types B and O are immune to the virus, but it does suggest that blood type A individuals are more likely to get infected.”

Another study published last year by Blood Advances also showed people with blood type O were the least likely to get infected by COVID-19. 

Those studies are not exactly saying that my O-negative blood provides COVID immunity, but I’ll take what evidence is presented.

Plus, I received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine back in January.

So, you might say that I’m feeling bulletproof today.

Mom always knows.

Why I read the obituaries

Obituary page from March 3 edition of The Oklahoman

I have an admission to make. I take a lot of pleasure each morning in reading the daily obituaries in the newspaper.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not taking pleasure in someone else’s death.

But obituaries routinely tell the most interesting life stories of the recently departed. You learn about where they grew up and were educated, their life’s work and their achievements along the way. Sometimes you learn about the places they traveled, their hobbies or even their favorite foods.

Of course, the obituaries list all of their survivors and close family members who preceded them in death.

I ran across an article in the Independent Herald in Huntsville, Tenn., that emphasizes the importance of obituaries to readers and the community:

“Aside from the front page, the single most-read page of the newspaper is the obituaries page. Readers care about obituaries because the people featured on the page were their friends and neighbors, former classmates, fellow church members, or people who played integral roles in the community.

Obituaries are vitally important because, quite simply, every obituary tells the story of someone’s life — who their parents were, who their children are . . . but, just as importantly, where they’ve been and what they’ve done. An obituary may be the only time that person’s name ever appears in the paper, and it is through that obituary that a lasting record of a person’s life is written.”

The downside to reading daily obituaries is discovering the obituary of a friend or past coworker who died unexpectedly. That’s happened to me several times in the past few years, but I’m grateful I had the obituaries to alert me.

Maybe it’s my (advanced) age that draws me to the obituaries, but I appreciate the stories of the lives of those about whom I am reading more now than in past years.

Lately, with the pandemic swirling around us, the number of obituaries published each day seems to be growing. But daily reading of all those obituaries is far from a morbid curiosity.

It’s a celebration of lives well lived.

Unwelcome Ch-ch-changes

The Thunder tipoff in an early November 2015 game at Chesapeake Arena.

The 2020-21 Oklahoma City roster proves a point that I’ve heard many times over the years.

We’re only cheering for laundry.

Like many Oklahomans, I’ve been a Thunder fan since the team relocated here in 2008. I’ve been to many games over the years.

Along the way, I adopted many Thunder players as my own. Russell Westbrook. Nick Collison. Serge Ibaka. Steven Adams. Andre Roberson. Jerami Grant. Enes Kanter. James Harden. Even Kevin Durant. Especially KD.

The list goes on.

For several years, we had a core of players that we knew and could count on leading the Thunder lineup every season. We got to the NBA Finals with that lineup one year and should have made it to another if Patrick Beverly had not assaulted Westbrook.

But that’s another story. My point is that I became comfortable with our players and our team, although the roster was slowly turning over as we lost Harden, Ibaka, Kanter, et al over time.

Then KD left abruptly. But Russell stayed, and while we added and subtracted new players, our core stayed relatively stable.

Then 2019-2020 happened and the Thunder as I’ve known them disappeared. Westbrook long gone. Grant gone. Adams gone. Dennis Schroder gone. Chris Paul came and went from OKC a second time.

By the time the 2020-21 season started, we had four — four! — players from our previous roster, none of them long-time beloved stars.

So, I’m still watching the Thunder nightly, but with much less passion. I know Sam Presti’s plan is to lose now to chase potential later. But I don’t have to like it.

A friend I’ll call “Steve” accused me of being a fan of mediocrity.

“Winning by losing,” he said. “What a great concept.”

But we weren’t mediocre. The Thunder that I knew were great and went where small market teams almost never go, to the NBA Finals. And with players we knew and loved.

Now, we’ve turned the roster over and acquired dozens of first round draft choices, because the grass is always greener in the future.

I’m not sure if mass roster changes will ever end as Presti chases the elusive future player who will bring us championship glory.

It’s a bittersweet relationship, but now I know. We’re only cheering for laundry.

Not all old white men are Republicans

Stonegate Cumberland Presbyterian Church serves as a voting precinct in far north OKC.

At precisely 7:20 this morning I handed my driver’s license over to the woman behind the table at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church along N. Western Ave.

This was my voting precinct and I was there to vote in the State Senate primary.

The poll worker opened her book and began searching for my name. She couldn’t find a match.

Finally, she asked my party registration.

“Democrat.”

“Oh,” she said, and then switched books and promptly found my name.

“I guess I have a face that says ‘Republican,’ ” I said as she handed the license back to me and had me sign my name.

After voting for my candidate — I’ll call her “Molly” — I grabbed the “I voted” sticker and walked out to my car.

But the encounter got me thinking about how we all stereotype the people we meet along the way.

And how wrong a judgment call made merely on appearance can be.

Culture shock and a hip-hop happening of a Tweet

The former Homeland Store at NW 122nd and May Ave. has been vacant for many years

On a whim one day this week, I stepped out of my car and shot a photo of the long-vacant Homeland store at NW 122nd and May Ave.

I was waiting for my daughter to come out of a haircare store in the strip center when the abandoned grocery store caught my attention.

I shopped there many times in the late 1980s, along with what appeared to be most of my fellow NW OKC citizens. It was a busy, busy place.

It’s sort of bewildering to see the anchor store of this whole intersection sit empty year after year. Is there no one with an idea or the resources to bring it back to life?

Anyway, I quickly tweeted out the photo with a short message, describing it as a “hip-hop happening place” in the ’80s, because that’s how I thought of it.

Little did I know that the words “hip-hop” would trigger an avalanche of interest in the post. Within 24 hours, the post had 15,000 views.

Two days later, views top 20,000 and almost 1,500 Twitter users had actually clicked on the photo for a closer look.

At first, I thought, ‘wow, there’s a lot of interest in this old, abandoned grocery store.’

Then it hit me. There are a lot of hip-hop fans out there who follow everything related — music, lifestyle, people. I’m sure many of them have set their accounts to send an alert anytime the words ‘hip-hop’ are mentioned in a tweet.

By Saturday morning, the Tweet had more than 27,000 views. And growing.

It’s been my first brush with a viral tweet, all because I wasn’t hip-hop enough to know what I was saying.

Apologies to disappointed hip-hop fans.

The second dose

The scene at Mercy Hospital as I waited 15 minutes with others who had received the second dose before leaving the site.

I’ve been hearing horror stories about the impact of the COVID vaccine on recipients.

“Everyone who got the vaccine in Western Oklahoma has had terrible side-effects,” was the word that came to me.

Allegedly, many people were hit with vertigo, among other dreadful-but-vague side effects.

My own mother, who lives in Fort Smith, Ark., also warned me of the side effects. She is 87 years old and refuses to consider receiving the COVID vaccine.

Naturally, all this side effect “news” came to me as I was preparing to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine this past Wednesday, Jan. 27.

Anyway, I showed up at Mercy Hospital at the appointed time on Wednesday and within a few minutes was sharing a table with a nurse who was holding a hypodermic needle.

She told me to expect some limited reaction to the second dose before she plunged the needle with the vaccine into my arm. My body already had antibodies stirred up by the first dose, apparently.

Fast forward to Thursday. I woke up and felt as if I had been run over by a truck. Actually, it felt like the flu. Muscles and joints ached. I had zero energy. Low grade fever.

I postponed a meeting scheduled for the afternoon. I wondered if the warnings of my family naysayers were correct?

I went to bed about 8:30 that night.

However, when I awoke on Friday, all those symptoms were gone. I felt refreshed and ready to tackle my day. By afternoon, muscle aches returned, but nothing that dragged me down.

Now it is Saturday, and I’m feeling even more on top of my game.

Yes, the second dose packs a punch. But don’t panic if you awake on the day after feeling miserable.

I predict it will pass quickly, and you can resume your life confident that your odds of suffering any lasting impacts from the COVID virus are greatly reduced.

I know I am. Thank you, God (and science).

Where were you when you heard the news?

Editor’s note: I’m not sure about you, but I look back on my life and know exactly where I was on certain milestone events.  Some are world events and some are personal. Recently, we’ve had several milestone events that we will look back on and know exactly where we were when we heard the news.

I was sitting in my recliner, holding my 19-month old grandson Friday morning when I saw the news on CNN. Henry Aaron was dead at 86. Another huge piece of my youth gone.

Immediately, I thought back to April 8, 1974. On that evening, I was sitting in the living room of a friend in Mena, Ark., watching Aaron and the Atlanta Braves play the Dodgers. Hammerin’ Hank hit career home run No. 715 that broke Babe Ruth’s record early in the game. It was a milestone that had long been anticipated and marked by a lot of racist ugliness because Aaron was black.  I felt relief that it was finally over.

Aaron’s record HR and his passing were both personal and national milestones that got me to thinking of other big national — and personal — events of my lifetime: where was I when I heard the news?

So, I sat down and compiled a list of what comes to mind.

Nov. 22, 1963 — JFK assassination. This was an incredibly traumatic event both for the nation and a 10-year-old me. I was sitting in a 5th grade classroom at Crockett Elementary in Bryan, Texas, when we all heard the news. My teacher, Ms. Skrivanek, cried. I thought of nothing but that event for weeks.

April 4, 1968 — Martin Luther King assassination. I was a ninth grader living on the island of Okinawa with my military family. I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I do know it was traumatic for both the nation and for the thousands of Americans living far from home.

June 6, 1968 — Robert Kennedy assassination. I remember this moment because my family and I were about to board an airplane that would take us to Taiwan for a week of vacation. I kind of felt like the world was coming apart because the MLK assassination happened only weeks before.

July 20, 1969 — The moon landing. This was huge. We got to stay home from Sunday night church to watch the first man step on the moon. My dad was in Vietnam, and I watched it with my mom and my sister in our living room in Fort Smith, Ark. I’m pretty sure we still had a black and white television.

Dec. 6, 1969 — Richard Nixon visits Fort Smith. This is purely personal, and I’ve written about it before. But I was at the airport to greet Nixon as he passed through town on his way to Fayetteville for the Arkansas-Texas football game. I got to shake his hand.

August 16, 1977 — Elvis has left the building. Time marches on and I was in college in Abilene, Texas, working at a small clothing shop. A neighboring merchant came into the store and told us that Elvis was dead. If you aren’t old enough to remember, Elvis was a pretty big deal.

December 8, 1980 — John Lennon murdered in NYC. This one hit me almost as hard as JFK’s death. I was in the living room of a friend in Roland, OK. We were switching back and forth from Monday Night Football to some other show, but Howard Cosell broke the news and we heard it. Devastating. Until that moment, I was still dreaming of a Beatles reunion. No more.

April 19, 1995 — The OKC Bombing. I was a reporter for The Oklahoman sitting in a meeting of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission on NE 63rd Street when the building was rocked by the compression from the bomb about 5 miles south of us. Someone speculated a gas explosion. Someone else an airplane crash. Then someone came into the room and said a bomb had exploded at the federal building. It seems that everyone in OKC knew someone who lost their life or was directly impacted from the bombing. We are still living with the fallout of it.

September 11, 2001 — The Twin Towers. I was about to take my 5-year old son to his pre-K class at Washington Irving Elementary when the Today Show reported that an airplane had hit one of the towers. I thought it must have been a Cessna or something. Little did we know how devastating and traumatic it would turn out to be.

July 4, 2016 — Kevin Durant signs with Golden State Warriors. If you aren’t a Thunder fan, this is no big deal. But I am and it hit me hard. We were at my mother in-law’s house near Hammon, and I was refreshing my computer over and over on KD’s Players’ Tribune page. Finally, there it was, in black and white. Our favorite player was ditching OKC after 8 years. We were devastated.

Jan. 6, 2021 — A day that will live in infamy. Like most of America, I was watching the debate over the Electoral College certification when the mob broke into the Capitol. Insurrectionists, white supremacists, traitors, all the same to me. They are egged on by a would-be dictator not grounded in reality. 

Jan. 20, 2021 — Free at last! Started the day at 6:30 am from my living room watching Trump slink out of town. Then watched and celebrated Biden’s inauguration. A day of promise.

The drones are coming! Showcase highlights use of unmanned vehicles to map critical watersheds

OSU students showcased their use of unmanned aerial vehicles and boats to map Oklahoma lakes

By Jim Stafford

Early morning anglers casting into Grand Lake’s Horseshoe Cove this past summer might have done a double-take if they spotted a lime-green kayak plowing across the water with no human pilot aboard.

What they were witnessing was MANUEL, a creation of Oklahoma State University engineering graduate student Muwanika Jdiobe.

MANUEL – an acronym for Mobile Autonomously Navigable USV for Evaluation of Lakes – was created by Jdiobe as a project for OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI).

Jdiobe recently made a virtual presentation about MANUEL and what his research at Horseshoe Cove uncovered at the Oklahoma City Innovation District’s Student Showcase on Unmanned Systems.

The showcase was the third in a series of student showcases presented by the Innovation District in conjunction with OSU’s USRI.

“Our vision is to get the best minds in the same room to meet, share research, information and ultimately, drive innovation in Oklahoma and around the country,” said Austin Bowles, the Innovation District’s digital marketing director.

Jdiobe was one of two OSU students affiliated with USRI who described projects that measured water depth and quality or mapped invasive vegetation on a lake that provides critical drinking water.

Before it was deployed on its Grand Lake mission, MANUEL was outfitted with an electric motor that provided propulsion, along with GPS equipment that allowed precise autonomous navigation, along with sensors that collected information on water quality and depth.

“The whole time I was sitting on the shore just observing her execute her mission,” Jdiobe said. “After every mission, MANUEL has to return to the point at which she was launched so we can extract all the data that was collected.”

The project was conducted in coordination with OSU environmental scientists who sought data about the lake and how pollution was impacting its depth and water quality. The goal is to better understand and prevent harmful algal blooms caused by agricultural runoff. One such bloom shut down Grand Lake on July 4, 2011, its busiest day of the year.

“MANUEL can reach very difficult places that other technologies cannot reach,” Jdiobe said. “We came to learn that MANUEL can actually work in very harsh conditions, even when we have strong winds and heavy rainfalls.”

The second presentation at the Student Showcase involved the mapping of Stillwater’s Lake Carl Blackwell on behalf of OSU and the City of Stillwater.

OSU mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Andrew Cole described how two unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – were used to map the lake and assess the growth of unwanted vegetation.

“The problem we applied this to was Floating Yellow Heart, which is an invasive species that was found in Lake Carl Blackwell, the main water source for the OSU campus and parts of Stillwater,” Cole said. “It is a lily pad that grows in such dense mass that it blocks out the sunlight and chokes out natural plants.”

The project involved outfitting two drones with cameras – some of them multispectral which filters certain light waves – to make high-resolution photos of the lake.

Using what is known as photogrammetry software that stiches the photos together to make a composite photo, scientists were able to assess the exact locations of the Floating Yellow Heart and apply herbicide to kill it.

The path the drones followed was plotted beforehand, so the unmanned aerial vehicles flew a precise route.

“With this automation method, we can actually fly the lake by one person in about two hours, or two people in one hour because you have two vehicles in the air,” Cole said. “Using unmanned aerial systems is a cheap and efficient way to get data that a lot of times you can’t get any other way.”

Added Victoria Natalie, program manager at OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute: “With drones coming into their own as a research tool, we’ve really been able to expand different ways of getting information across, collecting data and furthering research.”

Natalie is leading USRI’s expansion in the Oklahoma City Discovery facility, recently donated to OSU, which will enable closer connections between OSU and the Oklahoma City Innovation District.

The Student Showcase presentation, along with previous showcases, can be viewed at the Oklahoma City Innovation District website, https://okcinnovation.com/play/events-2/

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

A salute to 1971, the coolest year, from a cool kid wannabe

From the cool year of 1971, a cool kid wannabe peers out from his high school yearbook

I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article the other day that outlined what a watershed year 1971 was in many, many ways. (You can read it here with a WSJ subscription.) 

It was the year that Nixon/Kissinger reached out to China and opened the U.S. to an important trading partner that had only been seen previously as an arch enemy.

It was the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly of the nation’s telecommunications industry, with an FCC ruling that opened the door to a second long-distance calling provider.

It was the end of the link that tied the U.S. dollar to the value of gold, opening the way to what are known as “floating exchange rates.”

Walt Disney World opened in 1971, as did a little coffee business known as Starbucks, as well as the Nasdaq trading market. The 26th amendment passed that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Intel introduced the 4004 chip, considered the first “computer on a chip” and launching a wave of technology innovation that continues today.

The Journal article pointed out that all of these events happened in a single year exactly 50 years ago.

Then it hit me. I graduated high school in 1971, which means I’ve been out of high school for half a century.

The thought almost brought me to tears as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I’m not nostalgic for my high school class, because I never, ever sat at the cool kids table. I was a cool kid wannabe, but never made the cut.

I was mostly invisible to my classmates at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark.

So, why did this article hit me so hard? I think it’s because I had never really given any thought to how many years had passed since Graduation Day in 1971.

And how I’ve lived sort of my own version of Forrest Gump’s life in the intervening 50 years, still trying to be one of the cool kids and never quite making it.

But I’m proud of the newspaper career I pursued for more than 30 of those years, a career that brought me to OKC where I would meet the woman who became my wife, the kids we raised, yada, yada, yada.

Enough of that.

Just know that 1971 was a really, really cool year. I’m proud that it’s the year of my high school graduation.

Even if I wasn’t one of the cool kids.