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.

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.

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.

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.

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.