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.
However, I quickly sent him an apology.
I got it right the third time.