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.

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.

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.