Could It Actually Be Tulsa Time?

Robert Reid

You know the drill. Mid-sized city revives a long-dormant warehouse district with art galleries, a baseball park, hipster bars, food trucks, even a Spaghetti Warehouse. Locals love it, then brace for a tourism boom that doesn’t really come.

But Tulsa’s reviving Brady District is different. It has Woody Guthrie.

In truth, this city in the Oklahoma hills where I grew up hasn’t offered much outside appeal since the oil wells dried up or Route 66 became a toll road. And for decades, the Brady, across the tracks from downtown, was the quietest, darkest place in a town better known for its TV evangelist Oral Roberts. In fact, the Brady might have been left for good if not for a couple classic music venues, including Cain’s Ballroom, where Bob Wills put swing into country music in the ’30s.

Now the once-abandoned red-brick townhouses are home to glass-blowing schools, violin shops, falafel stands, cafes, outdoor films and yoga classes, and even the Hanson brothers’ studio 3CG. Nora Guthrie, the frizzy haired daughter of the legendary folk hero, calls this area the perfect place for the new Woody Guthrie Center. “It’s like SoHo in 1969 to 1971,” she says of her former New York neighborhood. “There’s this budding creativity, not caring about a specific idea, just a notion to do something.”

In other words, Woody would approve.And that’s nice considering his home state long didn’t approve of him. Born in 1912 in Okemah (a 70-minute drive southwest), Woody wrote roughly 3000 songs before succumbing to Huntington’s Disease at 55 in 1967. Soon afterwards, Okemah’s little library refused the family’s offers to house a donation of Woody’s items due to the singer’s perceived “commie” leanings. (Never mind that, at the time of Woody’s birth in 1912, one in five Okies voted socialist.)

Lucky for Tulsa, it turns out. Across from Guthrie Green, the center is part museum, part archives. Its exhibits tell the tale of some of the rambler’s homes, including the Texas panhandle, Los Angeles and his final home New York City.

In an hour or two, you can peek at Bob Dylan’s hand-written scrawl of his 1961 “Song to Woody” or Woody’s fiddle marked with his well-known WWII-era slogan (“this machine kills fascists”), then see videos on the Dust Bowl, which prompted the westward Okie migration that Woody sung about on his first album “The Dust Bowl Ballads” (1940).

The heart of the center, philosophically and spatially, is devoted to “This Land is Your Land,” written near Times Square in 1943 as a sort of rebuttal to a song Woody loathed, “God Bless America.” Videos show many of the renditions of the song, including a funny German version and a bouncy Glen Campbell singing along in the ’60s in the most fanciful of green kerchiefs.

Nearby are plenty of ways to expand a day. At Valkyrie, a roomy lounge that was once used as a location in the film Rumblefish, young Tulsa entrepreneurs sip cocktails and local microbrews and debate local questions like whether Hanson are good tippers. One offered me some Oklahoma-shaped dog biscuits she makes from beer. A couple doors down, the Tavern on Brady plays up its Prohibition-era incarnation in look, but goes all-out mod in cuisine. I went with a surprisingly good banh mi salad, a breadless take on the Vietnamese sandwich with a faithful dousing of fish sauce.

If you go, look to stay at The Mayo, a ’20s art deco hotel that reopened a few years ago, and pick up Benjamin Lytal’s excellent new novel, “A Map of Tulsa,” which plays out downtown and the Brady District in the ’90s. If you write, or like those who do, spend an early Friday evening at the classic Tulsa Press Club downtown, where Tulsa World beat reporters and the like assemble to drink and talk the written word.

Just like the old days.

Robert Reid (www.reidontravel.com) grew up in Tulsa. His first time to the Brady was in the summer of ’83, when Alfie Mizer needed company to see some band from Ireland called U2. Though just as moved as Alfie, Robert didn’t rip apart his matching Ozzy concert shirt during “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

Route 66 Polaroid Project Aims To Capture The Mother Road The Old-Fashioned Way

Route 66, PolaroidThere have been a lot of cool Kickstarter Projects in recent months, but this one will warm the heart of anyone who likes a good old-fashioned road trip. The Route 66 Polaroid Project is just what it says on the tin: a plan to drive the length of the famous highway taking Polaroid snapshots all the way.

Eric and Sarah are getting married in June and they’re heading down The Mother Road for their honeymoon. They’re going to be bringing along several Polaroid cameras to document their journey.

As they explain on their Kickstarter page, “Over the past year, we’ve set aside our digital cameras in favor of vintage Polaroid cameras. These gadgets hearken back to a simpler time when you’d cock the camera, take the shot, yank the picture out of the camera, wait a couple of minutes, peel it, let it dry and then *presto* you’d have your photo! OK, maybe it wasn’t simpler, but there was a certain almost instant gratification to it.”

It turns out Fuji still makes film for the ColorPack Polaroid cameras, and Eric and Sarah want to share their photos with you. If you back them for $10, you get a unique Polaroid shot sent directly to you from a town along the road with a description of the place written on the back. Higher-level sponsors get more photos.

Eric also runs the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, an addictive site giving a day-by-day account of the war 150 years later. Route 66 passes by several Civil War battlefields and you can bet he’ll be taking snapshots of them.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Photo Of The Day: Howard Johnson Neon Signage

There’s something so mundane yet fascinating about neon road signage. The services advertised are simple: a clean bed, a comforting meal or a quirky roadside attraction. Yet visually, these neon wonders never fail to grab drivers’ (or photographers’) attention. Today’s photo by Flickr user JasonBechtel is case in point. The brilliant pinks, blues and greens combined with the unique typeface are both eye-catching a familiar: like an old friend from the road welcoming you back into town.

Taken any great photos of neon signs during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Meramec Caverns: The Coolest Attraction On Route 66


If you want to beat the heat this summer, there’s no better way to do that than to explore a cool and beautiful cave.

Missouri is one of the best states to see them. A combination of lots of limestone and plenty of water has honeycombed the state with some 6,000 caves, from tiny little crawl spaces to grand and glorious show caves. One of the most popular is Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri, on Route 66.

Like many caves, it was first used by Native Americans. In the 18th century, French explorers mined the cave for saltpeter, an ingredient used in making gunpowder. Saltpeter Cave, as it was then known, became tactically important in the Civil War. Union troops were stationed there mining the saltpeter until 1864, when Confederate guerrillas attacked them, drove them off, and destroyed the works.

The cave didn’t become a public attraction until the 1890s, when dances were held in the main gallery, appropriately called “The Ballroom.” Showman Lester Dill bought it in 1933, renamed it Meramec Caverns after the nearby river, and opened it to the public. He systematically explored the cave and discovered several impressive chambers. Soon people were flocking to see the stalactites and stalagmites, and beautiful stone drapery that looks like giant curtains. The action of the water depositing minerals on the walls had created amazing shapes and contours on every spot.

%Gallery-158676%Dill decided to create some clever advertising by linking the cave to Jesse James. He claimed it was one of his gang’s hideouts, although James scholars dispute this. The Jesse James/Meramec Caverns legend got a shot in the arm when the public became aware of a man claiming to be the real Jesse James, still alive and spinning a tale about how he faked his own death. Actually this old coot was named J. Frank Dalton and had one time passed himself off as Billy the Kid.

Local booster Rudy Turilli brought “Jesse” to Meramec Caverns to celebrate his 103rd birthday on September 5, 1950. This brought in a huge amount of publicity and Turilli offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he didn’t have the real Jesse James. The James family took him to court and won. Turilli never paid the $10,000.

The tour and the nearby Jesse James Wax Museum explain this conspiracy theory in detail. The whole experience is fun and a bit cheesy, having the roadside appeal of The Thing? and South of the Border. There’s no denying the natural beauty of the cave itself, and beyond the showbusiness aspect of the place that’s its real appeal.

While you’re in Stanton also check out the Riverside Reptile Ranch to meet all sorts of creepy creatures, and take a ride on the Caveman Zipline.

Iconic Road Trip: Route 66′s Classic American Countryside

Most people have heard of Route 66. It’s iconic. It’s a classic American highway recognized in pop culture and its expanse covers many U.S. states. The route original passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Although officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, many portions of the original road are now National Scenic Byways under the name “Historic Route 66.” This route, or any section of it, is a good way to see the countryside of the U.S.A. You’ll see the vast plains that define the term “big sky.” When you drive through the New Mexico and Arizona portions of the road, you’ll see vivid desert colors in the land juxtaposed with perfect pastel colors in the sky. My favorite thing about Route 66 is that it begins and ends with serene water views. Whether you wind up staring off into the Pacific Ocean or Lake Michigan, your journey through the desert can be complemented with a well-deserved swim if that’s what you want.You’ll hit plenty of towns along this route. Among the larger towns you’ll pass through are Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Los Angeles.