Before I arrived in Tulsa I never knew it was famous for anything other than the song lyric "Living on Tulsa Time." But apparently, like many Americans, I am woefully ignorant of my country's history. Tulsa was once the oil capital of the world, and the money that came with that oil went into architecture (and many other things), beautiful Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture, a lot of which is still in existence today to explore.
I flew into Tulsa because, well, it was the closest airport to where my friend Tasha lives and works in Arkansas. She moved to Arkansas recently, and since I've never been, and wanted to see my friend, to Arkansas I went via Tulsa. Our plans were pretty wide open about what to do in Tulsa and Arkansas – we read about a Friday Jazz concert in Tulsa and a food truck rodeo, but we were open for whatever came up. First thing was breakfast after I got off the airplane. We went to a place called Tally's Diner and it revealed we were near Route 66 – my strange roadside attraction meter went off.
After breakfast and coffee for me to revive after the red-eye flight, we ducked into the antique store next door to explore the glory of random and really under-priced Mid-Century Modern glass pieces. I picked up a free guide to the area's Route 66 attractions and discovered the Blue Whale of Catoosa. We noted that this strange, large, and rather odd attraction was 17 minutes away and perfectly reasonable to visit, if time permitted.
But first we wanted to check out the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, the free Friday concert and the food trucks and such. The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is located in the former Tulsa Train station – a shining example of Art Deco architecture.
The interior is in the process of being restored and when we walked in we were greeted with the smell of must and the sound of a man explaining that "there might be some music today, maybe in a little bit, if we can get it together." We signed the guest book, used the bathroom, and ambled about for a little bit until a musician started strumming out a tune and said "We are winging it today, so come ride the horse with us." As he turned on a beat machine and started playing along.
As we had identified the next place to go, The Woody Guthrie Center, and exhausted the information and music we were going to get from the Jazz Hall of Fame, we moved on as discretely as possible. Which was hard, because we were the only people there besides a kid and a caretaker who were staring at us with great interest.
Escaping the awkward, we headed to the art district and the Woody Guthrie museum where we learned that Woody is the father of punk rock because 1. He spoke out against fascism and corporate profits over human rights before anyone else was really doing it, 2. He wrote messages on his musical instruments, 3. He spoke out against Trump (The Donald's Father) 4. He prolifically drew, wrote, and published with no formal training and 5. He was regularly arrested for vagrancy. You can trace a direct lineage from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Arlo Guthrie to Billy Bragg to John Doe – and as there were pictures of all of them at the museum – thus, my thesis.
Woody spent a lot of time organizing during the Dust Bowl years, emphasizing the important of worker and human rights in songs. He told the story of the common person trapped in the circumstances of the day. A Virtual Reality experience at the museum allowed you to experience Black Sunday of 1935, to see the black clouds of dust pealing down upon you on a porch in somewhere Oklahoma. This, along with clips from Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary, photos and Woody's songs provided a really rounded experience of the hell that was this time in American history.
I tried to buy a few postcards and stickers on our way out but the credit card machine wasn't working so I compromised and we decided to get some additional coffee at the city's oldest coffee shop in a building called the Gypsy. At Gypsy Coffee, inside an old Art Deco building, we decided we needed to look into this Art Deco thing a little bit more and headed for the Art Deco museum after.
It has a sister gift shop across the street that doesn't really sell that much Art Deco memorabilia either. I bought some postcards and the book about Tulsa's Art Deco history and then we wandered down to the church at the end of the street that loomed like something out of the movie Metropolis.
After this, it was still too early for dinner so we made our way to the Blue Whale for more photo opportunity.
We of course used the the bathroom (which was an adventure in itself) and stopped into the giftshop at the ancient road side attraction.
We made the mistake of asking a question outside of the gift shop, not directed at anyone in particular, but the lady inside the gift shop proceeded to give us a 15 to 20 minute history of the fellow who built the Blue Whale. Turns out the Blue Whale was an anniversary present for his wife. The artistcreator was also the director of the Tulsa zoo for over 30 years and started a petting zoo on this property along with the whale. The lady kept returning to the American alligators, and I kept waiting for her to say that the location closed in 1988, not because of the rise of home swimming pools taking over the need for community swimming holes, but as a result of some horrible accident where the alligators escaped from the petting zoo and ate all the children.
This story never came. But when you visit the dilapidated petting zoo you can't help but want to make up stories about the horrors that unfolded here to close it down. However, it was just the passage of time and the dwindling interest in Route 66 as a vacation destination for the American family.
It was time for a snack and some libation. It was the hottest part of the day and time to get out of the sun. We chose a cute little place back in Tulsa (there was nothing but Toby Kieth's I Love This Bar in our vicinity by the Whale) called Hodges Bend for some snacks. It was pretty wine bar filled with tattoed people making artisan cocktails and chopping away at large blocks of ice. Our lady bartender said as we stared at her chopping "I love art ice."
A snack and a costume change later we wandered up to The Mayo Hotel for more Art Deco exploration and a rooftop deck experience.
The lobby was quite the trip, the rooftop deck, on the other hand, was quite hot and the columns were too tall for good photos.
We ended up in the air conditioning having a mediocre happy hour beverage then decided we were hungry enough for dinner. We drove out of the center of downtown to a place called the Bird & the Bottle, a restaurant I read about in the local magazine I paged through at the awkward Jazz Hall of Fame experience. It was hopping. Thank you local magazine. It was however, in a strip mall, so didn't look like much from the outside.
We followed it with mussels that tasted like a bbq in our mouths. So unlike any way the Pacific Northwest would ever serves mussels but so delicious with all the tomato-y, smokey, briney goodness that was going on.
We also accidentally made best friends with this older couple next to us who told us their life story and their opinions of the weather. They also gave a fine rationalization for why Tulsa and Oklahoma is not the South. The jury is still out for me on the opinion, as it made no sense, and I cannot remember it very well.
It had been an adventurous day filled with pretty amazing things. Our Airbnb in Fayetteville called our names. It was time for some much needed sleep to prepare for another day of adventure and exploration.