Sunday, October 19, 2014

Won't You Take Me To... Bricktown!

Bricktown is a big deal in OKC. The district was actually one of the first things we knew about here. When we found out we were coming to Oklahoma City for John to have his job interview, John's program director (and former director of the Oklahoma DOT) immediately recommended that we check out Bricktown during our stay. Said stay was too short for any thorough exploration; we drove into town in the late evening, chucked our luggage into our hotel room, and headed out for a quick dinner. Because it had been suggested to us, we found Bricktown, parked, and proceeded to walk around.

Compared with how quiet the rest of the city was on a Thursday evening, Bricktown was positively bustling with people and activity. We loved walking along the canal and watching the ducks' antics, and we were impressed with the design of the public space. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from, and we chose Red Pin Restaurant and Bowling Lounge. Enjoying our delicious burgers outside and people-watching was the perfect way to blow off a little steam after being cooped up in the rental car all day, and it gave John a welcome distraction from his pre-interview jitters. We came away from that dinner thinking hey, we could totally live here, and hoping that John would get the job.

Eating at Red Pin during our first time in Oklahoma City!
Well, we all know how his interview turned out, because here we are. Although we've expanded our reach into many other districts, Bricktown does hold a special place in our hearts as our intro to OKC. Now that we've been here over a year, we'd like to finally do a post to talk about it. We have actually been hesitant to do a post on Bricktown because, in all honestly, as much as we love some parts of it, we also have some beef with it. So here we go - our real-talk rating of Bricktown.

Things we love about Bricktown:

1. Promotes walkability: Probably our favorite thing about Bricktown is that it forces people to walk! And by extension, it instills an appreciation of walkable urban places in people who might not otherwise care. Because, let's face it, the fun of Bricktown is the hustle and bustle - it's the fact that it is a place to be and be seen. The walkable design is what separates it from, say, a strip mall.

A welcome sight - lots of people walking!
2. Helped revive downtown: As downtown OKC residents, I know we owe a debt of gratitude to Bricktown for reviving what was - by all accounts I've heard - a dead downtown for many years. Bricktown (and the MAPS sales tax) seems to have been the catalyst, development-wise, that changed it all, and transformed downtown OKC into a destination rather than an area to avoid outside of work hours. For that we say bravo, Bricktown; you done good.

3. Adult and family attractions: One of the most difficult balances to strike within an urban district is that of adult-only and family-friendly things to do. Bricktown is rare in that it achieves just that balance. There are bars and clubs for adults, the movie theatre, bowling, the baseball field, shopping, and fun attractions like the water taxi that are appropriate for grown-ups and kids, and yet there's no definitive tilt toward one vibe or the other. It all just coexists seamlessly, and that's no small feat.

Bricktown Ballpark - and carriage rides!
4. Brings people downtown who might not come otherwise: When we're walking down the street in Bricktown on a Saturday night, we can often overhear passersby talking about where they came from that evening - and it's usually not OKC. It's really great that Bricktown is an attraction that brings people to the city - people who might not otherwise come. 

5. Community gathering space: Not only is there a lot to eat, drink, purchase, and experience in Bricktown, but it also serves as a place for people to simply gather, whether it's for a concert, a march, or just for fun. The importance of community gathering spaces for civic wellbeing cannot be overstated, OKC residents (and surrounding residents) have this area to just go and be with others, whether it's for a common purpose or just a Saturday night.

6. The canal: It would be so easy to just slap up a bunch of sidewalks and retail/restaurant spaces and call it an entertainment district, but it's something else entirely to go the extra mile and build a water feature like the canal. The designers of Bricktown could have taken the easy way out, but they didn't, and now we have a distinctive and enviable downtown feature. It's pleasant no matter if you're just walking alongside, watching the ducks, or taking a water taxi ride. The canal really sets Bricktown apart from other districts like it. I had heard of the San Antonio canal and was excited to see Oklahoma City had one of its own!

A water taxi tour in progress.
7. Now we've got to brag on some of our favorite places in Bricktown;

- Skinny Slim's - We've been living here for over a year, and we've visited a number of bars, but at this point, Skinny Slim's is our go-to and has been for awhile. Located in Bricktown, it's not too far from our home - it's an easy walk. The cozy setting, the low-key vibe, the excellent beer selection, and the great patio are all reasons why we keep going back to Skinny's. Even when it's a little crowded (which isn't difficult in such a small space), it still feels kind of homey.

A rare moment when the bar is empty.
- Red Pin Restaurant and Bowling Lounge - Like I said earlier, this is the first restaurant we ever tried in Oklahoma City, and for that reason, we'll always love it. Well, that reason, and also the delicious burgers! Not to mention, having a bowling alley downtown is such a nice amenity. Who doesn't want to bowl a game or two while enjoying a cold Coop Native Amber?

- Hot Dog OKC - I don't know if you know this, but hot dogs are kind of a big deal with Carless In OKC. John, especially, loves a good chili dog, and we love being able to get a late-night fix after a trip to Skinny Slim's or on our way home from a movie. The owners are super nice and always pleasant to talk to. All in all, we love Hot Dog OKC.

- Harkins Theatre - I never thought I'd be saying this, but this is a really great movie theatre. I haven't had such a good time going to the movie since about 1996, but such is the magic of Harkins Theatre, and more specifically, Cine Capri, which is one particular theatre there. We're the kind of people who pretty much exclusively watch dramas on Netflix, yet we look for excuses to go to a movie in Cine Capri. I really don't even know why it's so good, other than it's huge and the speakers are really loud - oh, and a person comes out to announce the movie before it starts - but it makes going to the movies fun again. We absolutely loved seeing Catching Fire and Guardians of the Galaxy there, and you can bet you'll see us there for Mockingjay Part 1.

We love you, Harkins Theatre

And now for the things we don't love about Bricktown:

1. It's a little heavy on chain restaurants - Bricktown, you've got a good thing going on, but you know what would make you even better? A little more local flair in your offerings. I could go to Hooters, Starbucks, and IHOP literally anywhere. At least the Bricktown Sonic is a little different in that it's a sit-down establishment, instead of the same drive-in we see everywhere. It would do Bricktown some good to have some kind of incentives for more local businesses to open in the district. I love the ones that are already there - let's keep that going!

2. The curfew - Listen, I get why there's a curfew for teenagers. But when I'm out having fun, it's a little bit of a buzzkill to watch the cops rounding up teenagers at the strike of 11:00. Maybe I just feel for the kids who are just hanging out with friends - I mean it's not like they're going to be smoking crack in front of Sonic or anything - but I wish the police could find a less "the man" way to enforce the curfew.

3. Tapwerks - Oh, Tapwerks. We wanted so badly to like you. In fact, you were the first bar we went to once we moved here. "I love this old building!" we said. "Look at this extensive beer list!" we said. "Is that sign in Comic Sans?!" we said. And then we were charged a cover, to get into a BAR without live music. And then we were served lukewarm, flat beer. Hey, maybe that one was a fluke. Nope, it sure wasn't. Lukewarm, flat beer, over and over again. And then there's that whole "two-finger head" rule you have on your draft beers, which pretty much means that you get to charge for a full pint but only serve 12 ounces. Your food is actually surprisingly good; there is the potential for this to be a great bar if a few key issues were addressed. If nothing else, at least chill your glasses.

They've changed this, but at one point, they had a Comic Sans sign!
Thanks to the things we like, and in spite of the things we don't, Bricktown is overall a great asset to Oklahoma City, and I'm glad to have such easy access to it. 

Make sure to catch our weekly segment on KOSU on Thursday mornings at 7:35am! Tune in at 91.7 FM or listen online at Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On Simplification and Fluid Beliefs

Some people think that what we're about here at Carless In OKC is simply this: ANTI-CAR. Which, I mean, we kind of are? But only for us, at this current point in our lives. We've never claimed that living without a car is the be-all, end-all answer to life's problems for everyone. Even when I claimed that ditching your car is an all-in-one radical act, the point I was making wasn't that every single person needs to get rid of their cars. No matter how indignant we are about the problems that come along with car ownership, we always qualify our claims with a challenge to simply be less dependent on cars. 

Is this what people think of us?
The big problem, as I see it, is the system. It's not the car itself, really. It's the urban-suburban model of living which keeps the status quo at a cozy 2.5 cars per household with a long commute to work. The problem is that for many, if not most, families, the idea of even cutting down to one car seems insurmountable and improbable. When it's common for people to live far away from their jobs as well as from their grocery store and their children's schools, with few viable public transit or walkability options, if any - and they're doing this because of the economic benefit of cheaper suburban housing costs - it's not as much a choice that people are making. It's more like the default mode borne out of a perceived necessity. 

I say it's a perceived necessity because it's not exactly a real necessity in many cases. We've talked about the cost of owning a car, which we've established as being an enormous monthly and yearly expense. While the cost of housing in suburban areas may be lower, when you remove all (or even some) of the costs of car ownership, that can offset the sometimes-higher cost of urban life. Your transportation costs can drop considerably when your work, school, and necessities are accessible by public transit or on foot. Even if you choose to retain one car, you're still slashing that average yearly cost of car ownership by over half. 

The reason I'm thinking about this is because I recently read The Summit Seeker, by ultramarathoner Vanessa Runs, which I highly recommend. Vanessa talks about her life as a modern nomad - after feeling stifled by her desk job for years, she took a leap of faith one day and changed her life completely. After quitting her job, Vanessa packed up and moved to San Diego from Canada with no job, no money, and no real plan other than to do the two things she loves most: write and run. Eventually Vanessa met her partner, Shacky, and the two of them got rid of most of their belongings, bought an RV, and now they travel around with their cat and dog, running in and volunteering at races, exploring trails, writing, and having fun. 

Vanessa Runs during one of her adventures.
I started thinking about Vanessa's current lifestyle and while, yes, she does own an RV and therefore drives a good bit, I wouldn't say that her lifestyle is at odds with my philosophy. For me, it's ultimately about simplification and a rejection of a pervasive system that aims keep us trapped in our cars, isolated from our neighbors, and in debt pretty much forever. Vanessa and Shacky do drive a vehicle, yes, but they've also managed to buck the status quo in their own way. They've eliminated a lot of bills that come with traditional home ownership and they make a living off of their passions. Their lifestyle is not extravagant, but they are very happy. 

The point I'm making here is that contrary to what some may believe, I am not just anti-car or anti-driving. If that were the case, I'd have a serious conflict of interest going on when we rent a Timecar to go grocery shopping each week, or when we call an Uber to catch a ride to and from a friend's house who lives a little bit far away. You've got to do what you've got to do, and it's not always possible to adhere to a strict ideology, especially when that ideology relies heavily on excellent access to public transit and a safe, widespread system of sidewalks and bike lanes. Not all of us live in places that provide us with that ideal situation. 

What we ultimately want to achieve with this blog is to prove that it's entirely possible to live without a car - or with less dependence on cars - in Oklahoma City, or places like it that aren't exactly equipped with all the alternative transportation bells and whistles. People have literally said to my face that you have to have a car to live here, but John and I are living proof that that's simply not true. However, rejecting the system and shedding your unnecessary encumbrances doesn't look the same for everyone, and I'm 100% okay with that. All I want is for people to really look at their lives and why they do the things that they do, and make the decisions for themselves, rather than just falling into what they've always seen being done. Your version could be ditching your car, dropping down to owning only one car, or it could be a little more out of left field: quitting your job, selling your house, and taking your RV right out of suburbia and into the great wide open. It's your life and your journey, and I want you to embrace it the best way you know how. 

Make sure to catch our weekly segment on KOSU on Thursday mornings at 7:35am! Tune in at 91.7 FM or listen online at Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!