A few weeks back, and I sent Patrick a text, something to the extent of, “Hey I’m going to Tulsa next Tuesday with my gf and won’t be able to write, sorry.” But it was also the week before I was supposed to write, and this timeline is already confusing, like some kind of “One of us tells the truth and the other one lies and there’s a lion behind the door” riddle nonsense. So let’s not worry about the timeline, only that I walked into the door with the lion and that was Patrick saying, “Great, you’re going to Tulsa, check out The Gathering Place and write a story about it!”
Of all the places I’ve worked and asked for a day off with only a one-week notice, that is preferable to the simple “AHAHAHAHAHA Who is covering your shift go fuck yourself,” so to that I say, shoutout to Patrick. But now I have an assignment…
To back up, a few months ago my partner and I decided we’d love to see The Violent Femmes and X perform at Cain’s Ballroom. We had a huge oversight in that we didn’t buy tickets early — expecting nobody wants to see the Femmes anymore — and we could just walk up to the ticket booth with $35 dollars plus fees in hand and be like, “Yes one ticket, please, mister man.” It turns out the show sold out very quickly, and we were left behind like Kirk Cameron in those movies where everyone gets stuck on earth except for guys like KC, who all go to heaven. Digression.
So we booked an Airbnb in a fancy neighborhood and hung out with my partner’s dad, who is a Tulsa native. The trip involved him giving us a tour of the neighborhood he grew up in, and also a lot of eating and drinking. Tuesday night, we got pie at Bohemian Pizza, and right across the street was Hodges Bend, a bar I’d heard a lot about but never been to. We had a round of drinks, headed down to the Saturn Room for tiki cocktails, and then the Soundpony for a nightcap.
Even though I’d enjoyed a beer and glass of riesling at dinner, sazerac at Hodges, fruity rum drink at Saturn, and a few beers and shots in between, it was spaced out well enough that I woke up like a fresh babe. I’m a professional; don’t try this at home, kids.
So we woke up in this strange loft in a garage apartment behind an $800,000 house, and then hit The Gathering Place.
Well, first we hit a coffee shop on Cherry Street and that’s where the anxiety hit. Anybody with this particular mental disorder understands it comes on unpredictably, and oh boy did it happen suddenly! The previous night, hanging out with my girl and her dad and eating and drinking and shooting the breeze and even running into several familiar faces from OKC and Tulsa, it took my mind off the swirling world of hell that I’ve been slumming in. Feeling the cool air of spring in an unfamiliar environment was refreshing.
But then I walked into that coffee shop and something shifted in a weird way, and I wanted out. I chugged down some yogurt and fruit and a San Pellegrino and went straight outside to get fresh air, while my partner finished her oatmeal and diner coffee.
Most of the last 500 words have been a digression but important to set up my experience at The Gathering Place. You see, in the city of Tulsa, they have built this massive park, all with Tulsa’s favorite currency – Kaiser Dollars. I wrote about it last year in a way to prod the Tulsans that read this site, because I think it’s funny to provoke the ire of the 918.
This park-thing cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it shows. We parked toward the far south side of the park, along the river. My partner used to skate roller derby and is getting back into roller skating by learning how to ride ramps and all that, so she wanted to spend her time at the skate park while I walked around.
Apologies in advance for photo quality, but I’m a writer and not a photographer, and that means these were all shot on my cracked Jitterbug flip-phone. Deal with it. Anyways, I haven’t skated since I was a 14-year-old trying to hop parking blocks in front of Shawnee Mall in 1998, but the park seemed great. My partner met an Instagram friend in the wild who was also a roller skater, so they got to practice together while I checked out the meat of this park.
I walked up the bike/pedestrian path next to the river but had to pause and admire the Arkansas River, which was flowing high and rapidly and loudly, and I could have spent hours just sitting there nervously picking grass and listening to the white noise of its ‘WHOOSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH.’
But of course, there is a $465 million dollar park to see, so I followed the advice of the other roller skater and took the path north to the walkway that went over the highway. This is where things started to go bad.
First, I tried to use the water fountain nearest to the skate park. There were three connected fountains, not a drop of water coming from any of them. This was a running gag on me. It was very warm and sunny, and I was trying to be responsible and wear sunscreen and drink water, and the first three water fountains I found along the way dispensed nothing. Unless you’re a lost boy from the movie Hook and chocolate milk and Gatorade are distributed to those that dream hard enough, the water fountains right next to the big buildings didn’t work at all.
Thirsty but determined, I crossed over the highway to enter The Gathering Place. It’s a pretty brilliant setup, with stones that are stacked high and able to block out the highway, even sounds from rushing cars down below. But it’s also a labyrinth with no signage, unless to tell you that you’re leaving.
After finding two exits to parking lots and not the park I was looking for, eventually I found some kind of path that lead me to The Gathering Place. It was pretty peaceful, without a ton of people, which made sense since it was a random Wednesday afternoon. Eventually, I reached some bonkers massive boathouse-looking structure with a fancy restaurant and a bunch of people working and hanging out on the balcony. Downstairs, there was respite from the heat, a working water fountain, and a fascinating art exhibit that was a bunch of weird antique objects clustered together.
There were stuffed animals and fish in jars, even a bone horse.
After this cabinet of curios, the pathway lead me to the children’s area. Everything had been so quiet, birds chirping, turtles lazing in ponds, but as I moved closer, I could hear the screaming and yelling and the “HUNTER! STOP IT! LEAVE YOUR SISTER ALONE!” It soon became apparent that this Wednesday was selected as a local school field trip, with school buses full of kids playing on the absolutely bonkers playground.
Make no bones about it; this put the swingset and burning hot metal slide at my local childhood park to absolute shame. There were three-story structures and all these toys to climb and ride on, and I’m sure it’s a blast, but it set my anxiety back into a tailspin. I only got a few pictures because there are serious problems that come with being a middle-aged dude with way too much hair and dark sunglasses just hangin’ round taking pictures of kids playing.
There’s all these big animals that look cool — and I guess kids are supposed to play around them — but I kept my head down because I was already a nervous wreck and dehydrated, so I don’t know what those birds are for…or the bears and other critters that tower over the environment looking cool and expensive.
Eventually, I hit the far end of the park, where there was another big building that looked like a corporate headquarters, and next to it was a big shaded patio and a cantina. I wasn’t hungry, but maybe, just maybe, there’d be something that caught my eye. The food was reasonably priced, especially since I was expecting ballpark prices. There were hamburgers and hot dogs and pizza, all under $6. As I slowly lurched forward in the line behind dozens of field trip kids and their sponsors, I saw a beautiful sign:
Ah yes! All the beer was line-priced at $6.50 I think, but after tax was about eight bucks. Still, it was a comfortable solace, and I drank an IPA alone while sitting in the shade and collecting myself, shaking off the morning’s anxiety before meeting my partner back at the skate park.
When I got to the highway crossover labyrinth, I noticed two people looking dazed and confused and looking at me.
“Hey, are y’all alright?” I asked, knowing well what was troubling them.
“Is there anything down this way?” they asked, looking around lost.
I gave them directions and consolation, after having just been through that maze. Then I got lost again trying to get back to the skatepark, which was ridiculous since I thought I’d mapped that area out pretty well. By the time I found the concrete park, my partner was packing up her skates, exhausted, ready to meet up with her dad for lunch. As we walked out the gate, some teens were hollering and we turned around to see this:
They’d caught a massive fish that broke their rod, it was bleeding everywhere, and they were more pissed about it than anything, because the rod cost several hundreds dollars and yet here they are with some twenty pound carp that is good for little more than a fun story.
I would go back to The Gathering Place again for sure, just as those kids will come back to fish at the Arkansas River. Is a 20-pound carp worth a $300 rod? Is a confusing park worth $400 million? We’ll all be back.