Friday, April 2, 2010

TDT Friday Advice Column: 19 Ways to Get to Know Your Town

Me, Downtown

As someone who blogs about things to do in Tulsa, I field lots of questions about the city and all the stuff there is to do within its borders.

While I'm cool with answering these questions on Facebook, Twitter and by e-mail, I also highlight an FAQ every week with a post here at TDT. I'm sure the folks who pose the questions aren't the only ones who would benefit from their answers.

Let's get started.

Q. I'm new in town. How can I get a feel for what there is to do in Tulsa? How do I get to know this crazy town?

Good question, and it's one that my weekend rundown of local events doesn't quite get at. A list of stuff to do isn't of much use if you have no idea how to get to the events, let alone where the hell you are just as you're reading this.

I've published two lists of ways to get to know your town, including the one that kicked off this zany little blog in the first place. I've updated and combined them for easy reading in this post, and I have a few more to add at the end, too.

Swear off highways. Avoiding highways is the best way to see more of your city. Think about it: When you're traveling on the highway, you can’t see much of what you’re passing. You're traveling at such a high rate of speed. Second, you’re probably not all that interested in what’s passing you by if you’ve chosen to take the highway in the first place. You’re in a hurry, duh. And, that’s the intended purpose of highways: the rapid transport of automobiles. But folks, a lot has been going on in Tulsa as of late. Our town is growing, and with growth comes change. Check out what’s coming to a neighborhood near you simply by driving around – you'll immediately feel like a part of the community. Feeling like you’re a part is where the fun begins.

Pick some form of community service. Next, get moving. My father impressed upon me that serving the community as a volunteer is very important if I want to continue to enjoy or grow my city. Volunteer work also connects you to vast networks of people. If you tried volunteer work for just two months in Tulsa, your first comment when you report back to me would be, “Tulsa is such a small town – everyone knows everyone!” It’s true. And, you don't have to volunteer for a million different organizations. You don't have to sign onto a board where you're expected to contribute a quarter of your salary, either. Determine your pet cause, find an organization that offers that service and go. You'll be amazed at the people you'll meet and the places you'll see.

Read your town's free publications; subscribe to (and yes, read) the newspaper; put your town's blogs on RSS feed. "I don't really read." Huh? Since you're reading this, I know you're not one of those people. You fine folks should tell your “friends” to pick up some lit every once in a while – it would make them easier to be around. Argh. Anyway. Tulsa boasts several free and paid publications, including Urban Tulsa Weekly, Tulsa World, Oklahoma Magazine, Tulsa People and Tulsa Business Journal. And much more. These are the ones I lug to the coffee shops, and they're what I would call tolerable reading. And don't forget to read Tulsa- and Oklahoma-based blogs. Check out this year's Oklahoma Blog Awards to see the best of the best. Local blogs are great because most of them are free to cover local news without the advertising-dollar hang-ups. Point being, reading is the best way to gain information about your town without having to actually cover and report what happens. If you're not willing to read, you're not allowed to complain about how bored you are in Tulsa.

Young professionals of Tulsa, join a relevant professional organization. Then, go to the meetings. Tulsa's local young professionals are all fired-up. They’re well-connected, and they know the newest, cool things to do in Tulsa. Know why? Because they're the ones at the helm of those cool, happening things. Most times, they're the ones making these cool, happening things cool and happening in the first place. If there is a professional organization in town specifically for those of your profession, pay the dues and join. Not only will your membership benefit your career, but the fun you have in this city is directly related to the size of your network of people who know the places to see and be seen. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: Size matters.

Send yourself on a hunt for the best _______ in Tulsa. For years I’ve been hunting for Tulsa's ultimate chile relleno. Considering the number of Mexican restaurants there probably are in Tulsa, I’d say my search has just begun. What are you passionate about? Old books, vintage records, clothes, cheeseburgers? Start looking for Tulsa's best whatever-that-is. Not only will your search make great date fodder, but it will also add to your life a distinct sense of place.

Gird your loins before watching the evening news. Not that I have anything against the news stations here in town. Seriously - I see fantastic local stories on every station, and often. It's just that, I'm pretty sure the evening news is tailored to shock and/or scare you out of doing anything, ever. It’s not that they get their thrills from scaring you. If the evening news couldn’t tell you anything shocking or scary about your city, how would you convince advertisers to buy into those broadcasts instead of The Simpson’s and Seinfeld re-runs? Downtown is not a heathen hide-away. Innocent people are not getting shot all over the place every day, and cops aren’t hiding out in the construction zones and neighborhoods just so they can pull you over on camera. Tulsa is a peaceful place. There are lots of fun things to do in safe places. Consult the weekend rundown. Live a little.

Try something you've never done before. Keep it local. My husband and I woke up one Saturday not long after I started this blog and decided to take Tulsa Transit to the downtown library. What a pleasant experience! Neither of us had utilized public transportation in Tulsa before. We were nervous about our trip, but our bus drivers helped us to find our departure and arrival times, and we made it back home alive and all in one piece. Even our fellow passengers were pleasant. As it turned out, the stigma MTTA suffers is for nothing. If Tulsans who insist on driving solo to downtown for work everyday would try the bus just once, I bet hundreds of them would opt for the bus at least every now and then. Perhaps then MTTA could flesh out its bus schedule, which would provide transit users an increased frequency on each route. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Tulsans didn’t have to have to wait 30 minutes for the next bus? In the midwest, use of the public transportation system begets a better, more efficient public transportation system. My husband doesn’t cultivate a beaten path. Trying new stuff is his thing. This approach keeps him very in-the-know and connected to goings-on in Tulsa. He tries new, interesting restaurants; he shops at obscure grocery stores; and, he always has a local adventure in the works. My husband tells me stuff I don't know about Tulsa all the time. Take it from me: people like people who teach and tell them things they don't know. People don't generally like people who are complacent and boring. Don't be that guy.

Talk to people in line at the grocery store. As my stepmother can attest, my dad reads Cosmopolitan magazine to people in line at the grocery store. This approach works really well for him – sometimes I could swear my dad knows everyone. I can’t go anywhere with him without bumping into someone he knows. Dad is the other person who tells me stuff I don't know about Tulsa all the time. He's also the only other person besides the people I've worked with at the local papers and magazines who can connect me to just about anybody in town. If he doesn't know someone, he knows someone who knows them. I'm pretty sure this is thanks to a) his extensive volunteer work, and b) talking freely to people in line at the grocery store.

Go to church. Good churches boast community initiatives. Bypass the churches with other priorities, find a good one and get involved. You'll get to know local people and places in ways you wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity. I can only guess that it would be tough to be active in church and not meet someone knowledgeable about the community. Even if just that one person could get you plugged into cool stuff to do and cool people to do cool stuff with in Tulsa, imagine the increase in your quality of life. Good churches are movers and shakers in this community. They bring different types of people and their resources together and deploy them into the community for its betterment - and for the glory of God. So, don't let sermons and hymns be all you get out of going to church (not that that's what was getting you out of bed early on Sunday morning anyway). Use it also as a tool to get to know your community. Helping others in your community and getting to know what there is to do in your city feeds back into the God stuff. I promise.

Shop local. If you love hole-in-the-wall restaurants, you'll love hole-in-the-wall boutiques. Get started with Dwelling Spaces downtown, my favorite local place to shop. Then head to Cherry Street, Utica Square and Brookside. Don't forget Southtown - there's plenty of indie shops to plunder on Main Street Broken Arrow, Jenks and Bixby. Don't forget about the thrift stores and resale shops in the Tulsa area, too - just be warned that an entire weekend can go by as you're doing this without your even realizing it.

Get on the bike. Tulsa wasn't named a bike friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists for nothing. For one, check out our 180-mile trail system. For two, our bicycling community doesn't exactly feel the need to compensate for any shortcomings where size is concerned. For three, Tulsa is home to more indie bike shops per capita than that other major Sooner city. So, not only will you join the extensive club of drivers who'd rather sport bike racks than spoilers, but you'll also have the technical support needed when your bike is busted from traversing Tulsa's bike thoroughfares - Brookside, Riverside, Downtown and Avery Drive, just to name a few.

Take the bus. Did you know you could ride your bike and the bus at the same time? Well, you can, sorta. Ride to a stop on your bike and when the bus pulls up, load your bike to the front of the bus and hop on (the bus, not the bike - otherwise, you might be in for a windy ride). For as low as $0.65 per day, you can text in transit to your heart's content without the worry of rear-ending someone mid-LOL. Or, you could make new friends and see Tulsa from a whole new perspective, your choice.

Hop on Twitter. Think what you will about what I'm about to say, but I think it's time that it be known: My No. 1 source of news, both local and national, is Twitter. Yikes, right? Feels a little funny to say, but it's true. Not only does any network news outlet worth its salt use Twitter to plug its most recent articles and gather resources, but the smart phone owners on the ground where the news is actually happening do, too. Now I find out about what's happening in Tulsa without the middleman, sometimes long before it hits the news sites and often complete with photos and video. Don't believe me? Steal my followees. I have about 2,800 T-Towners feeding me all that's moving and shaking in Tulsa, all the time. Go ahead, borrow them. I'm sure they won't mind.

Have a baby. Before our son came along, my husband had been to the Tulsa Zoo & Living Museum just one time, and that was to drop me off for volunteer duty. He'd been to just one show at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, and I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to a park for reasons other than exercise or loitering a la high school days. Since our son burst onto the scene, we've re-visited landmarks that had, for us, faded into the backdrop. If it weren't for that little blond busybody, we wouldn't know the pure and simple joy that is a splash park. We wouldn't go to half as many shows at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center or BOK Center, either, but thanks to the likes of Elmo and Tulsa Children's Museum concerts and our son's love of dancing in the aisles, we see plenty of live entertainment in some of Tulsa premier venues.

Be a bargain hunter. Ever since I started following Sarah Roe, the coupon master supreme who writes, I've hit roads less traveled - even to a sushi bar inside a the Jenks Reasor's location - to find the deals she posts on her site. My coupon goggles thus activated, I started to notice coupons good at independent Tulsa businesses printed in local publications, not to mention the local coupons that appear from time to time on Roe's site. It's easy to do the uniquely Tulsa stuff when good deals put you right in the arms of our homespun businesses.

Shoot it. When I was in architecture school I noticed that by sketching a thing, one comes to know it rather well. Most people don't draw, though, so grabbing a camera, wandering wherever your eye takes you and snapping a few shots is, in my opinion, the next best thing. Once you have a pack of shots to upload, be sure to add them to the Tasha Does Tulsa group on Flickr. There are hundreds of photos there already, and dozens on photographers. Wait - see what I did there? I just came up with yet another way for you to meet other Tulsans. Woot!

Go to scary restaurants. El Rio Verde on North Trenton. Halim and Mimi's on 11th Street. The Brasserie on Brookside (hey, escargot is something to reckon with it you've never had it before and you know exactly what it is). Each of these restaurants intimidated me before I dined there. Either I didn't know the food or I didn't know the language spoken behind the counter or both. At any rate, these locally owned restaurants, especially the hole-in-the-wall types, tell the stories not just of this city, but especially of the neighborhood and district in which they operate. Plus, 9 times out of 10, the food is going to be much better than anything you could get at a mass-produced chain establishment based 1,000 miles away.

Shop at your local farmers' market. When you're looking for local flavor, there's no place to make friends and find good and unique foods and handmade products like the farmers' market. Click here for the list of farmers' markets that appear in Sustainable Tulsa's Green Directory. Look for new farmers' markets to crop up in the area this spring - we've seen at least one new one every year for the past several - namely the new market in north Tulsa at the northeast campus of Tulsa Community College. Don't hesitate to talk with the farmers and vendors at these markets. They're interesting, colorful, funny and caring people who really give a crap about food and how it's grown, brought to market and, as you'll find out, how it's prepared. Yum, yum.

Use FourSquare. This latest social media application gives users the opportunity to use their smart phones to check in at locales just about anywhere, Tulsa included. By checking in you get to connect with other Tulsans, learn insider tips on things to do and try at specific places and connect with your friends on Facebook and Twitter on where you're going and what you're doing there. Download the app here, and be sure to add me as a friend. I've left tips all over town, and I hope you'll leave some for me, too.

If I missed a great way to get to know this town, please leave your tip in the comments. We'd all love to hear about it.

And don't forget to send me your own questions about Tulsa and its quirks and crannies for next week's edition of TDT Friday Advice Column.


Becky said...

Great Post!! I've only been here a year and a half, but it's all so true. Especially the having a baby part. Instant social life with all other moms.

Anonymous said...

If you can find stuff to do in Tulsa, you're far more creative than I am. This is the dullest town that I've ever lived in. I hear people say that, "It's a great place to raise kids." Yea, that's true if you want loser kids who have nothing to do except get high and have sex. Woo hoo! I can get that in a way cooler town.

Anonymous said...

There's plenty of stuff to do here, you malcontent. You can try to figure out what people had for lunch by their fart smells. You can cut apples in half and watch them turn brown. You can watch the fizz go out of your 3.2 beer. You can go to a lip-synced concert. You can go to a nice, smoky casino. You can go to the Riverwalk until everything closes at 9pm. Or you can go to our fabulous downtown area and enjoy a nice baseball game at our awesome stadium. LOL. Yeah, meet you there. I'll be the one in the bleachers. You'll see me.
But wait, there's more.
You can...ummm, no that's Dallas. Wait, you's St. Louis. Or, you, darn it that's OKC. Dammit. Figure it out for yourself.

Ed said...

Anonymous losers make me happy. :) Tasha, you've arrived... the cranks and DBs have found you!

Tasha said...

My thoughts exactly, Ed.

However, while I don't yet have a formal comments policy, I expect people who want to use this site as a place to voice their opinions to be respectful, to stay on topic and to contribute to the conversation. If you want to post a comment expressing your opinion that Tulsa is the most boring place ever, articulate that in such a way that wouldn't make you fearful of attaching your name to it. Or, if you have to stay anonymous to say what you want to say without serious consequence, say something substantive.

Respectful dissent and thoughtful contribution is cool. Flaming, not so much.

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