10 things Tulsa kids can’t do anymore
11:13 AM EDT on May 28, 2014
Last week, Marisa wrote a perfectly nostalgic piece detailing fun things to do in OKC that kiddos nowadays can no longer experience. Of course, this got me thinking about my own hoodrat days, and all of the crazy/fun/awkward/dangerous things I once loved that no longer exist.
Now, I hate those people who are always whining about the "good ol' days." I'm not going to bitch about how kids no longer read or go outside, and I'm not going wig out like a church elder about Snapchat and Instagram. But I am going to aggressively, belligerently, and irrevocably assert that the kids of today are DEFINITELY not having as much fun because these ten things no longer exist in the 918. Check them out.
1. Go to a birthday party at Harmon Science Center
Once upon a time, Tulsa had its very own hands-on children's science museum. Attractions included an electricity ball that literally made your hair stand on end, a shadow room, a gigantic bubble wand, a laser light show, and a 50 meter dash track so you could see how fast you ran compared to a bumble bee and a cheetah. There was also a creepy tunnel you could crawl through to see the insides of a caterpillar, and check out how underground Tulsa supposedly looked. I loved this place, and even had two birthday parties in a row here.
Why? Well, let's be real: children's science museums are never about the science. I can't tell you how many times I pulled my body weight up a tall shaft using a pulley, and still to this day don't trust rock climbing with just one person on belaying duty. When my parents cut me loose at Harmon Science Center (or the Omniplex for that matter), I manically ran from exhibit to exhibit, trying to touch or pull or crawl or paint or hit or throw or run through as many stations as humanly possible, not pausing for a moment to read any signs or listen to any instructors.
I heard that the Harmon Science Center is now somehow a part of Bishop Kelley. I'm not for sure how the huge bubble maker or caterpillar tunnel fits into their curriculum. But, judging from the people I know who graduated from there, I have a feeling that they all might have really, REALLY enjoyed the laser light experience.
2. Race Go-Carts at Celebration Station
When it came to arcade prizes, bumper boats, and go carts, there was no bigger game in town than Celebration Station. It kind of reminded be of the place where Danny LaRusso brought Ali in Karate Kid, so naturally I pictured my first date with Jonathan Taylor Thomas at this very location.
To my dismay, my first date instead occurred when I saw Fast and Furious at a dollar theater with a guy named Tomahawk.
3. Go to Hell
In high school I had a whirlwind affair with a guy...we'll call him Ponyboy...and all of my friends were jealous because he was famous on a social network known back then as MySpace. And when I say famous, I mean he was a kid who had like 50,000 MySpace friends without even pulling an Abigail Ogle. Ponyboy had that perfectly silly emo hair cut, wore skinny jeans, and wasn't about any of that weird "Straight Edge" garbage I always knew was impractical and lame. Of course, I was completely enamored when I met him for the first time in real life at Tulsa World's Satellite Battle of the Bands, circa 2006 or so.
As a pseudo-hippie with a heavy dose of punk rock sensibility, I pretty much died from happiness when Ponyboy sent me a stream of lyric-laden MySpace messages, and immediately agreed to go out with him. He wore a pastel v-neck and tucked in his septum piercing when he picked me up and met my parents. Ponyboy then took me to the 11th and Riverside, and walked me to the a clearing by the traffic bridge. After crawling down a manhole, tossing a pack of Turkish Golds to a homeless dude, then leaping over a 3-ft gap across a 30-ft drop to the disgusting Arkansas river, we ended up at a place he called Hell. Hell was a landing under the bridge covered in shitty graffiti and littered with cigarette butts and (probably) syringes. I don't know you guys, I was 17 and out with the coolest scene kid in Tulsa, how was I supposed to calculate present danger?!
After bragging to my other punk rock-esque friends about the adventure, I found out that Hell was like, THE place that kids went to when it was time to make out. Actually, I wasn't even the first girl in my social circle that this Ponyboy character took there. In typical 17 year old fashion, I was pretty devastated. Ponyboy now has a lengthy beard, hair longer than mine, and is a manager at Whole Foods. I still get a little starry-eyed whenever I run into him.
According to my sister, they sealed the manhole that leads to Hell several years ago, which was probably a great idea. I can't fathom the number of emo babies conceived, poorly rolled joints consumed, and cans of spray paint abandoned there over the course of its existence.
4. Attend an awkward boy/girl dance party at Champions
In about 6th grade, the cool kids started having co-ed birthday parties that centered around a crappy local DJ play CDs in a dark room with a smoke machine and a disco ball. Even though I was only invited to like, three dance parties total, I love the shit out of them because it gave me an excuse to wear a slutty halter top from Abercrombie and chunky platform flip flops with a cut-off denim mini skirt.
My hideous attire and the DJ's penchant for playing "Cha Cha Slide" aren't even the most awkward things about these dance parties. Whether you went to Jenks, Union, Metro, Cascia, Broken Arrow, Bixby, or some totally off the radar school, if you had a dance party in Tulsa it almost always happened at Champions Rec Center. That's right. While I closed my eyes and prayed that some poor soul would ask me to slow dance, meanwhile the room next door hosted Jazzercise classes for old people, or basketball camp for 8 year olds.
Champions died a seven or eight years ago. I'm just sorry it didn't take the "Cha Cha Slide" and platform flip flops with it.
5. Hear a classic rock cover band at the Riverwalk
The Riverwalk opened when I was 16 and was pretty much a dream come true. A outdoor concert venue, surrounded by movie theaters, an arcade, and an ice cream and a coffee shop? And wait...it's literally across the street from my high school? Gold mine!
Midlife crisis cover bands (particularly the midlife crisis cover band, Midlife Crisis) were the standard weekend and Wednesday night line up for the amphitheater, which kids and South Tulsan adults alike embraced with open arms. There was about a four or five year sweet spot for the Riverwalk, and dang it was fun while it lasted.
The Riverwalk's decline? I outline it here, but pretty much they banned teens and opened up a bunch of tacky nightclubs that only a cast member of Jersey Shore could appreciate. Last I heard, River Spirit Casino bought the foreclosed property. Sayonara, pre-teens.
6. See a high school band at the Pink Eye
The Pink Eye was one of those places where decent parents who took an interest in their kids' lives would never agree to drop their kids off at. The windows were barred with iron grates, you could hear the screamo from a block away, and flocks of kids in hoodies and stupid-looking tight pants loitered in alleyways, trying to find a place to smoke cigs. As I'm sure you've gathered by now, I was a walking teenage cliche and loved me some boys in bands. So of course, there were more than a few occasions that I hit up the ol' Pink Eye for some grade-A guyliner wearing, skateboarding McHotties.
Looking back, I still have no idea how or why I
sat moshed through so many terrible concerts here. Kids have it so easy these days. Instead of wasting their Friday nights pretending to be into the worst music possible, all they have to do is send a scandalous Snapchat or two.
7. Go to the Secret Garden
I realize at this point you guys probably think I was some sort of renegade scene girl growing up who wore raccoon eyeliner on the reg. This isn't true. While I sometimes ran in emo circles, I was much more of a half-assed hippie. Sure I drove a large gas-guzzling SUV and always wore a bra, but I owned Chacos and could tell you off the top of my head which recording of the Dead's "Scarlet Begonias" was superior (hint: it's actually Sublime's version).
Teens like myself needed a place play the djembe, lay in the grass, and occasionally inhale other grasses. If you walked along the fenced-in woods at Hunter Park for long enough, you'd come across the most perfect little clearing, where the sunshine broke through an opening in the trees and a single picnic table was surrounded by thick, lustrous fescue. The kids deemed it the Secret Garden, because creativity has historically never been a strong suit of faux suburban 16 year old flower children.
While the "secret" place started out as a haven for sitting in circles braiding people's hair and singing "California Dreaming," the kids into uh, actual drugs took over the park (of course) and started scaring residents of the nearby neighborhood (of course). So (of course), park officials yanked the picnic table and chained a couple fences, and the secluded little idyllic place in Hunter Park was gone forever.
8. Watch the puppet show and play arcade games at Casa Bonita
I was weirdly obsessed with Casa Bonita the first dozen or so years of my life. I appreciated the cafeteria layout, and how the long wait really just built suspense and made the whole experience more exciting. A true Tulsa kid knew that the cave room was way cooler than the waterfall room, and if you sat first row for the magic show there was a better chance you'd get to participate in the action. I was also pretty into those flags you raise to signify that you needed more free sopapillas. This was long before the days of Ted's, so free sugary delights were a delicacy.
Another cool thing about this place? My friend's parents met when they worked there together in high school and are still married now, 35 years later. I really hope the had their first kiss under that drafty waterfall, while a mariachi band played in the background.
9. Explore an old abandoned building downtown.
Before those old, decrepit buildings were restored into overpriced luxury apartments, a dozen or more creepy historic buildings just hung out downtown, begging to be explored by teens and homeless people. Ponyboy totally took me on a date doing this too, so it's something that I look back on with a particular fondness. Nowadays, you'd be hard-up to find a building that isn't halfway through a remodel.
Not that this is a bad thing, I'm always in favor of new restaurants and night clubs and housing for yuppies. But there's nothing quite like the thrill of sneaking into an abandoned high rise, exploring its wings, and acquainting yourself with its ghosts. Something tells me that stumbling into a South Tulsa McMansion under construction doesn't give you nearly the same sort of adrenaline rush.
10. Take a field trip to Bells Amusement Park
I have no idea why my parents let me go here. Even before someone uh, DIED on a roller coaster, you could tell that most of the rides were one strong gust of wind away from turning into scrap metal.
I actually remember riding that pirate ship they have at every amusement park, and flying out of my seat during swing of the ship. The safety bar was a good 5 inches from my scrawny hips. Don't even get me started on the Himalaya--there were practically cobwebs on the car tracks. If it wasn't for my kung-fu grip on safety handles, I might not be here today.
Still, every Tulsa area middle school sent their students here the day before graduation, so the school's PTA could turn their campus into the all-night bonanza known as Gradfest for the seniors. Where do the displaced middle schoolers go now? The zoo? Incredible Pizza? If kids can't couple up during the dark creepy Phantasmagoria, where will they get to make out? THIS IS A PROBLEM!
Follow Chelsea on Twitter at @xCawoodstock. And if you're Ponyboy and read this, call me ;)