Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Little Sustenance for the Road

You would think with all of the food they offered us at every turn during the conference that by Sunday morning we would be anxious to go at least a few minutes without eating, but fortunately this wasn't the case.

Ingrid's Kitchen, 3701 N. Youngs, Oklahoma City (405-946-8444), has a Grand Island connection. My companion from the CVB in Grand Island knows the owners sister, so it was only fitting that we stop in for their Sunday brunch. This unassuming diner has been in business since 1977 features an authentic German bakery, delicatessen and restaurant. The Eggs Benedict on the Brunch buffet are some of the best I've ever tasted.

Guy Fieri featured Ingrid's Kitchen in the Home and Away Episode DV0805 of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The episode originally aired on February 1, 2010. Ingrid's certainly isn't a Dive!Since we had to get on the road for the eight hour drive ahead of us, we walked in just as they were unlocking the doors at 9:30. Don't let the open tables fool you. By the time we walked out, the place was really starting to fill up. Just look at this dessert table! I really should have walked all the way home after finishing up brunch with a serving of the Chocolate Volcano Cake and Bread Pudding with Brandy Sauce. As it is, I am OFFICIALLY dieting! Tanking season is coming and I still want to be able to float down the river, and then there's that White Water Rafting trip after my son's wedding in Idaho. Gotta look good. After this, it was nothing but a long drive through the beautiful heartland of America. We skirted the Flint Hills of Kansas, but were anxious to get home, so no side trips.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wrapping it up in Oklahoma City

The closing event for Heritage Clubs International Peer Group 2010 was a night at the Oklahoma History Center sponsored by the Globus Family of Brands, another one of the Preferred Tour Operators. I don't want to say they saved the best for last, because as you know from reading the previous posts, we had some pretty spectacular events and entertainment, but this was a very fun evening.
Oklahoma is oil country. It's too bad it was a rainy, cold, windy evening, because it would have been fun to have listened to the history of the oil industry while touring through period and contemporary equipment.
Oklahoma is home to more Native American tribal groups than anywhere else in the nation, mainly because so many tribes were relocated to the "Indian Territories" before Oklahoma became a state. That sad history can be found here at the Oklahoma History Center, with at least one-quarter of its exhibit space dedicated to Native American history.
The living history reenactors made the exhibits come alive, but I will warn you that although it is associated with the Smithsonian Institute, to me at least, this was an extremely confusing facility. I would recommend requesting a docent to help make sense of the way the exhibits are laid out. During my very brief visit, I wasn't able to follow the mind of the designer in the layout.
The entry way is spectacular, with a replica of Wiley Posts "Winnie Mae" soaring above the huge gallery, and the Oklahoma Capitol viewed prominently through the window. While the name Winnie Mae might not immediately come into your mind, it is quite famous in Oklahoma as the small plane that crashed in the Alaskan wilderness killing Will Rogers.
Globus treated us to performers from "Pump Boys and Dinettes" that will be appearing at Oklahoma City's Lyric Theater in June.
As you can see below, even after a week of being at breakfast at 7:30 a.m., and not finishing up at night until after 9:00, these club directors are still going strong.
That's a wrap for this year. You can follow the fun we had in Lafayette in 2009 in my posts from back then, and next year, be sure to return to find out all about what we'll be up to in Dubuque, Iowa.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Monday, March 29, 2010

We Love Our Preferred Tour Operators

We didn't always have to leave the host hotel for great entertainment. The Heritage Clubs International Preferred Tour Operators brought in entertainment that showcased some of what might be found on a trip with them. I think I explained the PTO's in an earlier post. They are the ones who provide the wonderful trips the bank travel club directors take their customers on. Whether it's a couple of days in Branson, a cruise to Alaska or around the world, they make all of the arrangements.

Susan Damon, the President of Flemming Tours wowed us with The Cats Pajamas, a vocal band whose home is in the Dutton Family Theater in Branson.
Susan and Russ Rosenberry of Islands in the Sun teased us about their exotic cruises with the wonderful latin guitarist Edgar Cruz.
Heritage Peer Group host for 2011 Dubuque Iowa hosted a rousing game of Family Feud.
Heritage Clubs really is like family, and we proved that we are just as competitive as any real family.
Finally, Rick Pharr of CTN Travels brought in dancers and a singer from the Central Plains Dancers to show off an itinerary he has put together that includes the Red Earth Museum and Pow Wow.
The very talented singer explained the meaning of one of the songs, and gave a brief history of the development of the modern day pow wow.
There were examples of the straight dance, fancy dance, and we were all invited to participate in the round dance.
There were many more, including our visit to the Oklahoma History Museum sponsored by the Globus Family of Brands, which will be the topic of another post.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Oklahoma National Stockyards

Less than two miles from the exciting city center of the Bricktown, is the Oklahoma National Stockyards. It first opened in 1910, so will be celebrating its centennial this year.
The downtown Oklahoma City skyline can be seen from the catwalk above the cattle pens.
Sale days are Monday and Tuesday, so all was relatively quiet on a Friday afternoon. On any given week, an average of 10,000 to 12,000 head of cattle will change hands at this sales facility.
This year, our guide told us, the numbers are frequently in the 16,000 to 17,000 head range. The largest ever recorded was 70,000 head in one week.
Only a few stragglers are left in the empty pens now. The pens are all hard-bottomed, and the manure is scraped off weekly, combined with other materials and converted into a highly sought after compost. As Mike Rowe would say, brown before green! Except to be totally honest, it might go more like green, brown, green in this case if you get my meaning.
Another local landmark that is celebrating its centennial in 2010 is the Cattlemens Steakhouse that has been serving delicious food since the first cattle were driven into the stockyard.
We only had about fifteen minutes to spend here, but it was enough to discover that homemade pie is one of the Cattlemens signature offerings. If their steaks are only half as good as their pies, it's no wonder they've been around 100 years (and I'll just bet their steaks are better!)
The upstairs meeting room is cozy yet comfortable. You can see some of our group are showing amazing restraint when faced with this delicious pie.
Stockyards City is transforming itself into more than just a destination or starting point for thousands of cattle. There are wonderful shops, eateries and art in the area.
Do you remember the wonderful entertainment I told you about on our first night in town at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum? This is where they call home! The Centennial Rodeo Opry is located in the heart of Stockyard City.

Think you've seen it all yet? Not even close!! But we only have one more night on the town in Oklahoma City, so my narrative is drawing to a close.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.


The political will that it took to undertake the renovation of the warehouse district of Oklahoma City must have been amazing. Though there is no evidence remaining, I have been told that it was the pittiest of the pits, filled with the relics of cast-off oil field equipment, trash heaps, crime, environmental hazards, every icky, dangerous and unsightly thing you can imagine.

Then along came Mayor Ron Norick, who not only had the vision of what Bricktown could be, but also the energy, stamina, strength of character and the political savvy to make it happen. I come from North Platte Nebraska. There is actually a book out about North Platte named "That Town Fights About Everything." I can just imagine the opposition to the one cent sales tax, the idea of digging out streets to build canals, and many others of the nine projects that comprised MAPS, the Metropolitan Area Projects.

Because Oklahoma had no natural resources with which to build during its period of explosive growth, factories that made bricks out of the red dirt of the area sprang up in abundance. The area had been renamed Bricktown.

One of the projects was the Bricktown Ballpark. This stadium is the home of the Red Hawks, a AAA franchise of the Texas Rangers. Our guide told us that the facility is acutally the little brother of Ranger Stadium. However, he was quick to point out that the most inexpensive seat in the stadium is $7.00, while the most expensive seat, right behind home plate, is a whopping $18.00. Now that is an affordable day at the ballpark.
The renovation project that makes Oklahoma City the most unique of vibrant city center entertainment districts is the Bricktown Canal. The original segments of the canal were actually streets that were dug out to create the canal.

It meanders through an incredible array of shops, restaurants, bars and attractions and is serviced by a watertaxi. Day passes which include unlimited on and offs are $8.00, so it's quite reasonable. I see on their website that in ten years of operation, they have carried more than a million passengers. I want to take this opportunity to mention the Trolley as well. Fares are only a quarter to go anywhere in the downtown area. While I didn't travel on it myself, some of my companions found it to be a wonderful way to get around.
As with any tourism business, the hardware is great, but it is the software that makes it amazing. The software in this case was Captain Mason, who did an outstanding job. He was extremely knowledgeable about the area, the establishments we passed, and was funny, entertaining and personable. If all of their guides are up to Captain Mason's standards, then they should reach their two millionth visitor in no time at all.
I am going to say this wonderful mosiac is the west end of the canal. That's going to be a true statement unless my directions got totally turned around down there. Anyway, this is in the heart of the Bricktown area. Facing the mosiac, on the right (which I take to be north) is the Biting Sow (which, incredibly, doesn't have a website!), which our guide confirmed as the hottest blues venue in OKC. To the left is Zios Italian Restaurant.
The watertaxi filled with our compadres has to pull aside to let us pass. Fortunately no one had any squirt guns.
The canal is a popular area for all kinds of two-legged creatures.
This beautiful mural depicts one street in downtown OKC as it is transformed over time. Our guide mentioned that not one time since it was painted has it been defaced by graffiti. There are many beautiful murals throughout the area, and we didn't see any evidence of vandalism.
Toby Keith resides nearby and his "I Love This Bar and Grille" are right on the water. He and his family sometimes do enjoy a meal there. Our guide mentioned that any active or retired military personnel are treated to a one-time hamburger meal. Thank you Toby Keith!
The largest waterfall in downtown Oklahoma City, which doubles as a component of the canal filtration system.
The Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World have been a popular addition to the retail landscape in the downtown, and make a fitting sight along the canal. I would have been more excited had it been a Cabelas!
Do you know your Oklahoma history? Oklahoma only celebrated its Centennial in 2007, making it one of the more recent to receive statehood. The iconic names of Boomers and Sooners are related to the land run in 1889 when the former Indian Territory was opened for settlement. It is a fascinating and unique history that is memorialized in the Land Run Monument, which when finished, will be the largest freestanding bronze sculptures in the world.
When completed it will contain 45, one-and-a-half-times life size sculptures that are incredibly historically accurate.
In another incredible example of entrepreneurial ingenuity, a converted abandoned grain elevator is now the home of the Rocktown Climbing Gym. There are indoor and outdoor climbs of up to 90 feet tall. Who would have thought?? Please go to their website and check out the information and pictures. I don't know anything about rock climbing, and this is as close as we got, but I had to tell you about it!
The tour does continue after this, but that will have to wait for another post!

Thank you for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Where Were You?

Nothing can prepare you for the emotions you are going to experience at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Not having visited other solemn memorials, not thinking that you know the story, not having become jaded with all of the tragedies that have come since.

I have been struggling with how to blog this portion of my visit to Oklahoma City. It is a site no one should miss, whether you are traveling to Oklahoma City for business, a leisure visit, group tour, or if you have to detour miles out of your way. It is hard. Even now I am having difficulty in writing about it, but it is something every American should do.

Where were you? I was at home in my living room, enjoying the quiet after my children had left for school. The first reports were sketchy, lulling one into a sense of complacency that it was minor, an accident, nothing out of the ordinary among the myriad other news stories in what was the adolescence of the 24-hour news cycle.

The first thing you will see as you approach the doors of the museum is the childrens area. It is already hard. The messages scrawled on the walk at first impart a sense of innocence, children at play. Except when you read the messages, they are words that no child should have to write, should know how to write. Children remembering other children whom they have never known, will ever know.

From this point onward in the museum, no photography is allowed, and with good reason. This solemn memorial should never be trivialized by travel photography, no matter how well meaning. Go to their website, pick up the brochure that the memorial has published, purchase memorabilia. Share the experience through those who know what this tragedy means and how the survivors and loved ones wish the memory to be shared.
Outside on the east is the 9:01 wall. All is right with the world.
On the west is the 9:03 wall. In between... What you experience in between is up to you. I won't try to explain my experience, and yours will be personal to you.
The survivor tree. This tree withstood the blast, and contrary to all that is natural, began to bud once again following the fires that engulfed it. On this late March morning, it was budding once again, giving a visual reminder to the promise at 9:03 that healing and hope will come.
As we left, children once again were renewing the messages of love and compassion to all the world.
I don't personally know anyone who was affected by the Oklahoma City bombing, yet I am moved by this memorial in a way that I didn't expect. It is more than a static monument. It is a living memorial, a reminder of the warm, vibrant, vital people who lost their lives on that day, a way we can extend our compassion to those who carry on without them, and a commemoration to the spirit of a people and a city who responded to the tragedy with the Oklahoma Standard. It is a standard we all would do well to strive to live up to.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The American Banjo Museum

Now it's time for fun once again - an integral part of a career in tourism! It really makes it all worthwhile. Sandy Price the director of Tourism Sales for the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau worked closely with Heritage Clubs International to put together amazing tours for us to take part in this afternoon.

There were three different tours: Twist and Shout which toured the National Weather Service Severe Weather Facility and the Barry Switzer Center in Norman; Bits and Pieces, which toured the Remington Park Casino and Racetrack and the Art Museum; and Town and Country which centered in downtown Oklahoma City and the National Stockyards.

After having researched the Bricktown area for my own side trips, I opted for the Town and Country tour that explored the area more in-depth. On the bus ride into the area, we passed the TapWerks Ale House and Cafe, and then the Bricktown Brewery. To my disappointment, we didn't have the chance to stop at either one! Ah well, I guess I'll have to come back again sometime!
Where we did stop was the American Banjo Museum. The Banjo is very high up on my top-ten favorite musical instruments list (right after the fiddle and bodhran, but somewhere before the bagpipes and accordian... but that's a topic for another blog post.) and it's wonderful to know that someone cares enough to preserve this historical and uniquely American instrument.
Our group of Heritage partners are anxiously awaiting our chance to tour the museum.
From the website:
The American Banjo Museum is a $5 million, world-class 21,000 square foot facility honoring the rich history, vibrant spirit and unlimited future of the banjo. The museum contains more than 300 instruments, the largest collection on public display in the world. Examples include replicas of primitive banjos developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from 19th century, post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music, and museum’s core collection of ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and 30s.
Answer me honestly now... How many of you can remember Shakeys Pizza? Believe it or not, there was a Shakeys Pizza in my small hometown of North Platte Nebraska when I was growing up. While I was amazed to learn that there are still Shakeys Pizza Parlors, they are different from the ones in the late 1960's and 1970's. Founded in Sacramento in 1954 and expanding to nearly 500 locations in the mid 70's, every Shakeys featured a live banjo player. Many of the successful banjo players of our day credit Shakeys Pizza Parlors for getting them started in the business. It is only fitting that the lunch room in the American Banjo Museum include a recreated Shakeys Pizza Parlor.
The instruments displayed throughout the museum are a far cry from the primitive instruments created by African slaves trying to recreate the music of their homeland on the plantations of the American south.
Each instrument is a work of art in its own right, notwithstanding the incredible music that can be coaxed from its strings by a skilled musician.
The heyday of the American Banjo was during the jazz age of the 1920's when its popularity peaked. By the 1940's, musical tastes had shifted and the banjo was nearly dead. Fortunately musical pioneers such as Earl Skruggs and other Bluegrass and Country musicians embraced the unique sound and the instrument experienced a resurgence.
The banjo plays an important role in the Celtic music that I love so dearly.
While the museums hall of fame features current important figures in banjo music,
The wall of heroes features pioneers of the American Banjo whose innovation has kept the instrument alive from the earliest days until today.
Think you know what the Banjo is all about? You might think again when you watch this clip of Bela Fleck and the Flectones:

Hope you enjoyed this visit to the American Banjo Museum... We did so much more today that I had better get on to my next post. Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.