I AM WRITING a brilliant novel. Ive been working on it for about seven years. I have written almost 10 pages -- jealous? -- and Im sure youre dying to read it. Too bad; its top secret. All I can tell you is that it is set in the city of my birth, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Now, you may say that setting a novel in your hometown is lazy and cliché and shows that all youre really trying to do is synthesize a romantic version of your youth and paste it onto a flimsy story line in a weak-minded swing at fame and fortune. To which I would say, Oh, yeah? Have have have you written 10 pages of a novel? And then I would cry for a brief moment.
But then, I would shake it off, straighten up, and prove you wrong. Its not just that we all imbue our hometown with nostalgia. Im reflecting the Tulsa of today.
To do so, I had to engage in some more research. I usually go home a few times every year during holidays, but you know how that works: You hit the same places, see the same people, avoid the same warrants. I needed to see what Tulsa had become since I moved away two decades ago.
On the smooth, comfortable, refreshing plane ride there, I did a little extra research. One article talked about how Tulsa was working to keep its young people from moving away. It said that for a few decades, creative 20-somethings had been immigrating to cities that seemed to offer a more cosmopolitan experience, to cities known for something besides the huge praying hands at Oral Roberts University (which are kind of cool, youve got to admit).
I related. When I left Tulsa, I had a 1977 Granada, an associates degree, and a mustache. I wanted more in life. I wanted a goatee.
Todays youth, though, are more demanding. They want to see a skyline. They want cool bars and great restaurants in a funky urban environment. They want a great library or at least to follow a great library on Twitter. (Actually, that one is taken care of. Just go to www.twitter.com/tulsalibrary to see what I mean.)
To find those other things and thus continue my research, I headed to the corner of East 18th Street and South Boston Avenue. Id been told of a sophisticated wine bar just south of downtown. This was an area that no one ever went to when I was a teenager. Back then, it was dilapidated and scary, a symbol of the abandonment of a citys core, one that was as prevalent in the 1980s as high-waisted jeans were. Now, though, Tulsa is as aggressive as any city in trying to reclaim formerly abandoned areas in and around downtown.
It was a good sign that I couldnt find a parking spot on the street when I arrived that Saturday night. The streets were full of urban sophisticates; some were at the wine bar, Vintage 1740 (cool name -- go Tulsa!), while other rougher, leather-wearing types chose the biker bar across the street (acceptable level of inner-city intrigue -- its like New York!).
I met a friend from high school at Vintage 1740. We each ordered a glass of red wine (Rombauer Zinfandel, because thats the way I roll now that Im big-city). We sat on the patio and watched the posing hipsters, the easygoing raconteurs, and the beautiful people mingle on the street.
I could imagine a new beginning to my novel, one I never before could have imagined for a tome set in Tulsa: A worldly writer comes back to Tulsa to escape the fact that no one in the world recognizes his intense awesomeness. He returns to find a revitalized city, confident in itself, as cosmopolitan as you want it to be. Along the way, he finds love, acceptance, and a sense of self-worth. George Clooney will play him in the movie version.
Then I realized I was starving, so I left and drove across town along 11th Street, what used to be Route 66. It is the street I grew up on, a long stretch of car lots, motels, fast-food joints, and old neighborhoods. Some of the old landmarks are now gone or have been shut down, like the Metro Diner and the old Rose Bowl buildings bowling alley. But the Coney I-Lander, where I worked during high school, is still there.
It was late, almost closing time. I was the only person in the store when I ordered three coneys with cheese, chili, onions, and extra mustard. They tasted good. Comforting.
There has to be a scene in my novel, I thought, where the hero escapes for a few hours to his old-school haunts. Everyone loves a little nostalgia, right? Its why you go home. Maybe on page 11.