One of the great things about being a runner in a larger city is that variety is all around you. Streets are numerous, as are parks and other features, allowing you to create new routes for your runs on almost any given day.
Most people will pick a park or two and stick with that. No wonder so many people burn out! Even the most scenic places where I run can seem routine after I’ve run them a few dozen times.
One of my more recent long runs took me through a mosaic of the city that was just pretty darn interesting.
I headed out east of downtown and into an industrial area. I hopped over railroad tracks and breezed by the steady hum of heavy machinery that only comes from inside the confines of manufacturing. This stretch of road was stark in its grey utility, a place where blue-collar people do hard, blue-collar work, Saturday or not.
That doesn’t mean the entire stretch was barren of color, however. People took time to breathe a little life into an otherwise blandly mechanical spread of the city.
These little refuges of color were the exception, however. Notable, for sure. But they were more akin to a flowering weed blasting its way through the concrete than indicators of what this place was about; stubborn beauty refusing to bow under the grayness all around, but still lost in the sea of one-and two-story concrete buildings and broken windows.
About a mile of that gave way to something equally stark, but much more full of life. Desperate life.
Like most cities, poor areas aren’t confined to one side of the city or another. These are usually in pockets. This neighborhood was no different.
Continuing east, I ran into some of the thickest ghetto I’ve seen in the city. This particular neighborhood – mostly made up of neglected two-story apartment blocks and 50-year-old shotgun houses — had its own sights, sounds and even smells. Stereos cranked out hip-hop while neglected laundry hung out to dry despite the rainy conditions present earlier in the day. As I breathed in, smelled what I can only describe as the aroma of old carpet. Broken-down cars littered lawns and driveways and groups of dudes congregated on porches, mostly because I’m not sure they had anything better to do.
One complex I passed was called the Storybook Apartments. I can only imagine the sad tales told in those places.
Then quite suddenly, another change of scenery. Crowded apartment blocks and one-story rentals gave way to the open spaces and towering buildings of the University of Tulsa. No transition, no warning, just boom. I’m now running on campus.
TU is a pretty goodschool, from what I understand. It boasts quality law and engineering schools and a surprisingly high-caliber football program. Most colleges I’ve been to have huge trees breaking up the campus landscape. TU has trees, but they’re largely pretty young. The campus isn’t big by university standards, but its looks so wide-open and airy that it seems sprawling.
The buildings are beautiful, but the campus was pretty quiet that day. Only a few students were milling around.
Once I left campus, I smelled the one place that must be a complete cash cow – a pizza parlor. Mazzio’s is an Oklahoma favorite, and being across the street from TU, well, you get the picture. Late-night study sessions, ball games and, shall we say, bong hits probably keep that place humming.
What I like about this area is what’s immediately around the school. As I headed south of campus, then back west, I saw hip little cafes and boutiques, coffee shops and tattoo parlors.
But one of the most interesting places I saw was this really great old brick apartment building. It’s right at the intersection of a busy four-lane street and a major six-lane highway. Its architecture is just cool, in a rugged, urban kinda way. Put this building in a trendy part of town and these apartments rent for $1,000 a month (pricey in Tulsa). But here, on this desperate little corner where location is the enemy, it’s going to attract more earthy tenants. In another time or different circumstances, I’d totally live in a ramshackle heap of bricks like that. That place has character. It’s called The Ritz.
Continuing west, I went into a hilly area commonly referred to as Cherry Street. Technically, it’s 15th Street, but for that short stretch it goes by the more colorful name. Cherry Street is a mixed neighborhood mostly known for its trendy restaurants and bars, but also for a few shops and some tucked away (and pricey) condos. It’s tough running through here if you’re hungry. Especially when you zip by Hideaway, another one of those homegrown pizza joints (and one that I love). Irish music is piped outside at Kilkenny’s. It was early in the evening at this point, and most of the people hustling from their cars were outfitted in date attire for the start of the night’s festivities.
Ultimately this gave way to returning to the high rises of downtown. For those who are interested in architecture, Tulsa’s downtown is home to a thick collection of art-deco style buildings that mix surprisingly well with more modern structures.
In years past, downtown was a place where people worked and only a few actually lived. That’s all changing now, and like a lot of cities, downtown Tulsa is once again becoming the place the rest of the city orbits. Returning health here has made for a stronger community elsewhere. It used to be that the only people you’d see here after 5 p.m. were skaters and homeless. They’re still there, but mixed in with a lot of others who are planting down roots amidst the skyscrapers. A once-dying core lives again.
So to sum it up: I ran through an industrial zone, a bit of ghetto, a university and a trendy entertainment district, all of this from within a 7.5 miles loop near downtown. As you all well know, I love my wooded, hilly and wild trails. But here’s one day that explains why I love my urban trails as well. They never cease to fascinate.
My challenge to you is to explore where you live on foot. I know for those of us who are training for specific events or goals it’s a whole lot easier to stick to known routes. Four laps around the park. Going on a long, familiar out-and-back. Others like familiar settings, like their neighborhood. Or even a treadmill. But there is a lot to be gained by checking out your community on foot. It looks different – sounds, smells and feels different – than it does from the confines of your car or from a distance. And you never know what cool stuff you will find.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088