Norman PD, citizens, council at crossroads over Bearcat

BY Nicholas A. Masopust

 

The Norman Police Department’s attempt to acquire an armored vehicle for use in tactical situations has been met with heavy resistance locally, and Norman City Council has tabled discussion of the issue indefinitely.

The Lenco BearCat is an armored vehicle produced by Lenco Industries for use in civilian law enforcement. The BearCat is built on a 4WD Ford F-550 chassis, the same as what is used in most fire trucks and ambulances.

Norman City Council first considered an item authorizing the purchase of the BearCat at their meeting on July 28. Discussion that evening included remarks from Norman’s Chief of Police Keith Humphrey as well as from citizens speaking out on the issue. According to the minutes from that meeting, Councilman Castleberry moved that the $280,000 needed for the BearCat be appropriated from the Seizures and Restitutions Fund Balance before moving that the authorization be postponed until Aug. 25.

According to the minutes from the Aug. 25 City Council meeting, Councilmember Williams moved that the authorization for the purchase be “postponed indefinitely until such time that staff brings the item back to a future Council agenda.”

As of Dec. 2015, Norman City Council has yet to bring the item back to a vote. According to Ellen Usry, deputy city clerk for the city of Norman, the issue is still on hold and likely won’t be considered until some time in 2016.

Norman residents responded to the initial proposal by creating a community page on Facebook titled, “Keep Norman Safe,” describing the vehicle as something that leads to the “militarization” of police.

Steve Ellis, associate professor and graduate liaison for the University of Oklahoma’s department of Philosophy, spoke out against the BearCat at the July 28 city council meeting and is a regular contributor to the Facebook group.

“It influences a community’s perceptions of various kinds of danger when they see the police basically ‘buttoned up,’” Ellis said. “The BearCat strikes me as being really antithetical to community policing notions.”

Ellis’s research areas include decision theory and philosophy of the mind. Ellis has discussed the issue with the Norman Police Department on multiple occasions and argues that the BearCat would damage community policing and change the mindset of the police force.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a capacity that the BearCat gives you that could be useful under some circumstances,” Ellis said, “but expanding our ability to be more confrontational doesn’t seem to be a very productive use of our resources.”

“It’s just not a tool that we really need,” Ellis continued. “It’s hard for me to envision the kind of scenario where that would be a really key tactical piece of equipment.”

On Nov. 10, 2014, a gunman held multiple people hostage at the Nextep building off of North Interstate Drive in Norman. The standoff lasted for hours, and saw dozens of people evacuating the building with arms raised while they ran to safety.

More recently, Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. killed one police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and two shooters killed fourteen people during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California.

While the Norman Police Department handled the Nextep situation without an armored vehicle, Todd Gibson, Captain and SWAT Commander for the Norman Police Department, says this and other recent events are the type of “high-risk, high-liability, low-frequency” events that necessitate having a BearCat.

“In that situation we would have backed the BearCat right up to the door, loaded as many people in there as we could, and drove them to safety,” Gibson said. “That guy could shoot at the truck all he wants, those people aren’t exposed, and they’re as safe as in their mother’s arms.”

According to Gibson, the Norman Police Department turned down an opportunity in the past to purchase an MRAP, a vehicle used by the military in Afghanistan built to withstand explosive attacks and ambushes, for $2500.

“I thought it sent the wrong message,” Gibson said. “It was just overkill, and a lot more than what we needed. Something like the Bearcat is more practical, it’s more versatile, and is something specifically marketed for civilian law enforcement.”

In Oct. 2010, Howard Tod Granger fired 36 rounds from an AK-47 at police outside of his home in Tyler, Texas who were investigating him as the suspect in a murder. The bullets were unable to pierce the police force’s BearCat, and none of the officers involved in the incident were injured.

“Police cars don’t stop bullets,” Gibson said. “In the academy we train officers that their car is not cover, it is concealment. The BearCat is mobile cover, it’s protection from bullets.”

In the recent Colorado Springs shooting, police drove a BearCat through the front doors of the Planned Parenthood building, where they transported hostages out of the building and utilized the vehicle as a place of negotiation before apprehending the shooter. In San Bernardino, police used a BearCat along with other armored vehicles to box in the shooters’ vehicle during an attempted getaway.

Colorado Springs and San Bernardino are just two of the dozens of police departments around the country with access to this type of equipment. The Oklahoma City Police Department has been using a BearCat for over five years, and the Edmond Police Department acquired one last year.

According to Jennifer Wagnon, public information specialist for the Edmond Police Department, the Edmond Police Department used the vehicle during a flash flooding event, where the police department was, “able to pull a family stranded by fast moving flood waters out of the water and drive them to higher ground.” It was also used in a standoff situation at a mobile home in which police officers were, “able to puncture the wall of the trailer and get a location on our suspect without putting any of our officers in any extra danger.”

Wade Gourley, major for the Oklahoma City Police Department, says the department’s BearCat is utilized on average 12 to 15 times a year, and was met with little resistance when the PD began the process to acquire it around 2009.

“It’s not something we use on average patrol,” Gourley said. “It is only utilized when there is an extreme level of threat, when people need to be evacuated safely and officers have to be put in danger.”

On Sept. 24, 1999, Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper David “Rocky” Eales was killed in the line of duty while serving a warrant in Sequoyah County. As Eales and others approached the residence in their cruiser, “a .223 caliber rifle…struck Trooper Eales in the side, just above his vest’s side panels,” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Incidents like this in Oklahoma’s history are a “perfect example”, according to Gourley, of the purpose the BearCat serves.

“Nothing that a typical officer has on the streets is safe from that type of situation,” Gourley said. “The BearCat is.”

Gourley and the OKCPD regularly take the BearCat to school events and demonstrations in an effort to promote transparency among the community. Gourley says he is willing to talk with anyone on the Norman City Council about the issue in an effort to educate the council and the general public as much as possible.

“It’s a great investment in that it’s not something you have to buy or refurbish every five years,” Gourley said. “If this vehicle saves one life every ten years, it’s worth every penny.”

“Red Light” Package Sample Script

(Nicholas Masopust)

We’ve all done it before; you see the light changing yellow so you speed up to beat it before it hits red. But try it in Tucson today and you may get busted.

 

A new red light camera installed at select intersections is capturing these light jumpers as well as numerous wrecks.

 

Police think it’s helping to curb accidents and create better drivers, but local residents aren’t so sure.

(PKG)

(SOT)

((“Now when I see the light is getting close to getting red, I’ll just stop, even if it’s kinda green, I’ll stop because I’m afraid to get a red light.”

 

 

(VO)

As you can see here these “robocams” have captured several wrecks and near misses in the year since they’ve been installed. Sergeant Steve Culbertson with the Tucson police department’s traffic division says that while these videos may look bad, the cameras have been beneficial for the city.

(SOT)

((“The cameras have actually grown awareness to the lights, people are paying a little more attention. They know where the intersections are, and when they’re committed to a photo enforcement area, they’re actually paying attention to the lights a little better.”

(VO)

Still for some citizens, they think they’re doing more harm than good.

(SOT)

 

((““There’s nothing like an ol’ fashioned motorcycle cop sitting at the corner.”)

(SOT)

((“Out of any day I would rather deal with a real person then a robot camera.”))

(Nicholas Masopust)

In addition, the Tuscon Police Department has also released stats showing that these cameras just might be working. The eight intersections they added cameras to had 188 combined wrecks the year before these cameras were installed, but with the installation of the cameras that number is down to 74.

Jackie and Joe

When my family relocated to Tulsa in 1997, we moved into a house on the west side of town next to a stereotypical crotchety old couple. They were in their early 70’s, retired, and constantly complained about us kids getting on their lawn. Our interactions throughout the years were brief but memorable, but for the most part they were content to keep to themselves. 18 years after we moved in, I watched as their entire life got sold at auction to the highest bidder.

Jackie and Joe Fanning bought the house next to ours on 65th Street when it was first built in 1978. Structurally it was almost exactly the same as ours, but for some reason Jackie liked it better than the one we eventually moved into. They were a couple that could be classified as “DINKs” – double income, no kids. Without children they still found positive ways of investing their time and energy, at least; Joe was an avid golfer, and Jackie played the organ every Sunday at her local church. I can still remember playing in the backyard as a kid and hearing ol’ Joe knock golf balls into a net or hear the faint sounds of the air pushing out of Jackie’s pipe organ as she prepared for Sunday morning mass.

A few years ago it became apparent how badly they were losing the battle with Father Time. Jackie stopped driving her ’87 Oldsmobile Cutlass altogether, and we noticed Joe’s big red Park Avenue Buick was covered in dents he likely got from haphazardly pulling into garages and parking spots. Joe always took a long time to make the walk from his garage to the mail box, but eventually we noticed he was now making that walk 4 or 5 times a day. No matter what time of day it was he would always make that arduous trek down the driveway in his jammies and his white hair ruffled as if he had just woken up. It became a neighborhood ritual in recent years to see an ambulance arrive in their driveway once a month to take away Jackie after another fall. This commotion usually led to an interaction with another neighbor about the incident before we all returned inside as if nothing had happened. Someone eventually installed safety rails all over their house last Summer, but by that point there was hardly any opportunity for them to get any use. It got to a point where Jackie only ever left her house to get her hair done or because the big white truck needed to haul her away again. Every time she went away she always had this big, Joker-like smile on her face, as if she was completely unaware of how badly she was falling apart.

Since Jackie and Joe didn’t have any children, Jackie’s sister Susanne and her daughter were tasked with taking care of the two of them in their later years. We grew accustomed to seeing their big black Suburban in the driveway every weekend and soon every day. It got to the point that Jackie and Joe needed around the clock supervision, and Jackie’s family had drained all their money hiring services to take care of them. By November of last year Jackie’s family, out of time, money, patience, and energy, finally gave up. Jackie and Joe were sent to an assisted living facility in Owasso, and their house left empty. I thought that was the end of everything, until someone planted a big white sign in their yard. It turned into a welcoming call for the scavengers of all things cheap and slightly used.

 

The family left the remnants of Jackie and Joe’s lives to Mr. Ed’s Auction Co. It seems fitting that Google lists their business as a Livestock Auction House, because for one Tuesday afternoon at least they turned the street I’ve grown up on into a herd of raw humanity worthy of being trapped behind a barb wired fence. Three days before Christmas their army of roving home emptiers descended on our neighborhood and set up shop. Just outside our front yard was a big white trailer branded with the Mr. Ed’s logo that was functioning as a tailgate. At the end of what was once Jackie and Joe’s driveway, people with Mr. Ed’s set up a gas grill for serving up burgers, chips, and drinks; $3 for a burger, $5.50 for the combo meal. An American tradition usually reserved for sporting events, work picnics, and 3-day weekends was now being used in the dismantling of a life.

On their driveway, the auction company set up 4 rows of tables lined with cardboard boxes full of Jackie and Joe’s possessions now up for sale. Mason jars, old technology, household decorations, coffee mugs, kitchen gadgets; anything they could find inside had been placed outside for the public interest. Looking through the boxes you could find snippets of Jackie and Joe’s personality; a strawberry theme for the kitchen, tons of Joe’s old golf balls and books, an entire box of cameras and camera equipment, old records from obscure artists like Henry Mancini and Floyd Cramer. One box had a framed caricature of Joe with a giant head and dressed in gaudy blue and red golf attire. The signature on the bottom indicated it had been rendered in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1972. Now, forty three years later, a stranger would take it home along with the remainder of the box it sat in for 5 dollars.

65th Street now had the atmosphere of a county fair. The entire street was lined end to end with pickup trucks; the vehicle of choice for those carrying home as much of somebody else’s crap as they could haul in one trip. People walked for several blocks just to make it in, and bewildered journeyers drove up and down the street repeatedly looking at the house as well as for a place to park as if they were a news helicopter following a police chase.

The type of people that come out for this kind of display are mainly old white-haired men wearing jackets anyone could buy at Goodwill. Among the contingent of old men are a few people in work uniforms, young couples, and a light-skinned man of Latino origin who brought his 6-year old son along. The little boy is not as interested in picking through the remnants of Jackie and Joe’s life as the rest of the old men, so to pass the time he kicks the leaves, swings one of Joe’s golf clubs around, and climbs the rock formation on the side of their house; his dad actually encourages this last act of youthful exuberance. Jackie would’ve lost her mind seeing this if she still had it working at full capacity. There’s an older black woman humming church hymns to herself as she looks through the driveway museum of other items such as an ancient Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “Knock ‘em Dead” job interview flash cards that were never taken out of the plastic, and a Gourmet Cheese  Slicer that still has the yellow $9.99 Kmart price tag on it. Anyone and everyone who can make it out at 3:30 PM on the Tuesday before Christmas is there to rake in what they can of the things Jackie and Joe left behind.

Everyone bides their time until the real show starts inside. They carelessly let the front door slam shut behind them and fiddle with the inside of the house like it’s an active science experiment. A man in a red southwestern style vest and Mr. Ed’s trucker cap reads the rules of the auction from the emptied living room to the huddled mass of eager buyers inside. This must be Mr. Ed himself. Before bidding can begin on the house, he reminds everyone that they must pay for their purchases no later than January 7, and that in the event of lice, they will pay for treatment of the infestation. Good guy, that Mr. Ed.

Bidding for the house starts at $60,000, and ends after a brief and non-confrontational bidding war at $75,000. It is going to take a long time for whoever bought it to change out the orange bathroom counters, cover up the blue floral wallpaper, and erase the old people smell Jackie and Joe left behind.  After the house sells, it’s on to the personal possessions. Zach, the auctioneer for the day, is donned in a red and black flannel shirt and equipped with a headset microphone for announcing bids. This is the part of the day that feels most like what you see in the movies, as Zach goes down the line taking bids (“can I get $50, $45-“) in his fast talking auctioneer language.

Someone purchases the entire contents of their attic for $25 (“who knows, might be a million dollars in a suitcase-“). Their entire entertainment system goes for $2. The remainder of their bedroom, including a box of “whatever that is” sells for $10. The organ Jackie spent countless hours practicing on does not receive a single bid; I imagine she probably spent thousands of dollars and hours of free time on it back in the day, and now it isn’t worth $20 and the hassle of hauling it across town for a group of people who live for these kinds of cheap deals. All the years they spent building a life inside 2954 West 65th Street are erased in a few short minutes by a group of people who value them for nothing more than their physical possessions.

Zach moves through each room as quickly and joyously as a factory worker with an hour left on their shift. When the whirling birds on the front porch sell for $1, they call it a day. All of Jackie and Joe’s stuff, the only thing they had to leave a lasting legacy in lieu of children, sell at auction for less than 1% of what they paid originally. Joe’s golfing hobby, Jackie’s strawberry themed kitchen, and everything else that made them who they are is picked at by the auction vultures until there isn’t a speck of meat left on the carcass. The sun went down and the lot of trucks disappears into the night, only slightly more heavy than when they had arrived. Everything Jackie and Joe had left to the world is now in the hands of a bunch of people looking to fill their house for cheap or make a profit by reselling it for personal gain. After the last item had been sold, Zach turns to another member of the auctioning crew.

“You see what the inside of your house is worth?” he says. “Nothin’.”

Strangers in the Night

The green lights of the 74-story Bank of America Plaza to the left loomed large over me as I scanned the downtown Dallas skyline. I was still 300 miles away from home, stuck in a sprawling downtown metropolis that was as intriguing as it was overwhelming. My feet were planted firmly on the sidewalk with a 28-pound backpack slung over my shoulders, wrinkling a t-shirt I’d already been wearing for 2 days. The backpack was filled with all of my life’s necessities, but I was filled with a growing sense that I didn’t belong here. It was going to be a long night.

I was still disoriented after a 10-hour flight from London. Instead of pretty red double decker buses and the London Underground, I was left with the Greyhound bus line. Due to an unforeseen storm of bad luck and missed phone calls, an organization with a 2.5 star rating on Google had become the most reliable way to get back home.

The neighboring concrete jungle offered no reprieve to my wandering. The nearby McDonald’s closed its doors to the public at 10 PM. In the time it took me to walk across the street and learn that fact, at least three people who looked like they slept on dirty mattresses on the floor accosted me for money.

“Hey man, I just need a couple of dollars for a meal, man, can you help a brother out?” one of them asked me before I had the sense to ignore him.

All I could think to utter back was, “I just got back from London, man. All I have are British pounds in my wallet.”

“Oh come on man, I know you got something. Help a brother out.”

I realized quickly that all reasonable arguments are lost in this kind of exchange.  I handed him a 1-dollar pound coin to make him go away.

“Aw is this real gold?”

“Sure, man” I said back. “Whatever you want.”

Giving up on ever finding hope outside, I went back inside the bus station and scanned for a window of peace in a house of uncertainty.

The inside of the bus station was a rectangle broken into three sections; to the right the exasperated bus station employees took tickets, weighed bags, and hoped they could get through each customer exchange without losing their dignity. To the far left sat the food court, mostly gated up since it was past 10. The tables of the food court offered waiting passengers a seat, a flat object on which to place their technology, and a plug-in: it was easily the place to be for anyone with a long wait ahead of them.

The hearty middle of the bus station offered passengers their choice of numerous gray, long, and equally uncomfortable benches. They were all pointed towards the bus schedule and two large TVs in the middle that only played CNN. On one of the long metal benches I saw a white man of around 50 years of age sitting alone. He had closely cropped grey hair and a small layer of white stubble covering a long, tired face.

“Mind if I sit here?” I said.

“Not a problem, man,” the man said. Each word came out of his mouth like rocks trying to make their way through a cement mixer. He tapped the empty portion of the bench and told me to, “take a load off.”

He wore a long white t-shirt that went down to the middle of his crotch, only slightly concealing his protruding gut. The shirt was saggy and worn just like the jeans he had probably been wearing his entire adult life. His arms were hairy and bore the scars and bruises of someone who had been digging around a car’s engine: the living portrait of a blue-collar man.

Before I could escape my surroundings by diving into my Facebook news feed or a BuzzFeed article on my phone, the blue-collar man next to me spoke up.

“This is where I’m headin’ back to, man,” he said. He pulled out his phone to show me a picture. It was an oval-shaped burner cell phone you could buy at a Dollar General.

On the phone was a picture of an orange and yellow sunset. Given the size of his phone, the resolution of the picture couldn’t have been more than 100 kilobytes.

“This is my backyard down in Phoenix. Look at that sunset. It’s like a fuckin’ nucleah bomb went off or somethin’.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah I been up in Boston with my pops and my brothah doin’ AC jobs for the last month,” he said. “”It’s takin’ me two damn days to get back to Phoenix on these buses, man.”

I kept my head down as I nodded and said, “I hear ya, man” in agreement.

Maybe there was something reassuring about my face. Maybe he saw my sitting next to him as some kind of invitation for conversation. Or maybe he was just thrilled that somebody who spoke English chose to sit next to him. Either way I was his captive audience, and this man was about to tell me his entire life story.

 

 

This chance meeting began with zero of the clichés of introductory conversation. In college you hear them often; “What’s your major? What year are you? What do you plan to do after you graduate?” Having just come back from an academic trip, these were the types of questions I had grown all too accustomed to answering. This guy didn’t know any of my background and I don’t think he cared.

“You know I’m not supposed to be doing any of these AC jobs anyway onaccounta my heart. They got me on that Xarelto, ya know? The one that that fuckin’ golfer Ahnold Palmer and that actah guy do all the commercials for.”

“Oh yeah,” I said back, “I think my dad takes that.” He actually doesn’t, but I thought saying something like that might in some way endear myself to him. The thought of a Xarelto commercial potentially playing on the television screen in front of us was enough to make me suppress a smile.

“It’s been thinnin’ out my blood and doin’ all sortsa crap ta me,” he said. He started scrolling through the pictures on his phone once more. I realized I was not only going to get an audio retelling of this man’s life story, but a low-res slideshow as well.

“Look at this,” he said pointing to his phone. On it was a picture of white pillows and bed sheets sprinkled with droplets of blood. “I wake up to this every fuckin’ morning. I told my brother when I was stayin’ with him to buy some extra pillow cases cause that happens every night for me, all causa that Xarelto.”

Nothing in my previous collection of life experiences had trained me for how to respond to such a statement.

“And you know what that is?” he said. “That’s a legal record of what this Xarelto is doin’ to me.”

He scrolled through his phone to show me more of the same thing: picture after picture of bloody bed sheets.

“And this one right here” he said, “I call, ‘the struggling caterpillar.’”  It was a picture of his shirtless back taken in front of a dirty bathroom mirror. He zoomed in to show me a bump just below his neck. “Like this fuckin’ extrusion makin’ its way up my spine. Can’t sleep or nothin’.”

When I looked around the bus station everyone else was either asleep or in some type of vegetative, non-responsive state. I was the only one who could acknowledge this man’s wild stories.

“Wow.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, I got a case to sue these bastuds.”

The conversation went on like this for at least another hour. It was the kind of moment that passed so slowly, you begin to wonder if there was ever a time in your life when you weren’t living in this exact moment, and begin to question whether or not you’ll ever get out.

 

 

At some point in this diatribe about air conditioning, Xarelto, and the Greyhound bus line, I stole a glance at this man’s tattered black backpack. Written in silver sharpie on the ripped and faded straps of his backpack was the name “James Bennett”. I supposed a working class man of this stature probably went by Jim, so I’ll refer to him as Jim.

Jim’s train of thought was interrupted when he caught a glance of the Greyhound departure list. In the midst of his ramblings they had changed his departure time from 1 AM to 3 AM.

“Oh you gotta be shittin’ me,” Jim said as he stormed up from our bench to let the manager have a piece of his mind. I used my brief window of freedom to leave our bench and buy a $2 cup of bus station coffee. If I was going to sit through this I might as well be coherent.

I could see Jim through the window of the corner office. Given his lack of hand gestures I assumed he was having a very controlled discussion with the middle-aged Korean bus station manager over his displeasure with them moving his departure time. She had a difficult time pronouncing the names of common American cities over the loud speaker earlier, so I can’t imagine most of his talking points were understood.

Jim returned to our bench shaking his head.

“Oh I really shoulda let her have it, man,” he said. “I could make a real scene in there if I wanted. And if they wanna send their security after me or something, let ‘em. I’ll tell ‘em I got thin blood cells, so if they try an’ tackle me to the ground, they better be ready for a lawsuit when I fuckin’ die and bleed out right here on the ground.”

The utter indifference that I saw from every bus station employee around us suggested to me that none of them would care enough to act on that fantasy. I took another sip of coffee from my cheap Styrofoam cup before trying to muster a response, but Jim had already changed subjects.

“Look at her over there,” he said. Jim shifted his energy from railing against bus station management to poking fun at everyone sharing the waiting area with us. The woman that caught his attention was a 30-something Hispanic woman with long, thick black hair and a look of concern on her face. She was sitting by herself at the food court saying something just out of our earshot.

“She’s been talkin’ like that to herself for over an ow-ah,” he said as he shook his head in disapproval, “she’s off her damn rockah.”

When I had walked by earlier, I saw her holding an intense conversation with what sounded like her son. She had been talking about what a mistake he had made with his current novia and how he needed to come home. When I walked by her to get my coffee I assumed she was talking on a Bluetooth headset or maybe a cell phone on speaker. Upon further inspection there was no technological device anywhere on her person.

“So glad my wife ain’t nuts like that,” he said. “25 years together and I’ve always been true to her. Proud of that fact.”

Jim turned to the man on our right.

“You okay there, buddy?” he said, patting him on the shoulder. Jim was scoping the crowd out like a politician at a rally. The man next to us looked tired and emaciated. He wore a green Bass Pro Shop t-shirt and had a shaved head. He had been two seats away from our conversation with his head lowered and his hands on his knees. The only sound he made before now was the sound of his sneakers as he stumbled outside clutching his mouth every few minutes.

“Erm yeah I think so,” the man said back. When he spoke I noticed half of his teeth were black nubs dangling from his gums. “I think I just took a little too much.”

Now on my 4th or 5th sip, the coffee had awakened my senses. As Jim shifted his dialogue to the man hunched over to our right, I began to survey all the people that filled the waiting room around us. The Dallas Greyhound bus station at 2 in the morning is filled with people who looked rough around the edges. Among a contingent of mostly sleeping African-Americans, Latinos, and bleary-eyed old white men, in the dead center of the Greyhound waiting area sat a college student and an air conditioning man. In a sea of people who’s lives likely hadn’t turned out the way they had planned, Jim and I might have been the only ones in the room with some semblance of normalcy.

If I left the safety of our bench to charge my phone on the wall outlet across the room or leave my backpack behind, I didn’t fear my belongings disappearing into the crowd of unseemly strangers. I knew Jim would have my back if one of them did anything as much as I would have his.

 

Maybe for Jim that night I provided some kind of psychological reprieve; a non-judgmental sounding board for him to work out his thoughts and ideas to keep his sanity. Maybe he saw me as the scholarly son he never had. For one night he became the entertaining drunk uncle at the family barbecue I never had, and for providing me that source of entertainment and sense of stability for a night I’ll always be grateful. When I’ve forgotten everything I ever memorized for school, I know I’ll still remember struggling caterpillars and Xarelto.

 

When the manager finally announced Bus #1535 headed towards Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Tucumcari, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Phoenix was now boarding, Jim turned and gave me a quick salute with his right arm before getting in line with the rest of the masses. Once they turned the corner and entered the bus depot, Jim was out of sight, disappearing from my life as quickly as he had arrived.

 

Abandoned Houses, Fading Hope

Abandoned Houses, Fading Hope

BY Nicholas A. Masopust

The idea of people having a right to life, liberty and property free of government intervention is something that can be traced back to the words John Locke, an English philosopher of the 17th century.

It was written about before the United States of America had become an independent nation. The idea of owning property and more specifically a home is still a core American ideal in the 21st century.

In Oklahoma City, many people today have abandoned the homes they once owned, leaving behind a problem for neighbors, government officials and all Oklahoma City residents.

“People are struggling,” Debra Smith, an Oklahoma City resident, said. “There are so many vacant homes in this community, and they’re just sitting and rotting.”

Steve Carpenter, a warehouse supervisor, has seen the problem of abandoned houses up close. Carpenter owns a home on 32nd and Kelley in Oklahoma City, where the house next door to his sits abandoned.

“The grass is getting tall, they’re not taking care of the yard on the house,” Carpenter said. “I keep up my yard and my house, and these just depreciate the neighborhood. Something should be done about this.”

The issue of abandoned and vacant houses is one that has the attention of the Oklahoma Association of Realtors. A meeting held 3 years ago by Russell Claus, the Oklahoma City Planning Department Director at the time, opened a lot of eyes for those working in the real estate business.

“It made a lot of us realize the extent of the problem,” Joe Pryor, an Oklahoma City-based realtor, said. “He talked about what it does to the tax base, which is extremely important. I was very inspired by that.”

Since that time, the Oklahoma Association of Realtors has been active in getting new pieces of legislation passed through the state government related to the issue. In May of this year the Governor approved House Bill 2620, which limits the power of the city to levy fines on property owners.

“When the government gets too large and aggressive and assertive, we need to address that from the consumer’s point of view,” Matt Robison, VP of Government Affairs for the Oklahoma Association of Realtors, said. “Fines were being levied on property owners for reasons they really didn’t deserve. This really allows the city more flexibility in how they deal with abandoned and vacant property.”

For many realtors, they see that there is more that needs to be done to address the issue beyond creating new pieces of legislation.

“It’s a comprehensive socioeconomic problem, and it calls for serious-minded people to get together and solve this problem,” Pryor said. “It’s figuring out how to help people do the right thing, and that’s what we’ve got to work on.”

One abandoned house on a neighborhood street can significantly decrease the value of those around it, and many Oklahoma City neighborhoods today have multiple abandoned homes within blocks of each other.

“Trying to sell a house next to an abandoned property can be a nightmare,” Pryor said. “Depending on the scope of the problem, it can be greater than a ten percent loss for the homeowner. At a certain point it’s almost hard to calculate.”

Appraisal wise, abandoned houses and bad neighborhoods should only affect value on homes up to one mile away. When the conditions are bad enough that range can go even farther.

“It could be five miles, easily, in terms of what it affects,” Nels Petersen, a RE/MAX broker in Oklahoma City, said. “The problem is there’s no primary neighborhood, no secondary neighborhood, no optical shop, no AT&T, no grocery store. There’s nothing there that’s going to cause it to go up.”

The residents of Oklahoma City are no strangers to trying times. The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 was a tragedy that united the city, and Joe Pryor says it will take the same kind of resolve and unity from Oklahoma City residents to solve the abandoned houses issue.

“What you saw in 1995 in Oklahoma City was everybody was one,” Pryor said. “Everybody cared about their community, and that is something that hasn’t changed. We’ve got to tap into that Oklahoma City spirit, because I believe it’s still there.”

“We have to understand this is our problem,” Pryor continued. “We can’t just go back to our nice neighborhoods and say everything is fine. If we can have a rising tide that lifts the boat, if we can make those streets better, if we can make those houses better, then we know we’ve done something right.”

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

BY Nicholas Masopust

Names echo out loudly across the dining room floor with each new customer that walks in the door. Everyone that walks inside here is seen as less of a customer and more of a returning friend.

Tiffany’s Restaurant has been serving up breakfast and lunch food in Noble for over 14 years. For local residents, its more than just the food that keeps them coming back.

“We do have really big portions, yes,” Ian Hicks, a server and grandson of the owner of Tiffany’s, said. “But I think its gotta be our attitude and the atmosphere that keeps people coming back. People will come in because they see everyone else that’s in here.”

Phyllis Fulcher started the restaurant in 2000 after working in the restaurant business for close to two decades. Fulcher was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, which has slowed down her involvement with the restaurant. Her son, Gary Hicks, manages the day-to-day operations of the restaurant now while her other son Donnie does the cooking. Donnie has two sons, Ian and Dylan Hicks that also work inside Tiffany’s in a regular capacity.

“We’re pretty blessed with where we are now” Gary Hicks said, “We’ve been thrown a lot and we’ve taken a lot over the years. To be a small business in the society we live in today isn’t easy.”

While sales have risen each of the last three years, not everything has been smooth behind the scenes. Beef prices have soared in recent months, cutting into the restaurant’s bottom line.

“Our ground chuck doubled in price overnight,” Gary Hicks said. “It went from costing us $0.80 a burger for meat to costing us $1.60 for meat immediately.”

“After 14 years one thing we’ve done is stick to our guns. We refuse to sell a lesser product. We’ve always served a quality product that we believe in. There’s cheaper things out there that we can buy, sure, but if we’re going out of business, we’re gonna do it right.”

That type of dedication doesn’t go unnoticed by customers. Ron and Harleta Stokes eat at Tiffany’s for breakfast five days a week. The couple regularly eats oatmeal every morning, which is not a regular menu item.

“They make it more than just a business,” Harleta Stokes said, “They make sure they’ve got oatmeal Monday through Friday so that we can come here and eat healthy, which is just the special kind of treatment you get here.”

“We don’t gouge the public” Gary Hicks said, “we keep a simple menu with generous portions, with nothing priced over $9.”

“When you’re in a small community like this, you can’t just raise your prices every other day. You raise them once a year, people notice. You can lose people that way.”

The name of the restaurant comes from the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

“Phyllis just wanted people to be able to say, ‘hey, I’m having breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and it just stuck from there” Ian Hicks said.

A large image of Audrey Hepburn is painted on the side of the building, and dozens of framed pictures of the actress line the walls on the inside, along with seasonal decorations and pictures of local Noble residents and school programs.

“We do a lot for schools” Ian Hicks said, “They’re gonna take care of us and they’re gonna be there for us one day, so we need to be there for them now while we can.”

Every winter Tiffany’s sponsors a toy drive with the Noble Police Department, which served 38 families last year. To celebrate their 10-year anniversary in 2010, they served free breakfast and lunch all day with all tips and donations going towards the Noble Public Schools’ athletic department.

“Above everything else it’s a community” Ian Hicks said. “It’s like a small community itself inside the building. Everybody takes care of everybody, and that’s the way a town should be.”

“We come almost more for the community than the food” Ron Stokes said. “It’s always a great atmosphere inside. This is just a really interesting place.”

 

The Hangover Part III – A wholly unnecessary mess

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Every Summer movie season gets dominated with big bombastic action movies, reboots of old favorites, and your typical Hollywood sequels that get produced just because there’s still a buck to be made out of them. You won’t find a worse or more glaring example of that this Summer than the Hangover 3.

I wanted to enjoy it. I really did. I feel like I’m in the minority of people when I say I truly enjoyed the second Hangover movie almost as much as the first one. A movie like The Hangover 2 is what I dub a “repeatquel” in that it’s not so much a sequel as much as it’s just a shot for shot remake of the first film, with minor changes to setting and dialogue, so it’s technically still a sequel. Home Alone 2 is like that and so is Taken 2. It’s a problem in Hollywood that when an audience loves something too much, they get more of it, whether they want it or not. It’s like the Hollywood hug of death. Like when you tell your grandma you like that sweater she got you, so she buys you 10 more just because you liked it so much. Great.

But here’s the thing; for what it was, The Hangover 2 was still funny, entertaining, and enjoyable. Watching it gave me that same great feeling I got when I watched the original Hangover for the first time. I’m usually willing to forgive a movie’s shortcomings when it can still entertain and provide an escape. The third Hangover lacks any of the charm, entertainment value, or fun of the first two, and it just feels forced.

The plot is so forgettable it’s barely even worth getting in to. Alan(Zach Galifanakis) kills a giraffe at the beginning of the movie, as everyone saw in the repeated commercials and trailers. This leads to his father(Jeffrey Tambor)’s heart attack and untimely death. Basically Alan is such a fuck-up that this latest disaster leads to an “intervention” among his closest friends and family, which is basically just the Wolfpack and some kid who lives next door. Stu(Ed Helms), Phil(Bradley Cooper), and Doug(Justin Bartha) convince Alan this is what’s best for him and agree to drive him to rehab in Arizona. They never make it that far, as they’re quickly run off the road by a moving truck full of dangerous men in masks. Out of this moving van appears a familiar face from the first movie, Black Doug(Mike Epps) and a new one, Marshall(John Goodman). Marshall is mad at these boys, and has somehow tracked them down. For one reason or another, mostly just out of his sheer stupidity and loneliness, Alan continued to write to Chow (Ken Jeong) while he was in prison in Bangkok. Because of this, Alan and the rest of the Wolfpack are the only known connection to Chow in the states, where Chow is a wanted man. Apparently Chow stole millions in gold that belonged to Marshall, and he wants it back. So Marshall forces them to find and capture Chow, instead of just getting one of his many trained bodyguards or assistants to do it for him. This leads to another wacky series of misadventures that leads these boys back to, you guessed it, Las Vegas.

This whole exercise just couldn’t be more pointless. This movie takes a decidedly darker turn, leaning more towards being classified a black comedy or action/suspense, which is really just an excuse for the writers to not put forth anymore effort at making the audience laugh. This movie was like watching a bad newer Simpsons episode after having watched a brilliant earlier season one. Instead of smart, clever writing, they just started relying on jerkoff-Homer being an idiot for all their comedy. The Hangover Part III relies on nothing more than Alan being socially-retarded or Chow being crazy. It’s funny in small doses, but when it’s all you’re relying on it wears thin. Zach Galifanakis has always been a wonderful comedic talent, but his role has been reduced to nothing more than saying dumb things in an adorable, naïve way. Chow has been reduced to eating dog food and doing excessive amounts of cocaine to try and be funny. That’s about it. Stu and Phil look mostly like spectators as they just have to sit and watch the Alan and Chow Show.

It’s a lazily written script performed by actors who no longer have their hearts in it, and is ultimately a piece of media produced for no purpose other than to suck more money from a viewing public because they know we’ll happily provide it. It would be quicker to just mail a $10 to $20 check to Green Hat Films and Legendary Pictures. There is absolutely no bone marrow left in the skeleton of this concept. The original was a great R-rated comedy that should’ve stayed a singular idea like Knocked Up or There’s Something About Mary. There’s no dignity in going out like this, but at least they all got paid along the way. I’m glad this trilogy served as a launching pad for some really good actors, because they now have the fame and financial liberty of pursuing projects that have merit. Now that this is out of the way we can allow something that hasn’t already been beaten to death earn our dollars.