street art

Poem on the Underground Wall

I hear it every time I go back. "Why are you going to Oklahoma City?" I get it. One, I live in Milwaukee so everyone naturally assumes my family lives in at least the same state as me (False) and second,  Oklahoma seems the least-likely place for a creative, culturally sensitive person to go for a visit (True, but also false). So at least once a year, I find myself back in the city recently named "the manliest city in America," to visit some of the most kind, loving, and welcoming individuals I know: the Belanger family. (And I know, I know; Most people can, and will, say this about their loved ones, but seriously, these Oklahoma cajuns are the best.)

But I digress. Just wanted to set the scene for why a girl from Milwaukee would find herself in OKC and actually be excited about it. One big reason being the amazing street art. Again, shocking I know, but ever since the Thunder started kicking-ass in basketball back in 2009, a new life was blown into the city, full of carefully curated dining experiences, gallery boutiques, and colorful artists ready to make their mark. One of the best places to find the aforementioned would be the 16th Street Plaza District. This area has exploded with galleries, studios, and restaurants in the past few years and one of the best additions by far has been the Plaza Walls Project.

The Plaza Walls Project was launched in 2015 by Dylan Bradway (swoon) and Kristopher Kanaly, who still co-curate the walls with approval by the Oklahoma City Arts Commission and Urban Design Commission. Like the staircases at Hogwarts, these alley walls are constantly changing and every visit brings to light a new visual style to envy. On this trip, my sister Margo fell in love with the work by Vietnamese-American artist Denise Duong, particularly her little parachute girl (and how she sneakily hid her bull terrier's likeness into a few of her scenes). One of my personal favorites was a triptych-styled wall featuring three native animals struggling in their oil-soaked skins to be free, surrounded by weaving water and colorful lines. Yatika Fields, the artist responsible, is a Native American artist of the Cherokee and Osage Tribe and speaks beautifully with his paints regarding important social issues plaguing our country, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

So how'd I do? Change any minds about the lack of culture in the dreaded Bible Belt? I know it's no Portland, Oregon but I still have mad love, and respect, for OKC. It takes a lot for a city to come back from the worst terrorist attack pre-9/11 but I think that they are doing a pretty stand-up job. And extra pat-on-the-back for the Plaza Walls Project, am I right? There are so many talented artists, from so many diverse backgrounds, it's hard to imagine how they all ended up here, but I think Oklahoma is definitely the better for it. Just straight up crushin' it (no big deal).

Chicago State of Mind

Back when the weather wasn't quite so crisp and the leaves had yet to shed themselves from their branches, I was fortunate enough to take a weekend trip to Chicago with my dear friend Alison. She had recently had a birthday AND graduated from grad school so a bit of a celebration was in order. Us being us, we obviously ate all the food, drank all the dranks, and hit up every bookstore we stumbled across. We're a specific breed of human that combines the appetite of a fifteen year-old boy with the literary interests of a feminist librarian. You'd like us.

After some delicious southern fare for our Saturday brunch-fest at Longman & Eagle, we wandered around Logan Square, popping into a few boutiques (and of course Uncharted Books) and snapping pics of my favorite subject matter: sticker-vandals and urban graffiti. I don't know where this obsession stems from; maybe my failed attempts at becoming a skater punk, but ever since high school, I've always been struck by the textures, colors, and patterns that crop up from distressed graffiti art. It's almost impossible for me to pass a sticker-ed street sign or peeling poster without immortalizing it forever with my Canon, as most of my friends and travel companions would attest to (with a knowing smirk).

Alison and I had originally met and trained as baristas in Milwaukee so tracking down a quality coffee shop is usually at the top of our travel to-do lists. This being Chicago (and Logan Square) we couldn't not stop in at Intelligentsia. This was surprisingly my first experience at an Intelligentsia cafe and was therefore having a hard time deciding between just straight espresso or a macchiato. The barista I consulted with my dilemma was fairly pretentious but he did deliver unto me one of my new favorite quotes ("Um, I don't really split my shots but there is a guy here who does a deconstructed cappuccino"), so I guess it all evened out. Plus, the 'spro was pretty excellent.

One of our last stops in the area before heading back to our hotel downtown was at this adorable little flower shop, appropriately named Fleur. I wanted to buy everything (go figure) and ship it back to my little Milwaukee flat but sadly I had to submit to the reality that I am not a rich, urban socialite, and furthermore, would never be able to keep all those plants alive with my somewhat-elusive green thumb (or lack entirely thereof). Regardless, white and blue china plus emerald-colored leaves equal my new favorite color combo. Win.

We had a pup staying with us (a Weimaraner named Skyler to be exact) at our dog-friendly, home-away-from-home, so once we got back to the room, we set off for another stroll through the Chicago streets. Highlights include flashing our middle-fingers at Trump Tower, and spotting this perfectly retro, Pepto-Bismol pink automobile that looked like a prop leftover from a Wes Anderson movie.

The rest of the evening was a blur of perfectly Instagram-able cocktails and exquisitely hand-crafted desserts (that we just so happened to stumble upon on our way out of Unabridged Bookstore). We were staying at the Hotel Palomar which has this swanky little cocktail lounge downstairs that we posted up in most nights, ordering rounds of the most gorgeous gin and tonics I had ever seen. They were touted as Spanish Gin-Tonics, calling on the lost art of pairing certain gins with particular tonics, always complementing each other as well as the extravagant garnishes, served whole and submerged in the glass goblet. My two favorites were the Rose-Cucumber and the Lavender-Lemon. I am now obsessed. 

After a rainy night spent giggling in the hot-tub and dancing to Tom Jones, we said goodbye to the Windy City, and shortly, each other. Sad as we were to depart from one another's company, we knew it wouldn't be long till we were back in each other's arms and boarding a plane for our next adventure in January.