Thursday, I forced myself out of bed remarkably early...

...since I thought it was high-time I did the Norman things I had put off with my tours of Edmond. My first stop was the Cleveland County Historical Society, housed in the Moore-Lindsey house. It was built in 1899, ten years after the land run that had settled the region. Being from 1899, it has fantastic late Victorian, Queen Anne architecture.

Sadly, despite the recorded answering machine hours, the house was closed, and I was left in ignorance about the early settlement of Cleveland County. But, just across the street, there was one of Norman's ubiquitous parks, and there's no way to stay mad when you have immediate access to a gazebo.

Not to be foiled, I hurried on to the next destination, the Firehouse Art Center.

It's an artsy little place (next to another park, of course) where local artists can show their stuff and hold classes. I took a quick tour of a gallery of juxtaposed old photography and child-like painting, which, though it had a few interesting pieces, made me wonder how anyone could attach a three-figure price on such a thing. It makes me want to be a professional artist to slap together some pop art in fifteen minutes.

The shop area was more charming, with plenty of glazed pottery and even some pottery whistles. There was also this little guy, who was too cute to avoid taking a picture of.

I spent the afternoon rather quietly, catching up on writing my Spring Break adventures and watching movies I had borrowed from Chad. First was Waterworld, the classic over-budgeted, fair-flopped post-apocalyptic portrait of a world where the ice caps have melted to flood just about everything. It's great for those of us with the tastes of an 8-year-old boy! After that was The Thirteenth Floor, a philosophical sci-fi flick about computer scientists who were able to create a Matrix sort of thing, and nothing is as it seems. It struck me as similar in nature to Dark City, another one of Chad's, in that it requires a good deal of patience to watch, but pays off in the end.

Then it was off to a Very Special Very British Baked Goods Night. First we had curry, then a Victoria Sandwich Cake on which Laura pulled out all the stops!

Queen Victoria herself would be amused!

The evening also came with Sam providing a few rounds of Bocce Ball, which is something of a hybrid between horseshoes, shuffleboard, and the frustration of golf without the club. Take croquet balls, toss out the center one, then compete with three throws trying to get the nearest. Good times, actually, though I mst admit I relied far more on luck than skill.

Molly watched.

We watched Korean drama late into the night, then I stumbled to bed to rest up for the next day.

Friday, in which I made a road trip to Dallas...

...with Gary and Laura. Actually, I was there mainly for ballast and comic relief. They were headed to shop. Because I had put off doing homework for the whole week, I sat in the back seat and read about the Hindu and Islamic afterlifes, coming up for air to check out the rolling countryside and Laura's tour of southern Oklahoma along I-35.

Just after I had read about as much as I could handle, we arrived in Dallas, that sprawling metropolis of Texans, big cars, and confusing off-ramps. The skyline's not bad.

We stopped for lunch at the colorful "Cafe Brazil". It's not really Brazilian till they spell it with an "S", but it was tasty otherwise. I had a barbeque sandwich that claimed Brazilian descent, though the coffee beans in the corner were probably more native. Our waitress had lots and lots of facial piercings and was very nice.

Then we made our way to Northpark Mall, a huge square monster of elite capitalism stretching out for maybe a mile. There's no way to adequately capture its magnitude in a picture unless it's aerial.

There were stores of all kinds offering just about any kind of ritzy stuff one could want. Each one had its own flavor, whether being a minimalist dress shop with a few black fabrics over hangers, a pseudo-tropical theme, or just plain chic coolness.

The hallways between the stores were littered with modern art, most of which was actually fairly good. The best was the giant blacksmiths pounding hammers using motors to move their arms.

In addition to art, there was a good amount of greenery, both live and fake, as well as plenty of fountains. Kids had fun trying to climb up a big concave flower basin next to a pseudo-koi pond. Then there was the entire glass exhibit dedicated to a little plant. Nifty!

One shop promised a shave (no haircut) for far more than two bits. The guy was even using a straight razor, which makes for a great shave, if a bit unnerving. I was pretty scruffy, but declined the offer for a shave, and we moved on.

Nordstrom's, the first store we visited, had a live pianist playing. Nieman Marcus had a live DJ on each floor.

Still, neither of them could beat the live opera singer in Harrod's, but, hey, that's Harrod's.

The shopping went on all afternoon with lots of jeans and t-shirts and really mostly clothing things. In the movie Dawn of the Dead, people create a haven from the zombies by walling themselves in a mall. It wouldn't work here; they'd starve to death. But, man oh man, they'd look great doing it!

As we were looking at $200 jeans and $80 t-shirts, I did my best not to think of the starving people in Africa. The average annual income in several countries is less than $500, which wouldn't even buy a full outfit at Northpark. We Americans are so unbelievably spoiled that we can't even fathom it. If we're not careful, we'll be in for one heck of a comeuppance.

Shopping was tiring business, walking around and looking at interesting things all day, so we retired to first The Sharper Image, then another store, where we seized the free trials of the massage chairs.

Wow, that was relaxing. My backpack-tightened shoulders were long overdue for a massage. And it even massaged one's feet! What a chair!

Afternoon turned to evening, and we ran out of shopping time having scarcely completed the first floor. After hours of shopping, we'd only made it half way! My mind was again blown by the sheer magnitude of American shopping. The mall even came with a grassy atrium which we crossed heading toward dinner.

We ate at Maggiano's, a family Italian restaurant with portions so large they're recommended to be split by four people. The salad filled us up so much, I don't even know how we got through the chicken caccitore. The best part, though, was the atmosphere, which really felt like one had stepped back in time to the late 1930s with dark wooden walls, low lamps, and seemingly blatant Mafia-connections. I still think our waiter was a hitman using this as a cover-job.

Actually, no, the best part was the dessert. Mm, chocolate everything with carmelized bananas.

After being stuffed beyond capacity, we went for a bit more shopping. Laura and Gary came back with a nice collection of bags each, but I restrained myself. I did get some great chocolate mints, a free minibottle of water for looking bored in J. Crew, and a matchbox from Maggiano's (an actual box, not just a book, sweet). Of course, I also got a cameraful of memories, a renewed understanding of comfortable American living, and an overall sense of weired-outness.

I slept most of the trip back from Dallas (something about the gentle rocking of cars just knocks me out), thankful it was too dark to have to do more homework. Laura and Gary must've had quite the conversation ranging from professors to sociological implications of various mindsets, or at least that's all I caught during the flickering in and out of conciousness. I was content to catch up on a little sleep, for the next day brought yet another road trip.

Saturday, I went to Tulsa...

...with a different crew of buddies. Preston drove his van, which he had fixed up with a couch and DVD player. I was glad to have yet more distraction from reading about the Islamic afterlife.

Not just a little creepy, eh? Hehe.

We arrived around noon at our first Tulsa destination (though technically "Jenks" rather than Tulsa), the Oklahoma Aquarium.

The thing is gigantic, spreading out of sight in each direction, though only a few rooms thin when viewed from the side. The marina-style architecture fits very well.

At first, I was very disappointed (foremost by the cost and lack of student discount). The inital tanks were very small (the poor African lungfish had to prop itself at an angle just to fit!) and some grammatical errors (which were fittingly Oklahoman). Then again, it did house the world's largest fishing lure in the museum portion.

My disappointment was gradually overcome, and I even became very excited by the time we got to the end. There were so many weird and fascinating critters of the deep, and a whole room dedicated to the bizarre fish we've got crawling around Oklahoma's muddy waters. The jellyfish were cool, mainly 'cause they looked like a lava lamp.

Early on, they had an enormous snail that I couldn't get my mind around. It was like a foot long! Crazy!

There were tons of starfish. They look so cuddly in the water, but they're not, as we learned at the tide pool touch-center. (By the way, we also got to handle shark eggs. They were all lumpy and one was in the shape of a corkscrew!)

Can you spot the rockfish in this one? It's camo-fla-geed.

(Check the bottom right; it's there.)

Toward Oklahoma, we saw lots of turtles.

And then a few giant alligator turtles. These things were more than a yard long! It could've taken off your whole arm, man! The museum estimated this turtle's age at about 120 years, older even than our state.

Then we saw some beavers, which were on loan from somewhere. They're cuties, but they bite hard. Most of the things in their pen had huge gnawing marks in them.

Perhaps the best was the pool full of rays. One of them had a penchant for jumping up on the wall and fluttering its "wings", almost leaping out and definitely scaring people. It jumped out twice near the guy with the Superman t-shirt. There was much screaming and nervous laughter afterward.

The tour climaxed with the shark room, which was a glass walkway through a tank full of sharks of all kinds (primarly blue sharks, I think). It made me think of the Jaws sequel where the shark punches through and eats lots of people. Mmm.

So the aquarium proved quite fun. There are so many interesting things from the deep, it's hard not to leave with a slack-jaw of amazement and a feeling of awe in the pit of your stomach.

We left the aquarium behind and hit a Mexican restaurant for a quick lunch. There was a military-style humvee in the parking lot. Yup, it's parked in a fire zone, but who's going to make him move, huh?

Motorcyclists parked on the grass.

A lunch of tacos came after feasting on unending chips and salsa, and I once again was very stuffed from restaurant-cooked food. I'd eaten a great deal over the week, so much so that, when I checked my mass at The Sharper Image the day before, I had finally worked my way back to pre-England mass. Really, I lost most of that backpacking on Easter Break, but now I was freed from baggy trousers and double desserts. I guess Spring Break giveth what Easter Break taketh away.

We soon drove across town to the IMAX theater to watch 300, the Frank Miller story of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. The theater itself was impressive, and even had a statue of Will Rogers out front commemorating the movie carrier of Oklahoma's favorite native son. Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me, and I didn't think the guys would appreciate waiting while I ran back and forth across the parking lot.

300 was hands-down awesome. It was on a three-story screen and we were stuck on the front row, truly making it larger than life. The first few minutes were troublesome, but eventually I got used to manipulating my peripheral vision to encompass the whole scope. The movie was chockful of computer animation (ugh, too many abs), very quotable lines, and battle violence so artistic it was like ballet with blood. There was even a brief snippet where they showed realistic phalanx fighting (front row of guys purely defensive while the guys behind stab downward with giant spears), which was great, though boring and not terribly Hollywood. A word of warning, though: it is a war movie and thus very grown up with lots of themes and anatomically accurate decapitation that I can't recommend to everbody.

We left the movie theater in quiet awe, then loaded up for the long trip back to Norman. I finished reading, but also allowed myself to be more distracted by the DVD player's rendition of Scrubs, which very much whiled away the hours. Once back in Norman, I was practically out of it from the rocking sway of the ride, so I slipped back to my place and went to sleep in preparation for the next adventure.

Sunday, the last technical day of Spring Break 2007...

...began by getting up in time to head to church. The college church was closed (it being spring break with almost nobody hanging around), so I went to "Big Church", as we aptly called it when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. After church, I met up with my folks, grandmother, aunt, and uncle in Midwest City for an old-style family dinner. I arrived just in time to sit down, and my parents and I took off quickly after the plates had been emptied.

Our destiantion was a documentary about the fate of art in World War II held at the Oklahoma City Art Museum. I missed the turn and then got completely confused (the sun wasn't out and thus my sense of direction was hobbled; it didn't help that I have a decade-old map in my car, either), finally arriving just in time to park and get turned around once again before my mom called me from down the street.

Once settled, the movie proved quite interesting, stuffed with information that I had never heard before. Everyone knows Hitler was not accepted into the Vienna Academy as a painter, but the story goes on far more than that. When he came to power, he seized art from all over the continent, as did many other Nazis, hoarding it away. Hitler dreamed of building a palace city with the world's largest art museum. It consumed him, even to the point of planning invasions based on what art was on his Wish List. As the Allies took back Europe, they did their best to defend native art, and there was a small corps of people known as "Monumentsmen" who actually sought out, repaired, and returned damaged and captured art. There was even one in the audience, a quiet old man with a great sense of humor and modesty in his replying to a question during the Q&A time.

My parents headed on home after the documentary, and I was in desperate need of doing a paper (due in 23 hours at that time), but I could not let Spring Break go so easily. As I was in Oklahoma City anyway, I thought I'd take a few minutes and do some more Native Touring.

I started at the Civic Center, where, back in high school, we got a break from OSSM's facts and figures and got to hear former secretary of state Madeline Albright give an address. Nifty.

See how Art Deco everything downtown is? That's what happened in the cross between the Oil Boom of the '20s and the works programs of the '30s. Being a big Batman fan, I likes it good.

Just in front of the Civic Center is the Bicentennial Plaza. When I saw it, I exclaimed, "But we haven't even had our CENTENNIAL yet!" Moments later I realized it meant the 1976 national bicentennial. Silly me.

The plaza gives way to a small park with crunchy yellow Oklahoma grass and several statues of famous Oklahomans. I didn't recognize many of them, but I knew Wiley Post long before I saw the nameplate. You can't easily forget a one-eyed airman. He designed the first practical pressurized suit, you know.

I moved the car a few blocks and came to a site that I had visited before, but never with a camera. In 1995, hundreds of people were killed in the worst terrorist act till September 11th, and still the worst home-grown terrorist act. Even in England, people knew of Oklahoma from the bombing (that, and the musical). The site of the Murrah building is now the Bombing Memorial.

The two gates at the ends are labeled 9:01 and 9:03, leaving the moment of the explosion at 9:02 frozen forever in memory. I still remember where I was when I heard: Fifth grade, we were busy making our paper models of Jerusalem, and a flustered Mrs. Unruh rushed in from the office with the news.

One side of the memorial is marked with empty chairs, each one representing a person killed. The little chairs are for the children in the building's daycare.

The other side has a viewing platform and The Survivor Tree, an elm that was across the street and somehow survived the blast. It is strong and vibrant today.

The central reflecting pool is for reflecting both literally and metaphorically. The ducks liked to stand in it.

Soon after the fencing went up around the dangerous ruins, people began sticking images of loved ones and small offerings to it. On the west side of the memorial, the fence still stands and is still covered with memories.

Along the wall of a nearby building, one of the rescue workers painted some poetic graffiti. It's still there, making visitors wonder if justice could ever be fully served.

Urged by the words, I tried to get a few artsy pictures. One was of the empty chairs with bold flags of the state and country flying in the background.

I also got a shot of a ruined wall they left standing for effect. Behind it, there was an American flag flying on a distant rooftop. At the right angle, it seemed almost growing out of the rubble like a defiant flower in the face of gray destruction. Or a vision from the devestated present toward a stong future.

The Murrah building was practically surrounded by churches, fitting since Oklahoma City is about the first loop on the Bible Belt. St. Joseph's, which came through with amazingly little damage, erected its own memorial dubbed "Jesus Wept".

There's a quaint brick Methodist church on the other side.

As my mind was on churches, I remembered City Church, one of the prettiest buildings in Oklahoma City. Moving my car along a few more blocks, I finally got a picture of it.

Not bad for a church, eh? Might give some of those European cathedrals a run for their money. Maybe.

A little further down the street is the First Baptist Church, where I attended while living at OSSM. They'd pick us up early in the morning and drop us off after service, making a little spiritual breather in the midst of every exhausting week.

And, as I was surprised to find out after going there Sunday after Sunday, the chapel on the other side is where my parents were married. Small world, eh? (Not really small, just very entertainingly tangled.)

The sun began to lower, and I at last admitted defeat. It was time to write the paper based on all that reading I did. But not before taking a leisurely drive back to Norman, followed by dinner and the Simpsons. It had been a long time since I started a paper the night before (and I don't know if I'd ever put it off till after dark like that), but I locked myself in my room and hammered it out. The paper was, yet again, the worst I thought I had ever written. Then again, teachers like the papers I hate and vice-versa, so as long as I'm disappointed, my grades will be happy. There's a lesson of some kind in there, but I haven't the foggiest what it could be. Whatever the case, I was glad to have it done and stay up late watching Donnie Darko with the METR guys.

Epilogue: It ain't over yet.

I awoke Monday, the first day of not-spring break...

...and busily went about getting little things done. Despite revising and handing in a paper and going to class for two hours, I determined the Spring Break 2007 would live on. Quickly after class was out, I caught the bus, grabbed a pre-packed backpack with my toothbrush, and rushed toward home for yet more adventure.

The adventure was the Adult Trivia Challenge at Kremlin-Hillsdale High School, just a few miles from home. My parents and Mr. Lyon (OBA's academic team coach as well as my sister's father-in-law) had a strong team, but needed a fourth player. After having turned 21, I was invited to join in (though I missed last year being in England). The team was "The Yardbirds", an ecletic reference to the '60s band that would eventually evolve into Led Zepplin. That was Mr. Lyon's doing.

I had done academic team competitions from junior high on, even coming home on weekends from OSSM to play afew games. It had been years since I sat behind a buzzer, and I must admit I was nervous and a little rusty. As the thrill set back in of hearing trivia and eagerly pressing the buzzer to announce one's knowledge to the world, I remembered just how much fun it was. More fun here, actually, since I didn't have the pressure of wanting to take State.

We won all three of our preliminary games, but lost out in the quarter-finals. It was a good match, but those old guys from Enid High were just too quick on the buzzer. Even in my prime, I didn't have reflexes like that. Plus, we had the problems of my parents and I knowing similar stuff and beating each other at the buzzers. Still, it was fun, even to lose out. (By the way, they made me Captain! And not just 'cause of my skills with Roman numerals... Actually, I think it was 'cause I happened to have a differently colored nametag from the construction paper we had written our names on)

We stayed around to watch the last games, and I took solace in the fact that I knew a two answers that neither the winning nor the runner-up team knew. Really, it was fun just to watch. Like Jeopardy, except you don't have to put up with Alex Trebek.

The night grew late, and I finally returned to my big bed at home, stretching out underneath the covers and wondering what world capitals I should know for the 2008 trivia game.

Tuesday, I awoke with a contented sigh...

...which gave way to a sigh of determination. After a hearty breakfast and looking over my taxes with my accountant (well, my mom technically, but "my accountant" sounds so cool), I was back on the road, heading toward Norman. In this driving, I had made a wrong turn and suddenly discovered a new route home that saves perhaps two minutes of time and significantly reduces stopping and starting in northwest Oklahoma City. Good times.

I arrived back in Norman just in time to run off to the lunch for the Korean Food Festival. Mm, Korean food. My plate overflowed with crystal noodles and all kinds of stuff I can't begin to pronounce correctly. During lunch, I happened to sit beside the Korean Student Association president as well as a Korean international student who would be playing a stringed instrument at the Korean Night performance.

The afternoon flew by quickly as I did some desperately needed work on web comics. I'm struggling to stay a mere month ahead of schedule, and April will prove very busy. Brandon and I made a sci-fi day out of the work, watching Waterworld and The Fifth Element, both of which I have seen before and will see again (though TFE sooner and far more often; It's so good!).

At last it came time for Korean Night, and I very stupidly forgot my camera. The costumes were excellent, ranging from royal garb to traditional to plenty of martial arts geis (that I like to refer to as "pajamas", 'cause they hate that). I bumped into Laura, and we sat next to an old history professor who mysteriously disappeared midway through the show.

The night was just about the right length with all kinds of displays of Korean culture. They did a mock wedding with so, so much ceremony (they did everything twice! I guess that's so they know they mean it) and no touching, just ceremonial kissing by sharing a cup carried back and forth by bridesmaids. Some little girls in sweeping yellow and pink dresses did a sword dance (giving children dangerous weapons as a play thing, that's what made them tough back in the day), a Korean professional vocalist sang, there was much entertaining drumming, and a Korean ambassador from Houston spoke. The martial artists were neat with lots of tricks and scary pre-teens in Tae Kwon Do as well as the military martial arts display where guys pretended slit each other's throats in very dramatic fashion. After a skit featuring the Korean Cinderella, the night was topped off by break-dancing to fusion music updating traditional tunes. It was indeed quite a cultural experience.

For one final shindig, Eileen and I hit the fifty cent theater for a Tuesday showing of Pan's Labyrinth. It's a Spanish film about a little girl caught in the middle of guerrilla warfare between the fascists and freedom fighters in 1944. I had gone in expecting it to be a nice, perhaps a little creepy, children's movie, but I was proven so very wrong. I think it was during the scene with the baby-eating saggy-skinned monster with eyes in his hands that I realized it was a bit more than I bargained for. It proved to be one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen, and that's counting Silence of the Lambs, The Ring as well as The Shining, and innumerable zombie flicks. The problem was that it was done so very well with great acting and CGI and so forth that the horrors felt quite real, leaving us squirming in our seats. After the movie, we had to watch some Spongebob Squarepants just to clear out our systems.

It was technically Wednesday by the time I went to bed, but that was all right. I had managed to squeeze two more days of unpredictable adventure into Spring Break 2007. You know, as I'm defending my project this December, this may very well have been the last Spring Break I ever have.

You know, it may also have been the best.

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