A version of this story appears in Saturday’s The Oklahoman.
Bricktown attracts a variety of people for weekend fun
From club-hoppers and concertgoers to stroller-wheeling families and baseball fans, Oklahoma City’s entertainment district is busy on Friday and Saturday nights.
Gale VanCampen never found out for sure how the Messiah takes his hot dogs, but as far as she can remember, the customer who ordered one the Lord’s way skipped the sauerkraut.
“I asked a guy, ‘What would you like on your hot dog?’ And he said, ‘Just like Jesus intended it to be!’ … I said, ‘How would that be?’ but he was off to the next subject. That was at 2 a.m. I think he went with mustard,” said VanCampen, who owns and operates the Hot Dog OKC cart, as she turned wieners on her grill last Friday night.
“I really don’t look up when we get busy, but I’m trying to listen for funny things. That’s what keeps it entertaining for me: trying to find humor in everything.”
As it turns out, Oklahoma City’s Bricktown entertainment district is a pretty entertaining place to be on a Friday or Saturday night, when the Oklahoma State University graduate regularly slings dogs from her usual spot at 202 E Sheridan. From club-hoppers and concertgoers to stroller-wheeling families and baseball fans, she sees and hears such a wide variety of people that she’s actually writing a book called “Things Overheard at the Hot Dog Stand.”
When she started serving up sausages in Bricktown six years ago, VanCampen found the district a much different place than it was in the summer of 2000, when she operated a shaved ice cart on the Bricktown Canal before sailing off to work on cruise ships for a few years.
“I was like the only vendor down here at that point. I think Chelino’s was the only restaurant on the canal. It has grown,” VanCampen said. “I don’t take it for granted. It is very impressive. There will be nights this sidewalk is so full of people I’m like, ‘Uh, this may be busier than South Beach right now.’ Honestly, ‘cause I’ve seen South Beach in Miami on a Friday or Saturday night, and we just have that many people right here. It’s awesome.”
Cheap family night
While skateboarders daringly leaped over staircases and draft horses placidly pulled carriages down Sheridan Avenue, barefoot Bridgett Rabatin diligently watched her daughters — Bree, 8, and Kahlan, 2 — frolic through the sprays of the Ray Ackerman Dancing Fountains near the north end of the canal.
The Norman family typically visits the fountain and nearby playground about one Friday or Saturday night a month. Rabatin and her wife, Mari Hefner, and the girls usually share dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and then take a stroll.
“We just walk around and see the sights just to get the kids out. Normally, they’ll have events or whatever going on … and then we walk the canal and we end up getting either ice cream or something from Sonic. And then take the long trek back to the car ‘cause most people I know don’t pay for parking,” Rabatin said.
“It’s usually a family night that’s basically cheap, and then the kids … they sleep on the way home. Oh, (they’re) out by the time we get to the interstate.”
Baby’s first concert
Last Friday night, the Norman family eventually wandered to Sheridan and Oklahoma, where the annual Bricktown Reggae Festival was showcasing live music and Jamaican delicacies like jerked chicken, pulled pork and Caribbean rice.
He was too young to sample the food, but the festival marked the first concert for 6-week-old Milo Cheek of Oklahoma City.
“He’s been crying all day, so apparently this is what he needed,” said Milo’s mom, Kara Cheek, as Tulsa band Sam and the Stylees laid down the grooves on stage. “He seems to like it. I think he just likes noise.”
While Cheek and her husband, Preston, switched off feeding themselves and their contented baby at a picnic table, her parents, Leslie and Steve Hagar, and her sister, Kaleigh Hagar, escorted the couple’s daughter, Ellie, 2, closer to the stage before coming back to check in.
“She was like the Energizer Bunny. She just danced continuously,” Leslie Hagar said, smiling affectionately at the tie-dye-clad toddler.
From acoustic to blues to country, the live music changes every few feet as you walk past Bricktown’s bars, clubs and restaurants. At the Lower Bricktown Plaza last Friday, it shifted back to reggae as Dallas band The Effinays played their free set on the temporary stage near the fountain.
Abbey and Elizabeth Belaji weren’t expecting a concert when they walked out of a showing of the new Denzel Washington movie “2 Guns” at Harkins Bricktown 16. But that didn’t stop the Nigerian natives from happily grooving to the band’s final funky jam. After all, the father and mother of three were having a date night.
“This if our first time out (to Bricktown),” Abbey said, adding he transferred to Oklahoma City about six months ago from Wichita, Kan. “It’s really nice.”
“I guess we didn’t expect it to be this busy,” Elizabeth said with a smile.
“Well, compared to downtown Wichita, whoa,” her husband added with a laugh. “I think we’ll come back. … It may be an every weekend kind of thing down here. I want to see what’s going down.”
They might even take the kids next time — if they’re lucky.
The summer Lower Bricktown Live Concert Series concludes next Friday, Aug. 16, with a free performance at 8 p.m. by Oklahoma City band Matt Stansberry & The Romance.
A recent transplant from Mason, Texas, Tyler Babin brings his family to Bricktown whenever they come north of the Red River to visit. Last Friday night, he took his girlfriend, mother, stepfather and brother for a walk along the canal and then out to a RedHawks game; on Saturday, they started the evening with drinks at RedPin Bowling Lounge, where they were talking about heading back over to the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark for a kind of double header.
As they ambled along what he called “the little River Walk,” Babin said he noted how much cleaner it was compared to San Antonio’s larger River Walk.
“I like it. It’s a small-town feel and a big-city feel. … I think every time we’ve been up here, we kind of find somewhere new,” said Babin, a land surveyor who moved to OKC in February. “It’s like the only hip spot I know of, I guess … but I’m new. I don’t know where everything is.”
From New Jersey to Oklahoma
Al Calvo, who moved from New Jersey to Edmond two years ago, knows that Oklahoma has produced many baseball greats, from Johnny Bench to Bobby Murcer, but none was greater than Mickey Mantle.
“I used to watch him all the time,” the New York Yankees fan said in his distinctive Jersey accent. “I had the chance to meet him and I shook his hand. He was running for a foul ball … and came real close. I said ‘Good try, Mickey,’ and he shook my hand.”
Since Calvo and his wife Ann moved to the Sooner State to be closer to their son, William, and their two granddaughters, the retiree has become a regular at the RedHawks games. The family occasionally eats in Bricktown restaurants, visits the museums and walks along the canal. Plus, Calvo said the Devon Tower brings back memories of New York City.
“I love this area. I love it very much. I love Oklahoma City very much. We come here a lot. We’ve got to support this area very strongly,” the septuagenarian said. “I love that Bass Pro Shop. I love that store … and I like to buy those vests that they have with a lot of pockets.”
“I have to support Oklahoma. I gotta get the economy going here,” he added with a grin. “We ended up buying a house here in Edmond, and we’re very happy. And I pray every day that we have good weather.”
Season ticket holders
By the time the RedHawks started dominating the Colorado Springs Sky Sox Saturday night, the summer sun was setting and the weather was cooling down. From their seats on the shady first-base side, season ticket holders Kevin and Jennifer Davis of Harrah were enjoying a date night after she had spent the day at the Women of Faith conference at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I like to come and watch ‘em. I don’t like to watch it (baseball) on TV. I like to watch it in person,” Jennifer said, praising Bricktown as clean and safe. “We come down to eat and just around, look at some of the shops. … It’s so family-friendly and there’s so much to look at. You don’t have to spend a lot of money.”
“I just wish there was more free parking,” her husband added.
When Kevin served in the U.S. Air Force, the couple used to live in Colorado Springs near the Sky Sox’s stadium. They said the Bricktown Ballpark is the most family-friendly AAA establishment they’ve visited. When their 2- and 7-year-olds come along, the parents make them a deal: stay in your seats until the seventh-inning stretch and you can go play on the outfield playground the rest of the game.
Saturday was a big game for the RedHawks, who set a record for the most runs scored in a game at the Bricktown Ballpark by beating the Sky Sox 24-5.
While her husband frequently clarified the on-field action to her, Jennifer didn’t need any translation when OKC’s Jon Singleton blasted a grand slam homerun. She immediately jumped to her feet to cheer with the rest of the crowd.
Some things just don’t need an explanation.
Drumming by the buckets
But other things can stand an explanation. For instance, why does street performer Jack Erickson prefer banging on buckets to other forms of drumming?
“If I brought my real drums out here, they might get stolen or something bad might happen. And buckets are really easy to transport, and they can take a beating,” the 17-year-old Edmond Memorial High School student said while taking a break from playing near the Lower Bricktown fountain.
“I learned to play regular drums through school and private lessons, and then one day, I went to New York and saw a street performance. And I’m like, ‘Well, I kind of want to do that.’ So, I just found some buckets and started hitting them. It sounded cool, so I’m like ‘I can do this.’ Out here, it works.”
Sitting on an overturned plastic pail while taking wooden sticks to two different size bucket “drums,” the teenager soon resumed pounding out a tuneful tattoo, occasionally sweeping his long brown hair out of the way. A steady stream of children clutching dollars from their parents’ wallets deposited bills in the silver can near his knees, and he politely thanked each youngster.
“I try to come out both weekend nights. There’s a lot of people here and I guess people who would be interested in what I do,” said Erickson, who started performing in Bricktown about two years ago.
“It’s a good spot.”