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Feb212024

Kevin’s Travels Through Purple America: Louisville, KY

Lou
Friends, Louisville is friggin’ awesome.
Birthplace of Muhammed Ali, Diane Sawyer, Gus Van Sant and Jennifer Lawrence. Home of the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon, the t, and the Louisville slugger baseball bat. The town on the Ohio River that gave us the Happy Birthday song, disco balls, the Mint Julep and the Sealbach Hotel as featured in The Great Gatsby.
A place I have visited for business and pleasure for 14 years.
Yeah, it’s got Mitch McConnell and his desperate hold on meaningless power but he ain’t what Louisville is all about. LV has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to with open-minded, creative, diverse, forward thinking people and institutions like the Speed Art Museum and movie theater, Carmichael’s Bookstore, one of the great neighborhood bookshops in America, Please and Thank You coffee (creators of the nation’s finest chocolate chip cookie) the 21c Hotel chain, which has a free art museum in each hotel for guests and non guests alike, a killer public library system, a sublime public radio station in WUOL and Headliners, a live music venue everyone in the world should visit when we can.
Oh and its the home of Erin Keane, Melissa Ryan Chipman, Tara Anderson, Daniel Gilliam, Paul Blakeley, and so many other first rate people that make its greatness apparent.
I miss it.
Fellow blue staters, as I spoke of Tulsa previously, do not clutch your pearls when you hear “Kentucky” and think everywhere in the Bluegrass State lives in a dirt shack out of a Walker Evans photo. Louisville is one of America’s great cities. You are really missing out on something if you do not drop by.
Tell them I sent you, order a lot of beer cheese.
Nov142023

A Few Words of Thanks for Mother Emmanuel (Charleston, South Carolina, Fall 2023)

Photo of Mother Emmanuel church

It was our privilege and honor to visit the Emanuel African Methodist Church (known as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina on our first visit to the city this fall. Standing on the sidewalk just to the left of its front door, I found myself so overcome I asked my wife if I could give something like a drash (Hebrew for sermon or textual interpretation) right there.

She listened and this is what I said.

“We are standing now in front of one of the most important structures in America, a house of worship where, for over a century, we have entered the struggle over what it means to be an American, what promises were made at our founding and what promises were broken. That struggle all so often is really an attempt to insist on the repair of those broken promises.

At times, right here, that struggle has been in victory, like when this congregation and this church were at the center of freedom struggles during both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. And at times it has been in horrific defeat as it was that Wednesday Night in June right here, only 8 years ago.

On that evening, 9 members of the the staff and congregation of Mother Emanuel gave their lives for a principle so important to whom we are as a nation that it is in our very first Amendment, the freedom to worship and the freedom to gather. They invited a nervous stranger to join them in prayer on the idea that a house of worship here in America does not close its doors to anybody. And they paid for their patriotism with their lives.

As much as we have to take in the full horror of that evening and of the senseless loss of those 9 precious Americans, we can look up at this beautiful building and say that whatever misbegotten evil Dylan Roof thought he was carrying out, he failed. Pathetically so.

At best, Dylan Roof will spend the remainder of his meaningless waste of a life in a dark cold cell. And while he does, at 110 Calhoun St in the city Dylan Roof wished he had grown up, stands Mother Emanuel, tall, proud, gleaming white against a cloudless autumn sky. Still serving this community, still ministering to the sick and desperate, still a pillar of Charleston, this pillar of the confederacy, still led by this city’s black citizenry and still reminding the rest of us, from near and from far who have come to pay our respects of what it truly means to be an American.

We are honored and humbled to be here. And we thank them for having us.” 

Jun212020

In Praise of “Red” Cities and Purple America: Tulsa, OK

Tulsa Skyline

Dear blue state friends,

Allow me to tell you something about Tulsa, particularly if you have never visited.

Tulsa is friggin awesome.

Birthplace of SE Hinton, John Hope Frankin, Bill Hader and Current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The cultural capital of the state. Home to the Bob Dylan archive and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Cain’s Ballroom (i.e. Johnny Cash’s favorite venue outside of Nashville) and the BOK Tower (i.e. the building Minoru Yamasaki honed his skyscraper chops on right before sketching the World Trade Center). A blue dot in a sea of red.

Yeah, it’s got some silly shit like Oral Roberts University. And its progressive power is usually blotted out by blood red Oaklahoma City in electoral politics. But before we go giving all the credit to teenagers on Tik Tok for the sorry-ass turnout at this weekend’s Trump Rally, consider this: Tulsa was a boneheaded, tone-deaf place to hold that rally anyway.

Tulsa is NOT the Trumpy base. Tulsa is filled with open-minded, creative, diverse, forward thinking people like my dear friend Jeff Martin, owner of Magic City Books downtown, who has brought basically every interesting cultural figure you can think of to Tulsa, who sold and gave away a truckload of books by Black authors this weekend, who has been giving out gave out water and supplies to protestors since protesting began this month.

Jeff is a singular presence and a miracle worker. He is far from the only person doing amazing progressive cultural work and organizing in Tulsa.

Jeff brought me to Tulsa a few years ago while I was on book tour. It was one of the highlights of almost a year on the road, a town filled with friendly interesting people, great food, beautiful sites and plenty to do. I would recommend anyone visit as soon as it is safe to do so. And see Tulsa as a reminder that we blue state dwellers all too often think the red-leaning parts of America are an endless sea of small minded bigots.

We are wrong.

Tulsa is one of my favorite cities in America. It’s purple America. And purple America are our allies and friends in this fight too.

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