Oklahoma City’s Cinderella story began nearly 20 years ago, when the youngest members of my generation, Generation X, were 10, and the oldest were 30. Today, those Gen Xers (according to researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss, those born between 1961 and 1981) collectively possess an important part of Oklahoma City’s institutional memory. We are the last generation to remember what it was like to live here when there was absolutely “nothing to do downtown.”
Our collection of experiences and facts can’t compare to those amassed by the generations that have gone before us, and yet, for a generation that has hardly entered its professional prime, our institutional memory is impressive nonetheless. For those of us who graduated college and stayed in Oklahoma, who turned down jobs in Houston, Washington D.C. and Denver, who could not, for whatever reason, bring ourselves to leave, this memory is critical to Oklahoma City’s future success.
As the current generation of leaders age, plan their retirements and pass the baton to Generation X, our institutional memory will serve as a guide, helping us avoid making certain mistakes like undervaluing or squandering resources and underestimating the power of the citizenry.
Generation X cherishes Oklahoma City, and we’ll share our stories over and over again with younger generations so they’ll know how much went in to making Oklahoma City what is today, and all that I know it will be tomorrow.
The oral history of Oklahoma City’s Generation X bears witness to Bricktown when it was still an abandoned piece of scrap metal in need of environmental remediation. I remember an art museum located a stone’s throw from where the carnies called out to pop a balloon and win a sawdust-filled puppy. I remember a downtown library where you could see everyone present with one quick scan of the room. My daughter will know nothing of this.
I remember when the only thing open in MidTown was Kaiser’s, and one day, we showed up to find that it had closed. In college, we ventured far into The Paseo for adventures at the Spaghetti Factory. And one day, we showed up – and it was shut down. We filled our restless weekend hours at the $1 movie and played Echo and the Bunnymen on gigantic boom boxes as we drove in circles, going nowhere in someone’s Cutlass Supreme or CRX.
Back then, Automobile Alley was just a long dark street you drove down as you meandered your way to the indoor fun fair at the Myriad. The only canal we had back then was the fountain in Kerr Park. We nearly got arrested trying to swim in it one night. For thrills, we’d drive all the way up to around 90th and Western just so we could see a gigantic concrete bunny in someone’s yard and read their weird address: 123?
Then one day, we drove up there, and even the concrete bunny was gone. We drove back downtown and ran through the nearly abandoned tunnels of the concourse, dank and musty.
My generation saw the Skirvin open and close and open again 20 years later. After college, two of my friends got jobs in the federal building. In 1995, one of them died and one, who had guard drill that day, lived. We will forget none of this. Preserving the Survivor Tree is personal.
This institutional memory is one of Oklahoma City’s most important commodities, and Generation X has great affection for it, like 100 Saturday mornings spent watching Scooby Doo and munching on Frankenberry and Cap’n Crunch. All we have witnessed, the highs and the lows, will inspire and shape our contributions as Oklahoma City’s next leaders. We aren’t about to let the momentum die.
These days, I take my three children to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and they marvel at the Chihuly. We frequent the ballpark and the old Kaiser’s building for a Buffalo burger or homemade ice cream. The concourse! Who knew it would ever be anything at all? The Skirvin is my kids’ version of Eloise’s The Plaza Hotel and, the finely clipped turf of the National Memorial. My son thinks it’s a big park, but someday, I’ll tell him. These are my memories. They are not borrowed. They grew organically.
Generation X numbers fewer than 50 million people nationwide and is sandwiched between nearly 80 million Baby Boomers and nearly 80 million members of Generation Y. We came of age with the Cold War, divorce and AIDS. We’ve seen major U.S. institutions meltdown and witnessed three or four wars and endless corporate and religious scandals. We’ve survived one recession and are enduring another. We have often been referred to as latchkey kids, and worse, slackers. Today, we’re abolishing these stereotypes, and doing so to the advantage of our city.
Nationwide, Generation X has taken all their disappointments and thrust them into family. It’s not like we worked in coal mines as children, but sociologists still refer to us as a neglected and abandoned generation. Maybe that’s why they now say we are the most family-focused generation they’ve ever seen. We deeply crave work-life balance. After all, there is so very much to do in downtown these days. Oklahoma City might quite possibly be the most attractive city on the planet for Generation X. Everything it has to offer aligns with everything Gen X wants. It’s been an unpredictable journey. As the 80s song warns, I can’t hold back, I won’t back down. It’s too late to turn back now.