Oklahoma City Bro-Trip

Last year, when I first found out that Primus would be playing Rush’s A Farewell to Kings album on tour (aptly named A Tribute to Kings), I knew I had to get tickets. And the only person I knew who would go with me because he was just remotely into Primus was… my brother, Daniel. So, I started planning.

I was out of town when Primus came through DFW last year, plus there were still stupid COVID restrictions in place (boo masks!), so I missed them. But, I later learned that they had scheduled additional dates for 2022, kicking off in Oklahoma City in April. It was a Friday, which meant Daniel was off from work and we could make it a weekend bro-trip. I bought the tickets a couple months prior, reserved a hotel near the venue, and waited.

This was the first trip I’d planned that I hadn’t really planned. It just felt like the kind of trip that needed to “flow”, not be structured. I had told Daniel the night before that I wouldn’t be in a rush to leave, just as long as we could get to Oklahoma City in time to check into our hotel, grab dinner, and get to the show.

I tried to sleep in Friday morning, knowing that I’d need the extra rest for the late concert that evening. Even so, I couldn’t beat my circadian clock, and woke up with the dawn (as usual). I ate breakfast and set to packing—just one change of clothes and a few accessories that I fit in a single backpack. I didn’t even pack a camera because I didn’t want to be a “tourist”—and I wanted to experience the trip through my own eyes instead of through a viewfinder. (Hence, no images for this write-up—sorry!)

After packing my bag and washing Vader the truck, I retreated to my lair to catch a quick nap. The half-hour of shuteye was incredibly restorative, and I was wired for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, Daniel slowly went about his morning routine and packing his own stuff. I typically give him a copy of my packing list whenever we travel, but this time I figured he could figure out what he needed to take. I just let him do his thing and let me know when he was ready to go.

After a quick lunch at home, we loaded up and hit the road. The route was pretty simple: Get on I-35 and head north. Once we got through construction and associated traffic north of Fort Worth, we were rocking down the highway. And after a quick pitstop at the Oklahoma visitors’ center (located past the Winstar casino—I wonder if there’s a reason for that), we kept on rolling until we got to OKC.

There is a definite change in terrain once you cross the Red River into Oklahoma. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just different. I guess it’s the hills. You just know you’re in a different state. (I’ve noticed the same thing when driving along I-40 from Texas into New Mexico, but that’s a much more drastic change from ranchlands to badlands.)

There’s a much more scenic change in topography between Springer and Davis, where whole hills have been cut through to build the highway. Though they obviously aren’t natural rock outcroppings, they’re still neat to look at. It’s the northern end of a hilly area smack-dab in the middle of pasture for miles, a geological oddity (at least to a non-geologist like myself). I’ve made a mental note to learn more about this area and why it is this way.

Daniel and I have driven through Oklahoma a few times and also made the observation that the Okies’ roads are not maintained nearly as well as those in Texas. On our previous trip to watch the Great American Eclipse, when crossing the border on US-75, there was a definite bumpiness that began and continued until we hit I-44 northeast of Tulsa. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deal with rough roads on this trip.

But we did have to deal with construction. In at least three places, I-35 was down to one lane each way as whole sides of the highway had been shut down for resurfacing. We came to a standstill when hitting at least one of these cone-funnels as traffic merged—and standing still on the highway in traffic is one of the things I hate most about driving. It’s also a big reason why I don’t commute.

What made it more frustrating to me was that there were no construction workers present. If there’s work going on or it’s a weekend, I can understand there not being anyone at work. But these roads were closed down and no work was being done. (First-world problems, I know.)

(I remember seeing a meme once with a picture of an I-35 sign and a large traffic cone. The caption: “Name a more iconic couple.” As someone who’s travelled along I-35 from Laredo to Kansas City over the span of ten years, I can attest that there is none.)

Anyway, despite road construction, the drive was pleasant. I kept our speed at or slightly above the legal limit (with the flow of traffic) and Vader logged just over nineteen miles per gallon (probably with the help of a tailwind). DJ Dan kept the music going and got us pumped up for the concert with some of Primus’s greatest hits. We entered Oklahoma City city limits listening to their new single, “Conspiranoia” (more on this song in a bit) and were both really looking forward to the show.

Daniel was hungry (no surprise there), so I had him find a place to eat while I drove us to our hotel. We arrived just after 3 PM—check-in time—and got straight to our room. We dropped off our bags and looked over out the room (Holiday Inn Express, two queen beds—just as expected). I transferred my billfold wallet’s contents to a travel belt wallet I bought when I went to Europe a few years ago. I’d read online and in Rick Steves’s travel guides that touristy European cities were swarming with pickpockets, so smart tourists carried their IDs and valuables in belt wallets under their waistbands. I figured that since we’d be in a standing-room-only concert, it might not be a bad idea to do the same. At the very least, it’d keep my stuff strapped to me, not just resting in a pocket.

Daniel had a hankering for pizza, and navigated us to Hideaway Pizza in downtown. I’ve gone mostly gluten free and didn’t plan on eating pizza at all, but it did sound good once we got inside and looked at the menu. Plus, it’s vacation!

After some good bro-talk shared over a loaded thin-crust pizza, we grabbed a to-go box and headed back to the hotel to pop it in the fridge. But Daniel also wanted to see the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which was just a few blocks away. Since we were nearby and had time to kill, we headed over to take a look.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial remembers the tragic bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Employees from over a dozen different government agencies and entities worked in the Murrah Building. At 9:00 that morning, the bomber, Timothy McVeigh, parked a Ryder rental truck loaded with explosives in front of the building, lit the fuze, and walked away.

At 9:02 AM, the truck exploded, immediately destroying the whole front of the building and damaging several other buildings nearby. All told, 168 people lost their lives, and hundreds more were injured. To date, it is the worst act of domestic terrorism in the United States.

After driving around the memorial once looking for a place to park, we parked on the street and walked in. The memorial itself is monumental and reflective. On the east side, a large gateway made of black rock reads “9:01”. On the west side, a matching gateway reads “9:03”. In between is a reflecting pool that has replaced where Fifth Street once ran, where Tim McVeigh parked the truck. One hundred and sixty-eight chairs line a grassy slope, each one bearing the name of a victim.

Walking around the memorial, one can still see the remnants of the building’s foundation. A plaque lists the names and locations of those injured by the blast. The concrete pathways on what was the backside of the building facing the street remain. Outside the memorial, along the 9:03 or “healing” side, is the Memorial Fence where people from all over the world have come to to pay their tributes. Locks, stickers, ball caps, poems, letters, stuffed animals, and more—these decorate the fence and remind one that the people who were killed that day were people just like us who had (still have) people who love and miss them.

We took all this in, then crossed the street to an adjacent memorial at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. A statue, titled And Jesus Wept, depicts Jesus weeping with His back to what was once the Murrah Building. While everything we’d seen had been sobering, this was perhaps the most sobering for me.

As we reflected on the statue and the memorial behind it, a young man with a bullhorn crossed the street and struck up a conversation with some other tourists there. I don’t remember how it started, but he began sharing some conspiracies involving the bombing and tying the date of the bombing in with the gematria system used by the Jesuits. (If you don’t know what all that means, don’t worry—you’re not alone.) These folks listened with curiosity, nodding their heads and taking it in. Eventually they politely dismissed themselves, at which point the young man started walking in our direction.

Daniel and I struck up a conversation with him, sharing what we knew about some conspiracies we’d investigated and (from what we’ve seen and heard) hold to be true. Neither one of us were familiar with gematria or the Jesuits as he had shared, but what he said seemed plausible. He told us he was visiting Oklahoma City from Seattle and had a YouTube channel (or four) and that YouTube kept shutting him down (no surprise, given his topic), so he had to rotate channels. I don’t know exactly why he’d come to Oklahoma City, except maybe to shoot some videos. He did say that the museum neighboring the memorial had not allowed him to enter, and that the security team had even shoved him around a bit. Apparently, his reputation preceded him.

Daniel got his name and YouTube info, and we parted ways because we had to get back to the hotel and then get to the concert. I still haven’t looked him up or looked into anything he shared. I’m always inclined to listen to the marginalized, vilified, ostracized side of any story, but that still doesn’t diminish the tragedy and loss of life that occurred that day.

Interesting side note: The Great Seal of the United States is preserved on what was the backside of the Murrah Building. The front of the seal is the eagle with the branch and arrows; the back side is the unfinished pyramid with the all-seeing eye at the top—Masonic symbolism. Again, interesting.

After stopping back at the hotel to pop our pizza in the fridge, we headed to the concert venue, The Criterion. It’s a smaller theater in Bricktown, which is named such because there are a lot of older brick buildings there. We parked in a lot and paid an exorbitant amount of money for a four-hour parking pass, then got in line to enter the show behind lots of fans.

Since Primus was covering Rush on this tour, a lot of Rush fans showed up to a show they might not otherwise have come to (myself included, somewhat). Judging by the band shirts and general appearance of people in line, I think there were a few main categories: Primus fans, Rush fans, and general metal fans (lots of Tool shirts).

We got inside, bought a couple water bottles, and made our way to the front of the show. We stood around for forty-five minutes before the opening act, shooting the breeze with a few folks around us, laughing at other peoples’ conversations, and witnessing one poor guy trip and spill his beer on the floor. Ah, concerts are the best!

The opening act, a two-man band called Battles, began just after 8:00 PM. One guy (Ian Williams) played an array of synthesizers and an electric guitar he was using as a MIDI controller (effectively another synthesizer). The other guy (John Stanier) played the drums with a crash cymbal mounted unusually high above him. He came on stage with two opened bottles of beer and took swigs between songs, toasting the audience each time.

I wouldn’t even know how to describe their music—electric, rhythmic, and avant garde come to mind. It was hard to hear all the elements of the music itself, as all the synths seemed to blend together in the mix. It was interesting, to say the least. And I think they were a good band to open for Primus.

During Battles’s performance, I started seeing a few people taking hits on joints they’d smuggled in. I didn’t think much of it, just that it’s a concert in Oklahoma City, which has laxer marijuana laws than Texas does. I’d think more of it by the time the evening was over.

Battles played until about 8:45. I think their final song was an improvisation to a swing beat, as it seemed they had a technical glitch with one of the synthesizers. Their set ended when John, the drummer, stopped playing. Ian shut off all the synthesizers, they thanked the cheering crowd, and then the stagehands came out to help them shuttle their gear away and set up for Primus.

About fifteen minutes later, the lights went down. Guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander took the stage. LaLonde began playing a diminished chord, modulating the tone with a wah pedal or other effects pedal, as the lights turned on and off in sync with his playing and silencing. As he kept this going, bassist, singer, and frontman Les Claypool entered from stage left, placed his left leg on a box by his microphone, and started the lyrics to “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers”.

And so began a funk-psychedelic-metal frenzy. Their music is neither funk, nor psychedelic, nor metal by any conventional standards, yet any fan can tell you that it’s all three at the same time. Among the booming drums, percussive slap bass, and distorted lead and rhythm guitar—not to mention ballad-y lyrics more spoken than sung—it’s a unique experience. You just have to listen to their music to know, and then you have to see them live to know.

(One of the best descriptions of Primus’s unique style came from a YouTube comment. To paraphrase, “It’s like hillbillies trying to play heavy metal.” I’d add a dose of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that’s pretty much it.)

Primus’s first set included many of their “hits” (though not Top 40 hits by any means), such as “My Name is Mud”, “Too Many Puppies”, and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”. Mosh pits broke out on several occasions, which Daniel gladly jumped into before they started getting too wild. Yours truly held our place four rows back and tried to enjoy the music and avoid catching wafts of the pot smoke that was slowly filling the room.

Primus debuted their song “Conspiranoia” live for the first time. It’s over ten minutes long and addresses a lot of conspiracy theories that are floating around these days. I couldn’t really understand the lyrics, but what I could understand were the graphics on the video screen. Images of the Pentagon with a pentagram overlay, microchips, and the all-seeing eye from the back of the Great Seal of the United States flashed in and out. Towards the end, a “credit list” of probably a hundred different conspiracies scrolled up, including several that were partially or fully censored (either as a joke or due to fear of legal retaliation?). Maybe the song is meant to poke fun at conspiracies and conspiracists themselves, but if anything, it showed some of the very imagery that makes me wonder what’s true and what isn’t (especially the all-seeing eye). Once again, interesting.

After a brief intermission, Primus launched into their second set, covering A Farewell to Kings. Larry and Les swapped their standard instruments for period-correct Rush instruments: a Gibson ES-335 and a Rickenbacker 4001, respectively. Larry opened the set with Alex Lifeson’s classical guitar melody from the title track, with Les playing the role of Geddy Lee on the Moog synthesizer. You could feel the excitement building in the room as they concluded the Baroque-sounding intro… and launched into a stunning auditory recreation of Rush’s 1977 prog rock album.

Guitar, bass, drums, synth—all were on point note after note. I was really impressed with Tim Alexander’s performance of Neil Peart’s technical drum parts. And for Xanadu, the guys broke out the appropriate double-neck guitars. It was awesome, complete with stunning (and pretty normal) visuals on the projector screen behind them.

The only thing that didn’t “fit” was Les’s voice. He’s just not Geddy Lee, and certainly not 1977 Geddy Lee. But that’s okay, and he did an admirable job singing in his own range while playing bass and synth, just like the master himself did for dozens of years.

After the final chord of “Cygnus X-1” faded out, the audience cheered as Primus exited the stage. After another brief intermission, they returned to play an encore. Frankly, Daniel and I were pumped from the show so far and expected to hear “Tommy the Cat” (as did everyone else around us), but they didn’t play it. The show ended on “Southbound Pachyderm”, a longer, slower, more psychedelic song—possibly for all the high concert-goers around us.

Primus waved good-night and the lights came up. Smoke floated through the whole venue. I checked my watch: It was nearly midnight. They had played for over two and a half hours.

In that strange state of post-concert high (not marijuana high) and physical exhaustion, we drove back to our hotel. We were pretty sure we reeked of weed and my sinuses had already closed up. We both showered quickly but thoroughly and hit the hay. (I ate a couple remaining slices of pizza… I don’t think it was because of secondhand smoke!)

We woke up Saturday morning still tired, but fairly rested. And hungry. One reason I like staying in Holiday Inn Expresses and similar hotels or motels is that they provide a complimentary breakfast buffet, which—for people like me and Daniel—pretty much pays for itself every time. We downed some eggs and sausage, then packed up and checked out of the hotel before the day’s adventures.

Our main activity was to visit the museum that accompanied the memorial we’d toured the day before. Downtown Oklahoma City was almost a ghost town, so we had no trouble finding parking on the street (free on weekends) right by the museum. A curiosity we noticed as we were driving around: The museum is housed in a building that is or immediately adjoins the old Masonic temple, which would have been right across the street from where Tim McVeigh parked his bomb-laden truck. Interesting.

After paying admission to the museum, we took an elevator up one floor to a room that explained the history of the Murrah Building, listed the government agencies stationed there, and set the stage for the events of April 19. Then, we were led through an automatic door into a recreation of one of the public works buildings, where a hearing about property water rights was being held that morning. A tape recorder had been rolling, covering the meeting’s proceedings that began at 9:00.

I felt a tinge of angst as I realized we were about to hear the only recording of the bomb going off. And about two minutes into the tape, an incredibly loud series of blasts deafened everything else. They must have gone on for ten seconds—it was not the single, quick “BAM” expected from an explosion. As the noise subsided, we heard the panicked voice of the woman facilitating the meeting telling people how to get out of the building and to avoid an electrical hazard.

Across the room, a set of doors opened and we walked into a room with a TV replaying the news report of the explosion from 9:17, fifteen minutes later. A news chopper circled around the building and gave the public the first glimpse of just how bad the disaster was. It looked almost like a piece of cake with a huge bite taken out of it. The whole front of the building was just gone.

We continued through the museum, looking at wreckage of the building, preserved personal items, and other remnants recovered in the course of rescue operations. We read and heard stories of people being buried under rubble, barely surviving, being stuck on floors with no way down, wondering if their kids or coworkers were alive… all gut- and heart-wrenching. We saw footage from news reports as first responders worked to rescue people from the building. It was tragic to see the devastation, yet encouraging to see how quickly both ordinary people and first responders pulled together to help.

The museum also told the backstory of Tim McVeigh, the main bomber, his accomplice, Terry Nichols (who backed out of the actual bombing), and Michael Fortier, who assisted in providing goods and services. Items on display included McVeigh’s cream-colored Mercury Marquis, his Glock pistol, his Ka-Bar-style knife, and other things. Frankly, I thought it interesting that the museum had all of these—and even two Krugerrands that Terry Nichols had apparently stolen from someone’s home in Arkansas. I also thought it interesting that the officer who arrested McVeigh on I-35 had a dash camera rolling in his patrol car, so there is actual footage of the traffic stop and arrest.

The museum chronicled the story of the investigation, from McVeigh’s arrest near Perry, Oklahoma the day of the bombing due to driving without a plate, to the efforts to the FBI’s work across the country to chase down leads. If I remember correctly, it was the longest, most thorough investigation the FBI has ever conducted.

The story concluded with the fates of McVeigh, Nichols, and Fortier. McVeigh was executed in Terre Haute, Indiana on June 11, 2001. Nichols faces life in prison without parole, despite a follow-up trial by the State of Oklahoma to try to get him the death penalty. Fortier was imprisoned until 2004 and then placed in a witness protection program.

Altogether, it was a moving, informative experience. The museum told the story very well and made me want to learn more about the who, what, and why behind the bombing. It reminded me that, sadly, a normal day can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. But it also reminded me of the compassion and mettle of everyday God-fearing Americans, who are resilient in the face of challenges and crises. It’s what makes our country so great.

The day was progressing, and it would have been hard for us to do anything to top the museum, so we headed for home. After grabbing some lunch in Norman (Chipotle for Daniel, a protein bar and snack crackers for yours truly), we took I-35 back to the Lone Star State. Construction and traffic weren’t nearly as bad as they were the day before (thankfully), so we made good timing (and I didn’t have opportunity to get frustrated at standstills). The sky was overcast and we had a tailwind again, this time from the north. Vader clocked over twenty miles per gallon all said and done, and would have gotten to twenty-one had I taken the express lane when we reached Fort Worth.

I told Daniel that once we crossed the Red River back into Texas, the traffic on I-35 would suddenly pick up. Every time I’ve done that, it’s happened. And sure enough, it did. I don’t know why or how—maybe it’s Texans leaving Winstar? But it does. See for yourself sometime.

Aside from an unexpected detour in Fort Worth (due to construction on I-35, of course), we had an uneventful trip home. Daniel got interested in some related events that may have led up to the OKC bombing, such as Ruby Ridge and the Waco massacre, and we listened to a documentary about the former on the way back. Then we drove in silence for a while, and finally put on some more Primus to close out the trip.

So, to sum it up, we saw a weird but cool concert, learned about domestic terrorism, met a guy who knows gematria, ate pizza and wings, looked for parking spots, had great bro talks, and maybe got a slight contact high off second-hand smoke—maybe. And though it was just an overnight trip, it felt like it was longer.

Oklahoma City, we will be back!

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