April 19, 1995…The Day Life Changed Forever in Oklahoma City

Alfred P. Murrah Building - OKC

Alfred P. Murrah Building – OKC

 

That Wednesday twenty years ago started like any other. I arrived at school in Northwest Oklahoma City ready to face a classroom full of fourth graders, just as I did every day. A morning field trip had been planned, and fourth grade students from all over the district would be converging upon the Civic Center to attend a musical performance—what performance, I now have no idea. Arrival in downtown was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. but, for reasons unknown, the buses were late arriving and by the time we got everyone loaded and departed from the school it was right at 9 o’clock. As we traveled toward downtown along Memorial Road, the kids were excitedly laughing and talking, glad to escape the confines of the classroom. About five or so minutes into our journey a call came across the bus radio: “Stop immediately. There has been a major explosion in downtown Oklahoma City.” Not everyone heard the announcement and as the driver guided the bus to the side of the road, several students began inquiring as to why we were stopping. Again the dispatcher’s voice crackled through on the radio, interrupting the hubbub and demanding that we halt immediately—repeating that there had been a major explosion in downtown. Oklahoma City is known for its extremely flat terrain, which enables one to see for miles. Though we were still a good distance from downtown, we could clearly see thick, black smoke billowing toward the sky in the distance. One of my students—an especially precocious kiddo named Andrew—piped up shrilly. “Do you think it was a bomb?” Without even pausing to reflect I responded, “I’m sure it wasn’t a bomb, Andrew. It was probably a gas leak or a pipeline explosion.” I cannot even express how remote the possibility of a bomb explosion seemed to me at that time…such a reality never crossed my mind! After all, this was America—and the Heartland at that! Such things happened in other places! Needless to say, the field trip was shelved and we returned to school. We were horrified to learn that this was no small explosion, but rather had blown a large portion of a huge building to smithereens! My immediate concern was the safety of my husband, whose job often took him into the downtown area, and I rushed out to my car to call him. (I had a cell phone at that time, but it was hard-mounted in my car.) Miraculously, I was able to get through to him and learn that he was safe—something I was not able to do again as the cell phone towers were completely jammed making it impossible to get through to anyone. The day passed as if a slow motion nightmare—attempting to conceal the awful truth from our students while conducting the daily routines in as normal a fashion as possible, then slipping off on our breaks to gaze with horror at the carnage playing out before our eyes live and wall-to-wall on televisions stashed around the school building. Those of us on the school bus that morning were some of the few in the city who did not actually feel the impact of the explosion—I have been told that the tires likely absorbed the force. My husband thought an airplane had crashed outside of his office; my sister was convinced someone was breaking into her house; others feared an earthquake. My husband spent that first night on the scene as part of the heavy equipment response team—something he is not likely to ever forget. All told, 168 people lost their lives, almost 700 more were injured, and countless others suffered the loss of family members and friends. One of my students lost his uncle (his body was never found) and a college classmate of ours was among the victims. Possibly the most sobering effect this senseless act of cowardice and evil had on me was the loss of innocence and naivete that I had always possessed—a sense of peace and security here in America. But, I am so thankful that the buses were delayed that morning and we didn’t find ourselves mere blocks from the bomb site with hundreds of children!

The people of Oklahoma City are strong and resilient, and they soldiered on in the face of tragedy. On the former site of the Murrah Federal Building, you can now visit a Memorial to the victims of the bombing. It includes a large reflecting pool flanked by two large gates—one inscribed with the time 9:01, the other with 9:03. The pool itself  is representative of the moment of the blast. Nearby is a field of bronze and stone chairs—one for each person lost, arranged according to what floor of the building they were on. The smaller chairs represent the 19 children who were killed; the larger chairs are symbolic of the adult victims. Amazingly, one tree survived the explosion and its aftermath and still stands, known as “the survivor tree.” Part of the original building remains as a testament to the enormity of destruction. Visitors can also visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum.

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

Oklahoma City National Memorial – Field of Chairs

 

Advertisements

Where to Stay in Charleston…The French Quarter Inn

Optimized-DSC00677

If you are looking to indulge in a relaxing, luxurious boutique hotel experience, look no further than the French Quarter Inn in Charleston, SC. From the moment we walked in the door, hotel staff went above and beyond to make our stay a true pleasure in every way. The hotel is conveniently located a few steps from Charleston’s most popular tourist attractions, yet is quiet and secluded.

We were celebrating our 20th anniversary and decided to spring for the Luxury King Balcony Suite. The spacious bedroom included a king-size bed with premium bedding, an armoire, desk, clock radio/docking station, mini-fridge, and in-room safe—not to mention, an incredible view. We had access to high-speed internet both in our room and in the hotel common areas. Each time we returned to our room after it had been serviced by housekeeping, soft music was playing. Turn-down service was provided as well—complete with a chocolate treat!

We had a full living room with a fireplace (a little warm for June, but aesthetically pleasing, nonetheless), flat screen TV, and private balcony access. The sofa included a pullout bed, and there was a blu-ray DVD player.

The large bathroom was fully stocked with plenty of fluffy towels, luxury spa products, waffle weave robes, and even a super fancy toilet paper receptacle!

I spent quite a lot of time sitting on our balcony. We were on the third floor overlooking a quiet street and a picturesque garden with beautiful wrought-iron gates and charming statuary.

A continental breakfast was served daily in an area adjacent to the hotel lobby. Selections included fresh fruit, pastries, cereal, boiled eggs, coffee, milk, a variety of juices, and more. We ate there several times and enjoyed the gorgeous weather each morning in the outdoor terrace dining area. There is an evening wine and cheese reception, and freshly baked cookies and milk are offered each evening in the lobby area. 24-hour coffee service is provided, as well as all-day availability of flavored iced teas and snacks.

The concierge arranged for our transportation to and from the airport and we never entered or left the hotel without a doorman opening the door for us and inquiring after our needs and comfort. We decided to extend our stay by one day, but our suite was not available so we were moved to a Traditional King Room. Honestly, the only difference was size! Though smaller than the suite, the traditional room was roomy and every bit as comfortable and commodious! We were 100% pleased with our stay at the French Quarter Inn and can’t wait to return on our next visit to Charleston!

Where to Eat in Charleston, South Carolina…

Restaurants along Meeting Street

Restaurants along Market Street

As I have mentioned in the past, Charleston and Savannah run a pretty close race in the food department as each city offers excellent cuisine with broad appeal. I don’t know about you, but I am always eager to sample the regional favorites whenever I visit somewhere new—or old! Since I am a lover of seafood, low country cooking is right up my alley. Reviews of the following restaurants and eateries are based on my personal experience alone and are listed alphabetically rather than by preference. Always interested to hear your opinions and receive your recommendations!

Charleston Crab House:

We ate lunch here not once, but twice! Shrimp is one of my top two favorite foods so that, of course, is what I ordered. It was delicious, but…hubby’s Alaskan crab legs blew my shrimp out of the water! When we returned for the second time, you better believe I ordered crab legs! (I had fried green tomatoes for an appetizer and they were scrumptious!)

Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe:

I had heard about this storefront-turned-restaurant with a reputation for serving the best grits in Charleston (TripAdvisor reviews and a feature on Diners and Dives), so we decided to give it a whirl. Turns out, it was right around the corner from our hotel. The location leaves a bit to be desired—next door to a convenience store with most of the seating outside in the parking lot—but the food was delicious! We were early enough to snag an inside seat and the grits really were the best I had ever tasted…and that is saying something since I am a bit of a grits snob!

(The) Fudgery of Charleston:

We hit the ground running our first day in Charleston and covered a lot of the historic district right away. After all of that walking around, we were in need of some nourishment, so we stopped by The Fudgery, which is (too) conveniently located on Market Street adjacent to City Market and near our hotel. We each ordered a Mocha Java Chiller…with real mocha fudge mixed in! Mmmm, mmmm, good! Oh, and we had to sample the fudge. Good thing we had plenty of opportunities to walk off those calories!

Hall’s Chophouse:

We celebrated our anniversary at Hall’s Chophouse on King Street. The food was tasty and the service was amazing. The wait staff was extremely attentive, changing out our silverware between courses and making sure our glasses were always full. We started with She-Crab Soup—a Charleston signature dish—and also enjoyed a colossal shrimp cocktail. I chose Prime Rib for my main course and hubby ordered a Bone-In Rib Eye. The side of Lobster Mac and Cheese we ordered was so huge, we barely put a dent in it. The owner was actually working the door as we were leaving and engaged us in five or ten minutes of interesting conversation. All in all, a lovely dining experience.

Hank’s Seafood:

We selected Hank’s for our last evening meal (supper, to us Southerners) in Charleston. The food was not quite on par with Magnolias (see below), but good nonetheless. The atmosphere was a bit more formal that we expected—tiny tables with linen tablecloths and waiters in white jackets! I ate coarse-ground grits one last time and loved every delicious bite!

Magnolias:

This was my favorite eating experience during our time in Charleston, hands down! The restaurant is informally elegant and the service was superb. I ordered the Shellfish Over Grits (are you noticing a pattern here?) with sauteed shrimp, sea scallops and lobster, creamy white grits, lobster butter sauce, and fried spinach. The hubby chose Grilled Tuna and Arugula Salad with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and citrus-agave vinaigrette dressing. No taste bud-tempting meal is complete without equally tantalizing desserts, so we went for the Southern Pecan Pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Truly a palette-pleasing evening!

Mercato Italian Restaurant:

After a full day of sightseeing, we chose Mercato mainly because there was no wait. As it turned out, it was a fortuitous choice. The decor was warm and inviting, the ambiance low-key and relaxing. We had recently returned from Italy where we discovered what pizza is supposed to taste like, so all American-Italian restaurants were laboring under a not insignificant handicap by comparison. Despite that fact, we were satisfied with the quality and taste of our food at Mercato and were pleased to note that the crust was thin and crisp and the ingredients fresh and authentic!

Poogan’s Porch:

We enjoyed brunch at Poogan’s Porch on Queen Street one morning during our visit. The converted Victorian mansion makes a charming restaurant, and the Southern-style home-cooking is creative, at the very least. I passed on the Sunrise Shrimp and Grits (blue crab gravy, peppers, onions, sausage, poached eggs) and went for Ike’s Down Home Breakfast (two eggs, scrambled; grits; and applewood-smoked bacon), which was quite good.

Sticky Fingers:

The hubby is a barbeque connoisseur so we decided to give this place a go on the recommendation of our tour guide. I have had better barbeque (no big surprise since we hail from the Lone Star State) and I have had worse. At least they have a wide (and personalized) selection of sauces!

And, of course, no vacation is complete without Ice Cream!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on where to stay in Charleston…

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 2

Optimized-IMG_3068

Don’t miss What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 1 for my first five recommendations.

Charleston’s City Market: I covered this sprawling shopping venue and its historical significance in a previous blog post. Centrally located near all of the main attractions, it is a fun way to while away a little time—maybe grab a snack, relax in the shade, or browse through the vendor stalls. A visit to the Confederate Museum on the upper floor of Market Hall offers a glimpse of life in Charleston during the Civil War era.

Carriage Tour or Pedicab Ride: Most every “touristy” town has a carriage tour option these days, it seems. It is actually an efficient way to get the lay of the land and see what’s out there. We booked our tour online for Charleston, but I think we would have been fine just walking up. There are several different carriage companies and most available drivers congregate near City Market. We opted for a “buggy built for two” with a private guide. We learned many interesting things that we otherwise would never have known about the city. We made use of the pedicab service when we needed a quick ride from point to point. Thomas, our driver, had a great personality and after the first ride,we called for him specifically. On our last evening in town, we hired him for an hour-long ride around the historic district at dusk. He is a native Charlestonian so provided interesting commentary, pointing out various sights—including his childhood home, his grandmother’s house, and the high school he attended!

Do Some Shopping: From art and antiques to souvenirs and moon pies—and everything in between—Charleston offers plenty of shopping opportunities. We bought clothing for the hubby, the requisite souvenirs for the folks back home, and for me, a Southern tradition—RC Cola and a moon pie from the Moon Pie General Store!

Tour Charleston’s Historic Churches: Charleston is known as “The Holy City” for good reason. It is a testament to the old cliche, “a church on every corner”…or at least every other corner! We toured several of the beautiful downtown churches during our private walking tour and were fascinated and amazed by their histories.

Visit Charleston’s Historic Plantations: There are a number of plantations in the Charleston area, but they are some distance from the historic city center. We actually saved visiting them until our second visit since we did not have a car the first time around. There may be bus tours available from the historic district, but I don’t know that for sure. We settled on Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place as our tour choices. As a native Louisianian, I am accustomed to visiting plantations with intact original buildings, so was surprised to learn that such is often not the case in the Carolinas and Georgia. Because the Civil War action was much more intense in this area, many of the homes were destroyed by the Yankees. These two plantations are no exception, which makes their histories all the more interesting. (The current homes on both properties date to before the Civil War, but are not the original family home.) I plan to cover these and other plantations in more depth in future posts.

C.S.S. Hunley: I was disappointed that we weren’t able to see this Confederate submarine that is undergoing restoration and is on exhibit in Charleston. If you are interested in history, warfare, or the military, you will want to see the Hunley.

Would love to hear your impressions of Charleston as well as your recommendations regarding what to see and do. Check back for my upcoming review of the Charleston food scene…

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 1

Optimized-IMG_3275_edited

The hubby and I spent a week in the Charleston Historic District and did all of our sightseeing and getting around on foot or in a pedicab. When we returned the following year for the express purpose of touring a couple of the plantations, we rented a car. There is much to do in Charleston and you can easily spend a week to ten days and not cover all of the tourist ground. In this post I will discuss the first five items on my “What to See and Do in Charleston” list…

Walking Tour of the Historic District: I made arrangements ahead of time for a private walking/photography tour with local guide, Joyce Aungst. She met us at our hotel at the outset of the three-hour excursion, which was both agreeable and convenient. We covered a considerable amount of territory in that length of time and Joyce offered photography tips as well as excellent commentary. We toured St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Rainbow Row, the Pink House, the Dock Street Theater, Washington Square, and City Hall, and saw many other locations of historical significance. Joyce’s knowledge certainly enhanced our visit and gave us an expanded perspective of Charleston and its history. If you prefer not to schedule a private tour, public tours are available through various guides and tour companies. At the very least, visit the Visitor Center and pick up a walking map and some brochures.

The Battery and White Point Gardens: Home to some of the city’s oldest and finest residential dwellings and a site fraught with historical significance, the Battery is my favorite place to visit in Charleston. Whether strolling among the grand oak trees in the gardens or traversing the promenade along Charleston Harbor, I can almost hear the swishing of hoop skirts and the pounding of artillery as I am transported back to the 1860s. (I covered the Battery in greater depth in a previous post…Strolling along the Battery…Living like it’s 1861.)

Waterfront Park: This unique and beautiful park stretches for a half mile along the Cooper River and includes an iconic Pineapple Fountain (a symbol of Southern hospitality), a tree-lined park area with benches and walkways, a lengthy esplanade, a covered pier with hanging porch swings, and a floating dock that offers an unobstructed view of the water. My only complaint with this attractive waterfront venue is its popularity—no sooner does someone vacate one of the porch swings than someone else slips into their place. We never did get to do any swinging. Yet another reason to return to Charleston…in hopes of finally having access to one of the swings!

Fort Sumter: As the setting for one of the defining moments in American history, Fort Sumter is certainly worthy of a visit. The experience begins on the mainland with a tour of the museum followed by a half-hour narrated ferry ride across the harbor. (See a previous post, As seen from Charleston Harbor…, for more about that.) Once you arrive on the island, you may join a guided tour or explore on your own. The fort itself has suffered damage, deterioration, and reconfiguration over the past two hundred-plus years, but remains as a reminder of one of the darkest periods in our country’s history. (Note: You must book through Fort Sumter Tours as it is the only company authorized to actually dock at the fort. Other harbor cruises merely pass by the island.)

Tour Historic Homes: Many of the antebellum homes in Charleston offer tours to the public. We visited two homes with intriguing histories and incredible architecture. The magnificent Edmondston-Alston House is located on the Battery and boasts amazing views from the piazza out across the harbor. (The carriage house has been converted to a Bed and Breakfast.) The Nathaniel Russell House is a Federal-style townhouse on Meeting Street.  Its free-flying staircase is masterfully crafted and quite unbelievable! I recommend both tours as both were informative and engaging.

What to See and Do in Charleston…Part 2 coming up next…

America’s Friendliest Cities…#1 Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston

Some time ago, I posted the 2014 list of the Top Ten Friendliest Cities in America (according to a survey by Conde Nast Traveler), and pointed out that eight of the top ten are located in the South. Yay for the South! I have shared my impressions and recommendations of seven of those cities—some in greater depth than others—and have finally arrived at the #1 city on the list (and my personal favorite), Charleston, South Carolina. I have blogged about Charleston before (check tag list to read previous blog posts), but will share new information and personal insights in upcoming posts. To me, Charleston epitomizes the grace, elegance, refinement, strength, and courage of the South—particularly the women who have long been the backbone of the culture. (No offence intended toward Southern men.) Charleston exudes dignity, charm, and fierce determination as personified by the row of antebellum mansions regally positioned shoulder to shoulder along the battery, united in their stand against the ravages of time, the elements, and a shifting cultural tide. If ever I want to escape the here and now, my destination of choice is Charleston!

What to see and do and where to eat coming up…

 

Savannah: Gardens, Gates and Wrought Iron…

Savannah Garden

When choosing a travel destination, I often select a city that lends itself well to sightseeing on foot. (That way I can walk off all of the calories I take in sampling the local cuisine!) The Savannah historic district with its grid-type layout is packed with more interesting sights and photo ops than you can shake a stick at, and is relatively easy to navigate.  If, however, you are directionally challenged like me and happen to wander off-course, just ask anyone, “Which way to River Street?” and remember that the river is always north. (Of course, a walking map is a good idea. Grab one at the visitor center or purchase one at Parker’s Market.)  Much like Charleston to its north, Savannah is dotted with inviting gardens, intricately fashioned gates, and an abundance of finely crafted wrought iron. Be sure to allow enough time to wander up and down the streets in the historic residential areas in addition to the squares and main drags. You will find bits of beauty tucked into every nook and cranny—flower boxes, trellises, balconies, staircases, lamp posts, decorative grates, hitching posts, lanterns, and railings. It’s fun and it’s free! If your feet get tired, catch the express shuttle or take a trolley tour. There will likely be many other tourists out and about also, but as with anywhere you go, be aware of your surroundings and watch out for traffic!

To see how Charleston compares, go to Wrought Iron Artistry…Charleston, S.C.