I grew up in the Gatewood neighborhood in Oklahoma City but it wasn’t in the middle of regentrification back then (1970’s). It was lower middle class and next to more dangerous neighborhoods south of 16th, and our garage got broken into frequently, smash and grabs resulted in stereos stolen from my car, and drunk or high people occasionally walked down the middle of the street talking aggressively to no one in particular. Once while I was walking alone up Gatewood to the little stores on 16th a big kid tried to mug me but his smaller companion said “aw, leave him alone,” and I just kept walking as they sorted out their difference of opinion. I came back home down Carrey Place.
The “Plaza District,” which is now trendy, was simply an assortment of small shops along 16th Street between Gatewood and Indiana. It gets its name now from the old Plaza theater, which I think was a twin theater and a dollar theater at the time. My folks once sent all 5 of us kids to see a Pink Panther double feature there just to get us out of the house for a few hours, I think. I was too young to get the humor or follow the stories.
There were also two barber shops, one “fancy” with the word “style” in it, and one plain, owned and manned by Ed Carter, lean WWII Navy vet who seemed ancient to me and he had a big picture on the wall of all the crew gathered on the deck of the battleship he'd served on. He cut hair military style but we kids did not get buzzcuts but that classic, clean, short, traditional cut parted to one side, with “white walls” – sides shaved really close. As I grew older I’d ask, “no white walls, please,” because most of the kids at school had started wearing their hair long much less white walls.
Ed Carter was a good guy and when I forgot to bring money he’d say pay me next time, and his prices were cheap. When my dad was mostly bedridden, Ed would come over and cut his hair, with my skinny yet barrel-chested emphysematic dad seated in a chair in the dining room with a bedsheet draped around his shoulders, and my dad let his hair get pretty long between cuts until it was all black and gray swoops and ducktails.
And there was the used bookstore next to Ed’s that I’d go to after haircuts and leaf through comics, and that’s how I came across the Justice League-Justice Society crossovers and fell in love with the JSA and bought every issue I could find them in, including the All Star Comics revival run of the late 1970’s, with the squinty-eyed older “Earth 2” Superman drawn by Wally Wood.
And then there was the shoe repair shop run by an old man named Mr. Vining, I don’t remember his first name but he raised tropical fish in the large back room and was one of the first people in the world to breed discus. You had to have the water the right temperature, the right salinity, the right pH to get them to even think about breeding but he had cracked the code and he welcomed us kids in the back to see all the splendid colorful fish, and I bought a mated pair of black and silver angelfish from him, put them in a big tank at home, got them to breed and the female laid her eggs on a slab of rock and the two took turns fanning the eggs with their delicate side fins and finally they hatched and I was feeling all satisfied with myself but then they ate their babies. No amount of live brine shrimp could dissuade them from eating their babies. Hunted down, pop pop pop into their mouths. I don’t think I was so much horrified as pissed off. I never tried breeding anything but guppies ever again.
But by and large the “Plaza District” was run down back then, a footnote from a more successful time, dying off and sketchy. If this sounds like romanticization of how it was back then I’ll simply say it wasn’t pretending to be anything else, a throwback to a never-was, it was for the people who lived in the neighborhood.