Pair of sixes paradox


There's an interesting divergence of opinion about Tulsa's recent International Route 66 Festival.

Many of the Tulsans I spoke to found the promotional information confusing, and if they went, they were surprised by the light turnout and couldn't figure out how it differed from any other street festival. You had your streets blocked off, your food vendors, your local musical acts, your kids' area, your difficulty finding a place to park -- like Mayfest without the art. My wife got frustrated trying to figure out the schedule, and wrote a scathing e-mail to the promoters; I put together a schedule like a TV-grid to help us and others sort out what we wanted to do and where we needed to be. One friend said she saw the ads for the festival but could never get the sense of what it was all about, so she didn't bother going. Many others we spoke to hadn't heard of it at all. Our family went and had a good time, but it's clear we didn't get as much out of it as we might have, had the essence of the festival been more clearly communicated. And although we enjoyed it, we had the sense from the numbers we saw that it was not a successful event.

The apparent failure of the festival has led some to question the wisdom of the $15 million for Route 66 development included in Vision 2025. If Route 66 is such a tourist draw, shouldn't we have seen an acute influx of tourists for this international festival, which includes the annual meeting and banquet of the National Route 66 Federation? If they weren't wandering around Brady Street, where were they?

On the other hand, we're told that the National Route 66 Federation regards the festival as a success and would like to come back. On Tuesday's Michael DelGiorno show, Mayor LaFortune read an e-mail from author Michael Wallis, enthusing about the festival. He's been to dozens of events all along the highway, so surely he would have an idea if this event was successful. The Steinbeck Banquet -- the annual awards banquet of the National Route 66 Foundation -- was reported to have twice the attendance as the previous year in Springfield, Illinois. The J. M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore reported higher than normal attendance.

So how do we account for the divergent perspectives?

I think you had two different events -- a national convention and a local festival -- going on at the same time that the organizers tried to weld into one. For Route 66 enthusiasts, this was their convention, their annual national gathering: a banquet to honor those actively working to preserve the heritage of the road and its roadside attractions, and an exhibit hall featuring authors, artists, and collectors and their latest works. It would be a chance for, say, an enthusiast from Europe to meet Michael Wallis and personally express appreciation for inspiring his interest in the old highway. I would imagine that some of the guests come every year, so these gatherings are a reunion for old friends, and for newcomers, it's a chance to befriend people with the same interests, maybe to meet in real life the fellow fans that you've corresponded with via the Internet.

I would guess an out-of-town enthusiast's visit might have gone like this -- arrive Wednesday night. Do the Thursday westbound bus tour. Visit the exhibits and the festival Thursday evening. Do the Friday eastbound bus tour. Attend the Steinbeck Awards banquet Friday evening. Saturday: do some solo exploring. Total time spent in Brady Village -- maybe three or four hours. A visiting enthusiast would have tried to maximize the time spent on the road itself, and maximize the time spent with other enthusiasts.

Here's one visitor's story (with photos) -- he drove from Ohio, driving 66 from St. Louis, stopping in Miami, Afton, Foyil and Catoosa on the way, arriving in Tulsa on Friday in time for the banquet. On Saturday, he visited the exhibits, heard some of the street music, saw the 1930 Nash (which others reported spotting near Tally's Diner at 11th & Yale), and toured the Mayo and Boston Avenue Church. After a breakfast with fellow members of the Route 66 eGroup, he headed back Sunday. Sounds like he had a great time, and was in Oklahoma for most of three days, spending two nights at the Adam's Mark, but he didn't spend much time on the festival grounds proper.

A local's perspective and experience would have been much different. The bus tours would have been out of the question -- have to be at work. Drive the old road? I've done it dozens of times and can do it anytime I want. The festival itself? A lot of musical acts I've never heard of. Kids' zone has face painting and karaoke. Oh boy. Even a local Route 66 enthusiast would have wondered what he was going to see that he hadn't seen before.

The major events -- the banquet and the expo, which were what made the festival a distinctive event -- were noted but were not highlighted in the promotional material aimed at Tulsans. Perhaps the organizers assumed that locals wouldn't be interested in the "convention" aspect of the festival.

And they also didn't get across the idea that the festival was meant to cover the whole route, not just be confined to Brady Village. Saturday night, after it was over, we learned about a Route 66 "day of fun" in southwest Tulsa -- we happened to eat at Billy Ray's Barbecue and picked up a flyer. (The flyer listed no location, and listed former Councilor Darla Hall as a contact. Was this intended as a rival effort? Does the absence of this event on the festival schedule have anything to do with the fact that Hall quietly backed Randi Miller to succeed her on the Council in Miller's 2000 race against Linda Jordan, who led the team coordinating the Route 66 Festival? I hope not, and maybe this is just a lack of coordination.)

Perhaps we should have understood and assumed that businesses up and down the old road were ready and eager to greet festival-goers, but it would have been nice to have had a list of places along the road planning special events during the festival. Maybe for the next festival, the organizers could encourage places not ordinarily open to the public to have open houses. A motel might show off a room and have an album of old photos and postcards available for viewing in the lobby. A now-closed tourist court might allow people to stop and look at the old cabins and ask questions. Displays at classic cars might be planned for certain landmarks, like the Blue Whale or the Rose Bowl. Lynn Lane Baptist Church or Lee's Feed might offer an exhibit on the history of the Lynn Lane community along 66. Likewise a business in downtown Red Fork might offer a special welcome. You just need to give festival-goers a list of the opportunities.

The auto tour events were confusing, too. The website mentioned a competitive road rally, an "average Joe" non-competitive rally, and drive-yourself auto tours led by the Miata Club of Tulsa. We asked about these events at three separate information booths Friday evening. The volunteers were all friendly and helpful, but clueless, and they didn't know where to send us for a definitive answer. The fact that the number of participants was limited added to the confusion. We never did get an answer about the rally, but the people at Lyon's Indian Store, one of the starting points for the self-drive tours, explained that Miata Club members would lead a convoy to various hard-to-find spots on the highway in a day-long excursion.

It worries me that I didn't see a TV ad until the festival was over, and I watched a lot more TV than usual the preceding week, because of all the Reagan coverage.

My preliminary impression is that the organizers did a good job of setting up the convention aspect of the event, did a good job of lining up sponsors and volunteers, but failed to communicate the essence of the event to the people who live here. I'd be interested in your comments about the festival whether you're from here or from far away -- e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 17, 2004 12:39 AM.

Route 66 ho-hum? was the previous entry in this blog.

If you seek his monument, you're parking on it is the next entry in this blog.

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