“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers -- of persistence, concentration, and insight -- to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply. Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”
- Susan Cain
I’ve known Bryce Bandy for quite sometime now. Not as a particularly close friend or confidant. But rather as someone with whom my path would cross on a regular basis. For several years we both “officed” at Coffee Slingers. I could always count on and look forward to bumping into the Keep It Local crew. They never hesitated to let me interrupt their weekly staff meeting to say hey and inquire about the goings on with local retailers and restaurateurs. If you’ve ever met Bryce, you know him to be quick to smile and slow to speak, warm and altogether unassuming. I suppose you could dismiss him as sweet, well-meaning, and a little too shy if you were to make a snap judgement based on external perceptions alone, but you’d be a fool to do so. For while he is certainly quiet and quite reserved; this introvert wields real power; a true force for good in a world that can’t stop talking.
For in the words of Author Susan Cain, “We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard's education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of power, but to use well the kind you've been granted.”
Bryce is someone for whom I have a natural affinity and respect; He’s really pretty easy to root for. While others are off building a personal brand, Bryce has slowly and steadily built a platform. Instead of standing upon it to grandstand for his own gain, he has given it away to others as a springboard for their own endeavors and promising careers.
“My passions have shifted over the years: from music and friendship and god, and finding my place in all of that, to the local food scene and the growth of the city as a whole, which is, in large part, why we started Keep It Local in the first place. For the longest time the creative class was leaving Oklahoma City, as many having commented before, we were exporting talent. All of my friends left for Austin and Chicago but I had this sense, this impulse to stay and invest here right here at home. And now I have a platform to promote what I love most - Oklahoma.”
“One thing I’d like for people to know about Keep It Local is are in it for the long haul. It’s about relationships, not technology. Relationships undergird everything. We’d rather take it slow and grow the right way than do so fast and recklessly.”
Bryce has always been a bit of an independent, grind it out, start from scratch, self-starter type. I wondered aloud where and when all that began and was humbled by the level of his vulnerability:
“My childhood wasn’t tragic but it certainly was not optimal either. Alcoholism and mental illness swirled around and around crashing together on occasion in cataclysmic ways which led to my independence. At the age of twelve or thirteen I recall consciously taking control of my own life. I began working for myself a few short years later.
“I wanted life to come in perfect packages but it just doesn’t. For the longest time I couldn’t reconcile the tensions and disappointments of my life. But I’m learning to become increasingly comfortable with that tension. Not everything resolves. And that’s okay. Today I can look back on my childhood with much more understanding and sympathy for my parents. With age has come grace.”
Right then and there, as I witnessed a grown man experience not the moments of overly-romanticized childhood nostalgia but rather a series of relived events marked by suffering, pain, loss and anguish, I was struck by how tenderly he is now responding to what must have been a brutal upbringing. The words of Ram Dass came rushing to my head and heart then just as they do now:
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones as merely steps on the path, and to proceed… We’re all just walking each other home.”
It bears repeating, “Walking each other home.”
For Bryce, “Home is the place where I can be authentic, relaxed, totally and uninhibitedly myself; known, loved, and secure.” I immediately think of the many ways he was unable to be and do these very things as a child. To truly and fully belong is something we all crave; to belong, in fact, is the cry of the human heart. He’s finding that sense of meaning and belonging in The Paseo these days. He says, “It’s my community, the very same people I’m in coffee shops with - my colleagues and my clients. I was looking for a community of people I could connect and be authentic with, a place where I could contribute to the life of the city and not merely consume it; a community that you’d be willing to sacrifice for and with, you know, the costly and messy stuff of life.”
We talk a little about the kinds of people in both his personal and professional life for whom he admires. He’s quick to rattle off a few:
“Keith Paul with Good Egg for operating with the highest levels of excellence possible. Or urban developer David Wanzer who could be doing his work anywhere in the world but chooses to do it right here. He’s buying up old buildings, concerned with the big picture. It’s the same thing Steve Mason did in Auto Alley. Long-term big picture people willing to invest in the future - they inspire me. Brad, my younger brother, who started The Spero Project with his wife Kim, comes to mind too. For as fantastical and crazy as his ideas are he genuinely loves people and he’s not trying to standout doing it.”
I think back to early on in our conversation when Bryce reflected, lamented really, upon the time in the life of this city when the general sentiment shared among the best and the brightest was “I can’t wait to get out of here.” He is now most encouraged by the amount of pride that is being taken in Oklahoma City. “Once upon a time talent got overlooked and thus exported. And now we are searching high and low for it to retain and take advantage, in the best sense, of the homegrown talent and innovation we have to offer.”
“You can try anything in this town and it works,” he exudes! The market isn’t saturated and the cost isn’t too high.” On that note I ask him if there is a dream in his heart that he has yet to pursue? “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than Keep It Local, otherwise I’d be doing it.”
“The culture of Oklahoma City is changing because we are creating even more and better culture. In our generation, there is a real spirit of cooperation and heart to collaborate. It is far less about individual success or accomplishment and much more about the community in its entirety.”
Bryce Bandy is another one of those lovers of the city. But he doesn’t look through rose-colored lenses, at least not all of the time that is. In a season in which expansive growth and relative prosperity have become commonplace, he offers a humble word of caution and it would behoove us all to heed his warning:
“I can’t help but wonder, ‘Are we taking the right risks?’ I’d hate to see us lose our heart over the next fifteen years and just become another ‘Big League City’. Can we avoid the pitfalls of progress and growth? For Oklahoma City to thrive and flourish we must continue to give as much energy as we can, but in a way that ensures we don’t leave anyone behind. I didn’t grow up with money and upward mobility so I have sympathy towards others who experience the same. We can’t trample others on our way to the top. I guess I’d call it ‘Responsible Progress’ or ‘Gentrification with Justice’ or something like that. I’m not exactly sure how to measure it, but it looks a lot like this…”
Bryce points my attention to a recent NewsOK article that tells the story of a mural that artist and Tree & Leaf owner, Dusty Gilpin painted in the Plaza District to honor Cuz and Domingo, “The two Classen Ten Penn residents who predate the first slice of pizza and called the neighborhood home long before anyone printed a local T-shirt, decided to make an artisan grilled cheese sandwich or delivered ice cream via a tiny truck.”
Perhaps the purest form of success can only be measured by stories such as these. When really great stories of transformation are being told around here then and only then will we be the city we were intended to be: a better, more equitable, and just place to live for all people. ⊙
The Paseo Historic District has historically been the place to be for many in Oklahoma City’s thriving arts community. Anchored by The Paseo Arts District whose long-term success has seen even more growth in recent years, the Paseo is comprised mostly of arts and crafts style bungalows with amazing front porches which enhance the community feel. With the thriving Uptown 23rd District adjacent to the south, you will have a hard time finding a better location in the core of OKC. You can own your piece of urban life for somewhere between $100-300k.