A place where your grandma will feel safe

By Vlad Alforov

Nick and Tiffany Duty kept an eye on medical cannabis coming from Colorado and California, rolling toward Oklahoma like a funnel of smoke. The couple saw it as an opportunity to start something new. 

“We saw things kind of blowing up here with new trends,” Nick said.

As of Dec. 2, 2019, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has approved 220,830 individual patient licenses, according to the OMMA’s report. This means that around 5.6% of the state population are medical cannabis patients. The report also stated that OMMA has already approved 1,535 dispensary licenses.

In August, when licensed marijuana users made up 4.1% of the state population, Oklahoma was the fastest growing market for medical marijuana in the average number of daily patient increases, according to the Marijuana Business Daily report.

“Growth (of medical cannabis in Oklahoma) is bolstered by low barriers of entry, including the fact there’s no list of qualifying conditions for patients,” according to the report. 

The Dutys, both 37, moved to Norman from Texas about eight years ago. They also run a drag strip in Noble, but wanted to branch out, Nick said. 

That’s how Pharmhouse Cannabis Co. originated. 

The dragway, which his family has owned for around 50 years, operates March through November and attracts several thousand visitors a year, Nick said. He met Tiffany there, too.  

Now, they are running the dispensary and the race track together.

Making cannabis business more inviting, overcoming social stigma

Nick and Tiffany aimed to make their Pharnhouse stand out from gas stations and questionable, dark-corner-looking places.

“Well, you might have to go pick up my stuff, too,” Tiffany said when Nick got his medical marijuana card back in February 2019. “I don’t want to go to those places.” 

Both Nick and Tiffany received their medical cards for anxiety and sleep disorder treatment.

For Nick, it was a good enough catalyst.

“We thought to put something together for people to feel more comfortable,” he explained, where they could come, look around, ask questions and feel like they are not in a back alley involved in illegal business.

The Dutys try to reach out and be part of the community through the two businesses they are involved in, Nick said. They are “adult business type folks,” as he coined it.

The Dutys began the Pharmhouse planning in June 2019. They said they felt ready for tough competition. 

Now, the dispensary looks spacious and well-lit. Its interior is largely furnished with wooden panels, which creates a homestyle vibe about the place.

“Personally, I don’t want to feel like I am going into a drug den,” Tiffany said. “There’s got to be people out there who feel that way.”

When a 70-year-old lady came by the dispensary recently, Nick recalled, she said her son was trying to talk her into trying concentrates — marijuana products that look like wax. Concentrates are typically highly potent since they contain a large percentage of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive chemical found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant.

“She was here looking at all these dab kits that I’m not even sure how to work with,” Nick said smiling.

“Whether you buy it or not,” he said, “you should be able to come around, get some experience … and learn how to make better decisions.”

The Dutys said some people don’t know that they can visit a dispensary without a medical card. In fact, Pharmhouse offers a variety of cannabis-related products customers can purchase as long as they are 18 and if the item has no THC in it. 

Tiffany said she also wanted their customers to feel like they are at an actual business, where the visitors are not ashamed of shopping and where there is no stigma attached. 

“There are a handful of people who, no matter what, aren’t going to be interested in the cannabis business,” Nick said, “just like they are not … interested in drag racing.”

The reason, he said, is that the residents are not willing to change their perspective about cannabis, since it’s still widely perceived as an illegal narcotic.

“On June 26, 2018, 57% of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, which legalized marijuana for any medical use on a doctor’s recommendation,” according to the Tulsa World article.

“SQ788 became effective July 26, with the state mandated to start accepting patient applications just a month later.”

Nick and Tiffany said they try to break down the stereotypes about cannabis. “There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s all being done above board to help people,” Nick said.

There are numerous restrictions in place as well. For instance, vendors can be held liable for advertising their product as a cure for customers’ high blood pressure. 

“All marijuana marketing or advertising content must not contain any statement or illustration that may be misleading, promotes irresponsible use, promotes the effectiveness of the product for the treatment of any condition, or depicts a minor consuming the product,” according to Sooner Marketing Solutions, a Tulsa-based marketing company that advertises dispensaries.

“We can only give suggestions and (share) personal experience,” Tiffany said. 

She added that at Pharmhouse they try to make sure there is always somebody with a medical card at the counter who has tried out most of their products and could explain how they felt about it, what it did for them or how it tasted. Those are most of their customers’ questions.

There are eight employees at Pharmhouse besides the Dutys. Some of them, Nick said, 20 years ago had cannabis-related legal issues but now work at a place where they get paid to sell it.

“And they are passionate about it,” Tiffany added. 

“I think it’s important that (such services are) offered in a place your grandma would feel comfortable coming in and buying something,” Nick said. “If grandma approves, then everybody approves.”



Location with a history

Because of the stigma, cannabis startups have a difficult time finding property owners willing to lease to a dispensary, Nick said.

“We spent two months looking at locations, and we have pretty much given up,” he said. Most of the available places were either out of the way or too expensive.

“They think you are just a punk going to ruin their store and the area,” Nick said.

And then they found a building at Lindsey Street and College Avenue, a day after it was put on listings.

“It was kind of perfect timing,” Nick said. “We couldn’t really ask for a … better spot.” 

The house was built in the 1930s. One of the original owner’s granddaughters still lives next door.

It was built as a butcher shop. Nick and Tiffany still have an industrial refrigerator, used for hanging and freezing beef, in the Pharmhouse saloon.

The Dutys are currently figuring out how to make use of this focal piece of decor.

Seasoned Norman residents may remember the building as JJ’s Pizza Stop, which kept its doors open for over 26 years, according to the OU Daily article.

Then, in 2017, it was leased to become Barn Burger & Grill. Two years later, there’s cannabis instead of burgers.



Overcoming obstacles

Coming from drag racing, where safety concerns are raised on a regular basis, Nick and Tiffany are no strangers to overcoming obstacles when it comes to being a part of the community.

The dispensary’s opening on Nov. 11 was hammered by 33-degree weather and rain, but about a dozen people showed up anyway, according to the owners.

“It’s definitely a slower start than anticipated,” Nick said. He added that it can take up to six months before they will be able to figure out the Pharmhouse’s profitability.

“We’ve got lots of ideas,” Nick said. He added that game days are typically a good opportunity for him, Tiffany and their employees to “go outside, welcome people” and advertise their dispensary.

But it is not the weather that makes things complicated for the Dutys.

“It’s hard to figure out where you are at, just because of the lack of advertising,” Nick said. “We came in knowing that it’s going to be a long road, and we’re here for a long haul.”

The owners said that it is extremely difficult to advertise a dispensary since few places will take their ad money. “No Google Ads, no YouTube, no social media — it’s very limited,” they explained. 

“You just have to build up an experience,” Nick said. “You can’t just say, ‘We have flower on sale for $10’ because they will close your account.”

Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the best way to advertise a dispensary may be to consult certain cannabis communities that mimic social media, like Weedmaps or Leafly. These companies will find a place for the owners to run their ads, but it is more expensive and less effective, according to the Dutys.

“And so we throw munchies to people, Twinkies and what-not with (Pharmhouse) brand stickers on them,” Nick said.

Despite the issues with advertising, the dispensary has already built their clientele with local fraternities and sororities. Repeat customers, referrals and word of mouth are their PR strategies of choice, Nick said. 

Even some of their employees are college students, alumni and current or former fraternity pledges.

Nick said he likes Norman and OU for their sense of community.

“I just think it’s neat to be a part of this,” Nick said. “It’s cool to be involved with something so bustling of activity, so many people hanging out and having a good time.”

He said at Pharmhouse they often meet people trying to work their way through a difficult time in their lives.

“The college kids are going to be here,” Nick said. “Now, we want to reach out to people who are not going to see us every day.”

Older Norman residents, Nick said, are the ones likely to have medical conditions that cannabis can help with, but they are also the ones likely to feel uncomfortable to come in.

Medical marijuana is used to treat various conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. But it’s not yet proven to help with many of these conditions, partially due to the lack of research, according to WebMD.

“We want to be a part of the community,” he added. “Not just ‘Oh, they opened another dispensary down the street.’ ”

Another major obstacle the Dutys face at Pharmhouse is its cash-based operation. 

“Banks (with a federal license) that handle marijuana money can be charged with money laundering,” according to The Economist article. “Pot businesses, therefore, are on the whole stuck working with cash (.)”

“Anything that’s regulated by the federal government, we can’t have it,” Nick said. “State-licensed banks will let you open an account, but it’s very expensive — $15,000-20,000 per year in bank fees.”

Nick said that in his opinion this makes his business less safe and more difficult. Besides, it makes his insurance more expensive.

“Everybody knows it, and that’s a problem,” Nick said. The fourth day after the opening Pharmhouse experienced an attempted break in.

The intruders tried to kick through the back wall at 2 a.m. but ran off with the alarm.

“It seemed very routine to (the police,)” Nick said.

Police officer Ashlie Livingston said she is not surprised that this kind of crime is common.

She explained that since cannabis used to be illegal and that there are still people who can access it only illegally, these individuals are more likely to horn into storages with large quantities of cannabis.

“I think it’s smart that cannabis companies lock up their drugs,” she said. “They better have safes.”

Livingston said she recently worked a burglary at the Fire Leaf dispensary just south of Highway 9 near Chautauqua Avenue. “The guy got away with a grinder because they locked all of their product up,” she shared.

These two instances of cannabis-related thefts were not the only ones in Norman, according to the KFOR article.

“You still have those bad guys that are drug dealers, and you are basically saying that there is a whole building of it,” Livingston said.

“It’s definitely not as simple as I imagined it when we first got into it,” Nick said. “It’s not as simple as buying marijuana and selling it at a higher price — when you actually get into it and do it, it’s definitely a wake-up call.” 

Given the medical cannabis fervor in Oklahoma, Nick Duty remains optimistic about his business’s future. He said he thinks Oklahomans will keep getting licensed until the rate settles at 7-8% of the state population.

That number, he said he believes, will remain fairly stable until the question is tackled on the federal level.

“I don’t see in any way, shape or form that it does not become nationally accepted and probably recreational in most states.”


By Vlad Alforov

How storm chasing became different

By Vlad Alforov

Matthew Thompson hoped “the weather would look good enough.”

The OU meteorology junior from Atlanta texted Oct. 18 saying, “Sunday keeps looking better & better :)” 

Thompson is one of those who do not think about staying safe in bad weather. Instead, they try to get as close to it as possible.

Two days later, on gloomy Sunday afternoon, he jumped into his sporty gray Honda Civic with a cracked front bumper.

He started the car, rang the National Weather Service, identified himself as a storm chaser and inquired about the probability of storms that night. 

A voice confirmed that, yes, it would start raining in Norman and other parts of Oklahoma in a couple hours. But the same weary voice said that the Weather Service had no reason to expect any tornadoes, if that was what he was looking for. 

Storm chasing, nearly native to Oklahoma, is not entirely a new thing, but the recent technological developments — including the Internet, radars and drones — are transforming the activity beyond recognition.

Thompson said thanks and hung up. “They always downplay things like this,” he said. He opened a weather map on his phone and drew a circle on the screen with his finger, right around an intimidatingly red cluster of pixels.

“You see,” he said, “it’s looking very good.”


The chase

Thompson’s Civic sharply pulled out from the parking lot and rushed toward Holdenville, Oklahoma. During the two-hour ride, he explained his reasons to chase severe weather.

Thompson had family in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina happened, he said.

“After seeing the … force of destruction left behind,” Thompson said, “I had a new goal in mind: to give people enough time to take action and get to safety.”

At age 8 he started looking more into weather: why certain systems act a certain way and what influenced them.

Now Thompson, 21, does some storm chasing “on the side,” he said. OU’s School of Meteorology does not directly encourage chasing, but it cannot ban it either, since one of the school’s main goals is to educate students to forecast weather. 

“The University of Oklahoma’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences does not condone or encourage storm chasing by students,” according to the school’s official policy. “Storm chasing is not part of the School of Meteorology course curriculum nor should such activities take precedence over … coursework and attending classes and seminars.”

There are two types of chasers, Thompson said as the first peals of thunder rolled out.

The first type do it for science. They seek to gather data that will further scientific understanding of which storms produce tornadoes and why.

Those who get close enough to a developing tornado with the necessary scientific tools have a shot at what chasers call “ground truth” — information provided by direct observation and situational awareness. 

“Any type of point observations like that,” said Dylan Reif, OU meteorology doctoral student, “especially when shared with the (National) Weather Service in real time, are very helpful.” The Weather Service can use such reports to issue weather warnings. 

The second type of chasers do it as a hobby. They are lured into chasing by its extreme appearance.

“A lot of people will get in over their heads,” Thompson said as the Civic approached Holdenville. “They’ll see something on the news and be like, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a tornado today, I don’t know anything about weather but it would be cool to see one’.”

That puts a bad reputation on more experienced chasers, Thompson said. “Some of them drive carelessly and even spread fake storm reports.”

The presence of rogue, sensationalist chasers is not a new phenomenon. The U.S. Code has a whole section on false weather reports, making them a federal offense punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment of up to 90 days.  

Such behavior can be extremely dangerous, especially if the chasers are not trained in reading weather models and radar. They are not only putting themselves at risk but also everyone around them.

Thompson knew how to read those models. As he drove, he kept zooming the map in and out, drawing circles around purple and red pixels and deciding on an optimal route to get ahead of the storm.

Reportedly, the most dangerous part of storm chasing is not the weather. It’s driving.

There are 15 recorded fatalities in the history of storm chasing, according to a thread from Stormtrack.org. Only three of them are believed to have been caused by weather and not human behavior. 

Thompson reached Holdenville after sunset, but before it got hit by a storm. He parked his car in an empty church parking lot and waited.

Several minutes later, the Civic was rain-wrapped. The wind was so strong that it looked as if the water was flowing not from top to bottom, but from right to left. 

Then the whole parking lot was lit up by an unnaturally blue flare. 

“Power is out,” Thompson yelled.

Although the rain was strong enough to muffle the screams of police sirens, their flashes could be seen disappearing in the direction of the exploded power lines.

Then everything went quiet. The storm had moved on.

Thompson tried to check for more storms in the area, but cell service had dropped out. He pulled the car out of the parking lot and darted after the police cars.

At the nearest intersection, Thompson had to avoid driving into big pieces of wood scattered across the road. They used to be the power pole that he saw exploding.


Academia that chased first

Storm chasing is not all about sporadic driving in search of thrills and chills. Its fundamental purpose has always been science. 

OU School of Meteorology has approximately 250 undergraduate and 85 graduate students, making the school the largest meteorology program in the nation, according to the OU School of Meteorology website.

“The University of Oklahoma is the number one school in the nation for meteorology,” Thompson said. “Both National Weather Service and National Weather Center are here, too.”

Michael Biggerstaff, one of the more experienced professors at the OU School of Meteorology, is also the director of the Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radar program — a collaboration between OU and the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

“Storm chasing … envisions people crowding in a car, chasing after storms and potentially driving through hail and floods to get a glimpse of a tornado,” Biggerstaff said. “That’s not really what I do.”

He calls his field work “storm intercepts” because it implies that his team really knows what is going on.

“We’re trying to get the instrumentation out in a field ahead of the storm and allow it to come over our area, so we can collect the measurements that we need to test scientific hypotheses on how tornadoes are formed.”

Biggerstaff recalls that the first time he got involved with storm chasing must have been during his first graduate student field campaign, around 1985. Back then, the radars they used were deployed and stayed put. 

“We didn’t really go moving around trying to find (storms),” Biggerstaff said. “We just set up a network of observing systems and let the storms come to us.”

While working at Texas A&M, where they had a 10-cm Dopler radar on top of the meteorology building, Biggerstaff again had to wait for the storms to come to him. 

“It’s so frustrating, you see storms at the distance and think, all right, come on,” Biggerstaff said. But most of those storms would die or move in other directions. 

The frustration drove Biggerstaff to consider the need for mobile radars — the need to go after the storms. 

In 1997, OU, National Severe Storms Laboratory, Texas A&M and Texas Tech jointly turned two decommissioned 1974 weather surveillance radars into mobile weather radars designed “for storm-scale research and to enhance graduate and undergraduate education in radar meteorology,” according to the project report written by Biggerstaff. 

It took years to build the first SMART radar. Its first deployment was in 2001, for a NASA project studying tropical thunderstorms in the Florida Keys. 

The team wound up deploying their radar to collect 12 hours of continuous coverage during the landfall of Tropical Storm Gabrielle on Sept. 14, 2001, according to the report. 

With this type of C-band weather radars, Biggerstaff said, researches study not only tornadoes and hurricanes but also lightning and other severe weather. 

Despite the apparent contrast in expertise, Biggerstaff and Thompson have similar takes on unethical storm chasing. 

Biggestaff said that while out chasing on a federally-funded research project he once had to slam his brakes when an armada of chasers ignored a stop sign on a side road intersecting his highway. 

“I’m in a $2-million vehicle that will take me six or seven years to rebuild,” Biggerstaff said, “and they are not thinking about that — they just see a tornadic storm and trying to get to it.”

He added that researchers like him spend considerable amounts of taxpayers’ money and years of planning to do their work.

“With modern technology, if you are finding that you have to break the rules of the road to try to get in position, you are a terrible forecaster, flat out.” 

Data sets are available online in real time, which gives anyone enough time to find storms in their area and get in the best position for observation and data collection in advance, without a need to act illegally. 

“With 146 tornadoes confirmed (as of Oct. 30), 2019 holds the record for the most Oklahoma tornadoes in a year,” according to the official NWC Norman tweet.

“There are plenty of other storms out there,” Biggerstaff said. “Why risk your life for one of them?”

Future of storm chasing

As weather patterns continue to shift due to climate change, the need for storm chasing will increase. Chasing, being a relatively young industry, will keep evolving and transforming.

“We can’t really control how powerful the weather’s going to get down the road, but hopefully we can (control) how much time we give people to prepare,” Thompson said.

Biggerstaff said that social media will play a crucial role in the development of storm chasing. In fact, they already do. 

Many chasers stream their observations live or make recordings to share later. Regardless of their motivations, they essentially provide valuable ground truth insights to the community for free.

However, other chasers attempt to capitalize on their adventures. 

In Thompson’s opinion, the most viable way to monetize your chasing is to sell the footage to media brokers, who charge a percentage to deliver your videos and data to news sources. 

He plans to continue chasing after college, but his main job, he said, will be forecasting severe weather outbreaks at the Storm Prediction Center. Alternatively, he considers working for the Weather Service as a warning coordination meteorologist.

“It’s hard to make (chasing) a full-time job,” Thompson said.

“It can be done; it’s been done, but the market is already (getting saturated,)” Biggerstaff said.

Apart from news features,TV shows and documentaries about chasing, the industry has seen a rise in commercial tornado chasing tours. 

Stormchasing.com, for instance, offers six-day “storm chasing adventure tours” for $2,200. Their June 7 – 12, 2020, trip based out of Denver is already sold out. 

No information about governmental regulation or certification of storm chasing tours was found on stormchasing.com. 

“The benefit of those is that it reduces the number of (chasing) cars on the road,” Reif said. “Plus, the drivers of those vans are usually the more experienced chasers.”

The public enjoys being in the heat of the moment, Biggerstaff said. Tornadoes are dangerous and frightful, yet they are mesmerizing and newsworthy.

Although the money to be made off tornadoes is limited, its “scientific value never ends,” Biggerstaff said. Even six months after the tornadic event, meteorologists will be able to use the gathered materials for research. 

Biggerstaff said he hopes as social media continue to grow more chasers will make their videos of tornadoes available to the scientific community by putting them on social media for free.

In addition to making social media possible in the first place, technology may soon have another unintended consequence on the storm chasing community.

“Insurance companies and storm chasers usually aren’t the best of friends,” Thompson said.

Many chasers do not think twice before heading their vehicles into devastating storms. They  take pride in hail dents on their car. 

They will see it as a trophy, a story to tell to others.

As of now, you can storm chase without the insurance industry knowing about it, unless you drive recklessly, Biggerstaff said.

“I suspect that it won’t be too many more years before the insurance industry lobbies the Congress to pass laws making it a requirement that all cars have monitors that report (the speed) and GPS location,” he said.

But developing technologies will make chasers’ lives easier, too.

“I think in the future you’re going to see maybe an opportunity there for people who are pilots of unmanned aircraft,” Biggerstaff said. He predicts that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will gradually relax its policies enforcing and limiting the commercial use of drones.

“Drone usage … can give us a perspective on tornadoes that we usually don’t see,” Reif said. He also said that some research drones are already used in investigations of meteorological phenomena. 

In spring 2019, the Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells (TORUS) field project studied temperature and wind profiles ahead of storms. The project is an ongoing partnership between OU, CU Boulder, Texas Tech, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Severe Storms Laboratory, according to the CU Boulder webpage.

“Drones are a critical component of the project because they sense data from inside the storm,” according to the webpage. In this way, the scientists gain access to regions of the storm that are too dangerous for people.

As a result, we are now able to see and analyze more storms than ever.

“Storm chasing will never go away because people are so excited about the opportunity to see Mother Nature, particularly the powerful aspects of (it,)” Biggerstaff said.

Chasing a passion: How to turn your hobby into business

By Vlad Alforov

The edifice across the street from the Norman Fire Department could barely fit a couple fire trucks.The building’s true history is unclear. Some say it used to be a bank while others claim it hosted many different auto repair shops, a wood working place or a machine shop.

 

The rumors are evidenced by the great length of supply cables and the beam structures throughout the building.

 

Now, the property welcomes its visitors with a candid timbered sign that reads “Lazy Circles Brewing.”

 

Even before you walk in you start wondering whose idea it was to make a craft beer business of this size in this part of the country.

 

Backyard roots

 

It started as a Sunday activity. Play pool, make beer, drink beer, eat pasta. Just a family thing.

“Let’s just say we didn’t sell any beer and it was within the legal requirements set out by the ABLE commission,” said Stephen Swanson, Lazy Circles’ tap room manager.

Swanson is well-set, thick-bearded and short-spoken, until you touch upon topics close to his heart.

“Bicycles were a passion for me long before I drank beer,” said Swanson. “I’ve always found freedom and joy in riding a bike.”

 

Before bikes, there was cooking, said Swanson. After the college dropout’s first professional passion — becoming a famous chef — faded, Swanson went back to school.

“I figured I would get a business degree and get a job that could afford what I wanted to do: ride bikes, travel, drink good beer and have a comfortable life,” said Swanson. That job, he said, offered everything he wanted, and so he dropped out of college again.

 

At the time, Swanson was single, but shortly after accepting a job at the bike shop he met his future wife, Holly. Her brother, Stephen Basey, was retiring after 20 years at the U.S. Navy.

“The three of us decided it was good time to build something for the future,” said Swanson. The rest of the family supported with money and otherwise.

 

Swanson said that he and his sister come from a large family “with lots of brothers [who] all drink craft beer.” He added that one of his brothers brewed beer before he “ever decided to try it out.”

 

The future brewery was starting off at Basey’s garage, said Swanson. “At the time, he had a bigger house, a pool table, and a pasta roller.” 

 

And then people started asking whether they can buy some beer for their backyard gathering, their wedding up in Tulsa, someone’s graduation party.

 

Perfect Time

“We brewed together at home, for years before opening, starting off very small,” said Stephen Basey, head brewer at Lazy Circles Brewing. “Then we were cranking out quite a bit of beer. And we got good at it.”

 

Basey, a tall, jaunty man, inquires about your beer preference before you have time to introduce yourself. He smiles and moves a tad too confidently for a guy who runs a brewery with his sister and brother-in-law.

 

“At first it was like, hey, let’s brew 10 gallons of beer. You get a keg and I get a keg,” said Swanson.  “And so, we got to a point where we could consistently keep two kegs of beer on tap, 10 gallons at a time in our house. From there, it kinda snowballs.”

 

In November 2017, Basey and the Swansons thought, “Hey, maybe we can take this to market.”

 

At that time, there was only one brewery in Norman. It seemed like the perfect time.

 

That first brewery is 405 Brewing. Swanson knew its owners, Trae Carson and Jonathan Stapleton, long before they opened.

“We had a lot of help from Trae and Jonathan,” said Swanson.” Actually, we get even more help from them now that we’re open.”

 

One of the great things about the craft beer industry, according to Swanson, is breweries helping each other out. He said that Lazy Circles and 405 Brewing try to market their businesses together and offer different products to avoid direct competition.

 

“It’s a super friendly market,” Swanson remarked. “I could walk into any brewery in Norman or Oklahoma City and talk to somebody in their production facility and they’d give me more information than I care to have, and then they’ll probably give me like two four-packs of beer. It’s just a really interesting industry.”

 

The timing was also perfect because a year before Lazy Circles Brewing opened, breweries around the state could only sell their beer to distributors. But as Oklahoma was becoming more craft beer friendly, the legislature allowed for tap rooms to serve their own brew.

 

Swanson said he believes that the fun of craft beer is in the experience of going to a tap room. “It’s in occasionally meeting and talking to the owners, to the people who made the beer you drink,” backed up Basey, looking around the wooden-paneled front room of the brewery.

 

“There is nothing more American than a small business. Dudes or gals, following their passion, just workin’ and makin’ somethin’ they’re really into. What’s better than that, right?”

 

Swanson just came back from distributing their canned beers around the retailers. Basey stayed back at the facility, checking on the fermenters, discussing the upcoming supplies with their business partners.

 

Stephens recalled how years back, in their garage, they would look at four chilling, fermenting kegs and ask each other, “Alright, what are we brewing next?”

 

“It’s the same exact process now, except we are looking at probably 30-40 kegs,” said Swanson. “We probably need to get some kind of real business person involved to tell us how to actually do it.”

 

“It’s not that far off from where we started,” added Basey, and the brothers-in-law laughed wholeheartedly. Neither of the two would ever listen to any big business people telling them how to conduct their business.

 

They managed to render their lifestyle profitable.

 

“We’re not super unique in what we do,” agreed the Lazy Circles owners.

 

Anywhere you go, you can now find a small neighborhood brewery with darkling stouts, staple IPAs and daring sour ales. But the beauty of it is in finding different takes on the same beer in brewery after brewery after brewery, sum up the brothers-in-law.

 

You don’t travel around to just go to liquor stores.

 

Stronger community — better business

 

Over 20 tout, frisky individuals were stretching outside the Lazy Circles’ inconspicuous two-story brick box at the eastern end of Norman’s Main Street. The rally appeared surprisingly energetic for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. 

 

There were people of all stripes: college kids, oldsters, parents with children in jogging strollers.

 

On that day, they were united there by the two hobbies shared among the crowd — running and drinking beer.

 

Kevin Kuruc, who joined the Thursday run, said he believes that such events “are hugely helpful.” Kuruc has recently moved to Norman from Austin, to work as an assistant professor at the OU economics department.

 

It’s much easier to start talking to people when you’re there for a common experience,” Kuruc said. “It’s a great catalyst to start a conversation.”

 

Currently, Lazy Circles Brewing comprises of a laid-back tap room that’s open every day and an actual brewery with tanks, mills and filters in the back of the building. Additionally, the brewery hosts and endorses various special events, including the Lazy Runners Brew Crew run — a joint initiative with OK Runner.

 

A 3-mile race starts and ends at the brewery, with every finisher receiving a complimentary beer.

 

“We got a bunch of people here who like to run and drink beer,” explained Swanson. Basey nodded confirmatively, working his way through a lunch box of pasta.

 

The Lazy Circles brewers have not given up on their other passions as well, including biking.

 

“The idea was always to be a brewery that was heavily marketed towards cyclists, runners, people who kayak, go canoeing, hiking, camping — that sort of lifestyle we wanted to go after,” Swanson revealed stoutly, “because that’s what we were into.”

 

On Wednesdays, the brewery collaborates with Fusion Fitness and Buchanan Bicycles for a “beer and bike ride.”

 

Fusion Fitness and Lazy Circles Brewing pair up for “stretch ‘n sip beer yoga” sessions, too.

 

Such relationships between local businesses extend far beyond occasional cooperation. The Norman leisure scene, when explored more in-depth, presents itself with an all-embracing sense of reciprocity that reigns over the town.

 

The brewery owners said they are “real big into raising money for certain charities.” They had contributed to Food and Shelter as well as Bethesda, a Norman-based charity that provides care for those with childhood sexual abuse trauma.

 

“If you’re just here to make money, then you’re just another giant corporation,” said Swanson.

 

Eventually, Norman begins to resemble a single organism, where each building and business is an integral part of the whole.

 

Swanson acknowledged, “There is certain expectation for small business to be community-oriented.”

 

However, he said at Lazy Circles they also believe in business serving a purpose beyond making money. “People … support small business when they feel like that business is doing something more than just taking in profit.”

 

Swanson said he thinks that giving back to the community by helping local charities and investing in own hobbies, be it sports or beer drinking, is the way to raise the overall quality of social and communal life.

 

“If you like to drink good beer [and] you can support someone you know at the same time, that makes you feel better as a consumer,” Swanson said. “And as a business owner, it makes you feel better knowing that you can help give back to people who give to you.”

 

By Vlad Alforov

Fusing passion with vocation: Q&A with Josie Logsdon

By Vlad Alforov

Talking to Josie Logsdon, 21-year-old OU journalism senior, one can quickly identify her strongest suits.

Arizona native’s high professional aspirations are apparent when she talks about her major. Logsdon tries to remain serious when mentioning journalism, but her excitement is showing.

Her other side comes out when Logsdon shares her deep fascination with Hispanic culture. Latin America and Spanish language have popped up in every conversation I had with her so far.

This time, I decided to focus on it.

As Logsdon approaches college graduation, she ponders whether her two passions can go together, and whether it’s worth it.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Do you have Hispanic background? No, my dad used to live in Guadalajara, Mexico. He studied there. When I was growing up and learning Spanish, we would go to Mexico all the time. As I learnt … I fell in love with it more and more.

How did learning Spanish influence you? They say, when you learn a new language you learn a new part of yourself. People say I am a bitch in Spanish. I dance a lot more to Spanish music. I am a lot more outgoing when I speak Spanish. I wouldn’t start a conversation with a McDonald’s worker, but if I am at the taco truck, I’ll talk them up until the person behind me in line gets annoyed. It is a different part of yourself, and it’s like you’ve learnt this new part of the world and … by learning that language you’re kind of accepted into that.

Do you feel ready to challenge yourself even further? I always wanted to put Spanish and journalism together. I also started learning Italian and Portuguese, but it never connected with me as much. I lived in Chile for six months, and there I was able to combine Spanish and journalism, and really see how corrupt the journalism systems are in Latin America. In Chile, if you find something wrong with the president and you report on it, you’ll get shot. If there’s something wrong with the government, your newspaper probably won’t let you report it.

Will you be combining Spanish and journalism in the future? How? What I would love to do is work for an American newspaper but in Latin America, so I am protected by the US, because I have a lot more faith in American journalism. There is a newspaper in Juarez that had to shut down because all their reporters got shot. There is a reason these people are being targeted. [They] are exposing truth that people don’t want to be exposed.

Is it going to stop you? I hope not. What scares me is that violence will stop journalism from happening. There’s gotta be a way to change that. I want to help change that. I can’t do it by myself.

What is a journalist’s role in all of this? Expose truth and people can decide.

Who will be your primary audience? It would start with the local, but if America knew more, they would be able to push more [change]. So, it’s both.

Can you do journalism remotely? You have to be there. You have to talk to people. It’s scary, and it scares me to think about it, and whether I will … I don’t know.

Why take the risk? Because if you can break one story, that can affect a lot of people. It’s worth it. It is risky. But there is more good to be done, there is a need for it. And fulfilling that need, I think, is more important. But … I’d have to be guaranteed protection. If my life was taken, there would need to be justice for it. Without that, I don’t know how easily I would go.

By Vlad Alforov

Interview has been condensed and edited                                                                          

Hot flashes, cold flashes

Vlad Alforov

The sixth deck dining room was nearly empty as I watched the sunset through the window. The sea was calm, and the last warm rays of sunlight reflected from the water right into my chest. My tea was getting cold.

I could not look at the sea for too long though, for it made me indifferent to what was happening on land. I had no clue what presidents, kings and dictators had died or elected themselves over the past four months. I did not know who topped the Premier League. I was not even sure what day of the week it was, what time zone I was in and which season reigned over which hemisphere. The sun was disappearing below the horizon and I felt grouchy.

As I sat, my calm was beginning to mature into a new storm, but the unrest had settled long before. For the past few years, I had moved around relentlessly. Each place I visited left a mark. But since every experience was strikingly different, I struggled to piece together the whole picture of my adventures and learn anything from them. I was confused about the order, importance and reasons for my flouncing.

All I knew was that my wanderings had slit the world askew along its seams, and I felt guilty. All I knew was that the Gold Coast of Africa was somewhere over the portside. My tea was cold. The sun was setting, and time had lost its linearity.

The tea felt as cold as that New Year’s Eve spent on the Houston-bound Greyhound during the winter break of my freshman year. There, I caught a flight to Auckland, where they drive and crash on the left side of the road.

Four months before, the Great Plains welcomed me with the August heat and oppressive humidity, and I felt perplexed: I was no cattle driver, read no Bible, took no interest in collegiate sports or the energy sector. For the first time, I identified myself as a European city boy with an odd accent and no driver’s license. Moving to Oklahoma for university made me feel like a fish out of water, and only a semester later I ran away across the world, even if for a couple weeks.

My Greyhound New Year wish was to stop running away when things get out of hand, to acknowledge that problems may lie within me, not the surroundings. I was tired of getting hot and cold.

After a year in the Great Plains, I flew across the ocean, to catch my breath. Home was just as flat, but its reputation of Europe’s breadbasket suggested that its plains were much more fertile. I was taught that if you plant a seed in that soil, something will grow. You just have to stay put and hope what sprouts is what was expected.

The people of those plains have stayed put for far too long and have reaped mostly poor harvest. They grew tough and distrustful in their effort to lighten the blow when it comes. “And it will come, so you better be tight when it does,” they all said assertively, as soon as I landed in Kyiv. I saw how with each word, sharp as a blade, they kept hewing one another, trying to amass as much as they can in a lifetime. I felt cold again.

Regardless, home meant familiarity and comfort. I could be who I am without fear of being misunderstood or having misunderstood something. Besides, I could work my way around without a map and a dictionary.

Yet, home also meant bad news. Although everything looked familiar, I could sense the change. As friends were updating me on old corruption scandals, infrastructure issues and personal regresses, I could not stop questioning everything. “How come the roads are so bad?” “Where are the street lights?” “Is this what you call service?” I tried to quit comparing everything to the Land of Opportunity, and failed repeatedly. On the way back to Oklahoma in late August, I recalled why I had left home in the first place: to escape prostration, collapse, despair and … linearity.

The next school year swept by. My mind raced between academics, road trips, constant inclement weather outside and within and a sudden desire to move again — through Boston, through Paris, shuddered, shaken and abashed for another desertion.

But this time home felt even more distant and strange, almost as anywhere else. What I was used to call home was slowly, slyly transforming into my parents’ house. I recalled leaving for a boarding school in Transcaucasia, four years before. Is that when everything went astray? Is that what broke my linearity? Do I even want it back? If the sole reason for leaving home was to avoid mundane affairs, then, I have no right to complain about becoming a nomad. Perhaps, I must embrace it.

Instead of returning for my third year at the university, I flew to Hamburg, embarked on a ship and sent the whole world order to hell. What followed was yet another series of hot and cold flashes.

Hot. I peeked from behind the Jamestown lighthouse, in Accra, spying on the township’s youth. This lighthouse had been magnetizing British vessels for centuries. They would come here to barter for tribal war captives, enslave them and ship across the ocean. Now, barefoot children invited me to play beach football. I plunged my feet in heated sand and felt warm for the first time since I sat on the curbside in Aotearoa, spitting glass on the grass, recovering from a car crash.

Hot, but maybe cold. I was in Jaipur, climbing the café’s flimsy staircase across the road from the Palace of the Winds. I peered down on the busy street, where endless people, animals, rickshaws and food stalls produced that whirl of dirt and chaos that many travelers discover in this country. I felt morose and out of place, again. But as I kept observing, I became mesmerized. The whole street presented itself as one continuous, animated organism. It breathed, flapped and vibrated. Its generous perfume and manifold voice sneaked under my skin. The palace disappeared in the dusk, and I wondered whether it was built for a wife, a child, a god or in celebration of linearity.

Cold. I was in postcolonial Yangon, learning about my grandma’s passing. I recalled seeing her for the last time, before leaving for Hamburg, and it seemed so long ago. I recalled in one of our last conversations she mentioned she believed in God out of habit. I thought about paying my respect by putting a candle in her memory at the nearest church. I did not find any churches and had to climb Shwedagon, the highest pagoda in the vicinity. The air on the stupa’s terrace was neither hot nor cold that night, and I felt calm, albeit a little shaky. I figured, if there is a god it must be the one my grandma believed in. Meanwhile, dozens of candle flames fused into one, illuminating a quiet Buddha that sat across from the candelabrum.

When did this happen? Where?

Grandma’s gravestone suggests last November. But I have not seen the gravestone, and there is no other proof of what I remember to be true.

As soon as the sixth deck dining room window refracted the sunrays into my chest, I realized that the Greyhound wish has finally come true, for I was no longer running away. I felt ready to keep moving forward, backward and sideways, adamantly welcoming any weather, every crash, all returns, each palace and place of worship. Most importantly, I sought to embrace every sunset, no matter what land it falls upon.

The order, after all, does not matter. All reasons for travelling are equally valid, as long as you are not running away from but moving toward your goals. And the importance of your experiences lies within their power to produce more. Suddenly, I was curious about what adventure would come next.

The sway of the ship brought me back to present. The sun was down and the tea had cooled beyond hope. But things always get out of hand. So what?

Story behind DailyChatter – Interview with Philip S. Balboni

Some say that good morning starts with coffee, but mine begins with news. I open my eyes, yawn and reach for the phone to turn off the alarm. I then check my email, for there is always a concise summary of what is going on around the world.

In fall 2017, an email from our Gaylord College encouraged me to subscribe for DailyChatter, a free international daily newsletter, and I went along with it. After all, I felt like moving to the States had somewhat detached me from global news.

Next morning, I received an email with a brief account of the most important news of the day, which only took me five minutes to read through. The morning after, I received another one, and then one more, until it became a habit.

Each DailyChatter newsletter comprises of one “need to know” piece of news and three “want to know” pieces, with each one focusing on a recent development in a certain country. Newsletters also include a “discovery” section that overviews new scientific findings.

The newsletter is sent every week day, leaving Saturday and Sunday for independent news browsing.

Thursday, almost two years after I had started receiving my DailyChatter, I reached out to Philip S. Balboni, its CEO and co-executive editor.  Much to my surprise, he agreed to discuss the story behind DailyChatter with me.

Over a phone call, I talked with Mr. Balboni about how his background in journalism, how it gave rise to DailyChatter and what is the newsletter’s main goal.

Balboni’s path to a remarkable career in broadcast, cable and print journalism started when he, willfully, had been deployed to Vietnam after finishing college.“The seed [for DailyChatter] was planted in Vietnam, in 1965,” he said.

Balboni also said that after Vietnam he did not know what to do, and so he “packed up and went to Paris to become a journalist.” His master’s degree at the Sorbonne led him to begin as a general assignment reporter for The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

However, Balboni shared that his dream always was to be a foreign correspondent.

In 1992, he created New England Cable News (NECN), “the nation’s largest and most honored regional news network with more than 3.7 million subscribers in the six-state region,” according to the DailyChatter website. Balboni led the network for 16 years.

In 2008, Balboni raised money to start GlobalPost, one of the first online U.S. digital journalism companies with a focus on international news.

GlobalPost had a daily newsletter called “Chatter”, and when in 2015 Balboni sold the company, “Chatter” grew into an independent project.

In 2017, DailyChatter launched a university initiative, granting free access for college students. Peculiarly, University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College was the first institution to join the initiative.

Balboni said that Gaylord College Dean Ed Kelley is his old friend. He also said that as of now, 70 universities are participating in the program.

Balboni said that 15,000 people have signed up for the newsletter since its start in March 2016, and that a third of the subscribers are university students and faculty.

When asked about DailyChatter goals, Philip Balboni remarked that Americans do not read enough on global news. “Some of these people are probably hopeless,” he said. He believes that this is because what is happening abroad “doesn’t affect most families.”

“But there are people who are interested in the world affairs,” said Balboni. His passion for helping others to understand the world is exactly what drives DailyChatter, with Philip Balboni being its heart and engine.

The DailyChatter team operates all over the world: Its managing editor is in Paris, news editor — in Berlin, senior editors and Balboni — in Boston, with the copy editors working from Washington, DC. These people, Balboni said, are “the editorial thrust” of the publication.

Together they select the stories from various sources, research and refine the content “so that it walks smoothly”, said the newsletter’s CEO. The choice of sources, according to him, is a wide assortment of local, regional and national news outlets, which introduces Americans to a rich and varied list of foreign publications.

The key to sustaining excellent quality of the work process is in product renovation, said Balboni. DailyChater constantly introduces subtle feature improvements, including a new logo, font and font size.

The team also produces audio versions of the newsletter and works on the newsletter podcast. They plan to introduce an app and a sign-up-by-text option in the near future to attract wider college audience.

Balboni suggested that people are so overwhelmed about their lives that it leaves little space to follow the news. He said he wanted to present them with something they could consume easily, with no ads.

Besides, DailyChatter strives to remain non-partisan and to produce impartial content that covers as many countries as possible. Last year, the newsletter included news on 134 countries, with this year’s count already reaching 120.

An outstanding team with great experience and journalism ethics, according to Balboni, is the best way to achieve objective reporting. He said that he trains his staff to be guided by the DailyChatter mission, which is “to help people know the world better” and remain “completely independent of all other media.”

Balboni said that he goes through the readers’ reactions and feedback himself. He reported receiving “lots of wonderful messaging from people.”

However, there are also “sharp eyes”, he said. “Some people notice what’s not right, and we always publish the corrections next day.” He recalled a Columbia University student from Botswana that reached out complaining about how her country was represented in the newsletter.

Balboni said the student “sounded almost angry, not nice, but came out apologizing at the end of the conversation.”

The DailyChatter CEO shared his philosophy for dealing with such situations: If you plan to treat your reader with respect and kindness, care to respond to each piece of feedback, whether positive or otherwise, since such instances of direct contact with the audience define the publication.

When I asked Balboni how he managed to envision and execute new forms of journalism while securing financial results, he answered that “there is no trick to it, you just have to be willing to adapt and make changes.”

The founder of NECN and GlobalPost underscored that “nothing is static” and that everything has to evolve. He said he believes that media success lies in fresh sources and secure funding.

“The future of journalism is not hopeless, but not good,” he said. “Journalism is terribly important and people start to realize that.”

Balboni added that the consumer must choose to consume news and pay for it. That is why he chose the subscription business model for his DailyChatter.

The newsletter comes for a price of $20 a year.

Lastly, the founder of Daily Chatter offered his advice to aspiring journalists: Be well-informed; Learn how media is structured; learn how it affects the reader; learn who controls it because it is always better to be in control.