Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Subterranean Bistro: Shales, Oil & Gas, and the Metro


 The sign outside and the racks of bottles – vin blanc et vin rouge – lying on their sides suggest that this is a wine bar, but in truth, I’ve never seen anyone drinking wine. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – it just means that it’s not generally what this crowd does at noon, the only time I’ve eaten here, except one time in the distant past – late 1990s – with a person I met in conjunction with a group of Azerbaijanis who were eager to learn the latest seismic techniques that would help them characterize the reservoirs lying beneath the Caspian Sea.

I remember a rather forgettable dinner meal.
Let’s be honest. Obviously I forgot the whole thing.

Lunch at the Metro is never forgettable. It’s a secret garden, an English or French country house with lovely windows, wooden floors, and flowers.

If Chef Gordon Ramsay of “Kitchen Nightmares” were to visit, I’m sure he’d find the fresh cut long-stem roses in vases and the intimate tables to be extravagant, even anachronistic.

Chef Ramsay would insist on “banquette seating” as a trendy, revitalizing touch. It would defeat the very essence of what I perceive The Metro to be about, which is intimacy and conversation. Yes, banquette seating will increase capacity by 40%, but at what cost?

I was disappointed during the last visit that the menu had changed. The Metro is not about change. It is about tradition. No longer present was “The Cellar” salad – I guess no one even knows what or where “The Cellar” restaurant was. It used to be downtown in the basement of the Hightower Building (coincidentally, where my dad had an office during the 1960s). I remember having lunch with him in 1971, right after Christmas. I was in the 7th grade in my first year at West Junior High, and I desperately wanted to have "cute" items to fit in. (I guess nothing changes with respect to wanting to be in the "cool" crowd -- it may be worse now than before ...)  At any rate, I had received $250 for Christmas, and I was eager to spend the money in after-Christmas sales at John A. Brown Department Store, the upscale department store located in downtown Oklahoma City, with, later, anchors at malls and even an elegant little store on Campus Corner at the University of Oklahoma.

You’d walk in and be greeted immediately by exotic and expensive perfumes – the only thing that comes even slightly close to is a duty-free store in the international terminals of large airports. I remember Estee Lauder, Givenchy, Dior, Chanel in the air at a John A. Brown store.

It was exciting beyond belief. I was 13 years old, in junior high, and eager to have a “fashion forward” presence. I would not be hostage to the upscale stores that catered to the youth – stores on Main Street, where the streets were still brick, and the buildings had elegant, bank-like facades. I could move beyond Sooner Tots ‘n’ Teens and Bonnie’s Dress Shop, and buy the brands I had read about in Seventeen magazine, and Glamour, which I purchased the instant they appeared on the magazine racks at the Safeway grocery store at the Hollywood Shopping Center.

I was also convinced that I could be a fashion designer, and perhaps even a model. I was much too short. However, my new doctor (not a pediatrician) had informed my mother that I had an underactive thyroid and that I should be around 5 ft 11 inches, maybe even a full 6 feet, not the 5 ft 6 inches I had achieved by age 13.

The fact that, at 13-1/2 years of age, I seemed nowhere near puberty was another indication of a basic endocrine malfunction, said the doctor, who later went on to specialize in endocrinology.

My mother, who, unbeknownst to my dad, could go almost an entire week in her bed, neck and head wrapped with old cloth diapers smeared with the eye-watering Ben-Gay ointment designed to assuage some sort of generalized pain (the agony of existence, I can to realize), was against my doing anything at all to restore my endocrine balance.

I could sense the deep-seated schadenfreude; the rivalry to best me, no matter what it took. She was 5 ft 8 inches. It was good that her daughter stalled out at something under that. She was, as it was absolutely self-evident, much more elegant and self-regulated. At 5ft 8 inches, 105 pounds, she evoked the sense of Jackie O or Twiggy – never her lumpen-proletariat daughter. It was like being Joan Crawford’s daughter. No coat-hanger, though. Just a wooden ruler.


The Metro’s heavy wooden and leaded glass doors do not rattle the building when they slam shut, which is something to respect, considering the life and times of Oklahoma City.


The memory of dinner at the metro is coming back – at least the surreal conversation – an executive of a local company telling me his marriage was failing because his wife had announced to him that she was no longer attracted to men, and all I could think of was how he must have driven her to it, or, more likely, the whole thing was a sad, self-serving prevarication…

Who really cares about attraction and its vagaries?  It’s all A Midsummer Night’s Dream to me. You don’t really have a choice in the matter … it’s just how / where when the pansy juice hits your eyes and who you first lay eyes on…

And what can I say? Intrusive thoughts of the summer I took a seminar on Shakespeare… I took my young son with me to Shakespeare in the Park. It was just a few miles north of the Metro. I believe those magical evenings in the park shaped his way of a thinking and viewing the world, but no one quite realized it at the time… I certainly was not conscious of it. Similarly, when I was that age, my dad would take me out to drilling wells, and let me look at the samples under black light, drop dropperfuls of toluene to see the oil “cut” and “stream” from the pore spaces. He would also let me drop dilute HCl on limestone to see it bubble and hear the sizzle like the old ZOTS candies the foamed and splattered in one’s mouth … the baking soda / vinegar sizzle being something I enjoyed.

The things you find in cuttings – always unexpected. Upon first glance they seem like gravel for a Barbie doll house, or the gravel you'd put on the bottom of a fish tank… most of it is gray because that’s the color of the fissile shales that fall into the well. They are called “cavings” and they are brittle. At that time no one really paid much attention to the shales. In the ground, they were source rocks and seals, which is to say tat they had oil content, but not enough maturation had taken place, and you could not really recover them.

When I became a geologist, I was enchanted by the shales… they seemed so filled with promise (also known as oil and gas … hydrocarbons… I was like everyone who saw them – for me they were Siren rocks – seductive and yet ultimately deadly. If you yielded to the temptation to set pipe, you’d find you’d invested your very lifeblood trying to perf, frac, acidize, and produce from a formation that would do little more than withhold the goods. If it gave up anything at all, you’d pay, boy, yes … you’d pay.

But why not pay a prince’s ransom for a dream? And the unwillingness to pay a price is the best way I can think of to make your dreams totally and permanently dry up. The mirage of vision can only be transformed into reality by means of risk and risk-taking. Is that how it is?