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Physical State of Matt #7: KANSAS

Updated: Jun 12

It should tell you everything you need to know about Kansas that their tourism industry is centered around an 85-year old film that depicts the state as a place so dreary it's black and white. They're so proud of it.

(there's no place like home)

I have really been trying to recognize and enjoy each state’s unique beauty, but Kansas was a challenge. I could appreciate the straight-line minimalism of the expansive fields at first, but mile after mile of featureless landscape that smelled of cow shit wore on me after a while.

When driving for thousands of miles, you look for little ways to entertain yourself. One of my little joys is trying to catch the moment my phone switches to a new time zone when I cross into a new state. I checked and rechecked my phone as I crossed into Kansas, but it didn't change to Central Time.

(what the hell, Idaho?)

Call me ignorant, but I didn’t realize that thirteen states, including Kansas, straddle time zones! The time zones align with state borders in some places, but not in others. I mean, pick a lane. What if you live in one time zone, then drive a few miles to work in another time zone? It's just messy.

As I mulled the silliness of time zone borders, I was treated to a beautiful sunset and set my sights on Dodge City, several hours away. 

As day turned to night, the windmills that had become omnipresent since the landscape flattened out became red lights off in the distance. Based on my experience with night photography in Utah, I got the idea to see what kinds of pictures I could get of them in the dark. 

I drove a few miles off the highway and pulled off the road. I realized I’d never been that close to a modern windmill. It was 20-30 feet in diameter at the base and stood hundreds of feet tall. It gave off a cyclical growl that sounded like a sleeping mechanical dragon. 

The photos I got were more abstract than those from Utah, but I think they turned out pretty cool. 

Back in the car, I transitioned off the main highway onto a two-lane road around Oakley. It was getting late, but I really wanted to make it all the way to Dodge City before sleeping. I stopped by a few places to stay caffeinated and look for postcards. I juiced up successfully, but had no luck finding postcards. In fact, I had an incredibly hard time finding postcards anywhere in Kansas. It's like no one there has any interest in writing or reading.

I stopped to take a few more night pictures at an ethanol plant that looked imposing, lit up and steaming in the middle of nowhere. 

Sometime in the AM I finally rolled into Dodge City and crashed. In the morning I was planning to grab breakfast and explore the historic “old west” downtown plus a kitschy wax museum depicting famous outlaws. 

I found every restaurant and coffee shop I visited closed. I knew that I was approaching the Bible Belt, and it was a Sunday, but even Christians need coffee, right? The Gunfighters Wax Museum was closed, and the Boot Hill Museum was closed as well. What the hell was going on?

It then occurred to me that it was Easter Sunday and my options were going to be severely limited, so I got the hell out of Dodge.

(the Bible Belt)

I needed to stop for gas, so I pulled into a parking lot shared by a gas station and a grocery store. As I turned toward the gas station on my left, I heard a nasty crunching sound on my right. A car had failed to yield right of way in the parking lot and we had a slow motion collision, my front right fender rubbing against the other car’s driver door. 

The driver was 20 at most and she was totally freaked out. She’d never been in an accident before and had no idea what to do. Her car was a beat up relic from the 80s and her paint job just had a little scuff. My car, from 2015, had a bent fender and had popped every single plastic pin holding the right side of my bumper in place, leaving it hanging. 

She wasn’t concerned about the scuff on her car, and I figured the damage to my car couldn’t be much more than my deductible, so we exchanged numbers without a fuss. I popped my bumper back into place enough to hold it together for the final 80 miles. 

I finally arrived in Wichita and checked into my Airbnb which was a funky cinder block building that must have been some sort of office space in the past. The front of it had been painted in a cool and colorful way to catch the eye and make up for the lack of windows. 

Wichita was the saddest city I have seen in a while. Whatever vibrancy and bustle it might have once had is gone. Every house I drove by was in disrepair or at least needed a fresh coat of paint. Wide four-lane streets were practically deserted during rush hour. Even the Arkansas River, which flows through the middle of the city was so dry the riverbed was exposed in many places.

It turns out that there was a body shop just blocks from where I was staying, so Monday morning I dropped off Pie-Rogue-i and prepared for a long week without wheels. The body shop owner called me midday with a quote of $3,000 to do the work. Shocked, I googled the parts and found that a new fender and bumper were about $150 each. So I told the guy to pound sand and I retrieved the car. 

When I was out at a bar Sunday night I had asked someone about body shops and had been told to go to a place called Steven’s Auto Body if I didn’t want to get ripped off, so that’s where I went. The building my map led me to was totally nondescript, the front door was locked, and the windows were tinted. 

Confused, I walked around the perimeter of the building looking for signs of life. As I completed my circuit a grizzled old man called out to me. This was Steven. When I asked why he didn’t have a sign, he replied “I’ve been in business 33 years. I don’t need to advertise.” 

He gave my car a cursory glance and said “$750 cash”. I replied “Done”, shook his hand and turned over my keys. We exchanged contact info in his office which was home to a couple of cats and smelled intensely of cat urine. I breathed through my mouth, but my eyes were watering from the intensity of the ammonia.

The whole situation was kind of sketchy, but Steven seemed like one of those salt of the earth, no fucks given kind of guys. Something told me he’d do good work. 

Not having a car with which to explore Wichita was a bit of a bummer, but it’s a smaller city and I had my bike. That evening I headed out to grab dinner and I realized that I had left the key to my bike lock on the keychain I’d given to Steven, so if I wanted to go inside anywhere I ran the risk of getting my bike stolen.

I explored some, but not as much as if I’d had my car. I had several mediocre meals, but I did find Lotte, a great downtown restaurant, and Central Standard Brewing near me.

Steven had my car ready for pickup Thursday afternoon and sure enough, the work was great. One of his cats got out while he was showing me the car, and we had to chase it around the garage like the Keystone Cops. 

Friday afternoon I wandered out to a sports bar called The Anchor to watch the NCAAW semifinal games. The air was hazy and the sky was a muted orange. The light, coupled with the mostly deserted streets, gave off heavy post-apocalyptic vibes. 

Having lived in Southern California for years, I knew what this meant - wildfires. The air quality map in my weather app confirmed my suspicions.

There didn’t seem to be any cause for concern outside of breathing smoky air, so I carried on with my night as planned. I enjoyed my time at The Anchor watching Iowa and South Carolina clinch spots in the championship game. I then wrapped up my night at Mort’s Martini and Cigar Bar

As I drove south out of Wichita the next morning, heading for Oklahoma, the wind picked up. Dirt from dry fields mixed with smoke from the wildfires, creating a fine bouquet of yuck. 

Despite very low expectations for the Midwest, I really tried to give Kansas a fair shake. Maybe I would have enjoyed my time more if I'd gone to Salina instead, which had been my initial thought. But, as it worked out, Kansas was easily my least favorite state so far.

I had similarly low expectations for Oklahoma, so I crossed the state line with a sense of trepidation.

Yes, and...



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