(hit 4,000 miles on my way to Kansas)
I have to admit, driving 7 hours from Denver to Salina, Kansas to visit with my friend Angie’s mom, I was expecting some level of Oz experience. I mean, who wouldn’t? Throw me a little tornado, an old lady on a bike, maybe Toto running along the highway, a hot air balloon festival. Am I going to meet a lot of Dorothys? But I got nuthin’. I passed this harvested grain field (just like the song “Wichita and the wheat fields of Kansas”), and saw a dust whirlwind so I guess I’ll have to take it or leave it. The closest I came to the wizard was seeing the Tin Man on a big billboard advertising the Oz Museum at exit 328 in Wamego.
Just an aside … heard this country song on the radio that I had to mention. (Sometimes I lapse into a trance driving such long distances and leave it on). Who knows what imbecile wrote this piece of nonsense but it was about this man buying into all the new technology, getting an HDTV with 500 channels and a cell phone even though he “doesn’t have much to say.” Now if he doesn’t have much to say, why the hell did I have to hear a song about his recent high-tech purchases? Seriously people. How does this get produced and played on the radio when there are real artists out there that can’t get signed to a record label?
Along Interstate 40, I saw a plethora of disturbing signage. I won’t get into the anti-abortion messages because they were just too overwhelming. But my favorite was the 5-legged cow at exit 70 in Oakley, Kansas. This guy Larry Farmer has a regular freak show of wildlife. I guess the old saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” Is that old if it’s only from “Field of Dreams” which was released in 1989? I think so, because on the radio the other day, they played the Fat Albert theme song and said, “If you know what this song is from, then you’re listening to the right oldies station.” I was like, “WHAT?!”
Arriving in Salina, I had my directions on a post-it note and was glancing down to follow them when I noticed the lights. Yup, pulled over again. But this time, I was innocent. The cop said I was doing 48 in a 35. Now way in hell was I going that fast on what reminded me of Route 6 back home: absolute chaos with folks coming out of store parking lots at every turn. He was on crack but I didn’t tell him that. I just gave up my documents again and he went to his squad car. Or cruiser. Whatever the hell they call those things. I saw him in my rear-view mirror writing something up so I knew I wasn’t getting away with murder this time. He came to my window and handed me a ticket that said WARNING in big red letters up top. NO FREAKING WAY. I am the luckiest leadfoot around. And then he helped me with my poorly written directions and sent me on my way. He even said I could make an illegal u-turn to get back on the main road. Hilarious!
Found the place in no time and arrived to a happy hour with two fine ladies. Any home where happy hour starts at 4:30 is great in my book. It was even accompanied with a music recital from Miles, a percussion virtuoso who lived down the street (Angie’s nephew to be more specific). At the tender age of 7, he had already mastered something I could never even slightly learn when I dated a drummer in high school for 2 years. Dinner at Gutierrez was delish (had the pork chimichanga but no pic) and the tour of town was very nice. Showed me all the hot spots I’d hit the next day on my way out of town. My biggest jaw drop was this enormous church/school that was purchased by an architect for one dollar because the congregation could no longer afford the upkeep. And he was actually living in it. You could see the light on in a few windows. This had occurred years ago but he still hadn’t done anything with the place. Gosh. If I had that place, I’d find funding to open a youth center and potentially employ so many of the people in town who had lost jobs recently. It would be an awesome space for that. There are grounds, it’s already set up as a school. Ah to dream…
After a lovely night at home with a good, but slow, Netflix, I had the best sleep of my life. One word people: Tempurpedic. In the morning, I hit Salina with full force. First stop: Cozy Inn. This place looked identical to Nick’s Hamburger Shop in Brookings, SD but of course, I had to go inside to be sure. They had the same “Buy ‘em by the sac” tagline but the interior of this place was much more authentic. It might be due to the fact that it hadn’t changed hands as often and remained in its original location since 1922. Shane, the nice man behind the counter who made me my first Cozy slider at 10 a.m. told me a bit about its history. And when he asked me where I was from, he told me about his years in Baltimore in the service when him and his buddies ventured up to New York City to see what the big deal was. They literally did a drive-by in the car because they couldn’t imagine getting out. Again, too many people. He even added that he couldn’t imagine living where you have a few feet in between buildings. Understood. He was very sweet to give me some tips on the neighboring areas to visit like Little Sweden and to be sure to stop at a cemetery to see the tombstones that say things like, “Got shot in the back at a poker game” or “fell under the tractor, survived by his wife and kids.” Pretty literal in these parts. I wonder if you had to pay by the character back in those days. Probably not.
Downtown Salina was very good to me. Not only did I get some cool shots down by the railroad of some graffiti-laden train cars but I found this retro motel that had been abandoned and had some interesting lattice work.
The antique shops were amazing and I even bought a hoochie mama faux fur jacket at the Salvation Army. The art deco buildings in this town are superb. They are a must see if you’re ever in this neck of the woods. The Municipal Waterworks building was my favorite.
Radio highlights: “Private Eyes,” George Michael, “She Bop” (Cyndi Lauper), “Rod Stewart, Mary J. Blige.