This is from the Houma Lousiana newspaper
by Laura McKnight
Published: Friday, October 24, 2008 at 4:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 5:14 p.m.
I knew Kansas
was different the instant I walked off the airplane.
The airport was neat and clean and tidy and quiet on a Thursday night, giving me the overall impression of a nice-looking library. This atmosphere extended onto the Wichita roadways, which ran in neat square patterns and had nothing but trimmed grass lining them. No trash, no signs announcing bands or beer, no foolishness.
There were chain restaurants and stores and prairie grass.
I had found the heartland.
The journey into Real America
had been largely uneventful, but in case you’re wondering what kind of people fly to Wichita on a Thursday night, I’ve compiled a random survey:
A young goth woman with blue-black hair and pale skin, who might be Scottish because she spoke with a Scottish accent and wore a black jacket with the word “Scotland” emblazoned across the back. Also, she politely asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot tea instead of coffee.
A pale, blonde-haired man with a Midwestern
accent who spent the flight talking to the Scottish lady about health care and the joys and trials of life in a tiny village in Mexico.
A pony-tailed woman seated across the aisle from me who spoke to me just once to complain of the hydrogenated oil and fructose syrup contained in the mini pretzels issued by the flight attendant, to which I responded by smiling and nodding sympathetically, then gobbling down two bags of mini pretzels.
Overall, I found the state of Kansas a mix of surprising and unsurprising.
In McPherson, Kan., I found bierocks, a German sandwich that has nothing to do with beer, but includes ground-up beef, onions and cabbage cooked inside a round piece of bread shaped not unlike a doughnut. Pretty tasty.
Coronado Heights Park.
Outside Lindsborg, Kan., sit the remains of a Spanish castle built in the middle of the plains, named after an explorer named … Coronado.
Also in the middle of nowhere, sits Lindsborg, Kan., a little Swedish town.
Dalas. The little Swedish town is filled with statues of Scandinavian horses called “dalas” decorated in various themes with corny puns (which I enjoy), including my personal favorite, “Salvador Dala,” painted in a Salvador Dali theme.
The corn maze was shut down due to poor weather. I was ready to get muddy as well as lost, but no dice.
The salt mine is closed on Mondays, the day I planned to visit, so my underground travels were limited to peeking into someone’s basement. Who knew salt workers and barbers would choose the same day off?
This college town is shockingly cool. The place seemed like a clean version of New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street. Lots of hippies, dogs, tattoos, quirky bars, ethnic restaurants, bookstores and fun shops, including a coffee shop where I had chai tea homemade by some guy who makes all his own stuff and gives it to the coffee shop. It was delicious and I did not die, so a big thumbs up.
I thought we would be in McCain Country, but the places I visited seemed to be in Obama Land. I saw five Obama signs for every McCain sign, showing that the heartland, like the swampland, might be red on the map but could be more blue than you think.
Good gas stations.
Convenience stores impressed me with a wide selection of quality fruit cups, multiple types of taquitos and a dazzling array of hot, caffeinated beverages that included not just the usual Almond Amaretto Cappuccino, but oddities like Red Rooibos Tea Latte.
Getting a sunburn in Kansas in October.
A Cajun restaurant called Da’ Cajun Shack in Wichita that’s actually owned by a guy from Breaux Bridge.
An Irish bicyclist traveling through Kansas on his way from the East Coast to the West one. Apparently, Kansas is not just a fly-over or drive-through state, but a cycle-through state as well.
Delicious Swedish meatballs in Little Sweden.
People were friendly, but polite and reserved. They would chat with me, but there was none of the “Who’s ya mama and daddy?” or “What accent is that?” or “What are you doing here?”
Unrecognizable “Cajun” food. I found a Southern restaurant with chicken and crawfish gumbo on its menu. Some things just get lost in translation, like gumbo.
Frequent use of the phrases “settle down” and “simmer down.” These were often used whenever anyone threatened to get out of hand by dancing to a song on the car radio or joking loudly. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard these phrases here in south Louisiana, where “settling down” is generally not encouraged.
The so unsurprising that it’s surprising:
The one random lady who barged into a conversation between my friend and I wore a huge, floppy cloth hat patterned with sunflowers. Perfect.