Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kansas, Topeka, Hooters

"Met a couple dudes at Hooters.  Told me Topeka sucks.  They were right."  Such is what Garret told me at the Topeka Hooters across the road from my hotel.  Hungry and tired after a long day on the road, I tried to buy a tall boy of Budweiser at the gas station and got rejected  It's Sunday in Kansas.  I checked into my hotel, Motel 6, and went out for dinner.  It was either Buffalo Wild Wings or Hooters.  I'm not big on wings and I'm not that wild either, and I'd never been to a Hooters before, so I figured, hell, it's Hooters or bust.  I placed my burger order and sat down at the bar to drink a beer while I waited.  That's when I met Garret and D, good guys and forklift operators.  

I'd always imagined that the waitresses at Hooters would be women, but they're not.  They're girls.  Fortunately for me, I was too tired to think too much about what it means to have your hamburger brought to you in a giant sack by a young woman wearing little orange butt shorts and flesh-colored tights.  Whatever.  I took my food back to my room.  The burger was tastier than expected (Garret told me they just started forming their own patties), and the thimble-sized side of potato salad, well, it was thimble-sized.  Kansas, on the other hand is huge: huge, colorful, Christian, and windy.  I lunched at this McDonald's in western Kansas.  (The girl who took my order was very interested in my Mighty Wallet.) 

Blogging from the road is no easy task, despite the amount of content that streams through your life at eighty-five, ninety miles an hour.  At noon you might think one thing, but then four o'clock rolls around and you think something else entirely.  Then night falls: your eyes turn into Jello, your brain stops working normally; velocity destroys whatever slick ideas you had.  Around lunch I'd thought I'd write something about how the best place to find the truth in small American towns is at the McDonald's.  When a town wants to show its (constructed) public face, it doesn't show it at the McDonald's.  (I doubt this town even has a constructed public face.)  At McDonald's you get more than french fries with your cheeseburger.  You get the most ordinary life of a particular place in the most ordinary setting.  You also get a repeated icon, but each time that icon, those golden arches, appears in a new setting, or a slightly new setting, the place where the uniformity of corporate franchise culture rubs shoulders with the identity of a landscape and its people.  There's truck parking at this McDonald's.  Anyway.  There was a lot more of Kansas to pass through before I the day was done.

As you move away from the western part of the state, away from the Rockies, and into central Kansas, the land actually starts to get hillier, not less hilly, and the reigning use of the land switches from enormous fields (of corn, wheat, hay) into smaller fields of corn, wheat, hay, until it eventually becomes too hilly for the giant irrigation machines to navigate, and then it's all pasture land and, at least along Interstate 70, huge wind farms.  This particular photo doesn't show how hilly and rugged parts of central and eastern Kansas really are, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Or you can just come out here and see for yourself.  Traveling back and forth across this country, I often wanted to stop and get a real feel for the land, for the people, but high speed doesn't permit this.  It's hard to transition from ninety m.p.h. to down on the farm, be it wind farm or corn farm, and when you've got a destination you want to make by night-fall, well, it's that much harder.  The sum total you end up learning about a place is that which you can put together from one or two quick conversations with a cashier, ten hours of commercial radio, and the eight million consecutive snippets of landscape that pass into your retinas and then onto the part of your brain where language and ideas occur, which is to say, you only learn a fraction of what there is to know about a place.  A fraction of knowledge, though, is better than none.  Knowledge is power.  Wind farms are power too.


Unami Queen said...

Question: when you said "Hooters or bust," was that deliberate? Just wondering...

jlula said...

Well said!

Jono Tosch said...

Unami Queen,

"Hooters or bust" was definitely an intentional pun.