Last week I was gone on a road trip to support a friend and member of the congregation I serve. It was quite a road trip. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts and observations:
On Thursday, we headed out in the afternoon to Kansas. In my travels accross Kansas and Missouri in the last several years. One of which is that Interstate 70 is the red light district of the Bible Belt.
Also, I thought a lot about the regionalism of the state of Kansas. Much of the west is flat, brown, and barren. There is a lot of space between towns out in that direction. It looks a lot like ranching country. And as you imagine the dustbowl in a day when only 10-20 percent of the people had cars (1930s), being dependent on this land can be a scary thing. Even as you are driving through, you can feel like you are in a lonesome place, and feel very vulnerable.
As we moved toward the center of Kansas, the view gets a little nicer. Rivers start becoming visible. The landscape turns from a barren, brown and flat to green, life filled, and lumpy. Although I am a man accustomed to mountains, lakes, and beaches, there is a certain beauty to Central Kansas. Christian Artist Rich Mullins speaks to this best when he sings his ode to Kansas called "The Color Green". Winter Wheat in the spring is a beautiful thing.
Most Kansans I have gotten to know have a reserved pride about them. This was evident as you looked around McPherson and saw people out working on their lawns, planting (or replanting) their flowers. Kansas culture is not showy generally, but it is full of good people. Much like the land they live in, they try to live their lives in a way that is earthy and simple, yet elegant and full of homespun beauty.
Another neat thing about Kansas is it is still a place where you can make a place for yourself with a little hard work and a generous portion of integrity. The people we stayed with had one of the most beautiful homes in the whole city of McPherson. Yet, they have very down to earth, blue-collar kinds of jobs. To have a home like this is Colorado Springs would require a lot more wealth than it would in Kansas.
Ken "Uncle Ken" Chapman was born and raised in McPherson. While we were there he shared a number of people, including him and his wife, bought the Opera House in McPherson so that it could be made a historical landmark and eventually restored. They bought it for a penny. Here it is:
Friday was a long day. We drove from McPherson, KS to Greenville, TX, packed Ken's daughter up so she could return home to Colorado, and then drove back through Oklahoma to McPherson again. We left at 8am and we returned at 2am. It was a long day in the car, punctuated by packing Nicki up in the middle of a day in the mid 80s F.
Texas has its own beauty, although in my opinion Kansas is a much prettier state. The contrasts between the two are striking, despite the similar topography. Kansas roads are for the most part clean. Texas has junk everywhere. Kansas in broken up into squares of square miles, especially in rural areas. Texas roads go all over the place. Texas highway roads have tall grass everywhere right now, going to seed, even as you approach the "entering Greenville" signs. Kansas mows their roadsides, even in more rural areas. The beauty of Texas is that it wide open and wild. The beauty of Kansas is the way that people have tried to make a home of beauty in such a flat, wide-open, and often lonesome land. Nevertheless, Kansas still needs more Starbucks out west.
The thing that fascinated me about Texas were the roadside flowers. Especially Texas Blue Bonnets and Paintbrushes. These wildflowers were my favorite thing about Texas actually.
And, what can I say about Oklahoma? I did not experience much of it, outside of truck stops and Interstate 35. Oklahoma has lots of red dirt, and that is pretty. Southern Oklahoma has a feel of a little bit of the Ozarks, only without the music and amusement parks. Nevertheless, the Turner Falls area and the Arbuckle Mountains (ahhem...hills) were the best part of Oklahoma on this trip. And I just felt sick to my stomach knowing if I was in Oklahoma on another weekend in the near future I would have been able to go to Stillwater for a concert with Pat Green, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Brandon Jenkins.
Most of the people we met in Oklahoma bring living illustration to the world of Blue Collar TV with Jeff Foxworthy. For a while this was fun. Then a few people started to scare me a little bit, and I was anxious to get back to Kansas. As we rode through Kansas, Nicki started talking about eating fried Twinkies. Fried Twinkies? What will people think of next? She told me not to knock them until I tried them. Knowing my affinity for fried food, I decided not to try them.
This got me thinking about my friends from Texas. Most of them are expert at frying everything, which is part of why I like to drop in at Texan homes around dinner time.
By Saturday I was wiped out. The best part of Saturday was getting to talk to Robin's sister. She was intelligent, sweet, and thoughtful, and by the end of the day I felt like I really connected with her. I felt like an awkward stranger entering her house, and I left feeling like I was a guest that was a welcome visitor.
We headed home via 1-70 again. The highlight of the trip was a stop at THE OASIS in Colby KS. The OASIS is pure genius. Out on the middle of the plains, a businessman built a truckstop with a lot of things you won't find in Western KS. Namely, inside the truckstop there are a few shops, gift stores, and a lot of restaurants in the food court that are found more in bigger cities (Starbucks, Quiznos, Pizza store, Chester Chicken etc.). In addition, there are lots of Kansas trinkets for folks just passing through.
We got home Saturday night.
I had church on Sunday.
A long, hard tiring trip, but a good time nonetheless.