Archive for the My Community Category

Aliens and Cowboys in Ellsworth, Kansas

Posted in My Community with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2012 by redswandiaries

Our Kansas adventures began on Saturday, January 13.  

9:48 am: We leave the Starbucks at 21st and Maize Road, a bag of freshly ground Italian Roast, two breakfast sandwiches, a blueberry scone and two hot coffees in hand. Brad has landed a job with the Post Rock Wind Power Project in Ellsworth County, so it makes sense that Ellsworth and its surrounding area is the first on our list of towns in Kansas to visit in 2012. I plug in the IPod, select the playlist titled “Jed Clampett Dancing,” and we hit the road. “Wichita” by Gillian Welch and the smell of chicken sausage and Gouda fills the cramped Ford Focus.

 Brad reminds me I’ve driven to Ellsworth. He was returning from the worst snowboarding trip of his life. The Explorer engine light kept coming on as he frantically drove back to Wichita with then twelve-year-old son Ian in a pain pill induced coma in the back seat. Ian had broken his femur against an unfriendly tree during his first snowboard run. I met them at Ellsworth and followed them to Wichita. All I remember of the drive is wanting to get them safely home, so it’s not surprising I don’t recall the meeting point being Ellsworth, Kansas.

 Brad needs to stop at the Keller construction site before we actually visit Ellsworth and I admit I was a little disappointed he had to work the first hour of our trip, but as we enter Ellsworth County, the disappointment turns to awe. We come over a slight hill on I-70 and are greeted by the first of the giant pinwheels of the wind farm. They are amazing and as we continue to drive I am mesmerized by their height, their breadth, their unending rows that stretch for miles across the blonde-brown fields, like an alien second-line they dance against the bright blue sky.  And when the horizon suddenly covers their stem-like towers and all we can see are those magnificent blades cartwheeling slowly across the Kansas plains, we are silent.

 As I am typing these opening paragraphs, I’m sitting in the dirt lot of the new facility for the Post Rock Wind Power Project where Brad is inside test-staining an area of the floor. Five minutes ago, three large semis passed by, each carrying one blade of a soon-to-be constructed wind turbine. One semi, one blade. In the distance is the wind farm and I wonder if they make any noise as they gather the wind. Is there a constant whirring, a subtle roar or are they silent, the latter being the spookiest. It’s hard to imagine such great structures silent in their work. All I can seem to think is how alien and alien-like they are and what it would be like to stand at the base and look up at these gigantic creatures. Suddenly, I’m imagining Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as he approaches the mother ship. So, when it’s time to leave I ask Brad if we can get closer to the wind farm.

 We cross I-70 and enter a dirt road. Along the bumpy road, shaggy black cows curiously watch us pass, their coats thick and unruly. I believe they are Galloway cattle, a hardy breed with insulated fur for harsh climates. As we slow down, the cattle watch us intently, a few shaking their great heads and returning to graze on the dry fields, while others stand at the ready to either charge the short fence or run the other direction.  I snap a photo of the furry beasts with the man-made beasts looming behind them.

About ten yards from the grazing cattle, we pull over and turn off the engine.

There is a distinct hum coming from the massive generator and while I’m certain it is deafening at the top of the turbine, here on the ground the noise descends in gentle waves. My curiosity satisfied, we head to the town of Ellsworth, but not before having to pull to the side of the dirt road to allow two more semis to pass.

 Ellsworth is a community of 3,000 and was once known as “the wickedest cattle town in Kansas.” As we enter the city, there is a disc golf park and playground. So much for gunslingers in the streets, but Brad is happy.  He’ll pack his bag of Frisbee discs along with his equipment for the job. The Main Street area is quiet for a Saturday afternoon, holiday décor still adorns the light posts and right away we notice the shadow-like historical markers set about the town. There are seventeen markers  providing a history of the daily life in “Old West” Ellsworth.

 Since much of our day was spent at the wind farm, we decide to grab lunch at Paden’s Place, a restaurant and bar established 25 years ago. The place is long, with the restaurant and bar divided. We sit in the bar area where the booths are squeaky and slightly slanted, but there are three televisions (cable-ready but not flat screens) and the prices listed in black magic marker behind the bar are perfect. A few regulars  sit at the bar watching the K-State/Oklahoma basketball game,  while two men in dark cowboy hats occupy a nearby booth.  We order two drafts, rather large mugs for only $2.00, and decide to try the chicken-steak sandwich with fried cauliflower on the side (Brad) and chicken livers with fries (me). Our meals are less than $5.00 each and are served quickly.  The batter is thin but crusty, not overpowering the livers, which are good-sized and very satisfying. Brad says his sandwich has great flavor but it’s a  very small portion for a mid-day meal.

 It’s getting late so we finish our meals and beers and take a walk down Main Street. We visit the Antique Mall that houses a deli, ice cream shop and various booths, plus the large Rene Pennington mural. Down the street is the museum and historical walking tour describing the early days of Ellsworth, but the museum looks deserted so we decide to walk adjacent to the train tracks and the co-op, reading some of the markers, taking a few pictures.

The January sun is slowly descending and the air chills the back of our necks and faces.  We decide to drive through the town, past the high school, winding our way through old neighborhoods and stop to gas up the car. Next to the gas station is the relatively new Ellsworth Steak House, which is adjacent to the only motel in town. The motel reminds me of traveling as a kid, our car packed with pillows, a cooler full of sodas and books and toys to keep us occupied. I used to love to stay at the motels, our car parked just outside our door so dad could peek out the dusty room curtains, “just checking.” And there was always a pool and a vending machine, not to mention the ice maker. I would tumble into the double bed, my hair still damp from the evening swim, and watch television while snuggled next to my little brother. I can still smell the chlorine in my hair and the bleach of the scratchy sheets.

 It’s been an interesting, educational and relaxing day and we make one more stop in Sterling for coffees at the Broadway Market of Sterling-Flowers, Coffee, Food, Gifts. It is locally owned by David and Lynn Landis. We order chai tea and Lynn gives us a sample of their daily roasted red pepper and wild rice soup. We promise to return to Sterling to have lunch, as well as visit the beautiful campus. The business card she hands me reads “Flowers celebrate all of life’s moments, coffee ensures that you are awake for them.”

 Ironically, when we arrive home the Kansas Travel Guide is waiting for us in the mailbox. While Brad naps on the couch, I review my new Kansas map, browse the listings of Kansas towns and events, and peruse the Kansas Cowboy, “The Official Publication of the C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society  (cockeyed old west band of yahoos), the small newspaper I picked up in Ellsworth. The paper filled with the daily diary entries of a cattle drive, the history of Sheriff  Shenneman, and the Saddle Tramp schedule of events. But as I close the paper, an ad catches my eye:“The Kansas Explorers Club is created to inspire, educate, and encourage the exploration and appreciation of Kansas, and to have fun doing it!”

 Funny, that’s  just what we’re planning. I mark off Ellsworth from list.

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Saturday in the shop(s) (2011 Shop Crawl)

Posted in My Community with tags , , , on June 13, 2011 by redswandiaries

Make that eleven shops. Saturday was the 2011 Shop Crawl or for you who only use those large spaces next to your house to park your vehicles, Garage Crawl. And what is a shop/garage crawl? Much like a Pub Crawl or Blues Crawl but without the cover charge, expensive drinks, and crowded tables. Oh, and this one involves bikes. Big bikes.

I’m not sure who thought of the Shop Crawl, but I’m giving credit to David and Piper Ayala, after all they did send the invitation, organize the event, chart the course, lay the ground rules, and keep us moving. Piper also dubbed the event the Route 69. Of course, the idea could have sprung from the engraved and painted, beer and Captain splattered, if-this-concrete-could-talk floor of the Ayala garage during one of the many Friday afternoon gatherings of the Ayala Custom Shop Fuxx. Who really knows, except last Saturday was time well spent.

So, it begins with what David likes to call his Mexican Blackberry.

The list of who’s in, who’s out, who’s volunteering their shop/garage as a stopping place to stretch legs, de-numb butts, guzzle a water or beer, have a snack and hit the road to the next stop. It all began at Everybody’s Restaurant at 9:00. Oh, make that 9:00-9:45. And I mean, 9:45.

David, or “Big Ben”, kept us in line and on time with his Piper-created itinerary, calculated down to the seconds in order to have us at our Last Stop before sundown. 15-30 to ride to the destination, 25 to chill, five  to road-prep. Give or take.

“10 minutes!”  This became the motto of our Shop Crier, but hey, it worked. We left Everybody’s Restaurant at Hillside and Harry and headed southwest to our garage. Our garage is Brad’s second home,  and while it is small and crowded, it is much-loved by the Bearded One. After all, it holds everything VW and then some. The morning was still cool with the sky cloudless and bright, and at one point it felt like a morning in autumn, with no hint of the heat to come.

We then headed north to Pauly’s, where we were scheduled to arrive at 11:00. By the time we reached Pauly’s, the sun began to remind us that summer was only a week and a half away. Pauly’s pool was tempting, but when Big Ben announced “10 minutes!” it pulled us back to the reality of bikes and roads. None of us were complaining.

If I were to write about each stop, my post would be just as long as our 13 hour ride, so let me just hit the highlights, and there are many. Each shop/garage was as unique as its owner, the tell-tale signs of personalities hanging on the walls in the shapes and colors of Mattel Hot Wheels, pin-up girls, nudie calendars, black and whites of Steve McQueen, splashes of black and orange, beer banners, barbershop chairs, antique gasoline pumps, primered cars, the hatch of a VW bus, a Union Jack, more than a few Stars and Stripes, and Frigidaire’s stuffed with ice-cold beer. These are the original man caves, the truest of castles.

And the ride? Well, there’s no describing the ride. We rode from one side of town to the other, encompassing the southwest, north, south and east sides of Wichita, including Andover and Derby, riding past golf courses and Mid-Continent airport, through congested traffic and empty roads alongside fresh-cut wheat, zig-zagging amidst the garden tours of College Hill and skillfully maneuvering dirt and rock roads. If you’ve never been on a bike or been a passenger, you are missing a view, an experience. Every time I perch precariously on the back of my husband’s self-built Big Twin, I remember two quotes:

“Whatever it is, it’s better in the wind.”      and    

 “Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of the car window.”

As for the view, I find I notice things on a bike I’ve missed repeatedly while driving in my car. On a bike you are more alert for obvious reasons (that would be the idiots on four wheels), but you are also vividly aware of your surroundings. There is no containment, no walls of steel blocking you from what is all around you as you ride down the road. The view is open. You are open. It’s amazingly scary and euphoric. And again, I can’t truly put it to words, so if you ever get the chance to see the world from the seat of a motorcycle, do. Even if it is just once.

All in all, it was an amazing day. 15 awesome bikes. 11 fun-filled stops. 22 great people.  No mishaps. No breakdowns (by bikes or people). The sun was warm on our faces and arms, but the stops were rejuvenating, the company familiar. There were the few odd spaces in the floors of some of the garages reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs (I kept looking for the bucket with lotion), and one too many swimming pools to be tempted, but other than that, a learning and laughing experience.  As well, we shared time with the most uninteresting man in the world who shared “I rarely drink beer, but when I do it must be free.”

By the time we headed our separate ways into the night, we were exhausted but content. So remember: Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.

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Auntie Em, Auntie Em

Posted in My Community, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 24, 2011 by redswandiaries

It’s strange how the name of a character in a movie can resonate so differently among people. For some, it recalls Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, while for others it brings to mind tornadoes. And nothing but tornadoes.

As a child, I remember my cousins yelling “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, it’s a twister” each time the sirens went off, be it during the weekly noon drill on Monday or an actual sinister warning of what was headed our way. And each time I come across the movie Airplane, I laugh out loud when Johnny tangles himself in phone cords and yells “Uncle Henry, Auntie Em, Toto, it’s a twister, it’s a twister” (if you click on the link provided, that particular scene with Johnny is at the very end of the video, but it’s worth the wait if you are an Airplane fan).

Growing up in Kansas, you have to laugh. As a child of the midwest, you learn quickly how to read the clouds, become nervous when it’s humid, and understand the dew point readings. You know the place in your home that is safest to ride out a tornado, be it basement, bathtub, crawl space or closet. And you become a professional at packing a tornado kit each spring (blankets, batteries, jug or bottles of water, flashlights, extra batteries, battery operated radio, cell phone, non-perishable foods) to keep in your safe place, as well as the extra bag beside the bed that includes medications, important documents, and other keepsakes you don’t want to lose when all hell breaks loose.

Because that’s what it does, this tornado. It unleashes hell on earth. Just ask the survivors of Joplin, MO; Reading, KS; and Greensburg, KS. In one terrifying moment, all you’ve known, all you’ve worked for, all you’ve cared for is gone. Obliterated or vanished, it doesn’t matter because the end result is the same, life is changed.

A person from California once asked me how I could live in the midwest with “those tornadoes.” I asked how they could live with those earthquakes, after all we do get 20-30 minute warnings, sirens screaming to turn on your televisions or radios and take cover. We have Doppler radar and text message alerts, plus years of examining the sky and air and differentiating between a typical Kansas thunderstorm and an afternoon filled with  foreboding. What do they have?  

But in light of this year’s deadly twisters, I’m beginning to think all of our weather technology, early warnings, and personal weather experiences are not enough. When a half-mile wide tornado comes at you packing 200 mph winds, destruction is inevitable, survival is diminished.

But we are a resilient bunch. And I know the communities of Reading and Joplin will rebuild and move forward, just as the people of Greensburg.

And those of us out of the path of the storm will watch, pray, and cry for those who lost relatives, friends, and everything they possessed.  We’ll check our tornado kits, monitor the local radars, and be sure and check on those we love, all the while knowing Joplin could have  been and still could be us.

Latino Writers Collective: Mentors deserving of success

Posted in My Community with tags , , , , on May 5, 2011 by redswandiaries

The Latino Writers Collective  is a group of Latino writers based in the Kansas City area. They are an amazing, talented, and ambitious group of artists. I had the incredible fortune of joining their collective, albeit from afar, a few years ago. While I’m not able to attend many events, workshops, or exhibits, this group of my peers continues to inspire me through their dedication, their passion, their writing, their art, and their crazy but wonderful emails!

The month of April brought deserving success to two of the leaders of this fine group. I can think of no other two people more deserving of recognition. These two have worked hard, fought many battles, persevered, and through it all continued (and continue) to create beautiful works of art, poetry, and prose.

Jose Faus is a painter, a poet, writer, creator. And he is the winner of the 2011 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for Kansas writers. He will receive an all-expense paid trip to NYC to meet with editors, literary agents, writers, and give a public reading.

Linda Rodriguez is a poet, writer, activist, creator. And her novel, Every Secret Thing, won the St. Martin/Malice Domestic Award for Traditional First Mystery Novel. Her book will be published by St. Martin’s Press and will be released in hardcover next spring.

I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am for these two wonderful people. As they travel this new path on their journey, they will continue to inspire not only by their accomplishments, but by their example.

Congratulations, Jose and Linda. This is only the beginning.

Leave your mark

Posted in My Community with tags , , on April 22, 2011 by redswandiaries

For those of you familiar with my job, you know I spend a lot of time working with families to establish memorials at WSU. As part of my job, I read obituaries and attend funerals. Many find the job criteria quite depressing and it can be difficult. But what I love are the stories.

Take some time to read the obituary for Wayne Cox, the Wichita Eagle legend. An incredible story about a man and a community.

Wayne Cox Obituary: View Wayne Cox’s Obituary by Wichita Eagle.

Never forget

Posted in My Community with tags , , , on October 5, 2010 by redswandiaries

On Saturday, my father and I attended the memorial service for the  victims of the 1970 WSU plane crash. It was the 40th anniversary. Hard to believe so much time has passed. Yet, not so hard to believe that the pain is still so vivid. The weight of that pain heavy upon the shoulders of the people attending. The families. The survivors. The members of our community. The chilly October air harsh against the backs of our necks as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder to pay our respects. To remember.

I was four-years-old when the Gold plane crashed and I admit for many years I would get the Wichita State and the Piatt Street plane crashes confused. As a child, I knew there’d been a horrible plane crash, killing many people, some were football players, some were in their homes. I knew these tragedies changed our community. Forever. But I tended to get the two mixed up.

My father took me to my first Shocker football game when I was in middle school. I don’t remember who they played or the date. I remember the silver stands filled with black and gold. The marching band. A grass-skirted WuShock. The crowd. And I remember the story he told me about that day in October and the 31 lives lost. I never confused the ’70 plane crash with any other from that moment forward.

As an alumna and an employee of WSU, the ’70 crash has taken on a whole other meaning for me. I work with memorials. New memorials. And as I work with families, I understand a hidden concern. A worry felt deep within. The pain of one day their loved one being forgotten. For those who’ve lost someone, it is something we carry on a daily basis. Don’t forget. We want to tell their stories. Show their pictures. Please, remember. Because if others forget, then what will keep us from forgetting. As it is, memories do fade over time, becoming fuzzy and discolored. Were we on the train heading into the city? Or was it…wait, no it was the El on our way to the Aragon ballroom…Remember her funny pink coat and how she loved chocolate…oh, was it pink? I don’t really remember if she liked chocolate…

These are the things that frighten us.

So I commend WSU in holding this annual memorial service. To help us all to remember. To never forget those 31 souls or the  parents, spouses, and children whose lives were  forever changed. And I vow each year to never forget. I will attend the service. I will educate new students. I will share the story. And my story. Together, we will remember. Together, we will never forget.

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