So if you haven’t heard, which you probably haven’t, I have a real job now. The Manhattan Mercury, in Manhattan, Kan., hired me as a city government reporter. Anyway, on Tuesday, I headed west for Kansas. I noticed a lot of things on my 11-hour drive. I also noticed a lot of things during my brief time here. This is a list of those things.
On an 11-hour drive, rest areas become important. My drive spanned four states, and I experienced each state’s rest areas. There were marked differences. So here are the results of the First Annual Four-State Rest Area Rest Off.
The Worst: Illinois by a wide margin. What the hell is the Illinois government doing with all that laundered money?
The Best: Iowa by a wide margin. I didn’t know there were rest areas with wireless internet because I’m so used to Illinois’ crappy rest areas.
Coolest Individual Rest Stop: The rest area/Missouri visitors center on I-39. It had a staff, which was surprising and refreshing. But the coolest thing were the cutout silhouettes of bison and cowboys on the hill overlooking the rest area.
That’s how you add some style to a structure that’s used exclusively for bodily functions and stuffing your face with vending-machine candy and pop.
After having several CDs skip repeatedly, I realized I need to stop stacking them in the compartment under the CD player. I don’t have a witty comment or pun. I just need to stop doing it. If I write it down, I might actually do it.
What’s The Matter With Kansas…’s Roads?
I spent four years driving on Missouri roads, and I thought those were bad. Then I got to Kansas. It felt like there was road work every couple of miles. I stopped counting the number of times the interstate went to one lane. I also saw numerous on ramps closed, one of which, I needed to use.
I’m not a fan of detours, to say the least.
When I got to Manhattan, I noticed the bad roads were still present. The roads in Columbia are shoddy, but certain roads in Manhattan look like London after the Blitz.
I’m used to tolls. There are plenty of tolls going to and from Chicago. There are plenty on I-88 and I-80, too. However, I’m not used to $2.50 tolls.
I thought the $1.80 toll on I-88 was ridiculous. It seemed marginally more reasonable after I was introduced to the Kansas Speedway. I don’t think slow traffic, closed lanes and closed on ramps warrant $2.50.
Life In The Not So Fast Lane
I noticed that people in Missouri drive significantly slower than they do in Chicago. Ditto for Kansas. In Wisconsin, Illinois drivers are supposedly notorious for driving fast and “recklessly.” Personally, I just think we have things to do. I was only driving 5 over the speed limit, but I must have looked like a Formula-1 driver when I passed cars that were going 55 in 70 zone.
Often, people from the coasts think of the Midwest as a flat, boring expanse to be flown over. To be fair, that’s because they’re pretentious know-it-alls. Although it is very, very flat where I’m from. It’s pretty much all corn and soy bean fields. But that wasn’t the case when I drove through northwestern Missouri and eastern Kansas.
I drove by rolling, flint hills and bluffs covered in prairie grasses. It was beautiful. I wish I could have seen it before it was settled. I can see why early Americans started moving west.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love westerns and the old west in general. Those flint hills and prairie grasses took my mind directly to The Outlaw Josey Wales and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. I found myself day dreaming about being part of the James Gang. The shoot, shoot rob, rob James Gang, not the “Funk #49” James Gang.
I’ve Always Depended On The Kindness Of Strangers
Everyone in Manhattan has been super friendly. On a side note, I never, ever thought I would write “super friendly.” Well, everyone with the exception of the white-trash teen that told one of the motel cleaning ladies to “go back to her country.” But other than that, everyone has been very helpful and earnest.
Everyone smiles and makes eye contact, and I’ve had several conversations with people I didn’t even know. That would never happen in some parts of the Chicago area. It will certainly make my job as a reporter easier.
No More Yankee-Rum-Drinky
After I got to my motel Tuesday night, I sought out the nearest Wal-Mart. I went to the store for some chips, pop and beer. You know, just the essentials. In the beer isle, I noticed something peculiar. Usually, in a Wal-Mart or a grocery store, there is a shelf of hard liquor behind the beer cooler.
That tower of booze was conspicuously missing. I asked a young employee stocking a nearby shelf about it, “Do you sell any hard liquor?” Without missing a beat he said: “Hell no!” Being curious, I went to a liquor store down the street. There, I found out that only liquor stores are allowed to sell hard liquor. There was more, though.
Grocery stores can only sell beer that’s 3%. You have to go to a liquor store if you want stronger beer. Also, liquor stores can only sell beer and liquor. Nothing else. You can’t buy ice to chill your brews or pop to mix your booze.
I guess the temperance movement is still going strong in Kansas.
Political ads are made with conviction and seriousness, but they all end up being hilarious. In Illinois most political ads focus on corruption or lack-thereof. Not in Kansas. Watching late night TV in a motel, I got my first taste of Kansas political ads.
First of all, I guess being a moderate Republican makes you a pinko commie. All the ads seemed to focus on social conservative issues such as immigration, gay marriage and abortion. There seems to be less talk of taxes, budgets and social programs.
One commercial focused almost exclusively on immigration. It declared “No amnesty” several times and insinuated that Mexicans were ruining the state. For those of you not familiar with geography, Kansas is in the middle of the country. It’s not close to either Mexico or Canada. Also, as far as I can tell after looking at some data, Hispanics make up less than 10% of the state population.
Therefore, I found the ad to be a strange campaign tactic.
I looked at an apartment my first night in town. Afterward, I went to one of the numerous chain restaurants near the mall. I sat at the bar. The bartender came over and asked what I wanted to drink, and I almost said Budweiser, my standard chain restaurant dinner beer. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I realized I was in Kansas, and that meant I could get a Boulevard Wheat.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s what god created on the sixth day after man and woman. He thought it was only fair that Adam and Eve should be able to taste Ambrosia too. I like Boulevard is what I’m saying. It’s not sold in or around Chicago, so I went over a year without drinking one. After the first citrusy yet wheaty sip, I realize how much I missed it.
Deja Vu: Not Just A Bad Denzel Movie And A Chain Of Strip Clubs
In the last few days, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of deja vu. I’m back in a college town, again. My car is packed to critical mass, again. I’m looking at knick-knacks at Target, again. I’m signing a lease, again. I’m starting over, again.
I keep thinking I’m going back to college. But I’m not. I’m going into the real world, and maybe that’s why I want to feel like I’m going back to school. I was good at school. I knew what to do and how to get by. Even if I screwed up majorly, it just meant a B+ instead of an A. Now, I’m looking at real consequences. If I screw up majorly, I’m looking at getting canned. Gradually, my safety net has been pulled away, and the fall (or failure or whatever you want to call it) is looking more and more menacing.
Monday I face my doubts and see what I’m made of. But, for now, I’m out; I gotta move my whole life into a tiny basement apartment.