When I told my new US friends that my family and I were going to drive from NYC to LA they were surprised but excited for me. When I told them we wanted to detour off the interstate to stay at Wichita, Kansas they said we were insane. I started to get a little worried. What of they were right and there was absolutely nothing in Wichita? What of they were right and the ‘big’ thing Kansas is famous for is a ‘big nothing’?
Well, I’m pleased to say today that they are wrong. Wichita is great. To be honest we haven’t seen more of it than a few back streets with tattoo studios and the streets surrounding our hotel. Is it a hotel? I think it’s a motel. Oh, no – it’s an ‘Inn’. I really should google the distinction between these – but what’s in a name? Essentially this room, as with my gorgeously crumby motel room in St Louis, has a bed, a shower, a small bar fridge and a TV. And yeah, before you ask – it’s got free wifi! The Hyatt in Philly and Jersey City didn’t even have free wifi – and thus I hold the Scott’s Inn of Wichita in high esteem. Wifi is my new chocolate.
So how did we get here? Well we drove for quite a while along the i70 towards Kansas City (of which there are two supposedly – one in Missouri and one in Kansas) and then south for a couple hundred miles to Wichita. We actually took a couple of side stops on our journey to Wichita in our vain attempt to find fresh food – and by fresh we don’t mean hotdogs or burgers straight off the grill – we mean vegetables, fruit and fresh baked bread, preferably rye. We are dreamers of the naive sort, aren’t we? Haha.
The first pit stop was an ‘historic town’ called Boonville. There’s a bunch of different ways of spelling it – Booneville, Boon’s Lick Ville (?). Anyway, we headed down there in search of a bakery because in the boot of the car (trunk – US) we had some apple cinnamon jam (jelly – US) we had bought from Amish country in Ohio and we wanted to spread it on fresh rye bread for breakfast. Stoopid idea, but oh well. We drove about 5 miles off the interstate and found ourselves in a quaint little town nestled beside the big brown Missouri River. It had a bakery and before you could say ‘fingerbun’ I was out of the car and through the doors. Not into a heaven of baked goods displayed indulgently behind a wall of glass, nope, into a maze of supermarket-style shelves lined with packed bread and bread rolls. It was like being in the bread aisle of Woolies times one thousand. My little carbohydrate-loving heart sank. I just didn’t want bread from a package. I knew the boys didn’t either. I asked the very helpful assistant (who was so cute with her Huck-like accent, I half expected her to be chewing a little piece of straw) if they had rye and she led me to a packet of very black looking pumpernickel. No, not what I was after. I’m not prejudice or anything, but American bread worries me. The third ingredient of the bread was sugar. Oh dear. I took a hasty photograph of the shelves and checked out the enormous array of Hostess treats (non of which I will try in my lifetime as they all contain animal fats of some variety). As I left I asked the lady if they made the bread in the bakery themselves, after all we were lead into the place by the wonderful smells of baking bread outside. She answered sweetly that they made a small variety of hotdog buns and dinner rolls. Oh well.
The river was our next destination. We all piled out of the car into the very hot early morning sun and headed for the bridge over the Missouri River. The boys eagerly grabbed their newly bought plastic sling shots and hunted on the ground for small rocks to be launched over the bridge. It was pretty stunning up there. The river is huge and full. Murky brown and swirling in places. The trees hang equally full on the banks. I don’t envy the job of the early pioneers Lewis and Clark who were first to navigate this area.
After we confessed that no fresh breakfast was to be had in historical town Boonville, we decided to head back to the interstate and subway – our veggie refuge for the trip. Before we made it we were distracted by an historic marker and took a right. We found ourselves winding through lovely little white cottages with no fences (it’s odd that they don’t have fences in America – Australians seem so territorial and closed in contrast) – kids bikes scattered on the green lawns and the ubiquitous stars and stripes hanging from the front posts. The historic marker was a look-out showing where Lewis and Clark camped on their first expedition into the deep West of Missouri. The view was ‘wow’ and the info helpful – we sat for a bit trying to visualise Native Americans and bison on the other side of the river.
We hit the road again to Kansas City and once again chose a side-step – another historical town called ‘Arrow Head’. We visited a small museum that celebrated the efforts of the early pioneers and tracked the history of the local area. It was pretty cute and we saw some cool original historical artifacts – the boys especially liked the guns and swords.
By the time we got to Kansas City we were all feeling a little tired of driving, but the TomTom told us to go on for another two hours. Bummer. The drive was actually the first pretty drive we’ve been on – no houses or towns, just lots of grass and corn. This is the drive people warned us about and, ironically, it’s the one we loved the most. It must be the Australian in us that we love the wide open spaces cos this place is damn pretty!
Heading into Wichita we saw a city much bigger than we had anticipated. The sign announced that 22,000 people live here in the very heart of the USA. It’s a town on the scale of … hmmm … maybe Darwin? I haven’t been there for over ten years, so maybe the comparison is off. We though it’s be like Wagga, but there are more high rises.
The biggest stress for us was trying to get to a tattoo studio before it closed. Our plan is to get tattoos in Wichita. Why not? We found this wicked little studio called ‘Lucky Devil’ but he was booked out and gave us the name of a mate. We discovered (after much frustration trying to find the location) that the mate, ‘Matt’, had closed early. Damn. A quick drive back to Ron at Lucky Devil proved fortutious. He was keen to tattoo us – being from a very strange land far away – and we booked in our tattoos for 11am today.
Pictures when we find ourselves inked and in Denver tonight.