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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Things We Love About Wichita: The Quirks

Our time in the ICT is drawing short (in case you are wondering what the “ICT” is: it’s the airport code for Wichita. A while back, some hipsters adopted it as their nickname for the city and it stuck like glue.). I was driving around town yesterday, getting fast food for everyone’s lunch and thinking about how this big little town has grown on us over the past eleven years.

Yes, it’s flat and yes, it’s windy (more on that later), but there are some quirky little things about this city that have endeared it to us forever. Here’s my “short” list:

1.    Funeral Processions: In Wichita, and maybe in all of Kansas, funeral processions are escorted by vehicles that look, sound, and act like a police car. They proceed the hearse and stop traffic in all directions, block intersections, and generally bring things to a complete standstill in their wake. I’d never seen anything like this before, so the first time I was stopped by one, I went home and told my husband that I’d witnessed a VIP’s funeral. Turns out, it can be anyone’s funeral, from the Mayor to the Janitor: when his funeral procession goes down the street, everyone in both directions pulls over to the right and stops. We all wait till every car passes, then we proceed on our way. Yesterday, while we were waiting to let them pass, the man in front of me stopped his truck and removed his hat. Where else in the world do people show such respect? Especially for someone they have never met? Amazing.
Just as I was publishing this blog, I came upon this post on the Wichita Police Department’s Facebook page. Yep, it’s real.
Ms Armstrong called today to try to find out and thank the officer that got out of his car and stood with hand over heart while her Grandmother’s funeral procession went by. She sent these pictures of Officer Perkins showing respect to her family. She said her entire family was extremely touched by such an act, especially in the triple digit heat. Thank you Officer Perkins!

2.    Bierocks: I had never heard of this meat-filled pastry until I moved here. If you need to know more, this will tell you. Some places, Nebraska especially, call them “pierogis.” Whatever you call them, they are great! Filling and yummy, they are the ultimate in comfort food. But, alas, I’ve wasted my time in Kansas: I never learned to make them. I mentioned that one day at Bible study and you would have thought by the looks I received that I’d said Ronald Reagan was a great Democrat.

3.    Emergency Vehicles: Similar to “Funeral Processions” above, people here actually pull to the right and stop when an emergency approaches. Yes, just like they taught you in Driver’s Ed, but no one ever did. The first time we were driving down the road and saw everyone pulled over as an ambulance approached, we assumed we were coming up to the accident scene. No, it was just Kansans looking out for the other guy and making sure the first responders could do their jobs. Once, I was driving with a friend and we were chatting along as we made our way on a busy street. I pulled over for an ambulance and my friend suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. I glanced over and realized she had her head bowed and was praying for the people speeding by. That’s a typical Kansan for you.

4.    Crayons:  My husband and I are from Missouri and we have the dialectics (is that a word?) of our regions: His from St. Louis and mine from the Ozarks. They are very different but yet we all pretty much sound the same here in the Midwest – the flat, diphthong-rich pronunciation that gets you a job reading the nightly news. But we’ve discovered one word that cracks us up every time we hear it: Crayons. You know, those things that come in a box that you use to color pretty pictures. When our kids were in Kindergarten, we took them to a reading class at WSU. During one exercise, the instructor told us to get out our “crowns” and help our kids work on a picture. Brian and I looked everywhere, through our packet of papers, in our supply kit, everywhere for a paper crown, wondering all the while why we needed to wear crowns to color. Finally, we both looked around and realized all the other parents were using crayons. We managed to get it together and color our pictures, but from that day forward, we can’t make eye contact when a Wichitan says “Crayons” because it sounds like “Crowns” to us. And if anyone mentions visiting the Crayola Café while in Crown Center, we get downright giddy.

5.    Screen Doors in the Garage: In every house we looked at before we bought ours and in every one we’ve been in, there are two doors leading from the house to the garage. One is the usual wooden “security” door and the other is a glass or screen door, much like you’d see from the front porch. We’ve never seen such a use of doors before. We think it’s so you can stand in your kitchen and see your six kids (see # 7) playing ball in the street and still keep the flies out. Makes sense to me. I’m going to miss this in Missouri.

6.    Medians: As you approach businesses near intersections, there are often medians in the middle that might block your way if you wish to turn left into the business’ parking lot. But not in Wichita. The medians are built flat and you drive over them. Yes, over them. If you’re not supposed to drive over them, they are the normal raised curb version that everyone else has. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been chauffeuring out-of-town guests, made a left turn, and had them gasp, “Oh! You just drive over it!” Yep, you do.

7.    Large Families: This one is fun. We know many, many families with four kids. Five is not unusual and six is kind of normal. No one gasps and says, “Six! Are you crazy?” Everyone just thinks it’s normal. In fact, people have asked us why we stopped at two. Church and school parking lots are SUV/Minivan heavy. Moms that look about 30 can be seen in the grocery store with four or five mini-mes happily following the cart, big ones taking care of little ones. I guess it goes back to the rich farming tradition of birthing enough youngin’s to make sure you have a crew, but most of these people don’t live on farms anymore. I think it’s just that Kansans love their families and the more the merrier. They have a great time, for sure.

8.    Wind: I never thought I’d admit this, but I’m going to miss the wind. In case you don’t live here and wonder, yes, it almost never stops blowing. When it does, everyone remarks about “what a still, uncomfortable day it is.” The weather reports are sometimes hilarious: “It’ll be just a breezy day tomorrow – winds will only be 20-30 miles per hour.” In Missouri, 20-30 miles per hour calls for wind warnings – you better tie down the kids, Maude. We’ve learned that if the weather man says, “It’s going to be windy tomorrow,” you better take heed and SERIOUSLY, put rocks in the kids’ pockets. In January, I swear the wind starts blowing in Denver on the eastern slopes and doesn’t let up till it gets to the Flint Hills. It can be miserable. But on a hot July day, a little breeze (20-30 miles an hour) can make all the difference.

We’re going to miss all these strange little things that make Wichita the great place that it is. I could go on and on (I’m looking at you, College Sports, Sprinklers, and Polite Grocery Stores), but who has time to read? They’re all making bierocks or checking to make sure number one has her eye on number eight while they play in the street. Quirky but fun. Missouri may seem a little boring after this…

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