Last plane out of Wichita
The Wichita Eagle. Funny how life goes -- this is not the newspaper, or city, that I would ever have dreamed would be the greatest influence of my early adult life, but you know, livin's full of surprises, and at least this one's been pleasant. Considering that I only lived here for 652 days before I shipped to D.C., the city of Wichita, Kansas has held inordinate influence in my life. Of course, the city is the reason for the existence of my job, which takes the greatest portion of my waking hours, and it's the raison d'etre por mi trabajo y my blog. But Wichita has also become the place where I reconnect with thoughts that get lost in the day-to-day, where I pull myself out of my routine and say, this is how this is or, this is not how I saw it before. And I never fail to learn more, or see things differently, after every visit.
I've met an amazing number of incredible people in Washington. The nation's capital draws some of the brightest, most talented, and most idealistically committed people I've ever met. But I wouldn't want a world without Wichita. Washington, for all its brilliance and grime, presents a funhouse view of America -- inevitably its vision gets distorted in the high concentration of plots, positions and passions you can find on any downtown city block. I refuse to play into the temptation to portray Wichita as some wiser, more reflective "real America" -- this nation is too broad to be "typified" by any place or mindset -- but this city, the Peerless Princess of the Plains in the heart of the Heartland, is certainly more representative of how most Americans live, and how most Americans experience politics, than is the highly distilled, obsessively concentrated culture of the Beltway.
There are lessons in that. For example, driving around Wichita after several months' absence, it's hard not to be struck by the yellow ribbon decals plastered over so many cars and pickups around town. True, McConnell Air Force Base ensures that Wichita will have a military flavor. But I live a mile from the Pentagon, and nary a yellow ribbon can be found on the cars where I live. I'd venture to guess that people in Washington could tell you much more about the nuances of war in Iraq -- what was justified, what wasn't, what the implications are of actions and inactions -- than people in Wichita can. I'd also venture to guess that people in Wichita are more likely to actually know someone who is serving in Iraq. Each is a vital, but vastly different perspective. Those perspectives explains a lot of why people feel as they do, and why they may feel equally passionately, with equal validity, and in complete disagreement, about the war. Blue-state-red-state, divided America, all makes more sense at the same time it becomes clear that the division itself isn't really necessary. We share common values, we all have contributions to make, but we have to work at understanding one another. Easier said than done, but I prefer to think it's possible.
(Note to self: Buy yellow ribbon decal. Affix to pickup.)
Other lessons too ... the excitement of another big-box retailer ... the pride in a really nice remodeled art museum ... surprise that a tax initiative actually passed ... jazz, karaoke and leaving the bar early for the time card ... suspicion of being talked-down to ... attitudes one could say comes from the soil or wind, were one not so deathly afraid of cliche ... but those are all things I'll take back to Washington when Airtran takes off later today. I'm packed. My bags couldn't be more stuffed with hotel soap, newspaper clippings and Kansas-themed gifts for People Out East. My flight doesn't leave for a few hours, but I thought I'd camp out in the newsroom for awhile, catch up on some e-mail, plan out my first week back in D.C. and notch up a big, long essay capturing the experience and fueling the flickering embers of my writerly pretensions.
Some local vets' groups are holding a Veterans Day parade in a couple hours, and I'm going to drop in on that before I head to the airport. It's another beautiful Indian Summer Day in Kansas, impossible not to enjoy. Warm, with a soft wind that's waving the flag I can see through the newsroom windows, the one atop the old Keen Kutter building at the highest point in Old Town.
It's really nice to be here.