Greetings from the Sunflower State
The great inclined plain of Kansas is very impressive. The fields are emerald green as if it’s spring, until near Salina I arrive at amber waves of grain that are being harvested, with combines moving back and forth, back and forth, cutting the black earth’s hair. In my rear view mirror I see the long decline to the Missouri; ahead, always up, up, up in a gentle but unmistakeable climb. The cottonwoods are green and tall and beautiful until somewhere after Salina and they abruptly shrink and limit themselves to creek beds.
August, the only month whose name serves us, richly and well, as an adjective. On this hot day Kansas bears out the name, down to the thunderstorm that glowers on the horizon for the last 50 miles and drops a quick shower just as I arrive.
And now greetings from the Vagabond Hotel in Hays, KS, my first stop out of Kansas City. When I asked where I could get a good burger the clerk at the counter looked down at his register and said, “Well, I go to Q Bar — it’s a sports bar downtown.” OK, so I drive downtown to Q (as in “cue,” as in “pool cue”) Bar and sit at the bar, though it’s clear it’s a divey kind of place, but hey, I’m in Hays, Kansas.
The guy next to me is already drunk at 7:30 pm on a Tuesday and starts talking my ear off about Voltaire and Louis L’Amour, which is a promising combination, but he talks on and on until I look bored and he begs off, since he’s obviously hitting on me (“I’m the only one of my brothers and sisters who’s not married”) and I’m just as obviously not interested.
I turn back to my burger and realize — Oh, duh. This is what passes for the gay bar in Hays, which only has about 10,000 people but is the only town of that size for a hundred and more miles in all directions and has a small state university. No, not a gay bar — it’s a pool bar, in fact, but it’s also the place where a person could pick up another person of the same gender and nobody’s going to pull a gun, and in Hays that will have to do. The population of the bar on a Tuesday night at 8 pm is 20 people — 19 men and one very High Plains lesbian looking woman (the bartender). My take on the subject is very possible, I’m thinking. Probable, in fact. The burger is passable — not a chi-chi California burger (nobody bothered to ask me how I like it cooked) but not greasy and with pretty good fries.
As I leave I turn back to my neighbor and reintroduce myself and thank him for being a reader. His is a big mind and it hasn’t the space it needs out here on the plains and I thank the stars again for catapulting me into the big world, not because the big world is better but because I needed its space to grow. May he find the space to grow, I whisper to myself as I leave.