Day 29: Wichita, The Vagabond, and Mark

by James

We awoke in the sunny Ark City park. The concrete was surprisingly comfortable, so I rolled away from the sunshine and towards the metal frame of a picnic bench for a few extra minutes of shuteye. Mike, of course, was up and halfway through the routine of 23 things he does every morning before I can even make words.

After a few minutes, I gave up the ghost and opened my eyes. My nose was congested and my throat a little sore, but this goes away fairly quickly. I bought into the extra three feet of elevation and walked over to my bike. It was a little after 7AM.

Waking up in the park
Not a bad place to crash.

Mike finished packing before me and seemed eager to start, so he charged off to a donut shop while I finished packing. We agreed to rendezvous at a McDonald’s and, minutes later, we sat down in a booth and set up our exhibit for the onlooking locals. Some elderly trucker-type1 made a comment, loudly, that I was shaving in the bathroom. He then observed, “NOW THE FELLER’S PUTTIN’ SUNSCREEN ON HIS FACE.” Good work, Encyclopedia Brown. I waved at him for fun.

We finished up with the facilities, wolfed down our breakfast in olympic time, and then split for 77/15 west towards Wichita.

Not much happened on the ride up. Now that I’ve barred myself from listening to music through headphones, I just replay select pieces in my head. I think about earlier parts of the trip, how far away they are.

The wind was more reasonable than the day before; we were only subjected to a slight crosswind instead of a full-on headwind, and the terrain had flattened out. The riding wasn’t too bad. I got low on the aerobars and layed on the pedals, resting very little of my weight on the saddle and the rest on my haunches and legs.

We pulled into a small town, Mulvane, for lunch. We made a beeline for the Pizza Hut when Mike remembered that often the Huts offer a lunch buffet. We confirmed this with the enthusiastic brunette working the front. She looked late-thirties and stood all of 5’6”.

She sat us down at a high table near a power outlet, at our request, and then took our orders for drinks.

The woman was a dynamo. She would zip back and forth across the diningroom floor in an upright sprint, clearing plates, replacing pies, snatching empty glasses and replacing them with full substitutes. Three of her could run a good-sized post office. I’m not sure why the woman showed so much electric alacrity. She may or may not have owned the place.

We ate a wheelbarrow’s worth of pizza each, then paid up. We left, but hung around behind the building for a while since I wanted to catch a nap and we hadn’t spent much time at lunch anyway.

I passed out for a short time, waking to heat and a lot of sweat. I sat up and ran my hand through my wet hair, trying to adjust to the hot den of the living. Mike was sitting against brick reading more of the Keruoac book.

We were set to go, then Mike realized he had a flat. While he went to work, I sat down, looking at my skin and checking to see if every visible bit glistened in the sun2. It did.

Mike finished his repairs, so we got back on the saddles and lit out for Wichita.

As we neared the city, roads widened and traffic congealed. Mike had found a WarmShowers host on very short notice last night in Braum’s; a guy named Mark. I knew nothing about Mark other than that he lived somewhere in northwestern Wichita. Mike had the details, as Mike often does.

We rode beside a lake, looking up at the few figures on the Wichita skyline. The smallish city reminded me of Reston Town Center but with more shopping and sprawl.

On the way to Mark’s, we wanted to stop at a coffeeshop to take care of a few things. I entertained the idea of getting a little writing done3. We used the phones to find a place en route to Mark’s called The Vagabond. A perfect fit.

We pulled up to the front of our stop. There were two locals talking on the patio, sitting on the thin metal furniture. One, a bald, gnarly looking dude who could’ve been a bouncer, was enthusiastically orating to the other about Wichita ska bands. Mike and I locked up and went into the coffeeshop.

The Vagaband was a coffeeshop, but it served beer. When we found this out, we bounded up to the counter for a cool pint each. I asked the plain barmaide what she had on draft and she rattled off a list of unfamiliar beers; I told her the pale ale.

We sat, enjoying the sluggish warmth of half a beer after a seventy mile bike-ride. I actually got a little writing done.

After not too long, we decided to head over to Mark’s place. We closed out our tabs and left the plain barmaide to tend to a chatty couple and an older man seated in a booth reading a newspaper.

We pedaled the ten miles to Mark’s place through suburban Wichita, which isn’t much different from the suburbs of northern Virginia and, I imagine, any other suburb. When we thought we’d hit the right house, we dumped our bikes onto the front lawn and rang the doorbell. In a few seconds, the door swung open revealing a fit guy who looked to be in his mid-fourties. We said hello and he welcomed us in eagerly.

Mark exudes energy. He moves and talks very quickly in a Kansan accent. He’s very easy to talk to and very genuine without being abrasive. Mark meets the spec for a gentleman about as well as anyone I can think of.

He took us on a quick4 tour of the downstairs, which included such exotic sights as a sofa, a shower, a laundry machine, and a king-sized (!!!) bed. He then left us to our own devices, telling us to come grab him whenever we were ready for a dinner out on the town.

Mike and I salivated over the king-sized mattress for a while, taking showers and changing at points in between. After we were made human again, we went up to recover Mark.

Mark drove us to a place called Shorty Small’s, an casually-upscale eatery with delicious pulled pork and fried twinkies5. We grabbed a table and the three of us ordered AmberBocks in tall mugs. Mark asked us various things about the trip, talked about the Aussies that had stayed with him just before us, also touring cross-country, and his own biking adventures around Kansas.

Mark spoke with youthful excitement and he questioned with real curiousity. At around sixty, the guy is younger than most people I know.

Mark had called his wife, Leanna, who’d just gotten off a twelve hour shift, and invited her out. We drank the cold beers and shot the breeze while we waited for Leanna to show.

Leanna came in shortly afterwards, sitting down and entering seamlessly into the conversation. She talked about how surprised she was at the many CouchSurfers that had sent requests out to the two, despite their location “in BFE6.”

Leanna played her sardonic wit off of Mark’s cheery enthusiasm, and they continued an entertaining volley this way all night. Another testament to the yin-yang arrangement I’d mentioned earlier, during the stay with Samantha and Richard, that is so prevalent in successful couples7.

At the suggestion of M&L, Mike and I ordered a plate of deep-fried twinkies for dessert and ate the strange and wonderful dish with the vigor of game-show contestants.

Completely satisfied after a delicious meal, a fair volume of good beer, and near-continuous conversation, we sat a while and let our bodies catch up.

After driving back to the house, we sat cross-legged on couches in the living room, discussing politics.

I was hoping Mark would bring up politics. Talking that kind of shop with people I find interesting is almost always a rewarding experience, even if they don’t have a disposition compatible with mine. Many people may find politics a shallow or inflammatory topic of conversation, but political opinion is a common and profound denominator among people: everyone has one, and usually they reveal key characteristics about their owner.

For example, take healthcare. If someone is of the opinion that government should be involved in the distribution of healthcare (beyond the basic level of preventing fraud), it can be inferred that that person thinks that each human has an enforcable responsibility for the health of every other human alive.

It can also be inferred that the owner of that opinion is willing to let the government force others into maintaining the health of those around them, which is implied by the nature of government involvement8.

Through someone’s political views, you can figure out his most basic tenets: how he thinks humans interact, what he thinks people should be forced to do (or not do), what he thinks is right and wrong, and even how he reasons about the world. Getting this information lets you check your own reasoning; you see where and why the disconnect happens between another line of thinking and your own. Usually, people I talk to are cool enough to recognize the disconnect and let it lay.

So we sat up talking politics for a while in M&L’s livingroom. Mark had generously sat two chilled Shiner Bocks in front of Mike and me, so we drank the brew while explaining our gripes with social security. I enjoyed listening to Mark’s well-reasoned criticisms of the federal budget’s largest entry.

Mark later showed us a startup project he was working on,, a groupon-clone for Kansas locals that is being bootstrapped through Mark’s publication. I found it inspiring that though Mark could probably retire comfortably9, he was still pursuing adventures in the marketplace.

The right hour came, so Mike and I said goodnight and went down to the basement where a certain king-sized bed sat invitingly. I took my place on a mattress that could comfortably seat three nuclear families10.

Then, all the lights went out and I slept like it was Christmas afternoon.

  1. possibly a former member of the Good Ol’ Boys

  2. at the end of the day, I can feel the dry, crystallized sweat all over my upper body. It’s like being covered in a fine layer of sand.

  3. yeah right

  4. literally. We were moving quickly.

  5. I imagine if I ever have a pregnant wife (read: highly unlikely), this is the kind of weird food she’ll have cravings for. But I guess I’m an optimist.

  6. stands for BumFuck Egypt. Mark said that Leanna can talk like a truck-driver when she needs to.

  7. jamesob, love doctor.

  8. one of government’s only distinguishing characteristics is that it is the only entity legally permitted to force people into doing things. Try not paying your taxes; you’ll either end up in a cell or shot.

  9. entirely speculation on my part

  10. and their German Shepards, all named “Skip”

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