During spring break this year, I took a trip to the Midwest – I’d never been there before and I was looking for some adventure. I planned my trip around the three presidential libraries in that part of the country (Truman’s in Independence MO, Eisenhower’s in Abilene KS, and Hoover’s in West Branch IA), and a visit to Russell KS, Bob Dole’s hometown (why Bob Dole?).
On March 27th I woke up in Wilson, Kansas. Home of the World’s Largest Czech Egg.
From there I took the backroads to Russell. As I was taking pictures of myself in front of Bob Dole’s house in the middle of town, an old-timer in a beat-up truck slowed way down to make sure that there wasn’t any tomfoolery going on.
There was a little coffee shop in downtown Russell, and after much back and forth I decided to stop there for a fancy coffee. It was just me and the young barista. She asked me where I was from and then asked what I was doing in Kansas. I said, Well, I have this tattoo…”
That was when Jim, the local Farmers Insurance agent, strolled in for some coffee. Shelby introduced me like we had known each other forever, and told Jim a bit about why I was there, at which point Jim started regaling me with Bob Dole stories. He is much beloved in Russell – he’s done a lot for his hometown over the years. I heard about his kid brother, Kenny (the Billy Carter of the Dole family). There was a story about Bob Dole’s mom chastising Jim for not voting for her son in an early election. Jim is a Democrat (so they really do exist in Kansas!). I could have stood there chatting with Shelby and Jim for hours (Shelby even invited me to stay for lunch with her), but then talk moved to how I should spend the rest of my day. They both insisted that I visit the toilet in Lucas, so I thanked them both and got in my rental car and headed out.
An hour later I pulled into Lucas. I headed to the Grassroots Art Center. Turned out that they were closed on Mondays, but I ran into some volunteers who were there for a meeting with Rosslyn, the woman who runs the place. Rosslyn said that she’d love to chat with me and take me on a tour of Lucas, so I said I’d be back in an hour. I walked down the road to the toilet. And y’all, it was amazing. The community turned their public bathroom into a toilet-y work of art.
After a lovely day in Lucas, I drove north to Lebanon – the geographic center of the contiguous United States. The exact spot is in a farmer’s field nearby, but the marker is in a little park west of town. It’s a place of importance in Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods. Which isn’t why I went there but was a cool thing to find out when I finished the book after I got back to Oregon.
Before I bought that fancy coffee drink, I had planned to visit the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, just on the other side of the Kansas-Nebraska border. As it was, I arrived at the museum about 5 minutes before they closed. I found a motel and a pizza place, and as I waited for my deep-fried pickles I realized that my day in Kansas was one of the best days of my entire life. March 27, 2017 was the kind of day that makes me grateful for all of the people and experiences in my first 39 years of life that made me have the idea to get a tattoo that would inspire me to leave my home in Oregon and venture out into other parts of the country.