On a Sunny Day in Kansas

Monday was gorgeous here in Wichita, Kansas, with warm but not too-hot temperatures and a glorious blue sky, and we had an interesting conversation with a Canadian pal who works at Wichita State State University across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store and more interesting chit-chat and joke-swapping at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill with another set of delightful friends. No one was wearing s face mask, we got within six feet of one another, and although we’d previously spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone with tech support guy from India getting our e-mail back on-line and then even more time searching for an urgently needed used car we were briefly able to forget what a sorry state the rest of the world is in.
It’s in a undeniably sorry shape, as we were reminded when when came home and fired up the internet machine. The rate of coronavirus infections is down nationwide, but it’s up in 18 states we rather like, and it doesn’t look as if they or the rest of world can safely get back to normal anytime soon. The resultant economic downturn seems likely to persist past Election Day,
as even Trump’s appointed Federal Reserve Board chairman agrees, and the global economists all saying that times are a hard all over.
On top of all that there’s all the civil unrest that’s resulted from white cops killing unarmed and nonthreatening black people. When Minneapolis police knelt on a suspect’s head for nearly nine minutes and wound up killing him during an arrest on a misdemeanor forgery charge it set off both peaceful demonstrations and violent riots across America, and when the police responded to protests against police brutality with videotaped acts of police it grew worse, Yesterday a couple of cops in Atlanta shot a black man reasonably suspected of drunk driving twice in the back when he ran off with one of their tasers, even though they had his tag number and could have easily arrested him the next day without death or civil unrest or anyone getting fired. There’s never, ever a good time for police to shoot down an unarmed and unthreatening suspect could be easily and harmlessly arrested the next, but even the most racist redneck cop in Georgia should now that he’s less likely to get away with it at this moment in time.
It’s quite a confluence of catastrophes, and even on a sunny day in Kansas we worry how it will turn out.

— Bud Norman

The Saga of Ivanka and Wichita

The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.

— Bud Norman

When Even the Good News is Bad News

Sundays are usually slow news days, when we show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ across the Arkansas River in the rough Delano district to hear the two-millennium-old good news of the gospel, but yesterday it was hard to avoid the more recent bad news abut the coronavirus pandemic that seems to spreading exponentially and has pretty much every person on the planet freaking out. Attendance at our small and aging congregation was down, and when we awoke from our usual post-church nap we saw that the Federal Reserve Board had lowered interest rates all the way down to zero.
That’s good news, we suppose, as it signals to the suddenly bearish stock markets that the federal government is doing everything it can to sustain the economy, including quantitative easing of freshly printed money and another trillion dollar or so of deficit spending and other governmental actions that used to offend Republican free market sensibilities. The bad news is that by doing so they acknowledge such extreme measures are now necessary, as people all over the world are starting to think we’re all going to die, which of course is very bad for most businesses.
We have no idea what the stock markets will do today, and we’d be far too rich to be writing at an obscure internet publication if we did, but as we write this the future markets that keep going overnight and through weekends are seeing the zero interest rate announcement as a glass half full and are again deep in the red. Given what we’ve seen over the weekend here in Wichita, where the coronavirus is currently taking up just one hospital bed, we can well understand the pessimism.
Around 8 p.m. on Friday we dropped in on the nearest Dillons’ grocery store, which is the Kroger-owned chain where most Wichitans buy their groceries, and even at that usually late hour the place was packed with customers, all of whom had carts stacked chest-high with at least a month’s supply of meat and beans and frozen food and toilet paper and whatever else they considered essential. It took us longer than usual to pay for our meager single guy’s day-to-day purchases that fit in a small hand-held basket, and the woman at the cash register apologized for the wait, but we told her we’d seen how hard she working and very much appreciated the effort, and we wished her well. For now business is good at Dillons’, but if things work out for the best they’ll wind up selling the same amount of goods over the long run, as people deplete their hoards, and if it doesn’t we’ll probably all be dead.
We also dropped in on the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store over the weekend, where business was also down. Kirby’s usually thrives on wizened customers from the across-the-street Wichita State University in the afternoon and the more youthful music lovers who crave its eclectic offerings in the evening, but WSU is extending spring break and offering only on-line classes due the coronavirus, and the bands who were booked on their way to Austin’s big and recently cancelled South-By-Southwest Festival are now cancelling their engagements. There were a few hardy daredevils among the regulars who ventured out to have a beer with us, and we had a good time with them, but we couldn’t avoid the topic of the coronavirus.
Sunday was supposed to be the day when the National Collegiate Athletic Conference announced the field for its basketball championship, which might or might not have included WSU’s Wheatshockers and most certainly would have had the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks as a top seed, but all of “March Madness” was cancelled due to mania about the coronavirus. The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball an golf’s prestigious Masters Tournament have also been postponed or cancelled, and we figure the economic fallout from just that sector of the American economy is enough to send the stock markets into bear territory. Throw in all the economic fallout hitting all of sorts of large and small businesses all around the world, and we can’t advise anyone not to panic.
We’ll stay cool, though, as we’ve thus far survived an appendectomy and several global pandemics and numerous recessions and an F-4 tornado that ran right over us, as well as our many vices, and we maintain an irrational but unshakeable in faith our invincibility. We’re not so sure about the rest of you, but we wish you the best. We can’t look to either of the political parties for salvation, but if worse comes to worst we’ll be counting on the good news that’s still being preached to the dwindling congregation at the West Douglas Church of Christ.

— Bud Norman

A Mid-Winter Weekend in Wichita

The past weekend was full of national and international news well worth pondering, what with the latest developments in the impeachment trial and the mostly bad reviews of the big trade agreement with China and all the rest of it, but local events proved more preoccupying. There was another earthquake that awoke us from our post-church nap on Sunday, both bitter losses and a huge win for the local sports teams, heartbreaking news that a dear old friend of ours from the local music scene had died, and another glorious celebration of the city’s very vibrant subculture at Kirby’s Beer Store’s annual Meat Fest.
The earthquake was unsettling, as they always are, but we looked around and saw no apparent damage was done and quickly resumed our nap. They’ve been happening less often since the Okies started regulating all the fracking they’re doing for oil and gas, and the price of oil and gas is still low around here, so we regarded it as no big deal and made our way to the Meat Fest.
Our beloved Wichita State University basketball team had a horrible week, losing to a lesser Temple University Owls squad on the road and then suffering a Saturday home loss to a University of Houston Cougars team that we have to admit is probably better, and they’re likely to fall several spots in the rankings. They’re still an ahead-of-schedule freshman-laden team with a fairly promising half-a-season left and a very promising season awaiting next year, however, and after Sunday’s American Conference Championship game the Kansas City Chiefs are heading to their first Super Bowl in 50 years. As much as Wichitans resent Kansas City’s condescending big city attitude, pretty much everybody around here roots for the Chiefs, and even at Kirby’s Beer Store, even during Meat Fest, the win was carefully watched and wildly celebrated.
If you should ever find yourself in Wichita we urge you to enjoy the many fine restaurants and the surprisingly fine collection at the Wichita Art Museum, or the unexpectedly excellent offerings of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Wichita Musical Theater, and to drive through the picturesque College Hill and Riverside neighbors and take in the Keeper of the Plains as the beautiful sunsets fall over the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers, and take in all the other impeccably old fashioned and classy charms of the city, but we also recommend Kirby’s Beer Store. It’s a tiny and dingy dive in the heart of the ghetto and just across the street from the WSU president’s residence and next door to a currently defunct laundromat, but enjoys a national and international reputation as a delightfully eccentric joint with a delightfully eccentric clientele.
The mostly older and university-employed afternoon regulars make for formidable competition in the ritualistic daily watchings of Jeopardy!, and provide plenty of the interesting conversation that is so hard to come by these days, but after dark the bar is usually full of subcultural twenty-somethings hypnotically swaying to the weirdly wide range of music that Kirby’s nightly offers. Some of it is cacophonous awfulness to our aged and highly educated ears, but you’d be surprised how much of it is fresh and fun and very well done. At the this point we’d put the local music scene, which begins at Kirby’s Beer Store one leads up to the concert hall at Century II, up against most of those condescending big cities.
Kirby’s has been around since ’72, and for the past quarter century or so has hosted an annual Meat Fest at mid-winter, which involves the regulars grilling all sorts of meat for one another anyone else shows up on the frigid patio during an opening-to-closing and well-attended four-day music festival. For the most part they book the best acts of the past year, and for the most part it’s an impressive showcase. This year’s lineup didn’t include The Haymakers or Sunshine Trucking or anything with Nathan Williams, among several other excellent Wichita musicians, and there were a couple of bands we found cacophonously awful, but there was a lot to like.
If you like your rock ‘n’ roll hard and fast and full of catchy pop hooks False Flag ICT delivered it’s usual solid set, and our pal Jesse Howes once again demonstrated that the saxophone is a punk rock instrument with The Giant Thrillers, and those Dios Mofos also sounded pretty good. If you prefer something more acoustic, there’s a long-haired and bearded guitar-and-mandolin and bass trio called Pretend Friend that we highly recommend, and a more pinkish long-haired and bearded banjo-and-guitar-and-bass trio called The Calamity Cubes that we quite like.
Petitions were passed around to save the iconic Century II building and its perfectly fine concert theaters from greedy developers, which is a matter of local concern to all sorts of culture vultures, and a good time was had by all. For many of us there was a certain pall cast over the affair, however, by the death on Saturday of Tom West.
West had his first beer at Kirby’s on the first day it opened back in ’72 as a replacement to A Blackout, the notorious hippie bar the cops had recently shut down a few blocks away, and he was well liked by everyone he met there. If you’ve seen “The Big Lebowski” you might imagine him as a more countrified and overall-wearing version of “the Dude,” with the same sublime counter-cultural insouciance, but that wouldn’t quite get it. “Fats” — as he didn’t mind being called — was sui generis. He spent his last days in the south-of-Haysville town of Peck, and if you’ve seen “Green Acres” you can quite accurately imagine it as “Hooterville,” but he was a knowledgeable and resourceful fellow and his even more countrified-looking wife can dazzle you with her knowledge of history and current events, as well as her quilting.
He was also a top-notch guitar picker and a mainstay of the local music scene for a long while. He was the formative leader of such locally influential groups as The Cornfed Rubes and The Bluegrass Spiders, any always welcome guest at the Winfield Festival and other jam sessions, and arguably the inventor of the hipster-meets-hayseed style that makes Wichita music so cool. He’d drop into Kirby’s every year around Christmas time and bring candy that he and his wife had made, and on other occasions he’d come in and pass around peculiar-looking cigarettes, and everything was always mellow with Tom West, which came in handy on a cold winter day in Wichita.
The Meat Fest bacchanal always winds down on Sunday with biscuits and gravy and sausage and mostly acoustic and folky sets, and West would have been pleased. There was a fine set by the beguilingly emotive Kaitlyn Meyer, who West had praised last year, and the Meat Fest also introduced to the Wichita barroom stage the remarkable talent of a local 15-year-old girl named Evann McIntosh. You can see for yourself that she’s quite good, and she wowed a crowd of afternoon regulars and her family and friends during her set, was utterly charming in a brief conversation, and she didn’t even get the three free Old Milwaukees that Kirby’s performers are usually paid.
All in all, it gives us hope that he earthquakes will dissipate and spring will come, that the ‘Shockers will be in the tourney and the Chiefs will be Super Bowl champions, and that the best of Wichita will persist. We wish as much for the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

Tempus Sure Does Fugit

Yesterday was the 60th birthday of our star writer and editor-in-chief and very unsatisfactory janitor, so we spent less than our usual amount of time poring over the news of the day. Sixty is one of those significantly round numbers one passes through on the surprisingly short journey from cradle to grave, and it brings to mind the admonition in Isaiah 22:13 to “eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
With such Biblical authority we guiltlessly slept well into the afternoon, then headed over to the ghetto toward Kirby’s Beer Store, where our pal Liz was unexpectedly tending bar. Liz is a very gorgeous and charming and intelligent and exceedingly eccentric young woman of about 30 years year of age, and if we were 30 years younger or she were 30 years older or we somehow met somewhere in between we’d be quite smitten, but the way things have turned out we’re well satisfied to have such a fine and uncomplicated friendship with her. She bought us a second can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in honor of our birthday, and we watched a corny old Hollywood flick on Turner Classic Movies together and had a good old time in an otherwise empty ghetto dive.
Our good pal Tom showed up after his day job as a workers’ compensation judge, just in time to wish us a happy birthday. Tom’s a lawyer who got that cushy judgeship as a former Democratic state legislature representative and loyal Democratic functionary, but he’s one of those sane centrist sorts of Democrats and he recognizes us as the sort of sane centrist Republicans he could do business with, and over our long friendship he’s gone out of his way to help at least three people we have cared about who screwed up and needed a lawyer at pro bono or cut-rate prices. We couldn’t accept his generous offer of a third Pabst Blue Ribbon, but his fulsome best birthday wishes were much appreciated.
The friends we usually find after work at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill weren’t there, so we headed home and logged onto the internet, where dozens of “Facebook friends” were wishing us a happy birthday. Despite our luddite grumblings we have to admit that’s pretty nice, and after that we had a lovely dinner at a fancy downtown restaurant with our our oldest and dearest friends, our beloved Mom and Dad. The conversation included two merlots and was delightful even when it veered into politics, as Dad agreed that Trump’s monetary policy is wrong, and we mostly talked about well things have relatively gone over the last 60 years.
After another Pabst Blue Ribbon paid for at Kirby’s Beer Store by an aging homosexual friend of ours we headed home to confront to the day’s news, but at that point it didn’t seem so formidable. There was talk of war and recession, but after 60 years we’ve been through a few recessions and deadly wars as well as the economic recoveries and desultory peace that has always followed. After 60 years and a few beers and a couple of glasses of merlot and a full meal of fancy-schmantzy mahi-mahi and mushroom buttons we’ll hope for the best, but admit that the worst is well within in the range of the possible. So long as friends and family somehow thrive, as they have for far longer than our 60 years, we’ll hold out hope they’ll survive the next inevitable economic downturn and war.
Maybe it’s the wisdom of 60 years, or just the beer and merlot, but we suggest you eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. This daily news is likely to drag on forever.

The Last Straw

One of the weirdest of our many weird friends drinks her beer through a plastic straw, which isn’t even the weirdest thing about her. She’s a terrific friend and a very adept and energetic drummer for one of the best hard-rock bands in town, but she also believes that the Illuminati are secretly running everything with help from shape-shifting reptilian extraterrestrials, and she explained to us on Monday afternoon at Kirby’s Beer Store that Hillary Clinton is still dead but Jeffrey Epstein is still alive and well on some tropical island paradise.
Our friend’s political preferences when it comes down to a ballot choice are hard to predict, although we assume she usually votes for the fringe candidates at the bottom of the ballot, but President Donald Trump might have endeared himself to her with his steadfast opposition to those nosy know-it-all-liberals who want to ban plastic straws. The eco-fascists in several fancy cities have already banned plastic straws, there’s an organized effort afoot to ban them nationwide, and Trump has responded brilliantly responded by raising some $670 million in campaign funds selling Trump-branded plastic straws.
As much as we both dislike the guy, we and our weird friend would probably agree Trump is on the right side of this arcane issue. The paper straws that liberals prefer over the plastic variety don’t always last through an entire milkshake or malted milk, and we’re told by a weird friend of ours they can’t even survive a bottle of beer, and we can’t be fully convinced that the environmental impact of a few hundred millions of plastic straws justifies such a nosy intrusion into the way we and our weird friends live our lives.
We’ll gladly gulp down the melted-down last of a milk shake or malted milk if it comes down to it, and it’s not going to be a decisive issue for us when we cast our futile protest vote for some down-ballot fringe candidate in the next presidential election, but we think the Democrats would do well to stop being so damned bossy. We have a lot of very weird friends who would agree.

— Bud Norman

Another Welcome Hour of Sunlight

The biggest news on Sunday was that the clocks sprang forward by an hour, and as far as we’re concerned it was good news. We arrived at church and took our turn giving the communion message with an hour’s less sleep than usual, and then arrived at Kirby’s Beer Store to commune with our more friends after an extra hour of nap time, but other than that it was all good.
For one thing, the clock in our car that we never got around to adjusting last fall is once again telling us the correct time, although we’ll probably spend another week or two getting used to not having to mentally spring it forward it another hour. More importantly, for the next several months there will be an hour’s less darkness in the day. There’s not actually an extra hour of daylight, as God created both the heavens and earth and set our planet rotating around the sun and revolving and tilting on its axis according to His plan, and despite mankind’s advanced science and government and arrogance there’s nothing much we can do about it except to subtract an hour of daylight from the morning and add it to the evening, but we make it a practice to sleep until well past daylight and stay up long past dark at all times of the year, so it’s an extra hour of daylight to us.
One of our secular friends at Kirby’s Beer Store was complaining that he’ll be getting up in the dark for the next several weeks to get to his job on time at the Wichita State University across the street, and we’re sure there are some wheat farmers around here with the same complaint, and we sympathize with their plight, but on Sunday we mostly figured that’s their problem. Next fall the clocks will fall back an hour, and those unfortunate early risers will have their extra hour of sleep before church, and Kirby’s Beer Store will get an extra hour of business, so God’s perfectly synchronous plan for the universe and humankind’s arrogant scientific and governmental meddling with the clocks seems to work out out pretty equably for everyone in the end.
Even more importantly, the clocks springing forward is yet another harbinger of spring. Like the announcement that pitchers and catchers are reporting to major league baseball’s spring training, or the different sorts of birds we notice along the Little Arkansas River, or the incremental minutes of daylight that follow the damned winter solstice, it’s another indication that some combination of God’s perfect plan for the universe and the best of humankind’s intentions will alway deliver another rebirth of life from the dead of winter, and that something of good will follow. We’ll happily trade that for an hour of sleep we’ll eventually recoup one way or another.

— Bud Norman

The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

A Chance of Thunderstorms, Politics, and Other Passing Problems

A chance of thunderstorms is in the forecast for our portion of the Kansas plains today, but despite all that global warming hysteria the weather around here hasn’t been anything like that “Wizard of Oz” kind of scary for the past several early falls, and we’re holding out hope the coming weekend will also be free of any extraordinary political turbulence. Our Thursday afternoon was mostly devoted to sitting around the lobby of one of those free market medical facilities that have lately proliferated on the east side of our humble prairie hometown, anxiously awaiting the results of our beloved Pop’s eyelid surgery, and as anxious at it was at least we weren’t paying any attention to that awful presidential race, so we hold out hope that blessing lasts through the weekend.
Our beloved Pop at long, long last emerged from his surgery in seemingly fine shape, still a bit loopy from the happy pills they’d given him to keep his spirit up and his eyes open during the grueling hours-long procedure but cognizant enough to order a Sprite and ask some pertinent questions about the doctor’s post-op orders, so at that point we were inclined to call it a good day. During that long wait we also had a nice chat with our beloved Mom, despite her own apparent anxieties, although even that heart-to-heart conversation couldn’t avoid the rest of the world. Our beloved Mom is a refined and cultured woman who long ago slapped a proper respect for the English language and other highfalutin ideas about western civilization into our stubborn heads, but she’s also an Okie by birth and upbringing, so of course she led the conversation to the latest football results, which in turn led to a mutually desultory talk about those National Football League players who won’t stand for the national anthem and how the National Collegiate Athletic Association is boycotting North Carolina because it insists on the very same sex-segregated locker room arrangements as the NCAA.
With nothing to distract us but weeks old copies of People Magazine and Sports Illustrated and other waiting room fare full of people we’d never heard of, that inevitably led us to the point when our beloved Mom confessed that both she and our beloved Pop had quite reluctantly decided to vote for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, as much as they loathed him, but only because the only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and at that point we were in no mood to dissuade either of them. They wheeled our Pop out of the surgery room a seemingly long while later, and we and our beloved Mom then wheel-chaired him into the comfort of his easy chair on the third floor of a rather swank east-side old folks’ home, and after we were convinced they could take it from there we headed on home.
Conveniently located on the way home was the notorious local dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, so of course we stopped in there along the way. The relatively young bartender with the National Geographic earrings was on the job, which we were glad to see because he’s such a great guy, and the only other customer was a fine fellow of our long acquaintance with a Roy Acuff tattoo on his forearm and who plays a mean rockabilly guitar, and with “Goodfellas” playing on the bar’s television we had a fine talk about our favorite gangster movies. This naturally led to talk of the presidential elections, and after some sincere sympathy from them about our beloved Pop’s plight, and despite our usual disagreements about politics, we all wound up agreeing we wouldn’t vote for any of the major party candidates. Oddly enough, and comfortingly enough, we find ourselves in agreement with all sorts of people on this point lately.
No matter how all that political stuff turns out, we cling to some hope that it won’t be “Wizard of Oz” scary, and that those free market medical joints on the east side will continue to provide due care to such deserving folks as our beloved Pops, and that our beloved and high-cultured Mom will continue to regale us with the latest reviews from her book club and the latest football results, and that our friends in low places will share with us both a beer and a disdain for the rest of it.

— Bud Norman