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

Why Sports is Sometimes Better Than the Rest of The World

The past weekend was cold and windy and slightly snowy here in Wichita, with plenty of state and national and international and personal problems for everyone to worry about in the upcoming week, but it worked out well for the local sports fans. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very important that the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team both won big games, but at this time of year in this part of the world one relishes whatever good news comes along.
Our beloved ‘Shockers blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation on the road against the University of Connecticut Huskies, but hung on over two hard fought overtimes to escape with an 89 to 86 win. The victory runs their season record to 15-1, one of the six best in the country and second only to the Auburn Tigers’ and San Diego State Aztecs’ thus-far unblemished records, and after a home win earlier in the week against the University of Memphis’ then-22nd-ranked Tigers the ‘Shocks are alone atop the tough American Athletic Conference’s standings and will likely be in both of the top 20 polls today.
More than 50 years of rooting for the ‘Shockers have taught us to not be too hopeful, but we can’t shake a feeling that our boys are pretty darned good this year, maybe good enough for a couple of wins in the March tournament. They’re a very young team with one senior and six freshmen and four sophomores, and most observers expected them to be pretty darned good next year, but they’re already there, which has us looking forward to next year.
Wichita’s greatest sports passion is hoops, but folks also take their football seriously around here. The only college football in town is played by the Quaker-affiliated Friends University in the most tiny-school division, so local college fans are divided between the University of Kansas’ mostly hapless program and Kansas State University’s more respectable team and the perennial powers at the equidistant University of Oklahoma, but most of the football fans root for the nearest National Football League franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve mostly given on watching football, what with the prolonged pauses for video reviews and the wife-beating and the head injuries and all, but we’re Wichitans and can’t shake a lifelong habit of rooting for the Chiefs when we check the scores.
We’re old enough to remember when the Chiefs won the IVth Super Bowl, way back in ’70, when star quarterback Len Dawson was smoking cigarettes in the locker room at halftime, and how happy everybody seemed about that. Our parents hosted a Super Bowl party for the neighbors, which was before that became a thing, the kids scrimmaged in the backyard afterwards despite the cold, and we’ve always wanted to enjoy that feeling again. Over the subsequent years the Chiefs have some great offenses and great defenses, but rarely at the same time, and every season has ended in a heartbreaking loss. The past few years the Chiefs have been pretty darned good, though, and this year they’re one win away from a shot at another Super Bowl title.
The Chiefs embarrassed themselves in the first quarter of their game against the Houston Texans, falling behind by three touchdowns, but we missed that and didn’t tune in until the second half when they finished off a 51-to-31 romp, so they looked good to us. The Tennessee Titans also scored a big upset win against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens, which means that Kansas City and its superstar and non-smoking quarterback will be playing in famously loud Arrowhead Stadium as the odds-on favorite. Which means one can hold out realistic hope.
Which is no big deal, as we said before, but it seems to lighten the mood and bring people together around here. For reasons we cannot explain the Chiefs have a large following among Wichita’s lesbians, and all the ones on our block in the fashionable Riverside are flying Chiefs flags cheering loudly enough for us to hear them whenever the Chiefs score. If you find yourself standing in a long line at a bank or grocery store it’s something safe to talk about, even a sort of superficial bonding, and everyone’s a little cheerier despite the massive layoffs at the big aerospace factory in the south part of town because somebody at Boeing screwed up the 737 Max airliner.
We’ve lost enough games over the years to empathize with those fans in Memphis and Baltimore and Hartford and Houston, who surely have their weather and other problems to cope with, but we hope they’re brought closer together in commiseration, as always happens here in Wichita. As silly and pointless and head-injury-inducing as it might seem, sports has socially redeeming qualities.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Basketball, Science, School Teachers, and Supply and Demand

Mostly we follow the political and economic news here at The Central Standard Times, being the civic-minded and clinically glum types we are, but occasionally we’ll turn a hopeful eye to the sports pages. There’s usually some dreary political and economic subplot there, however, and so it is with the case of the big deal baseball story about Bryce Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies
In case you’re one of those atheistic commie pinko America-hating types who don’t closely follow our national pastime, Harper is one hell of a player. There’s a strong case to be made that he’s not as good a player as the more clean-shaven Mike Trout, who is under contract to the Los Angeles Angels for the next months and then seems headed toward a big payday, but after six spectacular seasons with the Washington Nationals Harper was clearly the best player on this season’s free agent market, so the bidding war wound up at $330 million for 13 years in Philadelphia. Our faith in the ruthless and sometimes crazy laws of supply and demand tell us that even that eye-popping amount is reasonable compensation given the large number of teams seeking a player with Harper’s rare statistics, even if the atheistic commie pinko America-hating types will want to compare it to a school teacher’s pay, and we note with some regret that Harper’s bottom-line agent had to take politics into account in the negotiations.
A presumably apolitical sports writer at The Log Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants offered Harper more money, but not enough more to compensate for the wide gulf of tax rates between California and Pennsylvania. California has the nation’s highest state income tax rate at 13.3 percent, Pennsylvania imposes a rare flat tax rate of 3.07 percent on both millionaires and minimun wage earners alike, and that makes hiring a rare talent such as Harper far more expensive in the Golden State. We imagine the same is true of those rare talents in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematics fields, not to mention school teachers, and being longtime red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists we can’t help noticing how excessive taxation and other political interventions distort markets.
Even the almighty market forces don’t determine the ultimate outcome in sports and life, though, and neither do the futile interventions of mere humans and their petty politics. The Phillies will likely be better with Harper on the roster, but he’ll only be one of nine guys in the lineup, and he can’t guarantee a championship. The Los Angeles Angels haven’t won much with the arguably Trout in the lineup, The Los Angeles Lakers paid big buck for the arguably best-of-all-time LeBron James in its starting five and seems likely to miss the playoffs, and some guys are we’ve never heard of and don’t seem to have any impressive stats on the Denver Nuggets are going currently toe-to-toe with the almighty Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association’s western division. Our beloved New York Yankees are expected to contend for a championship this next baseball season, despite that state’s high tax rate and other left-wing craziness.
Somehow the the high-tax states seem to be faring to be faring well in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematic fields, and their school teachers aren’t so restive, and we can only surmise that all sorts of geographic and demographic climatic factors somehow figure in it all. Here in our part of Kansas the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are above .500 in conference and overall play even in a down season, the University of Kansas Jayhawks have ended a 14-year run as Big XII conference championships but the Kansas State University Wildcats are still in the chase, and the local economy is doing pretty good despite all the trade wars and tax cuts and tax hikes and other human interventions in the free market and the best efforts of our fellow human beings.
At this point all we have to say , about both sports and politics, is let the best team win.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

The Super Bowl and the Changing of the Seasons

Football season finally came to an unexpectedly dramatic end on Sunday, so we’re now only a few long weeks away from pitchers and and catchers reporting to baseball training and other harbingers of spring, and on Saturday the Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their best basketball of the season against their only serious rival in the Missouri Valley Conference and looked as if they’ll keep us watching well into March Madness. Our nearly as beloved Kansas State Wildcats won a road game against the second-or-third ranked Baylor Bears, the hated but secon-or-third ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks lost to Iowa State University, and for the most part sports provided us a pleasant distraction from politics here on the Kansas plains.
Although the game turned out to be a compelling come-from-behind and history-making victory by The New England Patriots over a worthy Atlanta Falcons squad, we don’t expect that Super Bowl LI set any ratings records. The past season has seen declining viewership across all the networks that have paid dearly for the broadcast rights, attendance and arrests for drunk and disorderly behavior at the stadia have been down almost league-wide, and even on Super Bowl Sunday none of our friends at church nor the more more unchurched friends we called in search of a Super Bowl party evinced much interest in the game. Some say that the second-string quarterback on a second-rate San Francisco Forty-Niners squad’s refusal to stand for the national anthem had something to do with, other say that the league’s characteristically politically correct stand on that had ore to do with it, several callers to sports talk radio programs we’ve heard it blame it on all the interminable video reviews and annoying advertisements that prolong less than hour of actual play through more than three hours, writers in sophisticated magazines and lawyers in pending legal cases note all all the worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts that players seem to suffer every year, and we suspect that all of it had something to do with the public’s ennui.
Nor did the matchup offer much in the way of a proper storyline. The New England Patriots were favored from the outset due to the record-matching number of Super Bowl victories they had won since coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady first teamed up a million years or so ago, and by now most of the football-watching country was tired of that storyline. Belichick is an annoyingly snarling fellow who seizes every advantage no matter how it might skirt against the rules of the game, Brady is an annoyingly handsome fellow married to an annoying gorgeous underwear model, both had run afoul of the football establishment during the much over-inflated “inflate-gate” controversy, and it was all to political for a football to endure. Despite being in New England Brady is also an admitted friend of President Donald Trump, and has even been photographed wearing one of those red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, so we assume that the portion of the American sports-watching public that worries about all those worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts were also rooting against the Patriots. That meant they were de facto rooting for the Atlanta Falcons, and we can’t imagine that did the ratings any goods.
By half-time the Falcons were up to a seemingly insurmountable lead, and then came Lady Gaga for the big half-time show, and we expect that the intriguing combination nudged the Nielsen numbers a percentage point or two. So far as we can tell Lady Gaga is a popular song-and-dance entertainer, and according to numerous YouTube videos she’s also a shape-shifting reptilian alien who is part of the Illuminati that surreptitiously controls The New World Order, and we have to admit that she put on quite a show-biz performance, even by our MGM standards. There was some anticipation that she would make sort of anti-Trump political statement, but she opened with a surprisingly rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” warming our old-fashioned hearts with some Irving Berlin, then segued into “This Land Is Your Land,” which we recognized as a composition of Woody Guthrie, who was pretty much a Commie but also a through-and-through Okie as well, and we doubt that either Lady Gaga or any of her fans were were aware of the very subtle implications of this beloved American folk classic. The rest of it was a high-kicking extravaganza the likes of which you’d have to pay good money to see at a Las Vegas casino, and Mr. and Mrs. Gaga’s daughter Lady is indeed as leggy and musical a lass as you’d be likely to see there, and all in all we found it pleasantly apolitical.
The other big attraction of these annual Super Bowl spectacles is the advertisements, and for the most part they were dreary but at least apolitical. The same Budweiser beer-brewing company that usually provides uplifting scenes of Clydesdale horses hauling their product through nostalgic small town streets through driving snow storms had an already-viral spot of its German immigrant founder encountering anti-immigrant prejudice on his way to founding an iconic American brand, which is now majority owned by Brazilian investors, and there was no mistaking a slightly political slant to that. Some other company selling computer services or some such modern annoyance had an ad that was all about diversity, judging from all the diverse faces that kept matching together in modern Madison Avenue style, but we had the sound turned down at that point.
We also missed most of the Patriots’ remarkable and record-setting and argument-for-greatest-ever comeback, right up to the time when we tuned into watch Brady and the rest of the cast tie it up and then play out 20 or seconds of defense to bring it into overtime. At that point we figured that Belichick’s and Brady’s experience and all those million years or so of Patriot dominance would win out, if our 50 years or so watching grown men play this silly game told us anything, and sure enough that’s how it turned out. We expect that most of the country was disappointed by the outcome, no matter how it might be spread out around the Electoral College, and like most of us we weren’t at all enthusiastic about either team to begin with, and even such a compelling game seems to be losing some appeal, but at least it provided some distraction from the state of the world.

— Bud Norman