Bright Lights, Big City

When I saw the tall buildings for the first time, somehow I knew.

We entered Wichita from the north on U.S. 81, before there was an Interstate. Drawing closer to downtown, the buildings seemed to touch the clouds. All those cars. Traffic lights every city block. Pedestrians everywhere, walking briskly with a purpose.

You’re not in Plainville anymore, kid.

Six years old with a worldview limited to the farm in Rooks County and the occasional daytrip to Hays. In the company of Vic and Libby Ordway on a business trip. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, deep into his lucrative chinchilla breeding/raising phase. (Think ‘60s glam. Fur coats were the bomb). Vic always stayed at the Hotel Broadview. First class all the way.

Within a couple of years, we’d

moved to Wichita

and the city that so fascinated me was now home. How ya gonna keep him down on the farm once he’s seen the bright lights?

Even as a kid, it didn’t take me long to find ways to get downtown from Pleasant Valley. Figured out the public transit system and took the bus. Ostensibly to visit the new public library, but I spent hours just walking around downtown, exploring.

Within a couple of more years, we were riding our bicycles downtown to Lawrence Stadium. (I only got hit by a car once).

Later, in four-wheeled vehicles, dragging Douglas. Weekend nights cruising downtown Wichita’s main drag burning rubber, fuel and teenage passion.

At 19, I hired on

as a waiter at the Wichita Club. The top two floors of what was then the Vickers/KSB&T building at 125 N. Market. A private lunch/dinner club that catered to the Vic Ordway set of Wichita.

As a young professional, I sat down in front of a microphone at the bottom of every hour and broadcast news across Kansas from a radio network at 2

nd

& Broadway (there’s a bank there now).

So much has changed in downtown Wichita since my youth.

What used to be skid row is now Old Town. Henry’s and Innes department stores, the Allis Hotel,

gone

.

Sometimes I thought Wichita spent too much energy trying to be Dallas or Oklahoma City instead of simply being Wichita.

These days I’m in downtown Wichita a couple of times a month on business. Enough to send me back in time.

Pieces of my heart, intellect, blood, sweat and tears are embedded in the concrete sidewalks and streets; woven into the carpets in those tall buildings.

The feelings and memories swirl to the heights of the tall buildings, eddy down to the streets below and flow directly into me.

I’ve breathed this air before. It’s no longer my home, but it will always be my hometown.

I hope I never forget to tingle.