Land of Baloney on White Bread with Miracle Whip

I was an impressionable child of eight when our family moved to Wichita in the summer of ‘66, literally fresh off the farm. Wichita in the ‘60s and ‘70s offered about as predictable a baby-boom, middle-class, suburban American existence as one can possibly imagine.

Evening games of kick-the-can (“Come home when the street lights come on,”) a paper route, a dog, Boy Scouts, baseball, church on Sunday mornings. Sting-Ray bicycles morphed into ten-speeds, then cars. Crewcuts grew to long hair. Horn rims gave way to wire frames.

A gang of neighborhood kids who grew up and came of age together. Doing what's expected. Operating from the template. The idyllism accurately reflected the name of our neighborhood.

Pleasant Valley was interrupted and later defined by the Wichita-Valley Center flood control project (the Big Ditch). Like most flood control, the Big Ditch was a reaction. Heavy rains in the spring of ‘44, a generation before we got there, sent the waters of the Arkansas* River spilling into basements and crawlspaces.

Maybe because the land is flat? Not a valley at all? Pleasant or otherwise.

My sibs and I attended South Pleasant Valley Elementary. There was a North Pleasant Valley on the other side of the Big Ditch. The kids from SPV and NPV matriculated to the creatively-named Pleasant Valley Junior High, literally four doors down from our house.

Our next door neighbor was a retired detective and like clockwork, every Monday night, would show up on our doorstep in his bright yellow Pleasant Valley Lions Club vest to invite, cajole and otherwise twist my father’s arm to join the ranks of his fellows in service to their community.

“But we're doing great things for the kids, Jim!”

Pop ultimately realized it’d be simpler to join than to politely fend off the weekly sales pitch. This guy must have been a helluva cop. He’d wear the criminals out with his annoyingly persistent good nature and eventually they'd confess just to get him out of their hair.

It was the era of forced integration. My younger brother was plucked from the comforts of Pleasant Valley and bused across town to spend the 6th grade in the inner city. Likewise, the inner city kids were shipped out with us.

Welcome to the Land of Baloney on White Bread with Miracle Whip. Now, assimilate.

Visit Pleasant Valley today and you’ll see the demographic panoply of 21st century American society. If the desired outcome of busing was to prime the diversity pump, one can make a compelling case that it worked.

Status quo. That's the way it's done. It’s easy to conform. But pushing the envelope and occasionally breaking through can lead to new and unimagined opportunity.

Build a big ditch to contain the floodwaters so when it rains, lives are spared, homes and businesses are saved.

Put children on a bus to force people with different skin color to deal with each other and half a century later, diversity occurs naturally.

I guess to change nature, sometimes you have to actually change nature.

*Here in God's Country, it's pronounced ARE-kansas.