Often, when I’m driving around the skirts of White City I find plenty of quality memories in my rear view mirror. Just the other day as I headed East out of town, I turned south down a gravel back road kicking up a dust trail. I’ve been down this road plenty of times but this time was different. As I looked in my rearview mirror I imagined Russ Sams’ dad Sammy driving us down to the Council Grove Lake in his old Chevy truck on one of those endless summer days. As we rode in the back of the truck to the lake, the dust rolling behind us, the sound of gravel beneath the old bias ply tires, it gave the promise of fishing and a cool swim making any hot day better. Jean, Russ’s mom, would make us bologna sandwiches with potato chips on them and I usually won’t eat them any other way to this day. I’m not sure why the dust kicked up a memory like that, but I’m glad it did.
Another memory that I have recently recalled is hanging out in the White City pool hall playing snooker and watching Craig Christlieb and a few others play. Craig’s family lived south of White City out by the old bridge at the top of the hill where I usually take pictures of my motorcycles. Mel Bidwell and I, and a few others hung out there as growing up and I have to admit we all played a good game. Again, just some of those memories that bring people and places back like it was yesterday. Well, maybe the day before yesterday.
I used to know everyone in town, where they lived and such. But like the dust behind my old truck the other day, people and places head off in the direction their lives inevitably take them, but somehow those memories linger in the air. There’s a lot of those reminders stored away for days of driving down any old gravel road, and I appreciate those of you that had a hand in creating them, and leaving them with me.
I talk about my experiences and memories a lot, but I’m sure those who find themselves either in or somewhere other than White City also have their own unique recollections of these dust trails. My only hope is this dust doesn’t settle any time soon.
When I look around this small town where I’ve lived for the last 55 years, it’s not hard to see it through the same eyes of when I was a kid. I couldn’t have had a better experience growing up here, and possibly so much so that it has kept me from taking the leap that so many have and moved on to bigger and maybe better places. Life is funny when we look back through those same eyes, full of nostalgia, all the while the future is happening every second around us. With each blink of the eye, the future creeps in, pushing those memories further behind us and dulling the edges ever so slightly.
We’ve seen these changes throughout the years here in town as every small town has. But when driving down the main drag each and every day, those changes seem to happen at a pace hardly recognizable. For someone who hasn’t been here for years, a drive down highway 4 through town may seem drastic. What used to be is included each time we hear I remember when.
There’s talk of pulling up the red bricks along the five blocks of Mackenzie street and replacing this stretch with a new surface. I understand both sides of the conversation of keeping the brick versus how much Mackenzie needs repaired. What’s not to love about the history, effort and appeal of a brick main. I’ve written plenty about growing up here and how this town influenced my upbringing. Even when describing to anyone who might ask where I live, I explain how we cruised main street and hung out at the pool hall. I brag about the freedom we had and the friends I grew up with and how some of my fondest memories happened on and around these same red bricks. I think you catch my drift, and maybe you’ve said the same.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Mackenzie street is tired and has been getting rougher in recent years. Obviously, if there were an easy and inexpensive way to repair the brick it would have been done. When the bricks were originally placed, traffic wasn’t anything like it is today. Trucks are bigger and heavier now and the traffic just isn’t the same as when we were cruising main back in the 70’s. You would have thought those bricks would have worn out then with all the back and forth we did on that street.
But, with everything I’ve written and remembered about this small town, it isn’t based on red bricks. Although Mackenzie street was built on a good foundation for the bricks to last this long, it isn’t about the bricks. We are the bricks. This community of those who live or once lived in and around White Cityis Mackenzie street. Each brick along those five blocks represents every one of us. I know not all have fond memories of living in White City, and for some it was just a step along their journey to where they are today, and that’s OK. For some it’s a multi-generational family of farming with their life’s work planted and ranched each year on the outskirts of town. You drove to work, brought your kids to school, and opened shop on this street, And for someone like me, who’s memories and appreciation for how I turned is priceless, thanks to so many of you who are still here with me. WE are the bricks that make up the five blocks of Mackenzie, and that won’t change.
I’m OK with leaving the bricks in place and I’m also OK with replacing them with a smoother surface. In a perfect world we could correct the issue and keep the brick. I also know that no matter the surface on Mackenzie, there isn’t any cruising down the main drag anymore, but I still have the memories. Keeping the brick won’t bring back all the businesses of a once flourishing small town but some of those old business owners still live here. That same road that took so many away to follow their dreams will also bring them back no matter the surface.
Looking around us, the change is inevitable. I love the bricks on main street because it’s a piece of this town that’s genuine. And the fact that this discussion is happening tells me there are plenty of folks that are passionate about this. I get it. Like I said, if the bricks stay I’m good with it. If the decision is to resurface it, I’m good with that as well. Maybe the bricks can be incorporated into a sidewalk around the park as a reminder of a community that appreciates it’s past – I don’t know.
When I drive through town and hear the familiar sound of my tires rolling over the brick, and my mind’s eye sees the store fronts and the familiar faces from 1975, it always takes me back to cruising on a Saturday night. I’m also dodging the ripples in the bricks as I’m trying to get down the street. For me the memories will always be here, and for everyone who built this community brick by brick, past and on into future, it’s a job well done.
If only it could talk. If only their stories were written on the walls by those who told them in the present tense. If you look just beyond the tall grass and the trees, or the boarded up windows, you can still see the life of many. Hard work and maybe a not-so-easy life, but hopefully a happiness, the kind we wish for everyone, to be the storyline. Get up every day and make sure chores were done, kids to school, and off to your job all the while worrying about the bills and the news of the times and thinking – no wishing – for time to slow down. You know, just like we do now.
Somewhere in a box, pictures tell the real story. Brown and ivory now instead of black and white, history was made before it was history, with every flash of the bulb
For every abandoned house, business or town for that matter, there are many chapters between the hard broken backs of those who built them. So busy living every day, focusing on the small and meaningless, and wandering through their lives. Pictures and family-time were priceless. As front doors were closed for the very last time, with a final look over the shoulder, another chapter of their life was started. Somewhere in a box, pictures tell the real story. Brown and ivory now instead of black and white, history was made before it was history, with every flash of the bulb.
So here we stand on the edge of a gravel road, our high tech camera or phone in our hand, thinking of the light and angle to capture what is impossible to see. The laughter and tears, the birthday celebrations and the celebrations of life. The wins and losses and the hidden demons that some families hide that needed to be overcome. Let’s face it, life at any stage can have some dark places that the warm glow seen from the street won’t shine upon. But yet we make the best of what we have.
Even as the proprietor spun the Closed – come again soonsign around of his business in decline – or for other reasons known only to those at the coffee shop – he felt the weight of his family and a community upon his shoulders that seemed heavier than the day before. But we know this new chapter brings the high that always comes after a low. We’ll make it. Somehow we always do.
At no point have I stood at my front room window looking out at the road wondering if somewhere into the future there will be an interested photographer looking at the proper light and angle of the broken glass and naked wood of this house long left alone, and a roof, tired and weak from holding perfectly still waiting for the picture to be taken. But I have witnessed a few local businesses, once thriving, with a bell hanging above the door, close. A place where folks would catch up on the latest, spend a little money, and come back soon. Silent now, but the appreciation lives on for those who dedicated their time serving their neighbors. Maybe, we should let them know this before the bell over their shop door stops ringing.
But not all lost and abandoned stories ended in despair. Folks are usually looking for a better life and those hard decisions made at the dinner table resulted in a move, be it figuratively or literally, to do just that. Move up, move out, expand or take a chance can be scary, but we’re willing to do it because in the end we believe in us. The remnants of what is left behind can be seen from the gravel road or from the curb on Main.
The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” works most of the time but lets face it, change is change. This bridge is about two and a half miles from White City and I’ve taken my motorcycles here spanning the last 16 years or so because of the cool backdrop the bridge provided. But time marches on, infrastructure needs improving and old country bridges need some lovin’ too. To me this old bridge wasn’t bothering anyone but that’s just me being selfish.
Growing up in White City Kansas, there are many places where the past is still very present. Old buildings and houses, some abandoned, a brick street running through the heart of town, an old water tower most recently repainted and a whisper of the sound of a town once thriving. Don’t get me wrong, there is life in this town of mine but you have to know where to look. White City isn’t immune to progress, after all we have seen such progress in our city streets, Co-op, school and those entrepreneurs keeping their businesses going. It’s a great place to have grown up. But, back to this old bridge.
The first time I traveled out the bridge only to see trees had been removed and construction was under way, I was a little shocked. Word travels fast around these parts and I hadn’t heard anything about the bridge being replaced. I’m not sure the county owed me a phone call, but the surprise of what I saw left me a little sad. This was a great spot to ride out to and stop, kick rocks off the edge and listen to the water pass underneath. Once in awhile there would be fresh graffiti painted on the supports giving you, at minimum, the year of the graduating class, give or take a year or more, and maybe the status in relationships tagged with a heart. A place where feelings were expressed, good or bad, with a can of spray paint. As the construction progressed, the scene turned into an unstoppable step forward.
The small town guy in me will miss this bridge for many reasons. Just like the memories of growing up in a town at a time when every storefront had a business, the constant cruising down the street on Saturday night and being home at midnight was a thing. The motorcyclist in me will miss it for a peaceful destination and appreciation for it’s service to the county. Oh, and for a backdrop for pictures.
There are plenty of places like this – old and interesting – that would make a fine place to picture my motorcycles, but this place was special. I’ve grown up in this area and watched the landscape change around me, yet it basically stays the same. You only need to know where to look.
The echos of my youth move through my head like the Kansas wind.
As I’m sitting here at 3:15 a.m. listening to Chris Isaak’s Greatest Hits, my mind is more active than my arthritic hands searching for the keys on my keyboard. I can’t sleep, even though I know sleep would be best.
It’s funny how my mind can take me to places I’ve never been and just as quickly, take me to a place where I can see the half-dozen used Pepsi cups from the pool hall lying on the floor behind the passenger seat of my ’72 Dodge Charger. One cup inside the other, cruising Main street, Doobie Brothers on the 8-Track while my arm rested on a pillow I had between the bucket seats. This pillow fit perfectly on the console and I’m not sure if anyone knew but on the flip-side of that pillow it had “I Love You” sewn on it. I have some random stuff from my youth but I’m not sure where that pillow went. Now it’s 3:30 a.m. and I wonder why head isn’t on a pillow right now. Wow, that was random.
Maybe this sleepless night is my mind’s way of telling me to remember those insignificant slices of my life, those screen-door-slamming-shut moments when you couldn’t walk pass a rock, empty can or dandelion without kicking it. Yeah, we’ve all been there. Come to think of it, I still can’t resist.
It’s possible these random thoughts are just what I need to take place of all current worries and hurries of every day life. To smile at a memory or spend time trying to figure out why these reflections have come to surface isn’t time wasted. There aren’t any dandelions in the yard right now but I may find that perfect rock for kicking today.
It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch. I can remember in my early teens, driving my ’72 Dodge Charger around town in the winter snow, looking for snow drifts to plow through. This was a great car but it didn’t do well in the snow. Those after-dark Friday nights driving around White City in the snow would often find you getting the front-end pulled into the ditch, often due to a heavy right foot and an out-of-control back-end. Right up there on the center console, next to where your cell phone would have been had we had one, was your gloves. Someone was getting out to push.
So what does this have to do with a mental ditch? I thought you would never ask. It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch of negativity. Sometimes it happens faster than we can react and we find ourselves sliding into a bad attitude or mood. Despite how we felt before it happened, it can suck you in requiring someone else to push you out. We need friends riding shotgun with us to make us understand that we are responsible for our own attitude and that we aren’t responsible for the attitudes of others. And besides, they are willing to get out and give us a push in the right direction – just like we would do for them. Literally and figuratively speaking.
But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of this mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push.
We are at this point in the year where I normally talk about riding my motorcycle and all those wonderful thoughts that roll around in this pretty little head of mine, and believe me those blogs are coming. But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of the mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push, and will gladly get out and give it all they have. After all, we have to be home by midnight.
If you read anything I write about my zany travels on my motorcycle you know there are many times I talk of wild animals, crazy drivers, Walmart bags and what appear to be flying squirrels coming at me as I roll down the highways and byways of Kansas. Although I make light of these things there is a seriousness to riding bikes. Nature and garbage are one thing because they know no better, but those drivers who refuse to notice me are another. I’ve never been the type to say “look at me!” but in this instance I am.
I can go on about my frustrations, but I won’t. But what I did do was reach out to the Kansas Highway Patrol through their twitter account explaining my experiences passing through the intersection Of I-70 and Ks. Hwy 77 every morning on my way to work. As a motorcyclist it was refreshing to see a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper sitting along the highway monitoring traffic exiting 1-70. With a big wave I thanked the trooper, but to me it wasn’t enough. As I pulled into a car dealership driveway to circle around, my intentions were to hop a barb wire fence to personally thank him. Okay, hop a barb wire fence at my age and in my full leather gear might be a stretch, but I would have found a way. This is an example to NOT look at me. By the time I got close enough to do so, Trooper Cameron pulled out to stop a motorist violating the law. Missing my chance to thank the trooper, I felt compelled to contact KHP through twitter.
The vulnerability we motorcyclists feel at times can be nerve-wracking and although we ride defensively, it’s nice to know there are men and women out there helping not only our cause as bikers but by being there for all motorists as well.
Trooper Ben who has been instrumental in at least making me feel better. But he has gone above and beyond that. The vulnerability we motorcyclists feel at times can be nerve-wracking and although we ride defensively, it’s nice to know there are men and women out there helping not only our cause as bikers but being there for all motorists. Trooper Ben responded back today telling me it was Trooper Cameron sitting in the car as I passed, and I know as he pulled over the motorist, all they were thinking about was the anger they were feeling for getting pulled over. I’m sure they weren’t thinking about what could have happened by not stopping at the stop sign as they came off the Interstate ramp where I find myself passing each morning on my motorcycle.
Thank you to the Kansas Highway Patrol. Thank you to all who patrol our streets and highways, and to those first responders for being there in our time of need. At times you may feel its a thankless job but I’m here to tell you otherwise. Thank you.
As the weather finally allowed me to ride to work this morning, I had a few miles to think about years past when I would have been riding most every day instead of picking and choosing the days as I am now. It felt good to get the bike out and although a little chilly at 24 degrees, it was still a nice ride in. It was almost as if instead of watching for deer through the Skiddy basin, I was watching unicorns cross at the appropriate marked areas along the highway. Yes, it felt that good.
But it truly is more than that. I usually go on and on about riding and how I use this time to put my thoughts together, and even though this is true, this particular ride I was waiting for my head to clear and I think my expectations of one ride to be my fix-all. I believe now it might take more than a twenty minute ride to work to achieve this. Sure, I have my ride home and my frame of mind will be different allowing me to focus not on the fact it has been a little while since the last ride and focus on this ride.
. My bike allows my mind to be wherever I want to be at any given time and it also lets me dream and wish until I run out of gas. If that happens, I guess I could just jump on the back of one of these unicorns and continue on.
I sure do a lot of thinking, huh? Why analyze the ride when it’s easier to just go? Good question. We all have our reasons for riding motorcycles, and mine acts as a mirror to my past and where I might be headed in the future. It also gives me a place to see what could have been and what will be. Kind of like a time machine, only better. A time machine is designed to place you into a certain period of time whether it be the future of the past. My bike allows my mind to be wherever I want to be at any given time and it also lets me dream and wish until I run out of gas. If that happens, I guess I could just jump on the back of one of these unicorns and continue on. Note to self – get gas.
As warmer weather and longer days get closer, I know I’ll get into a groove again. There is a huge difference between a groove and a rut. Same principle but one is, how do I say it – groovier. Yeah, groovier. I know what you’re thinking; what kind of ride takes you through the Skiddy basin on a motorcycle, seeing unicorns and saying groovier? I’m not sure how to respond to that, but at least I’m getting out of a rut.
I can’t wait for trees with leaves and grass to line the roads I travel. A southern breeze with the sun hitting the back of my neck is a good feeling for anyone but especially a motorcyclist. Just a thought, do unicorns have a rut season?
So this goes without saying but I’m saying it anyway. If you live anywhere that experiences a full swing of seasons and you ride a motorcycle, it can be the same as an emotional rollercoaster. Ride today, wait a week, sneak in a 15 minute ride before the temperatures drop at dusk and then spend days walking around dazed and confused at the conflicting reports of weather from one channel to the next. What TV station is right and why do the weathermen lie to me? Even my phone can be overly optimistic when it comes to predicting the weather and riding my motorcycle.
I know it’s temporary and Spring is right around the corner, but for crying out loud, I need to put some miles on my bike as all of this winter baggage is stacking up in my head. I have all these thoughts running around in no particular order and I use my bike to file them properly. My head feels like someone dumped a filing cabinet in the front yard while the wind was blowing and left me to pick it up. In the dark. With my motorcycle mocking me through the garage window.
We all know the solution to this. Move. Move south where the sun shines 365 days a year and the temperature hovers in the 70’s every day. Trees and grass and rainbows around every curve, and no matter the direction you look, there are mountains and clouds that have whatever shape that makes you happy…blah, blah and blah.
But when the weather finally does break, look out. You can only hold the excitement back for so long and then we kick the door in and free that trapped motorcycle from the chains of isolation we call a battery tender.
The reality is overcast, cold and windy with a chance of rain mixed with snow. My motorcycle is sitting in the garage (or at least I hope it is, I can’t say I’ve looked that hard) just waiting to be backed out and fired up. It’s tough having a blog about riding motorcycles when, well, you can’t except for maybe that sliver of nice weather the weatherman is promising me, next Thursday, south of I-70 between 9 am and 9:45 am – if you’re lucky. But that’s a week away and it might as well be a month from now. Do I sound bitter? I sound like I ride motorcycles.
But when the weather finally does break, look out. You can only hold the excitement back for so long and then we kick the door in and free that trapped motorcycle from the chains of isolation we call a battery tender.
We ride motorcycles, and unless you are fortunate enough to live in the land where the weathermen are accurate and the roads are free of salt and sand, we wait. We wait until we can wait no more. Be patient my fellow riders as it’s coming… soon.
So 2015, it’s been nice knowing you. I’m not sure about the “older you get the faster time flies” thing because it seems this year has lasted longer than 365 days. And besides, when did I get old? Who am I kidding…
I know one thing for sure, if how I felt was a true measure to how old I am, I would not be able to buy beer. Of course, I don’t feel that old. My mind is still telling my body that anything is possible, and it is more mind over matter anyway. Just tell that to the guy behind the counter at the liquor store.
So for 2016 I will make some promises to myself. Not the usual lies I tell myself every new year, but the ones that really, truly matter. Why we always pick the beginning of the year to make these random claims of personal improvements is beyond me, but here I go;
Laughing More – I need a huge belly laugh where the snorts and snot come from my nose. The kind where Diet Coke comes spraying from my mouth like a split radiator hose. Admit it, you want to laugh like that too.
Working on My Health – I know, right? My mind is telling the matter down below everything is fine, but at my age I know better. I need to stretch, walk and eat better for the health of it. Why? It’s the right thing to do and I can only imagine I would feel better. And besides, a nice evening walk gives me plenty of time to think. My motorcycle does the same thing but without all the cardio.
Take Some Time Off – I need this for my mental state. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I’m sure it will depend on how I use this time off. Beer and Nacho Doritos or stretch, walk and be active? Mind over matter, right? I also want to take a ride someplace I haven’t been on my motorcycle. Maybe to the southwest. That’s where Nacho Doritos are made right?
Be a Better Listener – Pay attention and be present daily. Or better yet, shut up and let people talk. I have been told I’m a good listener and I have the stories to back this up. I have perfect strangers tell me things they may not tell anyone else. It must be the perfectly timed concerned nod I give.
Sunrise and Sunsets – I talk a lot about my morning and evening rides on my motorcycle reflecting on how beautiful these are and how each one is unique and beautiful in its own way. I also know others are looking at them too from their own perspective and vantage point, but from now on I’m going to appreciate the beauty of both the visual and spiritual sides of these daily wonders. The beauty as it happens and how and why it happens, and in turn, give thanks each day for this amazing gift.
Appreciate – So much wasted energy is given to those things we cannot change and I will dedicate this energy to appreciating all that is around me. I will also communicate my appreciation to those who are important to me. I hope you don’t mind, because this matters to me. Get it?
One thing is for sure, every day is a gift and there isn’t any point in wasting it. Make the most of your time spent on this earth and give it all you have while making a positive difference in someone else’s life.