How I Told Dodge City’s Power Grid “Stop Breathing” Within 10 Minutes of Getting Here, and Other First Impressions

Dodge City: So far, it doesn’t suck.

That’s the simmered version of the first impression I have of the place.

It’s 7:31 a.m. as I type this. I drove my Dodge into Dodge just under 14 hours ago, and immediately got a laugh. If you ever get the chance to see that movie “The Dark Tower,” or if you read the book it’s based on, you’ll recall the “Man In Black” who (I think) is basically a killable version of the devil. Well, one of this man’s powers is to be able to kill people by simply telling them “Stop Breathing.”

It felt like I did that very thing to this city last night. The forecast called for sunny skies and 81 when I would get there, having left Manhattan, Kansas earlier that morning in the middle of heavy thunderstorms.

But as I arrived, Dodge City actually got hit by one, a fairly large one that brought patches of heavy rain. As I walked in and introduced myself to the young hotel clerk at the place I’ll be staying these next few days, I handed him my debit card and ID, the former of which he ran like all hotels do when you check in.

As he ran it, there was some thunder outside, a flicker of the lights, then all the power went out. To the entire hotel. The young man (probably 17 but nice enough) went to get the manager who lives on-site, and before long she got it all setup and me checked into my room with a master-key. I told them I’d leave to get dinner and hope things would be on when I got back.

I got in my truck and departed for the nearby Applebee’s (what better way to eavesdrop on the community a bit than to people-watch at a bar), only to find on the way that it was about half the city that had lost power. Patrons and employees of businesses along Wyatt Earp Boulevard stood outside their business, police coordinated traffic at busy stoplights, and I instead had to figure out what else to do with my time.

I found the city’s one Wal-Mart. That’s how I spent my first few hours in Dodge City. Sidenote, I did eventually go to Applebee’s. Stomach: 1, Thunderstorm: 0.

This morning, however, I think I’ve had a little more success getting a feel for the city, or at least a first-impression.

After waking up due to a nightmare about being on a six-mile run on my first day of work and realizing I’d be late to my first day (which today is), I decided to shower, watch a little Sportscenter, and go find breakfast.

I had seen on maps that there was a coffee shop. Not a Starbucks, mind you, but a coffee shop. Also, I wanted pancakes and the “Big Breakfast” thing from McDonald’s, not realizing my hotel offered continental breakfast (but which I probably wouldn’t have done anyways because I wanted to get out and see the city in the pre-dawn hours).

Dodge City has two, and according to Google Maps, they’re both open 24 hours. That already gives this city a plus-1 in my book. Say what you want to say about how it “isn’t real food” or is terrible for you, but there’s something I believe to be absolute fact: when you need cheap, bad-for-you-but-filling food, you really really need cheap, bad-for-you-but-filling food. Like when you’re drunk. Or when you haven’t slept a lot because you woke up from the most lame nightmare ever. Neither of the two McDonald’s in Manhattan is open 24 hours.

Which brings me to point out another thing that’s open apparently 24-hours per day here:

Just about friggin everything.

Dodge City: 1, Manhattan: 0.

Maybe, as I drove around at 6 a.m., the places I saw closed overnight and just had their employees come in super-early, so “24 hours” might be a little hyperbolic.

Here’s what I noticed though. Perhaps by virtue of this place being a major trucker location in the far southwest corner of Kansas, compared to Manhattan which basically just has a Big 12 university and is 10 miles away from the interstate, I still find it exciting to see just how many people are on the roads and at work at 6 a.m. here.

This is, of course, perhaps purely a “me-problem” I’ve had with other places, because I am both an extravert and a morning-person. So I draw energy from being around people, and am at my very best in the mornings.

There’s more hustle-and-bustle in this city at 6 a.m. then there is in Topeka, Kansas, and certainly in Manhattan, Kansas, each of which has at-least about twice as many people.

That, is exciting to me. Sure, I’ll probably have to become more of night-owl here soon because today I start my new job as the sports editor at the Dodge City Globe, and who knows, maybe my first impression of the place will prove totally false and today is just an exception to things.

My first-impression of the city, however, is a good one. Now, if I can just find a nice apartment and a decent mocha, it’ll be about perfect.

 

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Wedding Season, Part 1

I guess you could say it’s my favorite time in my life.

Sure, I’m between moves, and sure I’m technically homeless until I land my next job as a journalist (though I am staying with my parents, it doesn’t count as “home.” More on that some other time).

But tomorrow, I get to attend a wedding.

It’ll be only the second one I’ve been invited to and the first I’ll have attended because of prior work commitments which kept me from attending the other one.

The wedding is between two great people I know, one a dear friend who I took multiple English classes with. The other is her hilarious future husband, who’s comments on the wedding’s Facebook page crack me up to no end.

Then there’s the fact that it’s a wedding.

To me, as a practicing Christian, there’s really no celebration more meaningful except perhaps a baptism ,but I’ll leave that one up for debate for now. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, these two amazing people have been led to each other, whether that be by God, the stars, or “mere circumstance” and have decided to commit to being life-long best friends. Tomorrow, when they take their vows, they will commit to that, before God and country and witnesses.

Two people have fallen in love.

Despite all of the chaos in the world. Despite all the evil and darkness humanity sometimes seems to bring upon those who seek to be or do good. Despite the tendency of so many people to serve as naysayers to nearly everything. Despite it all, they have found light in each other.

They have fostered themselves as people, fostered themselves spiritually, and started to learn to foster each other. And, what is more, tomorrow they’ll commit to keep working at it. They’ll commit to keep enjoying it sure, but even more, they’ll commit to keep working at it.

That’s a special thing. It isn’t a commitment everyone can make, not one everyone does even when they have the opportunity. But tomorrow, Lord wiling, the world will become a little bit better because of the joy they have found in each other and the courage they now exemplify.

Can there be a more joyous occasion?

I somehow doubt it.

A Close Reading Of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”

(Editor’s Note: I’ve been wanting to write this for a while. This post has been sitting in my “drafts” for literally months, largely because I’ve been trying to figure out how to start it. Any performer, artist, writer would readily tell you that starting is among the scariest, most difficult parts of any creative endeavor.

For me, that makes it also the most fun part. Enjoy, as I try and struggle my way into elegance.)

A Close Reading of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”.

If you’re into poetry at all, or even if you’re not and you just like neat, beautiful ideas, one poem you need to read is “Trying to have something left over” by Jack Gilbert.

Plenty has been written about the final lines of this poem, which you can buy as part of Gilbert’s collection “The Great Fires” on Amazon. I’d encourage you to. I’ve read enough poetry at this point in my young life to know that this collection is something special. Not because of how it speaks to me, because Gilbert had a mind and life much different from mine. His life, his views on love all were more realistic, more honest, more complete than mine are.

Maybe that was because he wrote these poems starting when he was 57. Maybe he was just less stubborn than I was, a better steward of a tougher life’s lessons than myself.

But I digress. Whatever the many causes for the beauty of his work, especially this collection, and even more especially this poem, Gilbert wrote something in it I wish to analyze, and imagine with you for just a moment.

The last nine lines go like this, as he talks about playing with the baby of a woman he had an extramarital affair with:

“I would say Pittsburg softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburg with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburg and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.”

-from “Trying To Have Something Left Over” by Jack Gilbert.

These lines have been burned in my brain since I read them. I like other poems in the collection more, (or at least, so I’ve always thought). But what strikes me most in this poem is something marvelous that’s happening.

Gilbert, in the events above, is taking care of a child of a woman he can never have a relationship with (per the rest of the poem before these lines) and a child who is not, in my understanding, his. Yet he cares so much about that child and that city that he wants that child to feel happiness forever on the mention of its name.

That in itself is beautiful.

The idea he’d care so much about a place, and an idea behind it, to engrain that in the mind of a small child. Something mattered deeply to Gilbert about Pittsburg. Sure, it was his hometown, but the final lines of the poem suggest more than just nostalgia. They suggest a bigger idea. An idea Gilbert was desperate to pass on, desperate to keep alive in any way possible or necessary because whatever it was, it was something beautiful, good, important.

The boy will never know what it was. He’ll never know why the utterance of the word “Pittsburg” brings him joy, having never been able to remember his infant laughs as Gilbert threw him up each time when he was a baby. All he’ll know is that there’s something wonderful there. But he’ll never know what it was. And the most beautiful part of this concept?

Neither will we as readers.

That’s why I write you today. I read this poem and I see the marvelous, poetic beauty Gilbert has engineered with these lines.

We see Gilbert throwing up the small infant. We hear his laughter, see his smile, maybe we evenimagine his mother standing in the doorway looking with a sad smile at all of this, perhaps seeing Gilbert’s potential as a father and wishing they could have a future, even while knowing that they couldn’t.

But what we never hear Gilbert do is actually explain what he was trying to convey. We never learn what was so vital it needed to be etched in the memory of an infant. Gilbert never tells the baby, and also never tells us as readers.

That’s where the true beauty in these poems comes in: we as readers are the infant to this poet.

Gilbert can never have an individual relationship with any of us any more than he can with the young woman or her son. Gilbert the man has a wife whom he loves, precluding him from staying with her or the boy.

Gilbert the poet has a mortal life, unable to converse with most of those who will read his work. In each case, with the infant as the boy and the infant as the reader, Gilbert can only have a one-way relationship. All he can do is try to teach. Never ask, just tell.

So he does. He tells us about the beauty of trying to convey an idea through emotion because he lacks the ability of just explain it. Gilbert does not tell us why Pittsburg is so important to him. He does not tell us what idea he must pass through even just a partial memory. He does not tell us why he wants the baby, be it the child in the poem or the reader of the poetry, to feel joy every time they think of the “ruined city of steel in America.”

All any of us knows is that there’s some idea there that is worth celebrating, worth cherishing, worth holding a beer up to whenever we think of that place.

Too often, becoming an adult teaches us to ask “why” when invited to celebrate something. Adulthood teaches us not to celebrate unless we understand the whole reason for celebrating.

This poem asks us not to.

Poetry: The Specter Of The Tarantula Wasp.

Keanu Reeves once as a character said
his biggest fear was quicksand: At first everything
is going fine then you make one mistake.
And another. And another.
You try to fight back
but the harder you fight the deeper you sink until you can’t
move, can’t
breath.
Like quicksand.

Such it is with love.
A beauty of metaphor that allows me no peace.

The specter of solitude haunts you.
Follows you. Lurks
in the shadows behind you.
As you take the solitary walks of shame
you’ve always taken,
whether at the base of Fort Bliss or the side streets of the Little Apple.
The ones you still take with alarming regularity.

You feel it: Solitude’s breath.
but you can’t do anything about it.

Love’s optimism beats through your veins
like a tarantula’s blood.
Love is the heartbeat.
Faith in Solitude’s eventual banishment is the organs.

Solitude itself is the tarantula-wasp.

You fight it when it first attacks
in your youth. You try not to let it get a hold.
You feel your first kiss like the tarantula feels when its jaws
grab hold of the deadly insect. You feel your heart flutter
with joy, with excitement, with the youthful optimism you might
live. And not just live, but life carelessly.

Love: the noble but flawed aspiration to simply take care and cherish another
is all that’s ever mattered. That solitary desire
has clung to your DNA like the spider now clings to the hope of life.

But just as quickly as you feel your first kiss
you feel yourself let go. You feel the wasp
wriggly free with haunting power. Your jaws slip
though you know you’ll die if they do. You try to will them
into holding. Into not make the single mistake
of insecurity.

But the wasp is already free.
And just like that it’s over.
Solitude stings you, and begins to drag you
paralyzed but still with a long life ahead
To its dark layer.

You already know what’s coming next. You also know you’re powerless
for all your strength, to prevent it.
So you try not to resent yourself for your failure
and brace yourself for the pain you’ve caused yourself.

The tarantula was drags you to its hole.
It stings you a second time, this time, leaving in your abdomen an egg.

You count your mistakes during the initial fight
like the lonely count their failed relationships. You feel
its larva: the idea of never being all you’ve ever wanted
start to consume:
Your optimism.
Your idealism.
All from the inside out
even while you’re still alive.

You chase away friendships as the larva starts to grow,
you lose confidence when you get a divorce,
knowing that for a split-second you had all you ever wanted,
and all you had to do was stop yourself from chasing it away
and you failed to do so.

You feel your heart, nerve, and sinew start to betray you
the way Kipling warned you never to do if you wished
to be have all the world, and everything in it and what was most
to be a man.
You lose all of it.

Until one day, one minute, one instant,
as you feel solitude’s larva about to consume the heart of your belief,
you realize God is watching, and you must be stubborn.
You decide to savor each breath and simply enjoy that you can breathe
however painful and tiring that may now be.

You take long walks
alone. Enjoy the architecture and the clouds.
You look longingly
at the wedding processional at Saint Isidore’s,
at the old couple, hands embraced, taking their own walk.

You look longingly at them, remind yourself
of the lyric you once learned, even though you didn’t have to, from Aida:
“I shall not envy lovers, but long for what they share.”

Then slowly, like the tarantula as it takes its final breath
you close your eyes. But where the spider now accepts its death
you set your heart to accepting your life
and somehow decide to keep eagerly waiting.

Giddy AF As I Finish Football Research

I feel so good it’s insane right now. A perfect cup of coffee in my favorite mug helps.

What helps even more is doing college football research.

I’m literally giddy AF right now.

Research means I’ll soon be writing previews about the season, and if I do well enough maybe that’ll help me get a job actually covering it, and if I do that well enough maybe it’ll lead to a career doing that!

I love feature writing, and maybe I can get a job after my current internship where I help cover news in the offseason, but sports is and truly always will be my first ambition and goal.

I know I’m raw, but I’m swooning at the prospect of possibility, and I’m loving my work this Saturday morning.
Time to finish up, stretch, and go find a waterfall.
Have a good day everyone.

Constitutionalist No. 2: The Need For A Congress We Can Trust

“(‘The late convention at Philadelphia’) composed of men who possessed the confidence of the people,, and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom, in times which tried the minds and hearts of men, undertook the arduous task (of creating ‘a national government more wisely framed’). In the mild season of peace, with minds unoccupied by other subjects, they passed many months in cool, uninterrupted, and daily consultation; and finally, without having been awed by power, or influenced by any passions except love for their country, they presented and recommended to the people the plan produced by their joint and unanimous councils.” – Federalist No. 2, by John Jay.

Perhaps part of our biggest problem as a democracy is that we have gotten away from electing public servants who we trust.

Trust is an issue whether you look at the legislative branch, where approval ratings were near 19 percent back in January, or at the executive, where the President has made numerous decisions drawing the ire of Americans, such as his choice to leave the Paris accord last week. We as a nation seem to have lost faith in the patriotism of most of our politicians, a stark contrast from the way it was when America was formed.

Of course that’s partly due to the differing circumstances of the times. Our world was simpler to navigate in the 1700’s, if only because things took more time. Social media obviously wasn’t a thing and information only spread as fast as a rider with a letter could deliver one via horseback, which meant that decisions of government took longer to affect, and responses had to be given more time to be composed. That’s a far cry from now, when the people know of any decision by a government official mere seconds after it was made.

The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of each shall remain largely untouched here, but what I will say is that in dangerous times such as these, the speed of information gives the people new opportunities to make positive changes to their government.

I sincerely believe there is reason to hope for the United States.

When John Jay wrote his portion of The Federalist, there were far fewer senators than now if only because there were fewer states. Yet there have always been temptations which could cause a government official to stray from placing the best interests of the nation first. Those temptations now are at least as numerous as they ever were in Jay’s time, but true patriots do still exist in Congress. These men and women work in a way demonstrative of placing the good of the United States and its people ahead of their own.

I have long marveled at a few of the most readily available examples; men like John McCain, a republican out of Arizona, and Elizabeth Warren, a democrat out of Massachusetts.

I have also of late marveled at the power of the judicial branch of the United States, specifically for its ability to challenge both the executive and legislative branches.

Perhaps the most recently example comes from Monday, when the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed a decision by a lower court, shooting down the redrawing of 28 State House and Senate districts in North Carolina. The lower court had ruled that the districts, drawn in 2011 by the mostly-Republican legislature, were basically racist. They were drawn, the court ruled, with race as a predominate factor without compelling reason, thus violating “equal protection principles,” according to the New York Times.

The combination of strong stances by the courts, and the patriotism of certain members of Congress should give us hope. Hope that true patriots do still exist in our legislative bodies, and that our government can be made, perhaps more than ever, to function for the benefit of everyone, regardless of class, race or gender.

Barack Obama’s election stands as an example of the power we have to bring positive change to our government through voting. We only need wield it.

But we must wield it.

The future of America need not be written by old white men.

We are the generation lawfully able to empower women and minorities in a way no other generation has ever been able to. We can elect members of Congress who believe in this principle. Through technology, we can remind those we elect that this is what we as a culture want and desperately need. We are at a moment when we can make great strides for humanity by passing laws protecting unjustly-minimized populations in our society.

When those politicians don’t listen, we can and must refuse to reelect them.

We must promote those from within our communities who have earned our trust: those who believe in what we believe and will place our nation’s welfare above their own.

We must persist in this pursuit, until Congress again is filled by those who the people can rightly trust to look out for them, not just the wealthy ones.

All of this is lawfully and peaceably in our power, but we must be wise enough to start voting and stop sitting on the sidelines of history. There’s reason to hope and believe in our government, but for that to matter we must be brave enough to lawfully and deliberately act upon it.

Poetry: The Heart’s Memory

Absent friendship is bittersweet
at nighttime.
The way the sun feels in summer in the middle
of the night, with the humidity, the warmth, and the echoing sounds
of darkness, and silence interrupted
only by police sirens.

These things tantalize us, remind us:
of our frailty, of our vulnerability,
of our desperate need to courageously embrace
solitude.
Yet they remind us love can exist
even when friendship ceases, is chased away, is awkwarded
into nonexistence.

Long after the sun has set,
Long after the protection of presence
has faded like the sun over the horizon,
and the elegant hue of intellectual, loving conversations
should have long ago faded from memory,
still Love can remain.

Still Love can echo what the heart wishes it could remember.