Wichita, Kansas is, on the surface, much like any other place. People get up in the morning, go to work, hit the bars in the evenings, try to pay the bills. Due to Wichita's location in the American Outback, far from the "civilization" to be found on the coasts, most people who live elsewhere have preconceived notions about this city on the plains. Unfortunately, many of these notions are all too true.
As you might expect, Wichita is indeed largely peopled by Joe Conservative types the kind of folks who go to church at least occasionally, listen to Rush Limbaugh (still!) and Dr. Laura (ecch!) on the radio, drive trucks, vote Republican, and actually think Carlos O'Kelly's is a Mexican restaurant. The average person on the street here is against abortion but for the death penalty, and considers both positions to be justifiably Christian. (Remember we had that embarrassing evolution debacle a while back.) And people here actually believe that the local newspaper, which regularly features such righties as Cal Thomas and Mona Charen (not to mention the lame-duck comic "Mallard Fillmore"), is a tool of the liberal establishment.
It's a good town to get your ass whomped, too, if you don't watch your back. Say what you will about crime in the bigger urban sprawls of America Wichita is still a cowtown at heart, and wild-eyed street people have no compunction about accosting strangers on the sidewalk. Perhaps it's because of the non-centralized layout of the city, which grows constantly as ravenous developers chew away at the prairie outskirts; no one walks anywhere in Wichita. You must own a car (or have very charitable friends with cars) to do anything here. The public transit, what little of it there is, is a bad joke. So if you happen to be on foot, you're looking to get hassled for cigarettes, money, and/or nonsensical conversation. And if you're not so lucky, you could end up robbed, beaten, or killed. This sort of random thing has happened to me and a surprising number of my friends.
Just an example: since I moved to Wichita (from a smaller Kansas town) 13 years ago, I have been mugged, threatened with a gun (which soon after killed a close friend), smacked around in a dark alley, burglarized at least four times, and chased by a truckload of drunken rednecks. I have run across crackheads, militiamen, Crips, white-power skinheads, junkies, serial rapists, murderers, self-mutilators, schizophrenics, sociopaths, hatemongers, vampires, liars, and rip-off artists of every stripe.
Like I said before, Wichita is much like any other place. (Sometimes like every other place at once.)
And like any other place, no matter how straight-laced, Wichita has its own subculture. Or rather, a set of very specific subcultures, all of which intertwine at one time or another. Punk and alt.country bands, Beat-revival poets, xeroxed zines, art collectives, hot rod kustom shops, experimental jazz combos, independent filmmakers, tattoo & piercing parlors, hip hairstylists, and so on go to any big event, say an art opening or a popular local band's gig, and you'll see emissaries from all these overlapping tribes.
Perhaps our common condition, this being marooned on an island in the middle of a vast ocean of wheat, surrounded by Coors-swilling punchclock jockeys in Jeep Cherokees with NRA stickers, perhaps this solidarity is the thing that makes the scene here (small as it may be) so supportive and vibrant. There is strength in numbers.
The purpose of this website is to give voice to the Wichita Experience, in the clearest possible manner: through the writings of its people. If you have ever lived in Wichita, or live here now, or even stopped over on a Greyhound, I encourage you to submit your true stories of the strange, the mundane, the sublime, the horrible, the beautiful, the tragic. This is your opportunity to add to the collective consciousness of the Air Capital.
Watch this space for the first batch of writings, coming soon.
Watch Wichita Win!