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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 1:55 AM
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To Peek at Topeka: HHNC

Yes, Topeka of all places. Like you, perhaps, I had no actual first-hand knowledge of this mysterious land they call Kansas. All I really know is that it has a reputation for being flat, and hot, and dull, and that its very name is literally a synonym for plain and ordinary, as in "We're not in Kansas anymore." And all I really knew about Topeka is that it's the home of the Westboro Baptist Church, as well as -- speaking of religious nuts -- the home of former governor Sam Brownback's fabulous failed tax experiment. Stephen King also saw fit to make use of the place, specifically Gage Park, in the Wizard and Glass book of his Dark Tower series.

We were there for more prosaic reasons though and sadly, we were unable to ride a miniature train into another dimension which is, as I understand it, what happens to the characters in Wizard and Glass. On the other hand, we were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of food. We had excellent burgers, Italian food, and a very good meal at a place called The Blind Tiger whose logo is so bitchin' that I bought myself a tee shirt. First time I've ever bought a restaurant/brewery shirt. Blind Tiger also sponsors the tiger exhibit at the Topeka Zoo, which is another reason to like them. On the other hand, we ate at a chicken place where the experience could best be summed up like so. Go watch. I'll wait.

Speaking of cutting you, we learned that Topeka has a terrible reputation due to its high crime rate, although what struck me is the way it appeared that all the white trash from the wretched little rural county where I work as a social worker had somehow multiplied their numbers and built themselves a city with buildings and sidewalks and everything. Topeka seemed to be a city that will cut your candy ass at the slightest provocation. It felt rather a lot like Little Rock and in fact, that could be a good tourism slogan for the city: "Topeka: It's basically Little Rock!"

Other potential slogans might be "Topeka: Comfortable, like your fat pants" and "Topeka: Shockingly tolerable!" -- because it was. I was stunned by how comfortable the place felt, even with so many people walking around with visible track marks and no teeth. It felt rather homey, all things considered, which was absolutely mindblowing for a guy born and raised in the mountains.

And the real fun of it is that we'll likely have to go back there at least two or three more times. Perhaps on one of those future trips I can take more than just these crappy photos with my phone.

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(Note: I apologize if youtube forces you to watch a commercial before you can get to the music I thought fit these pictures. They've been awful for that recently.)











The Mulvane Art Museum had a fascinating exhibit on what the art in museums tends to look like before the conservators get their hands on it. We're talking paintings stained brown with nicotine, paintings that are flaking, buckling, cracking, paintings that have had other paint or turpentine slopped on them, paintings whose frames have suffered God knows what all indignities, and even paintings with water damage, which leads us to...



















This guy and his jaunty top hat make appearances all over town. He usually seems to be in a great honking hurry.





It's really not just any town where one could get a hankering for frozen yogurt in the evening and pass by the Westboro Baptist Church, not to mention the Equality House across the street, while on the way to find a frozen treat.









On our second day there we visited the Topeka Zoo.



The indoor rain forest alone was worth the price of admission.



Bats.













The bananas of Kansas:























After the zoo we went across the street to an Italian restaurant where we were seated on the red patio...



...and dined upon the red lasagna!



Then we went and got Hawaiian ice and enjoyed it in this bleak little courtyard.



On our last day there we hung out downtown and in the North Topeka Arts District.





























Fun fact: In Wizard and Glass the Topeka the characters encounter is the Topeka in the world of The Stand, a world devastated and nearly depopulated by plague. So... this is the sort of thing the characters would have seen. Meanwhile, here in our world I'm really not sure why a drywall company would advertise itself with skeletons in a hearse at a classic car show.

















Fly swatters...



...which honor this doctor who made it his mission to improve the public health of Topeka by ridding the city of pests and the noxious habits which helped them to thrive.































































"Regressive legislation, prepared fresh for you every day!"







It has always irritated the piss out of me how other states get nice capitols, while North Carolina makes due with a dull old relic that looks like a smallish county's courthouse, and a new relic that looks like a Brady Bunch set piece.











There would have been yet more photos of murals, but the capitol building was closing and we had to get out... although not before I bought a really nice poster of Carrie Nation in the gift shot. That's going on the wall right over the liquor cabinet at home.















Downtown Topeka is awash in public art, and some of it is quite nice. There would have been even more pictures of it, but unfortunately some photos -- such as the one of the giant pencil and the one of the NAACP statue just didn't come out at all.



Pay no attention to the fat, bloated creature with flyaway hair taking the photo. Pay attention to the tee shirt.







We had to park in the space designated for the oral auction winner to take this picture, and I assure you that I wouldn't do that for just anyone.



It turned out that "arts district" is perhaps too grand a term for what you find in North Topeka, much the way that a friend noted on facebook that I appeared to be having a blast and I told her that perhaps "blast" is too strong a word to use when describing what one has in Topeka.































Fun fact: In Wizard and Glass the characters explore this train station and find several mummified corpses of people who had been trying the flee the plague. One of the characters notes how futile the gesture was and asks just where it was they had been trying to go. Had anyplace been safe as the disease swept the land? Likely not.







There were holes in the roof visible through the top floor windows. On the second floor, you could see that at some point in the past, someone had painted the rooms a fetching green and orange color scheme.









I really, truly do wish Topeka the best. I actually liked the place and I want to reiterate that the food was wonderful. Topeka had a vibe that reminded me of Asheville circa the mid 90's. Rundown, dirty, gritty, dangerous, but with enormous potential. I hope that the people there can bring it back and turn it into something wonderful. I hope the kind of people who'd want that sort of thing -- as opposed, say, to the folks who think Westboro has a lot of good points -- will stay and work and fight like hell to make Topeka into what it could be and ought to be. I hope they'll stay instead of take the easy way out and move to Kansas City, Chicago, and even Wichita, where the momentum is already rolling along. It takes an incredible amount of work to move a rock like Topeka, but as Asheville proves, it's more than worth it to get it up to the top of the hill.

Good luck, Topeka. I'll likely be seeing you again.
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Last edited by hauntedheadnc; May 7, 2018 at 12:19 PM.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 8:38 AM
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Thank you Topeka is rare on this forum actually on any forums too.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 3:40 PM
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Nice pictures. Topeka doesn't look too bad. Did it have a prairie feel, or does Topeka feel more like it's in a farmland region similar to Illinois or Iowa?
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 3:46 PM
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Thank you Topeka is rare on this forum actually on any forums too.
I think on a forum like this, pretty much anything is rare if it isn't an alpha world city.

...Which is a shame because there's a lot of urbanity in the world beyond the big dogs.

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Nice pictures. Topeka doesn't look too bad. Did it have a prairie feel, or does Topeka feel more like it's in a farmland region similar to Illinois or Iowa?
It definitely was a pleasant surprise. I had very low expectations.

I'm not sure I'm qualified to describe a "prairie feel" versus a farmland field, but one thing that did surprise me, coming from the South, was that urban development pretty much slammed to a halt right outside town. There was a very clear delineation between town and country. All of a sudden you were out in the fields.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 6:42 PM
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Originally Posted by hauntedheadnc View Post

I'm not sure I'm qualified to describe a "prairie feel" versus a farmland field, but one thing that did surprise me, coming from the South, was that urban development pretty much slammed to a halt right outside town. There was a very clear delineation between town and country. All of a sudden you were out in the fields.
that's mos def tell-tale prairie/plains...that's present in illinois west to ?

ah, the infamous topeka.



when i lived in kansas city, i rarely went west of lawrence into kansas (which amazingly feels totally different than topeka) unless i was going all the way to the front range or less common, to the flint hills and manhattan (kansas) which once again, feels different than topeka.



the kansa, or more common regionally the kaw tribe member with the bow and arrow pointed at the north star. this iconic statue on the dome a classic waypoint on I-70 for me on the way to the rockies. sort of a signal that the land is starting to slowly but surely bend skyward from the influence of the rocky mountains, and the "gate" to the proper great plains.

thanks for the photos.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 7:05 PM
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that's mos def tell-tale prairie/plains...that's present in illinois west to ?
I was surprised that the land had more texture than I'd been led to believe... You'd be going along and suddenly find yourself on a patch of high(ish) ground, and be able to see downtown miles away. That was pretty cool.

Quote:
the kansa, or more common regionally the kaw tribe member with the bow and arrow pointed at the north star. this iconic statue on the dome a classic waypoint on I-70 for me on the way to the rockies. sort of a signal that the land is starting to slowly but surely bend skyward from the influence of the rocky mountains, and the "gate" to the proper great plains.

thanks for the photos.
They do have a nice capitol, and you can see it and that crowning statue from everywhere. I can honestly see how Topeka could be a place that a person could grow to love. I really hope they can straighten themselves out. There are blocks upon blocks of Victorian houses there, cheap as dirt, just waiting for some enterprising creative type to bring them back to life. Topeka has some serious funk potential.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 7:59 PM
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I was surprised that the land had more texture than I'd been led to believe... You'd be going along and suddenly find yourself on a patch of high(ish) ground, and be able to see downtown miles away. That was pretty cool.


that's sort of the difference between the prairies of indiana/illinois and the plains of kansas, etc. the land goes from feeling concave, down in a massive bowl to convex, or an inverse bowl. kansas really opens up especially in places like the flint hills or smoky hills, the ozarks southwest of st. louis can do this too east to west but there's usually too many trees to appreciate it.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 8:09 PM
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that's sort of the difference between the prairies of indiana/illinois and the plains of kansas, etc. the land goes from feeling concave, down in a massive bowl to convex, or an inverse bowl. kansas really opens up especially in places like the flint hills or smoky hills, the ozarks southwest of st. louis can do this too east to west but there's usually too many trees to appreciate it.
Having been there and seen it, I think Kansas has a very subtle beauty that takes an open mind to appreciate. Plains and gentle hills are not dramatic, no, and they won't pack the same kind of punch that a 400-ft waterfall would. But only a fool would not call it beautiful.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 8:33 PM
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Interesting. Thanks for the set.

I haven't been there as an adult, but as a kid & teen my family drove through Topeka on I-70 at least a dozen times on long cross-country road trips. My main memory of it is how different it feels depending on which direction you're driving.

If you're heading west, you don't think about it much at all. There's only a half hour of country in-between the KC & Topeka suburbs, with Lawrence smack in the middle of that, so it really doesn't seem isolated or far or special. But ho-boy, things are different coming east.

Coming east you spend hours and hours in the depths of the Great Plains, feeling (and being) in the absolute middle of nowhere. For 500 freaking miles between Denver and Topeka, you're lucky to get a Dairy Queen and McDonalds at any highway exit, much less anything that you could reasonably call a city. It's an entire day of driving. But then you get to Topeka. And small and dusty though Topeka may be, Topeka is a city. You get there and you throw your hands up in the air and sing a literal hallelujah, because finally you've reached the first outpost of metropolitan America, of civilization itself.

I am not exaggerating. Approaching Topeka from the west is an emotional experience.

tl;dr this is you arriving in Topeka from the west:
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 8:35 PM
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Anyway, my mental image of Topeka is pretty much exactly your first picture. That distinctly urban view from I-70 is permanently ingrained into my brain. But that's all that is, since I only traveled through as a kid and never got the chance to explore it off the highway.

Also the state house dome fountain is adorable.
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 8:38 PM
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Awesome tour. Thanks!
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Old Posted May 7, 2018, 9:37 PM
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Interesting. Thanks for the set.

I haven't been there as an adult, but as a kid & teen my family drove through Topeka on I-70 at least a dozen times on long cross-country road trips. My main memory of it is how different it feels depending on which direction you're driving.

If you're heading west, you don't think about it much at all. There's only a half hour of country in-between the KC & Topeka suburbs, with Lawrence smack in the middle of that, so it really doesn't seem isolated or far or special. But ho-boy, things are different coming east.

Coming east you spend hours and hours in the depths of the Great Plains, feeling (and being) in the absolute middle of nowhere. For 500 freaking miles between Denver and Topeka, you're lucky to get a Dairy Queen and McDonalds at any highway exit, much less anything that you could reasonably call a city. It's an entire day of driving. But then you get to Topeka. And small and dusty though Topeka may be, Topeka is a city. You get there and you throw your hands up in the air and sing a literal hallelujah, because finally you've reached the first outpost of metropolitan America, of civilization itself.

I am not exaggerating. Approaching Topeka from the west is an emotional experience.

tl;dr this is you arriving in Topeka from the west:
a few years ago between relationships i tore up I-70 a decent amount between st. louis and denver. replace topeka with lawrence (for me) as that civilisational totem. lawrence is one of the good ones...where william s. burroughs settled in of course. has a pre-superboom mini-austin thing going on at its best. a slightly above average state flagship university town at its worst.

perhaps that bias also prevented me from digging in to topeka...i didnt know it had some of these things. historically speaking lawrence is the liberal yang to the topeka (whatever) ying.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 12:56 AM
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I love pioneer monuments!
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 2:04 AM
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Interesting. Thanks for the set.

I haven't been there as an adult, but as a kid & teen my family drove through Topeka on I-70 at least a dozen times on long cross-country road trips. My main memory of it is how different it feels depending on which direction you're driving.

If you're heading west, you don't think about it much at all. There's only a half hour of country in-between the KC & Topeka suburbs, with Lawrence smack in the middle of that, so it really doesn't seem isolated or far or special. But ho-boy, things are different coming east.

Coming east you spend hours and hours in the depths of the Great Plains, feeling (and being) in the absolute middle of nowhere. For 500 freaking miles between Denver and Topeka, you're lucky to get a Dairy Queen and McDonalds at any highway exit, much less anything that you could reasonably call a city. It's an entire day of driving. But then you get to Topeka. And small and dusty though Topeka may be, Topeka is a city. You get there and you throw your hands up in the air and sing a literal hallelujah, because finally you've reached the first outpost of metropolitan America, of civilization itself.

I am not exaggerating. Approaching Topeka from the west is an emotional experience.

tl;dr this is you arriving in Topeka from the west:

Mark my words I will do the exact same trip like yours from Denver to Topeka to experience the feelings and emotions as you described.

Preliminary plan is something like this: in year of 2022, to fly to Denver from LA or SF, have to skip SLC cuz it is said boring. Then to drive from Denver to KCMO to experience the ... so tired of in the middle of nowhere all day ... wait wait see some urban stuff (in Manhattan) ... oh man more urbanism (in Topeka) ... and hallelujah finally back to civilization (in KCMO, actually been there in 2011 had an alright metropolitan minute, especially when in Crown Plaza area, spending some decent time at the mall the Hallmark the hotels the parks and the monument and looking to downtown skyline, yeah that 500-mile was worthy of the emotion and all).
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 2:10 AM
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Did not know there was an "equality house" across the street from Westboro. That's awesome! Great tour!
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 3:01 AM
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Kansas is like a lot of states that can defy stereotypes. The eastern part of the state is green, somewhat hilly, and woodsy in places. As for the people, it's like all red states. It's not that there aren't a lot of intelligent, educated, decent people. It's just that the far right wing extremists and politicians get so much attention that folks don't realize there are other people there, including lots of moderates and liberals. In my line of work, I've worked with many people from Kansas who were absolutely wonderful people. They're very embarrassed by Brownback and Westboro in particular, both of which seem to define Kansas.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 2:05 PM
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Thanks for the comments, everyone.

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Did not know there was an "equality house" across the street from Westboro. That's awesome! Great tour!
The Equality House is owned by a nonprofit called Planting Peace. They also own that house next door, which is painted in the colors of the transgender flag just like Equality House is painted in the colors of the gay and lesbian flag.
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Old Posted May 8, 2018, 2:32 PM
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replace topeka with lawrence (for me) as that civilisational totem.
I'd expect Lawrence and Manhattan to be pretty nice, being university towns. But you can't see them from I-70, which was what made Topeka so great for me.

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Mark my words I will do the exact same trip like yours from Denver to Topeka
Good luck! I can see how that would be an adventure for an Antwerpian.
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Old Posted May 9, 2018, 7:12 AM
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Thank you for posting these. I can't recall ever seeing Topeka here. It looks interesting, a little more rundown than I expected but overall seems to be in good shape.
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Old Posted May 9, 2018, 7:28 AM
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It looks like 1983.
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