So to get to Witchita, you have to fly in a small plane. I appreciate the term ‘small’ is relative: I am not talking about a two seater, but frankly any plane where there is only one seat on my side of the aisle is too small in my book. The journey here from Chicago airport thus tested my new-found ‘nonchalant flyer’ status somewhat. (I sweated and tried not to visibly hold the plane up by the armrests.)
Wichita itself is flat. Really flat. You find yourself gazing out of the car window and trying to calculate how many days’ drive away the horizon might be. I did a tiny TV station run by a husband-and-wife team where a 110 year old cine-camera sits in reception and a poster for their “The View” type talk show, “Mouthy Broads”, sits opposite. Casual conversation reveals that most residents here know all the presenters in person.
My hotel, The Ambassador, opened a week ago. It is enormous and plush and sits like a leviathan in the middle of the city centre. It is so new that my sheets bear the imprint of the packet, and I feel guilty about sullying the virgin facecloths. The staff are lovely and so keen that I’m fighting the suspicion I may be their only guest. They have not yet set up room service, so they invited me into the bar and made me the most delicious burger I have eaten in years (we are in cow country). They didn’t charge me for the accompanying glass of wine because nobody had yet decided how much it should cost.
I hope The Ambassador is a huge success, but looking out at Wichita’s quiet streets, and hearing how Boeing, one of its biggest employers, is leaving in February, I can’t help wondering how it will fill its magnificent rooms.
Somewhat busier was my event at the lovely Watermark Bookstore last night. I have long observed that the thing about about book events in quiet towns is that they often provide the best audiences. I could not have asked for a nicer audience. Beth, the manager, might have graffiti artist tendencies, because on the pillars of the cafe upstairs customers are encouraged to scrawl their reading resolutions (“Watch less! Read more!”) while in the basement every visiting author gets to write a message on the wall. David Sedaris, the US humourist, did a picture of an owl.
He is a great favourite with audiences here, and rightly. Apparently the last time he was there he signed till the small hours, asking for and telling jokes and being mischievous. “Sir,” he asked one man. “If you woke up in the woods with grass stains on your knees and a condom behind you, would you tell anyone?”
The customer was wide-eyed. “NO!”
Sedaris grinned. “Wanna come camping?”
So today I head to Dallas, and then onto L.A, trying not to think about the cheery weather forecast which predicts “just a thirty percent chance of tornadoes in the Dallas area.” Weather here, as my handler told me yesterday, is a little freaky. She told me how her parents house was destroyed by a tornado several years ago. Emerging from a neighbour’s cellar to scenes of devastation, they found blades of grass embedded like spears in the wall of the house.
When her mother went through her house she found her chest of drawers apparently untouched, the drawers still closed. When she looked inside, however, underneath her carefully folded clothes lay leaves and shards of glass. Apparently the tornado opens the drawers, lifts the clothes, and forces debris under them before closing them again.
I love this image. I’d love it a lot more if I wasn’t about to get on another little plane.