Did you know that the “Wichita lineman is still on the line?”
My apologies to the estate of Glen Campbell, but I had to.
The Mid-Continent Road Trip has shifted west into Kansas. It was also a “request stop.” This may require a long backstory with some explanations and naming names. However, that was never on my agenda on this road trip. I wanted to bless this experience by driving on new roads, and absorbing new destinations, including the new states I have driven in.
So, it was on to Wichita…
LEG 4: KANSAS CITY TO WICHITA
Kansas City yielded a mix of experiences. It was time I had to leave the city. Just like most of this trip, I hit the road before 7:00 AM to cross into Kansas for the night. Over some breakfast, I had a lot of work to do on my laptop in Olathe. This time yielded a lot of productivity. I had a slew of e-mails to send and content to publish.
My work was done. Its was back on the road.
Immediately, Interstate 35 took an interesting twist out of the Kansas City metropolitan area. We often think of Kansas as completely flat. You’re wrong. The part of Kansas I drove through burst with sunlight, greenery and rolling hills. I was immediately entering the Flint Hills, a very beautiful part of the state.
In Emporia, I met up with the Kansas Turnpike. This toll road operated in contrast to the Illinois Tollway system, where you have to pay at every toll at every booth. Or, to make sure your I-Pass is attached to your windshield or front license plate and fly through the left lanes. On the Kansas Turnpike, you can still get a K-Tag and do the same as you would in Illinois – fly through the toll gates.
In my case, I do not have a K-Tag or an I-Pass. Kansas institutes a similar ticketing system as on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You get a ticket at your first entry into the toll road, then pay when you exit it. Thankfully, the Kansas Turnpike takes credit and debit cards. In these days of the continuing pandemic, going cashless is a very good thing indeed!
The Turnpike itself was lovely. The curvy section through the Flint Hills offered stunning vistas. There was plenty of construction on several sections, which the driving a bit unnerving. Then again, there’s construction everywhere this summer…am I right?
My arrival into Wichita was interrupted by my weekly conference call with the consulting gig I still have. After the call was completed, it was time to do an early check in at the Hampton Inn on the northeast part of Wichita. This was up the street from a friend of mine’s dealership that is part of a larger chain based in the Twin Cities. You probably heard of it – Walser, anyone?
A few years ago, Walser purchased a set of Wichita dealerships with most of the luxury brands sold in this market. This friend of mine became the general manager of one of the stores. I had the opportunity to interview him for one of the other publications I write for because of a new employee resource group for LGBT Walser employees.
At that point, Wes wanted to get me into one of his vehicles for the fortnight. We ended up leaving the Camry at the dealership and took a 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Given my history with the brand, how could I say “no?”
The Walser campus in Wichita looked fantastic. They have brands that the dealer group does not sell in the Twin Cities. A shame, really, given some of the dealers I ran into selling these same brands. Wes gave me a tour of the campus over two days, while meeting some of the people from Walser’s Drive With Pride and other Walser people in Wichita.
The afternoon yielded a nap. Naps are good. Perhaps a respite from the heat and a storm that dropped some rain in the city.
A drive was in order. As I traversed the city, I stopped by the Keeper of The Plains. This statue is on an island in the Arkansas River, standing tall. This monument sends positivity and protection of this native land. It is perhaps the best welcome you can get in Wichita.
Wichita’s Old Town has been transformed into the hip section of town. Old saloons and hotels are now lofts, apartments, bars, and restaurants. There’s even an LGBT bar in that part of town. This time, I did not go into XY to see what that is all about.
After he got off work, Wes and I met for a late dinner nearby the hotel. It was a way for us to catch up on things. He and his significant other have settled into a new home and a busy life in Wichita. Needless to say, I am very happy for him.
After another day of meeting other Walser folks and checking out the rest of the campus, I was westbound back to the Kansas City area…
However, there were a couple of bonus items that occurred as I was touring the Walser campus. One, Wes showed me the new 2020 Land Rover Defender with the general manager of the Jaguar, Land Rover, and Porsche stores on the campus. The general manager invited me to a drive around the parking in their demo model – a 110 SE P400, powered by the 395-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6.
Spoiler alert…this SUV snagged my soul.
There is a learning curve involved in understanding the controls on the Defender. I have a good feeling I will be championing this vehicle. That is, if it holds up in reliability over the long run.
The other bonus item was at the Lexus store. Wes and I were touring the showroom area, when I happen upon one of their accessories displays by the parts department. I saw two RC F GT3 race cars, along with a smaller scale RC F in Ultrasonic Blue. We approached the counter. The parts counterperson came up with two different RC F GT3 models. I walked away with a number 14 RC F GT3 in the blue Mark Levinson livery for my home office desk. Bucket list item accomplished!
After my bonus items at the Walser campus in Wichita were accomplished, it was time to hit the road for one more night of this road trip.
LEG 5: WICHITA TO OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS
The purpose of driving back towards Kansas City was to set up for a seven hour drive back home the next day. It wasn’t that I had unfinished business in Kansas City. I accomplished everything I wanted see and do during the weekend. I just needed to pace myself.
It was back over the Flint Hills on the Kansas Turnpike. The heat was on – over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a lovely day for the drive back towards Kansas City.
As they say in some travel circles, getting there is half the fun. But, how much fun can anyone have when they rely on a mapping app to get them in the wrong place?
That was exactly what happened as I made my final overnight stay at the Sheraton in Overland Park, Kansas. I ended up in the parking lot for the Overland Park Convention Center next door. I walked around the Convention Center in hopes of connecting to the lobby. I did make it and checked in to freshen up enough to fetch the Camry to re-park it in the proper parking lot.
Due to the heat and energy levels, I decided to stay in for the night. Perhaps it was best after driving a lot of miles and absorbing a lot of new experiences. The rest was much needed.
Too bad that Grubhub and Apple Maps failed that evening.
LEG 6: OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS TO HOME
Between psychotic elevators and some other factors, I was glad to get the Camry packed to get out of the Sheraton in Overland Park. I was also glad that access to Interstate 35 was easy and that traffic flowed extremely well through downtown Kansas City.
I made a stop in Des Moines to meet up with my colleague Ken Chester of RoadWorthy Drive. He is putting in work in many ways through his radio shows and newspaper columns across the country. If you have not had a chance to follow him and his show, please do. It is always good to chat with one of my fellow journalists on the road.
From Des Moines, it was over three more hours on Interstate 35. I was heading north through a familiar stretch of road. Every mile grew fonder. Memories already captured. Every state line crossed. Every new city noted.
Was this the best road trip ever? I’ll saved that after I recalibrate myself in self-quarantine.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicles were rented by Victory & Reseda, provided by Acura of Wichita, Wichita, KS and Jaguar Land Rover of Wichita, Wichita, KS. All travel expenses paid by this publication.
All photos by Randy Stern