Category Archives: #IHeartHutch

Going Over the Edge for Reno County’s United Way

There I was dangling from a rope. My feet had lost their footing for a second, and adrenaline pumped through my system as I tried my best to get them back to the stone wall. The sound of music and voice of Lisa Gleason, Executive Director of the United Way of Reno County, echoed from down below on Main Street while the shade of the First National Bank building protected me from the sweltering late afternoon summer heat. It was my first time to rappel, and I could not think of a better place to do it than from off one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Hutchinson. Still, the thought of how I ended up where I was kept running through my mind.

I first learned about the idea of United Way of Reno County’s Over the Edge last August when I was picking up t-shirts for my honors students who were taking part in our annual clean up of Carey Park for the United Way’s Day of Service. Tona Turner, the former executive director, asked me my thoughts of a fundraiser that involved people like me rappelling off the First National Bank building on at the next summer’s Third Thursday. As she described the event to me, thoughts of previous events throughout Downtown’s history ran through my mind. There was, of course, Spot the horse and his rider on top of the Wiley Building in 1941 as well as all sorts of other images and memories of events that have taken place on Main Street both in my life and before.

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Without a doubt, I could see what Tona described as becoming a part of Hutch’s history. The First National Bank of Hutchinson alone has played a large role in the history of both the city of Hutchinson and my life. For Hutchinson itself, First National Bank came to that location back in 1876. It transformed into Hutchinson’s first skyscraper in 1911 based upon designs by Daniel Burnham, the same Chicago architect who designed New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and many other iconic buildings throughout the country. The building was then expanded in 1957 and again in 1972-1974 to its current state.

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It was this building that grabbed my attention when I first moved here back in 2007 and was looking for a local bank. It was also here I spent a summer as an intern for the Hutchinson Community Foundation when I cleaned their storage room to transform it into my summer office where I would arrive each morning to look out their fifth-floor windows towards the east side of Main Street and all of the land beyond, including the grain elevator that once had the claim of fame of being the world’s longest (it’s second now). A few years later, I then began spending many more hours on that floor as a board member for that same amazing organization and eventually the chair of their grants committee. Plus, there were many memories of breakfasts and lunches at Downtown Sampler, the tasty restaurant on the second floor, and then there were the times meeting John on top of the parking garage to bring him something or another when he was working evenings there when he was going back to school. Plus, it is on Main Street, and to say I have a great love for Downtown Hutchinson would be an understatement.

On top of the location, the event also had the pull of being a fundraiser for the United Way of Reno County, which has changed the lives of so many through the money they raise during their annual campaign that goes to support many of the fantastic non-profits here in the area including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice of Reno County, Interfaith Housing Services, New Beginnings, Salvation Army, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, The Volunteer Center of Reno County, and many more working hard to improve living conditions for our local population. Then they also have greatly helped with early childhood education here in the community too, something that is very dear to my heart, and have partnered with Hutchinson Recreation Commission, Reno County Health Department, and the City of Hutchinson with the Southwest Bricktown Neighborhood Initiative which has led to many wonderful things as well.

So thanks to the history of the building, the great work the United Way does, and my New Year’s Resolution #1 for this year to live a better story, I couldn’t resist signing up back in February to be one of the people to rappel down the side of the building. Each person though was to meet a financial goal of $1000 in order to go over the edge of the First National Bank building. This is where once again I was reminded I am horrible at fundraising. I would craft Facebook posts and emails to share with others, but then not hit either the submit or send button at the last moment. I was going to write a blog post back in March about the upcoming event, but well, you can see that didn’t happen. My plan, though, was to fund, as I tend to try to do with fundraisers, most of it myself, but a $1600 vet bill for Callie in April and another extremely large sum of money for summer graduate courses led to that plan failing too. By the end of May, I had given up on reaching the goal and getting a chance to be part of this piece of Hutchinson history.

However, the kind hearts of those at the United Way decided to let those who had signed up but had not reach the financial goal still rappel and let us still try to raise money throughout the rest of the month of June (if you would like to donate, please do so by going here) as well as have us be able to talk about the amazing experience that it was so even more people will want to sign up the next time they do this. When I received this email on Tuesday, I was thrilled to say the least, and soon I had one of the last scheduled times so I wouldn’t miss out on meeting with new honors students at the Enrollment Day at work.

After changing out my dress shoes into hiking boots (I figured they had the best traction out of anything I owned), I drove quickly downtown yesterday afternoon still wearing a pair of dress pants and my standard white button-up shirt (the tie and jacket were left behind though) to experience something new. Throughout the day, I had caught a few pics, videos, and Snapchats of some of my other friends going down the building, and with each, I became both a little more excited and a little more nervous. I won’t lie and say there was not a brief moment of hesitation when I climbed out of my car and saw the building before me. Stopping for a second, I looked up at its top, took in a huge breath, told myself all will be well, and then walked forward to find the always amazing and wonderful Bailey to capture a few shots of my rappel on the camera I had brought. Then it was to the Downtown Sampler area on the second floor to get geared up before going to the top of the building.

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My group that traveled to the roof together.

My arrival was at the same time as a few others as well, and we chatted as we were decked out in our harnesses and gloves with everything being checked time and again. Then a friendly face of a friend of mine, Adam, greeted us in the hallway to take us up to the roof where we went through a thorough training session to go over the gear and how to rappel down the side of a building. I tried to pay as much attention as possible to the lever that would ease us down and all of the safety mechanisms as my mind raced in many different directions especially towards the recurring thought of what if I am the first one that day to get stuck going down and would need to be saved somehow. Then afterwards, it was waiting for our turn to go. Jon, another guy getting ready to go through this experience, and I took in the sights from the top of the building. The sky was unbelievable clear as we looked out upon the tree-filled city we call home. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. I took in another deep breath and then went towards my destination.

The first step is a doozy was what I was told earlier, and as I stood there on the ledge, I could easily see why. Here were these two ropes that were keeping me from fall seven stories to the land below. I made small talk with the guy helping me take that first step, which I may or may not have been delaying. He was from Chattanooga and was very nice. I smiled at my friends, Cory, Chelsea, and Adam, who were also on top of the building and then took that doozy of a step.

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The first step

The feeling was indescribable. It was this sort of mix of fear, excitement, happiness, and awe with each step I took down the side of the building. I could hear Lisa down below being a fantastic emcee as she talked about different things I had done in the community while getting the crowd to cheer me on. I could see so much as my eyes would shift from the wall in front of me where I tried to slowly take each step to the world around me. The windows on both sides of me were the biggest surprise, for they provided this great reflection of the city of Hutchinson. I was also trying to count each floor so I could stop and wave at my Hutchinson Community Foundation friends (It turns out I waved tons at the sixth floor instead of the fifth though). Even when I would lose my footing, it would only be for a second as my thoughts went right back to the detailed training Mike had shared with us. Mainly, though, I was smiling because it was an experience like nothing I had ever had before and may never have again.


Although it seemed like it took me quite some time to get down, I had made it back to the second level landing spot to be helped by some local volunteers. My heart was still racing a bit as I thanked everyone for letting me have this truly amazing experience before I found my way to next to Bailey on the street. More friends were soon by my side, and text messages were coming with photos and videos taken by many from all different places and heights. Everything was both a blur and clear at the same time. And I just kept looking up at the tall building before me, thinking how grateful I was to the United Way for giving me this experience that will be relived every time I see this skyscraper in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas.

As always, thank you for reading this post. If you would like to help the United Way of Reno County with the great work they do, please do not hesitate to make a donation by using this link that will help me get closer to my financial goal.

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A Love Letter to the Kansas State Fair

Dearest Kansas State Fair,

Our paths have crossed many times over the last thirty-some years. Memories of when I was a youngster easily come back to me as I walk through the buildings and see the different free things being given away. Quickly, I am taken back to walking those steps with my mother and sister while I tried to fill a bag with as many goodies as possible. The Old Mill was always a must with each turn in the dark place would send a little shiver down my spine all while thinking back to how my grandmother used to ride the same path when she was younger and before some likely heart-broken cynic transformed the Tunnel of Love into a ride of terror.

Then there was college when I would visit you with other Emporia State University Ambassadors on your final day. After serving our time at the ESU booth, my adventures expanded with my exploring the place with friends, and I rode the big slide for the first time. So much of the tasty delicacies were explored while I learned what it was like to be other side of the booth and giving free stuff away to youngsters.

Never would I have guessed the journey of life would bring me back to you, Kansas State Fair, with my moving to Hutchinson to take a job at the local community college. Both the house where I rented and then the house I bought are within walking distance of one of your gates. Suddenly, my one trip a year was turned into four or five with my checking out the free shows, spending much of my free time wandering around, and experiencing the enchanting evenings your lights and energy brought.

Now after my ninth year of living here and making so many more memories thanks to you, Kansas State Fair, it feels right to declare my love and count the top three reasons why.

  1. Your Magical Atmosphere

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Right now, I am writing this from a bench under a tree with the fair train tracks behind me and in front the Old Mill, kids playing in a fountain, and places to buy funnel cakes, roasted ears of corn, ice cold root beer, and tons of other tasty fried foods all while the sounds of Jake Owens from the grand stand intermixes with the cicadas in the trees all around me. The added touches of the almost full moon coming in and out of the view thanks to the cloudy moon and the perfectly cool weather for a September night make everything a tad bit surreal.

Both the day and night transform you into completely different experiences, and both, simply put, can be amazingly wonderful. Whether it is the stunning lights from the concession stands and rides of the Midway or the warm heat of the last-bit-of-summer sun shining down upon the friends, families, and individuals exploring the buildings and the rest of the grounds during the mid-afternoon hours, your atmosphere is one that oozes potential.

There’s the potential to live in the moment and eat something fried or full of calories without thinking about its after effects.

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The potential to buy something I never knew about before the fair but after the showmanship of the seller leaves me to wonder how I lived without it.

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The potential to throw a ring just right onto a bottle and win a stuffed animal prize from a tricky carnival game or test my balance by climbing up what seems to be a simple few rungs of a ladder.

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The potential for paths to cross with people unknown until that conversation opens a connection that could be brief or lifelong. The potential for reunions with people from our pasts that for whatever reason lives had led us in separate directions until they merge ever so briefly once again somewhere on your grounds.

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The potential for times with loved ones that can create lifelong memories that will be cherished for many years later. And the potential for more potentials that can only come from the uniting of so many people and things all in one place thanks entirely to you.

 

  1. Your Celebration of Creativity and Hard Work

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Everywhere one looks, the examples of creativity and hard work are on display. This is the land of jaffles, moinks, bickels, and a whole bunch of other edible delicacies one can usually only find at the fair.

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Sure, they may be tasty, but what truly grabs people’s attention really is the creativity that comes into play. Take your staple itself, the Pronto Pup. A creative reworking of the batter or more than likely creative thoughts behind its advertising transformed a corn dog into a must-have.

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However, even tasty items like the Wheatland Café’s Apple Dumpling is a result of creativity and hard work that has perfected the recipe over the years to make it my favorite time and again.

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The celebration goes far beyond the fried, sweet, and savory things that add to the waistline (which then one could argue connects to a person’s hard work to burn off the devoured calories later). Throughout the fairgrounds one can catch shows of creativity in process including the chainsaw-carved statues, the spray-painted paintings, and the sculpted butter.

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Then there are the entries that range from quilts to cakes to paintings to photos to wine to almost anything else with the only thing tying them together was each came into being because of a spirit of creativity living within its maker.

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Furthermore, the long hours of tireless care appear in each animal with its owner taking so much time to get each furry critter to be state-fair worthy and compete for the purple ribbon. Plus, many of the competitions are not of luck but rather the culmination of so much practice to prepare all for a break-it-or-make-it moment. Then there are the giant vegetables of all kinds that were protected from the elements, watered, and nurtured so they could get a chance to be awed upon by people of all ages.

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All of these are so much more than simple entertainment for the fairgoers but rather pieces of inspirational fruits of hard work that are admired in so many ways.

 

  1. Your Truly Honoring Kansas by Being a Snapshot of the Sunflower Kansas

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Looking at the elements of you, the Kansas State Fair, individually may make it appear like you are nothing more than a random assortment of food, vendors, animals, rides, entertainers, and artwork, but a step back shows you are more like a microcosm of the state, for Kansas is a little of everything across its 82,278 square miles. It has its farms and wide open places, its beautiful tastes of nature, its quirky attractions like none other, its stores, its restaurants, its rides, and its entertainment. And behind everything is that frontier spirit where the American Dream lives on that is embodied so brightly in many of the people at the fair.

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And yes, there are the people. Truth be told, I can think of nowhere else there is such a cross-section of demographics all in one place. A multi-millionaire can walk right next to someone who is barely making it, and both share the same mission to explore the offerings you have brought us this year. Unlike so many things, there is no noticeable social divide. Plus, your Dillons Dollar Day even gives people the ability to get into the fair for either free or only a dollar per person, thus opening up the experiences to many more people who may have been hard-pressed to pay the $10 ticket price otherwise. Then once getting into the fair, there are so many things a person can do for free and have a blast through it all. Whether it is watching the comic hypnotist, cheering on pigs racing each other, or seeing the goats at the free petting zoo, people are brought together to have a good time.

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The people really are one of the truly magical parts of you because you can give faith in a better future. People ranging in ages, backgrounds, homes, races, orientations, education, political affiliations, religions, abilities, and so on are united with a single common goal to enjoy the festivities and celebrate Kansas. This all gives a glimpse and a hope that differences truly can be put aside and people who would often never be in the same place can come together all within an area of only 280 acres and enjoy so many of the same things, thus proving we really are not that different after all.

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Sure, I know there are things people often complain about you, but as we all know, nothing is perfect. The traffic you bring to Hutchinson for an example could be one, but that is still part of your charm thanks to how you attract so many people to come to what I guess I could consider as my home. Plus, with my often being on bike, the long line of cars and trucks on 17th is nothing more than a mere background as I pedal past the people sitting in their vehicles right to a bike rack conveniently placed next to a gate.

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Oh Kansas State Fair, how I love thee. Although you may appear for such a short period of time in my life each year, all that you bring together and all that you stand for provide me with a wealth of memories and experiences not only I but thousands upon thousands of others can cherish for a lifetime.

Needless to say, I will be seeing you once again next year.

With much love,

Ryan

A Random September Day Made Better by a Bike

The Vitality Trail
The Vitality Trail

This morning while checking the news, I ran across this article about biking (and walking) to work may lead a person to being happier. Having had a few days that were not the best lately, I decided I might as well go for it (keep in mind that much of Spring and Fall, I bike to work. I really have no excuse the other seasons because I live a little less than a mile away). And I do have to admit, there is something about biking to work that brings a smile to my face.

Well, the work day was actually quite good complete with some productive meetings, a great class, and some decent work done during the other times. Plus, I was able to bike to and from home for lunch, which led to some more smiling as I plotted what I needed to tackle in the office. I left the campus, feeling good and ready to drop by my house, change out of my suit, and head to the grocery store to pick up a few things.

Along the way to Dillons, thoughts of Melbourne kept coming to my mind. It may have been the overcast skies that reminded me of a late autumn day or this song that started running through my mind:

Or maybe it was that I was on the bike I had brought back with me or my old Australian helmet I was wearing (I gave my other helmet away and need to pick up a new one; however, this one is working well until then). Something though had my thoughts on biking through that amazing city. So I continued on the Vitality Trail, cycling by prairie dogs while smiling at the memories that kept popping into my mind.

After a quick trip in and out of Dillons, I had my four things I needed in my reusable bag that went into the basket on the back of my bike. As I finished a phone conversation with my good friend, Dr. John (having quite a few great friends named John/Jon has led to each of them having descriptors), I walked my bike towards the Dillons Trailhead where I saw a couple of guys under the gazebo. That is when the memory of the Hutchinson Area Cyclists‘ Monday night rides hit me.

With groceries in my basket, a not-fully-inflated front tire, and my having my commuter bike, I had no plans to join the group, but I wanted to go over and give Eric props for getting this group started. I chatted with the guys for a bit, and when 6:00 PM hit, my plans were still to head home. The persuasive John Fairbanks convinced me to take the long way back, and there really is no way to say no to that guy.

So my romaine lettuce, rice milk, and a couple of other things went on a 20-mile journey north of town. Deer and turkeys were out, and soon the clouds had parted to give way to one of those enchanting Kansas sunsets. Plus, the conversations were great as they went from bike riding to being a vegan in Central Kansas (one of the guys in the group was a vegan) to life in general. And there was the fact that Eric altered the course of all of our lives tonight by putting together Hutchinson Area Cyclists and organizing these weekly rides.

We parted ways, and after a few pics taken on the Vitality Trail, I finally made it home from what was going to be a quick trip to the store.

So now I sit here, quite happy as I eat another piece of my tasty bread as I think about all of the things I would have missed out on today if I would have driven my car instead riding my bike to work. Needless to say, tomorrow is going to be another bike day.

The Beautiful Kansas
The Beautiful Kansas Sunflowers

#IHeartSmallville

Just some of the tons of people who came to this weekend's First Smallville ComicCon
Just some of the tons of people who came to this weekend’s First Smallville ComicCon

When Kansans travel, it is almost a guarantee they will hear several times during their trip references to a certain movie involving a girl, a dog, a tornado, ruby slippers, witches, flying monkeys, munchkins, and a yellow brick road. After a while, it becomes pretty easy to know when that reference is going to hit, for there is a little glimmer in the person’s eyes almost immediately upon learning the traveler’s home state before he/she references that iconic movie.

When I was living in Australia, those references came on a very regular basis because, well, I was in Oz. Sure, I thought it was neat Kansas was in the top five states people knew overseas (the others being California, Florida, New York (really only the city), and Texas), but the Wizard of Oz lines did get old after awhile.

For the first few months, I did the polite Kansas thing and just smiled before quickly changing the subject, but then the snarkiness may have come out with my answers after that:

  • Comment: “There’s no place like home.” Answer: “Pretty much true with everywhere really when you start thinking about geography, climate, people, and animals.”
  • Comment: “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” Answer: “Really? Oh, that silly tornado did it again.”
  • Comment: “Where’s your ruby slippers?” Answer: “Back at my place. I didn’t feel like they would go with my outfit. Your thoughts?”
  • Comment: “Where’s Toto?” Answer: “He was hit by a garbage truck. Why did you have to bring up that traumatizing event that took years of therapy to get over? Just a second. I have my therapist on speed dial for moments like this.”

My favorite, for it was less snarky, was always when the person would say, “The Home of Dorothy!” and I would quickly and proudly add, “And the Home of Superman!” This perplexed look would fall over their faces. “Smallville, Kansas,” I would say to try to clarify my response. After a “Huh?,” I would talk about Clark Kent/Superman and his boyhood home, which would always lead to their asking, “Where’s Smallville?” My reply was always the same: “There are at least four towns claiming some Oz-related thing, but yet none have claimed Smallville. Crazy, isn’t?” Little did I know during those hundreds of conversations that fate would eventually place me in the real Smallville, Kansas.

Several years ago, the amazing Christopher Wietrick and some of his friends came up with the theory Hutchinson was Smallville. They combed through comics, watched movies, viewed television shows, and researched everything they could for evidence to support their idea. This grassroots effort was fantastic to watch take place as the snowball continued to roll while they spread the word during Third Thursdays, comics, blogs, and news stories. Last year, Hutchinson officially became Smallville thanks to our city council when they renamed the city for a day in honor of Superman being inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame.

One of the Largest Third Thursdays I have ever seen. The weather was perfect for the art walk and Smallville festivities.
One of the Largest Third Thursdays I have ever seen. The weather was perfect for the art walk and Smallville festivities.

This year, the embracement of being Superman’s childhood home grew exponentially with the City Council renaming the town for several days. Third Thursday incorporated it into its events. A sold-out Smallville Pub Crawl took place down town.  Concerts for the Cause celebrated it as well on both Friday and Saturday as they raised money for great causes in Reno County. And then there was the very first of many yet to come Smallville ComicCon.

Just a few of the many great Cosplay costumes.
Just a few of the many great Cosplay costumes.

If you are not familiar with ComicCons, they are a convention of sorts in honor of comics, superheroes, sci-fi, and other popular arts with cult followings. Celebrities, writers, artists, vendors, and fans are all in attendance, and the community is amazing with pretty much everyone embracing everyone else. Then, there is Cosplay taking place too, and that is just nifty to see with fans dressing as their favorite pop culture characters as they become celebrities themselves with others running up to them, posing, and getting pictures with them. Friendships and admiration form with these just being a few of the many ingredients that cause that overall feeling of awesomeness to flow through the convention.

One of the Many Contenders for the Cosplay Contest
One of the Many Contenders for the Cosplay Contest

Armed in a Superman shirt on Saturday, I went to check out Smallville ComicCon at the Kansas State Fairgrounds. Truth be told, uncertainty rested in my mind of how well this would be attended. That quickly disappeared upon entering the fairgrounds and seeing all of the cars. Without a doubt, the wonderful Jon and Troy Robinson’s creation was a success. Exploring the building, I saw some excellent cosplay, talked to some great artists, listened to some fascinating panels, and enjoyed seeing so many people having an amazing time.

Saturday's Concert for the Cause.  Concerts for the Cause happen every Saturday night during the summer at Avenue A Park. All proceeds from the concessions go to the cause for the event. Check them out at www.concertsforthecause.com
Saturday’s Concert for the Cause.
Concerts for the Cause happen every Saturday night during the summer at Avenue A Park. All proceeds from the concessions go to the cause for the event. Check them out at http://www.concertsforthecause.com

That night was then spent down at Avenue A Park listening to the highly talented Wandering Madman at the Concert for the Cause for the Hutchinson Street Cat Society. The weather was perfect, and I was able to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen for a while as well as meet some other nifty Hutchinson residents as the music flowed through one of the many extremely beautiful places in Reno County.

Once Upon a Time's Michael Coleman showing Phil Morris, Alaina Huffman, and the audience the proper way to eat an ice cream sandwich
Once Upon a Time’s Michael Coleman showing Phil Morris, Alaina Huffman, and the audience the proper way to eat an ice cream sandwich

On Sunday I came dressed in my Least I Could Do Raccoon with a Light Saber T-Shirt (next year, the plan is to go in a costume thanks to one of my former students coming up with a very good idea for me and insisting I had to do it) and had yet another excellent day soaking in everything (especially anything involving the stunningly beautiful and extremely nice Alaina Huffman).

The Stunning Alaina Huffman from Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate Universe, etc.
The Stunning Alaina Huffman from Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate Universe, etc.

The last few days have been so much fun on so many different levels, and because of Christopher and his efforts, so many people came together, made connections, found out about this great place in Kansas, and changed the culture of not only this city but also the state. As the success of Smallville continues to grow, Kansans are going to find when they travel that one certain movie will not be the only thing referenced.

In fact this just happened to me last May. When I riding the T (aka the subway) in Boston, the guy next to me, after we had been chatting for a bit, asked where I was from, and I simply said Kansas. That glimmer formed, and I prepared myself for a Toto reference. Instead, surprising me completely, he asked, “Do you live near Smallville?” With a grin on my face, I proudly replied, “That’s where I am from.” His smile was huge as he said, “That’s so cool.” And without a doubt, he is right, and this weekend definitely proved that.