Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Day 12 – Welcome to Wichita!
15/03/2009, 13:38
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , ,


Thursday morning was a whirlwind as far as my itinerary was concerned. The previous day I’d accepted a ride to Denver with a family from Lawrence, but my proximity to Wichita was causing a mania of activity. There were seemingly dozens of Twitter users synchronising their efforts, not only to get me to Wichita but onwards to Austin for the South By SouthWest festival.

That was far more appealing than Denver; look at a map for your options beyond Denver, and you’ll soon see why. Besides, SXSW meant a cacophony of Twitter users; if ever there was a chance to raise the journey’s profile and gain some momentum, SXSW was it. There was an offer of a ride to Austin from Wichita but no means to get there; fortunately a tweep seven timezones away in Ireland called Lisa (@chiarragrrl) saw my plea and bought me a ticket for the Greyhound bus leaving Lawrence that afternoon. I was set.

The Greyhound. The stuff of legends. The backbone of American travel. The cause of nightmares. I can say now, boarding that bus was the most intimidating part of my trip to date. Not wanting to stereotype those who choose to travel by Greyhound – there are no doubt plenty of good people who do – but I appeared to be on the bus of the damned. Everyone hogged two seats to themselves, fully reclined with limbs and bin liners of belongings spilt everywhere, so onwards down the aisle I stumbled until I finally found the last pair of free seats. Opposite the toilet. Dear. God. The stench of fifty strains of piss and shit was unbearable.

Three hours I spent on that bus, in that seat, holding my breath every time the toilet door was opened or closed. The woman behind me got all crazy, started muttering to herself about somebody needing a “word a with Daddy”, the boyz in front appeared to have been recently released in prison, and I wondered what the blithering hell I was doing there.

When what seemed like a billion years passed and we arrived in Wichita, I was met from the bus by Carrie (@CarrieFollis) who had just that morning agreed to provide me with a bed for the evening. With her was Josh (@joshdutcher) and together they were the brains and brawn behind Naked City (@nakedcity), a lifestyle and entertainment magazine for Wichita.

And then there was Corey, a cameraman from local television station KSN; he recorded footage at the bus station and recorded interviews at Carrie’s home, and promised to be along later for the Wichita tweet-up that had been organised at The Anchor bar. Except it wasn’t Corey that turned up later, it was another cameraman. Except he wasn’t from KSN, he was from KWCH. And while he was interviewing me, a crew from KAKE turned up, too. And then Corey.

There were three local affiliate networks in Wichita, and I appeared on the 10pm news across them all. That pretty much sums up my experience of Wichita; of all the places I’d visited so far, nowhere was more welcoming, and nowhere was more engrossed in Twitter. There are plenty of towns and cities where users put faces to avatars at tweet-ups, but Wichita certainly felt unique; 20 or so people dropped by the Anchor that evening, most of whom were strangers to one another just a few months ago. Their friendships had now blossomed far beyond Twitter; this wasn’t a social media network anymore, but a gathering of firm and trusting friends.

The attention of the cameras was a little overwhelming, the turnout of individuals was incredibly touching, and having KSN Anchor Anita Cochran taking TwitPics from every angle then dragging me outside for a photo with her kids was just plain surreal. Welcome to Wichita. I certainly was.


6 Comments so far
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I hope you are listening to / have listened to “As falls Wichita, so falls Wichita Falls” while you are there.

Comment by Racheinderbys

Bill Bryson on US bus travel in The Lost Continent:
IT WAS TEN MINUTES to seven in the morning and it was cold. Standing outside the Bloomsburg bus station, I could see my breath. (…) I was hungover and in a few minutes I was going to climb onto a bus for a five-hour ride into New York. (…) standing in the early-morning chill, I realized I was making a serious mistake. You only go on a long-distance bus in the UnitedStates because either you cannot afford to fly or – and this is really licking the bottom of the barrel in America – you cannot afford a car. Being unable to afford a car in America is the last step before living out of a plastic sack. As a result, most of the people on long-distance buses are one of the following: mentally defective, actively schizoid, armed and dangerous, in a drugged stupor, just released from prison or nuns. Occasionally you will also see a pair of Norwegian students. You can tell they are Norwegian students because they are so pink faced and healthy-looking and they wear little pale blue ankle socks with their sandals.”

Brought to you by an occasionally sandal-wearing – minus the ankle socks – Norwegian.

Comment by @flholst

But WHY did the Greyhound driver hold on to your ID? I’ve been waiting with bated breath since you tweeted to read about your brush with Authority!

And you don’t even *hint* at it!


Comment by M0ka

Ah, sorry to have teased you.

The Greyhound confirmation email said that I only needed to produce a confirmation number to board the bus. What I *actually* needed to do was go into the store 100 yards from the bus stop and ask them to print a boarding pass for me. Seemingly I was meant to guess at this detail.

So the driver refused to let me board without taking my ID off me. And I refused to give it to her. At first. Then realised Id be stuck in Lawrence overnight at that bus stop if I didn’t.

See, it wasn’t very interesting in hindsight… 🙂

Comment by Paul

Many thanks to @MissMotorMouth who alerted me to your proximity to Wichita and your desire to get to SXSW. Without her intervention by Twitter DM to me, you would have ended up in Denver. Of course, there are worse things to have happen than spending a day in Denver.

Also I’m pretty sure Shea & Tyler were the only two people from Wichita who drove down to SXSWi, so you’re pretty lucky to not only catch a ride but to have such interesting travel companions.

Paul, anytime you need anything in Wichita, you know you’ve got friends here who won’t let you down.

Comment by Cindy "WichitaCindy" Stanford

I just found out about your journey/project today (April 14th) and I’m sad to see that you passed through Wichita without me knowing. I would have been more than happy to help you in any way I could in the state of Kansas since I live in Wichita. Glad you stopped through nonetheless.

Comment by Justin

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