Some places are visited because of the food, others due to their culture, and still others due to a specific attraction. Well the capital of the Jayhawk State was visited due to a conversation.
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better know as the GI Bill, provided all World War II veterans with access to low-cost mortgages, one year of unemployment compensation, and tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational school. The Harry W. Colmery Memorial Plaza honors its eponymous author, Topeka native and WWI veteran . . . and is conveniently located directly across the street from my hotel. Nothing super artistic here, though the GI Bill was revolutionary.
The Classic Bean for a coffee, a dirty chai, a prepackaged coffee cake and a bagel. The beverages were fine, with the coffee cake tasting like it was prepackaged. At least the bagel wasn't a Lender's.
Therefore it quickly became obvious that we didn't visit for the refreshments, but for the conversation. Marg is a local who is trying to bring a grocery store to downtown Topeka to serve the undergroced. She's been working on it for five years and if it doesn't happen, it won't be for a lack of passion. She's equally passionate about the Topeka Symphony.
She also clued me in on parking in downtown Topeka. It's free, but a two hour maximum from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, by zone. Parking enforcement somehow keeps track of which cars are parked in which zone, so if you theoretically want free all day parking, you need to move your car from zone to zone to stay one step ahead of the law.
The route to the Kansas State Capitol cupola and its 360° views consists of 296 steps over a series of suspended staircases, whose narrowness, incline and railing height, I'm sure does not meet code. As I climbed relentlessly higher and higher, all I needed was a torch in my hand and I would've been in a scene straight out of National Treasure.
The capitol of The Sunflower State, also contains the most famous capitol mural in the country.
The mural is titled Tragic Prelude and and it depicts John Brown in the Bleeding Kansas period just prior to the Civil War. My tour guide informed me that the rock group Kansas needed to get permission to use it to grace the cover of their eponymous and inaugural album. It seems unbelievable that the Kansas legislature would give their imprimatur to a bunch of long hairs back in 1974, but they did.✌️
Bobo's Drive In was featured a few years back on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. And while I wouldn't necessarily trust Guy with a fine dining recommendation, he's normally a good judge of burgers. Well this time he wasn't. The place is famous for its Spanish burger, which appeared to be a thin pattied hamburger with a slightly sweet sauce. When I asked how it was named, my server was emphatic that it was "due to Spanish spices, not Hispanic" to which I thought "what does that mean?" They make their own root beer, which is great if you're from the Midwest, but if you're from NY you may want to go with a Dr. Pepper.
There are two kinds of athletes in this world, Evel Knievel and everyone else. What possesses a man to jump multiple cars, trucks, buses, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, fountains and sharks? I'm thinking it is either lack of the fear chromosome or some kind of mental disease.
Many museums do fine job displaying facts and dates but fail to capture the spirit of their subject. The Evel Knievel Museum comprehensively does, while providing an excellent overview of the man, and the case study of a the patient who broke 433 bones.
It was recently purchased by private investors, and will be moved to Las Vegas in 2024 . . . Evel did seem more like a Vegas kind of guy.
At one point during my visit, I said to Mrs. AAR, that some of the details mentioned in the exhibits may not be 100% accurate as Evel was known to embellish some of his adventures. To which she replied "Just like you." To which I replied "That's right, I'm Evel Knievel." I think it's the greatest compliment she's ever paid me.
As I was leaving, one of the docents mentioned that we should go to The Pennant for a beer and some parmesan fries, so . . .
After driving to The Pennant at a speed much faster than I normally drive, I ordered . . . the parmesan fries. Sitting at the bar I thought what kind of beer would Evel drink? And I quickly decided it would be a Happy Hour $3 Free State Lager.
What is the greatest cocktail ever created? Well, Phil my bartender offered that it was either a margarita or a Mai Tai. Now if I'm washing down an order of beef fajitas at Joe T,'s in Fort Worth, than I'm definitely down with a marg, otherwise I'd sooner not drink one in the rarefied confines of the The Knox Cocktail Lounge, though a Mai Tai sounded intriguing.
Instead I refined my question, asking for a variation on a Manhattan and Phil came through with a Black Manhattan: 2 oz. Wild Turkey 101, 3/4 oz. Amaro Averna, 1/4 oz. Bénédictine, 1 dash orange bitters; stirred with ice and served up, though on the rocks might be even better. Possibly the best Manhattan I've ever had.
As I was exiting, Phil mentioned that as there was great cocktail bar next door to my hotel, so . . .
I asked Blake, my bartender at The Tee Box to make me a variation on the Manhattan. He too was going to go with a Black Manhattan, and unfortunately I informed him that Phil beat him to it. So unfortunately he made me a Vieux Carré and I confirmed that rye should not be allowed to touch cognac.
The Tee Box is an interesting business model: an upscale cocktail bar, with a restaurant that serves hot wings, hot dogs and flat breads to patrons patronizing four state-of-the-art TrackMan golf simulators.
Blake, a golf simulator sitting two bar stools down, and I discussed my earlier visit to the Evel Knievel Museum. Blake had never been and is the only man I've met who was never a fan.
After I closed The Tee Box I took a turn around downtown Topeka - deadsville, a little eerie though also quite peaceful. With many of the modest two story buildings being built over a century ago, it has a small town feel, accentuated by the old school storefronts that used to display jewelry, furs or haberdashery, now displaying edibles, handmade artisan goods, and organic bath & body products, you know the whole hygge lifestyle thing. Though in a few cases they unfortunately displayed nothing at all.
Per the recommendation from Blake, we coffeed at the Circle Coffee Co. His coffee recommendation turned out to be much better than his Manhattan variation recommendation, as this place has outstanding home made pastries.
A month back, while showing my support for the arts, I met a woman from Topeka. She happened to mention that Brown v. Board of Education was centered on Topeka, to which I replied that "I always thought it was Little Rock, AR." She was quite insistent on it being Topeka and then asked "Are you from this country?" I thought she might have been thrown by my ever so slight New York accent, but no, it was because I didn't know Brown v. Board of Education all started in Topeka. So . . .
The Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park is is located in the former Monroe Elementary School where the eponymous litigant's daughter went to school. He didn't like the idea of his eight year old daughter having to take a school bus to Monroe Elementary instead of being able to walk to the white only Sumner Elementary that was only seven blocks away from his home. I guess he felt that as he paid his property taxes just like the next guy, why should he be treated any differently.
Upon entrance the place seemed very familiar, with Ranger Lawson then asking if he might give me a seven minute primer. Who in their 'Merican mind would say no?
There was a map of the U.S. that was prominently displayed.
After reviewing it, I wasn't sure if it color coded each state's proclivity for segregation or if it was an electoral map of the 2020 presidential election.
There are also numerous photos of white people screaming at black children. I wondered, "Do people visit and say 'Hey, is that my Mom?!'"²
Because Blake from The Tee Box, redeemed himself with his coffee recommendation, I went with his lunch recommendation . . .
The Wheel Barrow allowed us to visit North Topeka and enjoy a bowl of polzole soup and an Olga (an entree that outside of North Topeka that is called a corned beef sandwich). The best meal we ever ate in Kansas. The soup had a layer of cabbage that offered crunch with the hominy and pork offering a rich texture. The Olga was as messy as it was tasty. The only way it could have tasted any better, was if it had not been served in and on a styrofoam cup and paper plate with plastic utensils.
I had heard about Truckhenge, but never thought much of it until I realized that it had its own Wikipedia entry. It's part part of Lessman's Farm & Catfish Pond, and was conveniently located on the way back out of town.
After reviewing a number of partially buried upright cars/trucks/boats, the owner/artist/catfisher Ron Leesman, gave Mrs. AAR some peacock feathers (how did he know?!) and then us both a tour of his house/art studio/nursery. Besides being a prolific burier, Mr. Lessman is also a prolific chainsaw artist.
I wouldn't call the place a "must see," more like a "might see if you are on N.E. Seward Ave just east of Kanas Route 4."
There are three options if you want to stay in downtown Topeka:
- The poetically named Ramada by Wyndham Topeka Downtown Hotel & Convention Center is located just on the other side of Highway 70. With a 7.3 on Booking.com it was just below the AAR Lodgings Mendoza line and therefore was not an option (though if the rate was just a little bit lower . . . ).
- The Senate Suites was another option as it's only located a block way from the Capitol. I was intrigued partially by the economics, but more by its score, as I'd never seen a listing that had score of 5.1³. And the comments were just as intriguing: "The smell of must (sic) hits you in the face when you walk in," "Left without stay (sic) after seeing (sic) condition of property," and my favorite "Hands down one of the worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in… and I’ve stayed in a Motel 6 . . . The stench is unreal… even worse in the elevator. I had to cover my nose." I had to stop by and smell for myself, but unfortunately it's temporarily closed. So maybe next time.
- The Cyrus Hotel, Topeka, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel (who names these places?) received a score 8.8, which was actually just above my maximum allowable. I decided to go with it anyway as it's located in the middle of downtown. I did though hold off on booking it, until I could discuss the room rate directly with the front desk.
And due to my Trumpian negotiating skills, they best rate they could offer me was $190/night, which was $10 more than Booking.com. Wesley, at the front desk, mentioned that booking directly with the hotel was a better deal as it allowed me more flexibility. Well, like Watto, I was immune to this Jedi mind trick, and immediately booked via Booking.com, waited five minutes and then checked in.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ Note that John Brown has a rifle in one hand and the bible in the other. Some things never change.
² It also made me realize that people back then were just as angry as people are today . . . though much better dressed.
³ A Booking.com a rating of 5.1 puts a location in the "Passable" category. I am unsure of what the category below this termed, I'm thinking "Sufferable"?