Working and Playing in Wichita

Before the pandemic, Kalen traveled pretty frequently for work, most frequently to San Francisco, Chicago, and Rhode Island, but he rarely got more than a week’s notice for his trips. My previous employer required vacation requests to be submitted a month (more often, six weeks) ahead of time, so I only got to travel with Kalen once and I have looked forward to being free to tag along with him since quitting my library job.

Kalen had to travel a few months ago, but I still wasn’t able to go with him because we couldn’t secure arrangements for Pippin. He usually stays with my parents, but they were on a trip of their own at the time. I wish Pippin could fly with us, but even the most pet-friendly airlines seem to have a “must fit in a carrier under the seat” rule, and Pippin surpassed that when he was about four months old. I won’t have him hauled in the cargo hold like a suitcase, where far too many pets go to die. Also, I’m pretty sure he would hate flying since he’s gotten pretty hesitant even about car rides.

So I stayed home with Pippin last time, and I’m not saying it’s directly related, but Kalen was so stressed out that half his face just said, “fuck this, I quit.” Typically Kalen handles stress really well and seems to enjoy traveling for work, but there were special circumstances with the project that time, and I helped him from 2,000 miles away in finding an urgent care clinic covered by our insurance to diagnose and begin treatment for stress-induced Bell’s Palsy. He’s better now, but we decided it would be best if I came along on this next work trip.

It worked out that this trip was to Wichita, which was within driving distance for us, so Pippin was able to come too. Kalen spent the days working on various battery things that are beyond my grasp and Pippin and I found other ways to keep busy.

Before you think we’re super boring travelers, please keep in mind that our options were pretty limited specifically because of Pippin and even more so because the weather refused to play nice. Most places (virtually all restaurants and most stores) aren’t pet friendly (and even if I was being super sneaky and rebellious, I don’t have a purse big enough or the physical strength to sneak him around in a bag), and the gray drizzle at the start of our trip was replaced by cold, biting winds for the remainder of the trip, so outdoor activities were considerably less than inviting.

If Pippin had to sum up our trip, his review would say ” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ So much room, lots of new smells!” Because Kalen had to bring some test equipment along, we rented a car larger than either of our own compact cars, and Pippin was thrilled with the extra space.

After unloading the work equipment and our luggage, we spent the week laughing at how ridiculously huge the back end of this vehicle was and how much more room Pippin had compared to when he rides in our cars.

He also enjoyed that our hotel room had a king sized bed, instead of the queen we have at home, and he sprawled out like he owned the place.

We stayed at the Hyatt Place at Wichita State University. It’s pretty new, and pet friendly (people friendly as well). On Google Maps, the building isn’t even there yet, but when we checked in, they politely asked if we had stayed there before. Kalen, bewildered, asked, “How long have you been here??” The stairwells even still smelled like new construction, so it can’t have been very long, or maybe they lost track of time, like I do constantly.

There is quite a bit of new development in the immediate area, with a few cleared and empty lots waiting for new construction and wide flat sidewalks that look like they’ve just been poured, all apparently part of Wichita State University’s expanding campus.

The hotel was one of the quietest hotels I’ve ever stayed in, partly because we were visiting during the week, as it did get a little busier near the end of the week. There was virtually no traffic noise, and even when more guests showed up later in the week, it stayed pretty quiet.

The room was nice and dark too, with room darkening shades that fulfilled their promise except for the two lights coming from inside the house room: the world’s brightest alarm clock, and a smoke detector light that blinked every four seconds, and then, sometimes, wait for it, a double blink, but I don’t know what it meant. Sometimes I thought I should tell someone, but I never did.

Tuesday was about the only moderately nice day we had on our trip, even though it was windier than a politician after a bean burrito. The wind had blown Monday’s rain and clouds away and had not quite brought in the cold front that would soon follow. Pippin and I took advantage of the weather and explored the neighborhood.

We inspected a tortoise sculpture that we could see from the hotel window, but it refused to share any secrets with us.

No secrets. Or information at all, really.

Its astroturf shell featured several boxes with the imperative “Look here” engraved on them. Two of the boxes showed nothing whatsoever, and the third looked across the muddy lot to our hotel, but the image was upside down. I think the whole thing may have been art, but art is meant to make you feel things, and I was only left feeling slightly bewildered. I think I’d have liked it better without the mystery view ports, as the tortoise itself was pretty cool, and a good likeness. Maybe that’s what the empty view ports are trying to say: Looking for meaning when there is none will only lead to disappointment and confusion; instead enjoy the beauty and wonder that is right in front of you. Okay, I guess that’s good art then. You win this time, turtle.

(I actually suspect that the turtle wasn’t fully finished and may have had something to do with the empty lot between the road and the hotel, upon which construction began halfway through our visit, but there was no one for me to ask, so that’s a mystery for another time, I guess.)

We also saw the Pizza Hut, apparently. The plaque said it’s the first and original Pizza Hut. I was skeptical, but the plaque also said it had been moved from its nearby original location, and the inside of the building is now a Pizza Hut museum. The sign indicated that it should be open, but the door was locked, so I didn’t go in. I just didn’t think it was worth the trouble of breaking a window since I had Pippin and it would be too hard to heave him in for just a quick glance. I got a picture through the window (which remains unbroken), and it looks like the museum is, as museums often are, full of nostalgia.

We found a large, egg-shaped gazebo too, but it was too cold for me to want to sit on a metal chair, so we looked and moved on, but later found several more, and I began to wonder if they meant something. I could find no information about them whatsoever. Maybe they’re turtle eggs.

There are several small ponds in the immediate vicinity as well, two behind the hotel, and two across the street by a few restaurants. We walked around both of these and considered that they would be positively pleasant on a spring or summer afternoon. They were currently being enjoyed by vast numbers of Canada geese and their inevitable poos on the sidewalks. I narrowly avoided stepping on a tiny frog who was disguised as one such goose poo, and looked very cold and miserable. Frogs never really look like they’re having the time of their lives, though, do they? He was hunkered there with a froggy “so it goes,” expression. I feel like frogs usually put themselves away for the winter by now, so it was surprising to see this one on the sidewalk, but maybe he had some last minute Christmas shopping to do. This isn’t really anything you should be on the lookout for if you come to Wichita, I guess, but it is one more reason to avoid stepping in goose poop wherever you might be.

I also saw this neat puddle, which isn’t something you’ll likely be able to see on your visit, but I took a picture so you can see it here. I’m not sure if it was the wind patterns or something about the pattern of temperature drop that made it freeze like this, but in spite of the arctic wind’s relentless assault, I had to stop and appreciate it.

It got colder, and windier, which made the cold even worse. I guess Kansas just knows and accepts this horrifying level of wind as a fact of life though, because the logo for Wichita State University features a stalk of wheat bent horizontal in the wind.

The bent-over stalk of wheat isn’t the mascot though. The actual mascot seems to be an entire bundle of wheat, but one that got mixed up in a transporter accident with a human, because he has arms and legs and a face, and even though he’s made of wheat, is also chewing on another stalk of wheat, which is a little grotesque if you really stop to think about it. Imagine if a tiger mascot was shown with another tiger’s tail dangling from its teeth, or a human mascot was depicted gnawing on a severed foot. Yikes.

Also the mascot is the “Shocker,” which is kind of unsettling as a name, especially to be plastered all over various stores around town. A little (very careful) digging on Google says that it’s a reference to harvesting wheat but when the guy cutting and stacking the wheat is made of wheat himself, it doesn’t help the cannibalism imagery, and that is perhaps what is most shocking of all.

I was delighted to find a local bookstore that welcomed Pippin. Watermark Books was near our hotel and had a great selection of all kinds of books. I found two large board books, which I was looking for as gifts, and, oops, two books for me, because that’s what happens when I go in a bookstore. Independent book shops are an endangered species, and I was so excited to get to support this one. It was hopping, too, so it looks like the people of Wichita know they have something special. I was relieved that Pippin behaved as well as he did in the bustling shop. He’s a good boy, but it’s been a while since he’s been in such a crowd. He made several friends but later told me that he was very suspicious of a little old lady that we saw. I’m pretty sure he just couldn’t make sense of her large coat, and she seemed about as nonthreatening as it’s possible to be, but I was still a little embarrassed and we hid in the teen section until he forgot about her and she had left. Potentially dangerous elders aside, Watermark is definitely worth a visit, and I will certainly miss it as I peruse the more limited options at home.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new food, and we definitely succeeded at that. We ate too much awesome food in Wichita, and because I’m a greedy pig, I didn’t get pictures of most of it. We got everything to go, which I know is not the ideal way to enjoy such quality dishes, but, as I mentioned before, the hairy baby is not allowed in restaurants (for good and abundantly obvious reasons). However, if the food was this good as carryout, I can only imagine how much better it would be fresh at the restaurant.

Mi No Bakery and Banh Mi – We got Banh Mi (Vietnamese style sandwiches) from this little bakery for lunch one day. They offered a wide variety of protein options for the sandwiches, and we both had the chicken. The bread was fresh-baked and had a beautiful crunchy crust, and the flavors and textures were all so bright and fresh, with just enough spicy heat to keep things interesting. They also had a variety of pastries and desserts, but we restrained ourselves by ordering a couple macarons, which were lovely. The only real disappointment was that there were no other customers when we were there. I hope it was a fluke, because it seemed like a nice little business and I want it to succeed. If it was in my town, I’d be there all the time.

Chiang Mai Thai – Thai food is probably my favorite cuisine, and our favorite Thai place at home has been closed for a few weeks for remodeling, so I did a little happy dance when I saw that there was a highly rated Thai restaurant near Kalen’s work. I got red curry, and it was delicious, even more so as it countered the cold, windy weather. The portions were also very large, and we each had leftovers that we struggled to figure out how to reheat in a hotel with no microwave.

Vora – We shared the smoked salmon tortellini, an Italian salad, calamari, and tiramisu. This was pricier than a few of the other places we ate, but it was indulgent and delicious. It would be a great date spot. Also, I don’t know what the dressing was on the salad, but it was phenomenal.

HomeGrown – Most mornings we just had hotel breakfast to make things a little less hectic, but we went out for breakfast one morning and found ourselves at HomeGrown. I had the Pumpkin Bread French Toast with eggs and turkey sausage, and Kalen had a veggie omelette. His omelette came with the biggest english muffin we’d ever seen and everything was decadent. We weren’t hungry at lunch time, and if this were much nearer home I’d be eating there far too often. There were so many things on the menu that I wanted to try but just didn’t get the chance.

Dempsey’s Burger Pub – The “village” where Dempsey’s was located was crowded both by businesses and patrons, so I think there was a lot of good stuff happening all around. I got the portobello burger, Kalen had a salmon burger, and we shared some sweet potato fries. I ate way too many fries, but they, and the portobello burger, were spectacular. They were so flavorful and perfect and were the kind of thing that I know would have been even better without the 15 minutes of travel back to the hotel room. (Pippin would like to add that he also had a few sweet potato fries, and he seconds my recommendation).

George’s French Bistro – This was another (okay, basically all of them were) instance of us getting too much food but it was too scrumptious to stop stuffing ourselves. We shared the mussels & frites, the bouillabaisse, and a berry pavlova for dessert. If you like seafood but are intimidated by mussels, just close your eyes. I know they look like genitalia, but they taste so good you won’t care. The bouillabaisse was rich and comforting without being too heavy and came with garlic bread, so you could soak up every last bit. The pavlova was probably more suited to warmer seasons, but the meringue melted in the mouth and the whole thing was like eating the most wonderful berry-topped cloud. I will see it again in my dreams, I’m sure.

Il Vicino – We split the Il Vicino salad and a pollo e pumante pizza and were very happy with both. My favorite part of a pizza is almost always the crust, and this crust was excellent with the perfect balance of crunch and chew with good flavor and a light char on it. I was also excited to find a menu with so many different pizza options that I could eat. There were several pizzas with no meat at all, an option with shrimp, and a couple with chicken, so if you limit your meat consumption, this is a good place to find a pizza that’s not just cheese.

Our final stop was not actually in Wichita. On Saturday, we ventured out to Hutchinson, Kansas, about an hour northwest of Wichita, to the Cosmophere, a science center and space museum.

We called ahead and asked whether we could bring Pippin and were told that they typically do not allow dogs into the museum, so Kalen and I took turns in the museum while the other sat outside with Pippin. This, like the restaurants, was not the ideal experience, but I completely understand. Most of the museum was carpeted, so taking a risk that a pet isn’t housebroken is more significant than in a space with a tile or concrete floor, and I’m sure they have other reasons as well. The weather had calmed a little bit again by Saturday, so waiting outside wasn’t bad.

Entry to the museum is priced depending on what you want to see, but the all-access pass was only $26.50, which seemed a little steep, but granted access to, as the name suggests, everything. The Hall of Space museum is obviously the biggest attraction. We didn’t have time to view the included documentary in the Carey Digital Dome or a show in the planetarium. There is also a flight simulator that we didn’t take advantage of, and CosmoKids, a children’s STEM area that we didn’t view because we didn’t have kids. There is also the Dr. Goddard’s Lab show with demonstrations about the development of liquid-fueled rockets and one of the people Kalen worked with over the course of the week highly recommended the show. Kalen went to see it and enjoyed the explosions, but was also a little embarrassed to find that it was also geared towards children and the only other audience members for that showing were a father and his small son.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was actually in the lobby where anyone can view it for free: an SR-71 Blackbird mounted at an impressive angle. The Blackbird is a now-retired spy plane that still holds records for being the fastest and highest flying manned aircraft. It also just looks so cool.

The Cosmosphere’s Blackbird is mounted at an angle over the lobby where guests can walk underneath and around it, all the way up to the nose which is nearly at the ground, allowing for a close-up experience and new angles that you often don’t get at other museums.

The lobby is also home to a full scale replica of the space shuttle Endeavour and, even more impressively, the actual recovered and restored Liberty Bell 7 capsule, although it is sometimes on loan to other museums and institutions. I nearly missed it because it was behind an extra little barrier that looked like it needed special admittance, but it seemed to just be extra protection for such a special artifact.

The museum itself has a wide range of displays spanning the history of rocketry and space flight with special exhibits about the development of modern rockets during World War II, the space race and tensions between the US and Soviet Union, all the way up to the modern era of space travel.

I wish we had been able to spend a little more time there to really explore everything they had to offer, but it was definitely worth the time it took to get there, and the smaller crowds made the museum experience even more pleasant.

The gift shop also had a wide array of souvenirs and items and was handy for a little last minute Christmas shopping, although one item in particular nearly broke my brain:

“Um, we were specifically told they weren’t,” I thought for a moment, until I remembered the plush Snoopy aboard the Artemis I rocket. The shirt is still a little misleading on actual museum policy, though; dogs are allowed in space (although Laika wouldn’t recommend it), but not in the Cosmosphere.

Even so, we will probably make the trip out there again for a more in-depth visit and greatly enjoyed our trip to Wichita and Hutchinson.

Have you been to Wichita or the surrounding area? What are some things we should make sure we check out next time? Or what tips and tricks do you have for traveling with pets? Leave a comment and share with your friends if you liked what you read (or, I guess, if you hated it; views are views). Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Working and Playing in Wichita

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  1. Thanks for providing your travel stories. A little escapism while I wait for my office breaker to be switched on. I have no travel recommendations other than check if the complimentary paper is going to be shoved/slapped against the door at 5AM. It’s quite a treat to have multiple rooms with protective dog barks.

  2. Makes me want to go to Kansas! Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say! 🤣
    I think I would go just bc of all the foods you mentioned. Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: The Future is Here

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