Topeka, Capitol at the Middle of the Country

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The Governor’s Mansion, Topeka. Probably haunted.

Topeka spoiled me. I spent weeks of training struggling to learn my role as a bike technician with ICan Shine. Admittedly, between all of the trailer driving practice and power point presentations during training, one hears a lot of horror stories from veterans about camps gone wrong: bad hotels, unmotivated volunteers, tantrum-prone children, equipment thieves. So on my very first camp in Topeka, Kansas, I felt incredibly fortunate.

The camp directors from Easter Seals were accommodating and organized, while providing a spectacular hotel which included free breakfast. Among our patient and dedicated volunteers was a representative from Capp’s bike shop who provided riders and their families with sage bike advice and brought in plenty of examples of good learning bikes. Riders were generally confident and we had a lot of success getting them up and riding on their own. This was not what I expected, considering all the spook stories I’d heard.

These worries were what was going through my head as I drove across Missouri, westbound to Topeka. I was also counting smashed snapping turtles on the roadside, which is something I’ve never seen. Nor had I seen such fresh green rolling terrain which continued all the way through to eastern Kansas where sleepy Topeka rests.

One probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Sunday morning and a Tuesday evening in old town Topeka, save for by observing the position of shadows. Where I’m from, Tuesday evening is as good a time as any to go enjoy happy hour or live music or games in a park. But in Topeka’s quiet heart, traffic courses nonexistently through the veins of it’s metropolitan streets beneath the glower of a capitol building that has been under renovation for years, according to local sources. It’s crane even has it’s own facebook page, allegedly, though I couldn’t confirm this. What is everyone doing on Tuesday after work? Maybe they’re at church.

In the lobby of the hotel, I asked a young hostess where I might find an enjoyable walk, and she directed me to the Governor’s mansion. It sounded swell, so I sauntered across Wanamaker Avenue, found a path that looked like it was headed toward the distant clock tower, and began my search for a significant something I was sure Topeka could offer. The path was an unmarked and heavily eroded roadbed that wove over rises and past ponds where solitary men could be seen fishing, though they never seemed to catch anything, and the ponds never revealed any signs of life. Maybe that’s where the turtles are.

Why did the turtle cross the road?

To get to the pond. Duh. But it probably never made it.

As I advanced down the path, the lack of signage or upkeep on the grounds forced a familiar feeling into me. The same feeling I would get as an adolescent when my friends and I would go trespass to some creepy abandoned place for kicks. This feeling conflicted with my wish to simply have a pleasant walk in a public place on a sunny afternoon. Dilapadated buildings with boarded or broken windows and an ominous smokestack (formerly an insane asylum, I was told by the hostess) loomed over me. I felt surely that I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near here, and started back towards Wanamaker. Not smart, I thought, to be trespassing while not in the right state of mind. But then I saw a cyclist pedal by me on the path, and he seemed to be in no hurry to escape from any authority or danger. I pressed on to the Governor’s mansion, which I now suspected as being as abandoned as the rest of this once prosperous estate.

Indeed it was. While is looks splendid from a distance, the mansion was also surrounded with barbed wire, and it’s white clock tower was bristling with security cameras which could have seen me walking up from a half mile away. Disappointing that there was no governor in sight, no limousines, no dignitaries. One in ten windows was broken, and the other nine were boarded.

Nuts.

But what it lacks in pizazz, Topeka makes up for in fine people. I know this because my work moves me to be involved with a number of local families, do-gooders and professionals, all of whom were present in super-kind force for the duration of our bike camp. Much appreciated, Topeka. You’ve raised the bar on how swell a bike camp can be for all those involved. Good barbeque, too.

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