This was a local establishment. This is kind of a rule with me when we go adventuring to places we have never been before. Eat come place local, eat some place that you can experience the town in. Eat at a joint where the regulars go, stay away from the chain restaurants. It's the flavor of the town I'm looking for, it's soul. And you only get that if you eat local.
In a little place like Cawker City, KS, there isn't much to choose from. There was a Mexican joint down the street however when I want Mexican food, the middle of Kansas is not where I would go. I'm sure it's a fine place with great food, but I didn't want to take any chances to ruin my ball of twine adventure. Let's keep Montezuma revenge down by the border. Good food, bad bathroom time.
Our other choice was this place which was remarkable for the amount of tin that it used. It wasn't a large venue by any means, about the size of a small house, complete with a screen door. I wonder if they are baking cookies inside? There was a patio area as well, blocked by some sort of fencing, I assumed tin. The placed looked like it would be right at home at the edge of a trailer park, serving the finest 4 dollar malt liqueur. We wanted local, we got local. We walked in, 2 stay at home dads and our 4 children.
We passed through the screen door, making sure to slam it on our way in to bring as much attention to ourselves as possible. There was a bar area, perhaps the whole restaurant was a bar area, I'm not sure. The lighting wasn't great and it's hard to tell whats what in neon red lights. There appeared to be 6 gentlemen at the bar, fine upstanding citizens. We refer to these as "locals".
Like a sitcom, they all swiveled on their bar stools. They looked at us. They didn't say anything. We didn't say anything. Even the kids didn't say anything. Everyone stared. Silence.
This was awkward.
Not a sound was made, by us or them because after 30 seconds of long silence it always becomes an us or them situation.
My eyes darted from face to face, trying to find out if perhaps one of these locals was the owner. Perhaps they could show us to our table because in a place like this, "wait to be seated" is the norm. I looked behind the bar for maybe a bartender but instead saw a opaque looking mirror covered up by brands of beer that sat in front.
The silence continued. Was there a waitress? I couldn't find a waitress. I was looking for a waitress, desperately. Surely she could restore some proper order here or at least provide some impartial refereeing as I got my ass thrown through the opaque mirror. Of course, I didn't see any waitress. I assumed her body was probably stuffed in one of the trunks in the parking lot, with the bartender as well.
I read to much, my mind tends to envision the worst case scenarios from the stories I've read. But being who I am, Hossman, I also envision that in those worse case scenario's I am the hero. Soon I would get rushed by the six gents on the bar stools and I would give a war cry while tearing off my shirt. My daughter (she's Hoss to ya know) would grab a beer bottle and smash it's end on a table and use the jagged pieces to pierce eyes out while I body slammed one of them. My son would look at the neon lights, so pretty the neon lights, so pretty.
We were out numbered. We were (obviously) from out of town. No one knew we were here. There didn't appear to be any authority figure present. My best bet was to take the first blow and let our other Dad run away with the kids. I doubt he's much of a fighter anyway. In the silence, I started to think of ways to stall thus giving him time to move towards the door.
"Hi!" I said in my best Texas drawl and a volume that was 3 times to loud. Be friendly, be gregarious. Be the guy that shows no fear. Don't wet your pants in front of your children. I even waved, an exaggerated wave like I was just introduced on Wheel of Fortune and was trying to get Vana's attention. Let's see what they make of that, I thought.
One of the men got up from the far end of the bar. He began shuffling towards us. I checked his hands for perhaps a switch blade or a length of rope that he would surely tie me up with so that he could put the ball gag in without interference. I thought back to my joke I made outside and wished I would have just kept my mouth shut.
He came close, way into my personal space. Inches from me I could see his nostrils flair like he was taking in my aroma. I was uncomfortable with him that close but couldn't back down, that would invite the others and I'm sure at least one of them had a ball gag and a set of handcuffs stashed somewhere on their person. I braced myself as he leaned in closer, inch by inch.
And then he gave me a hug. This shit just got Deliverance weird.
I am not normally a hugger and when I am I make it a point not to hug random gentlemen that I meet in a sweaty dive bar in the middle of Kansas. I admit, at this point, I had no idea what to make of the situation. No more jokes came from me because I thought surely the joke is on me. While I was giving him the half shoulder hug you would give a distant relative he was giving me the big bear hug you would give your dear old ma, god rest her soul.
"Hi folks!" he said. "Sit anywhere you like!" As the choices were limited to 2 tables, the bar or outside where my screams could be heard, I chose the bigger of the two tables.
"Let me get you folks something to drink!" His volume was louder than mine and yet, he seemed to pull it off way better than I did. "How about some Sprite for the kids! You guys want a glass with that Sprite?"
"Sure" I told him once the realization set in that I wasn't going to be tied up and called Piggy.
But that seemed to break the ice for everyone in Cawker City, Kansas. There was no more silence. There were questions. Where were we from, where were we going, does anyone know you are here and can we have your cell phones. In fact, things got down right friendly, like they had known us their entire lives. They offered me a beer. One of the patrons ( I assume) came in from the patio and went behind the bar. She got herself her own beer and then headed back out again. I quickly realized that this was how this place operated. This was the local flavor that I was looking for, without the ass raping of course.
Soon we had Dixie cups (no ice) set in front of us. The cups were pretty dirty so I cleaned them with my shirt so as not to offend. I don't think this is the type of place that you send stuff back strictly because you would probably just get something equal to what you sent back. But that's the way we like it, that's the way we adventure. And this is why you always go to someplace local. The character of the joint shows the character of the town. Apparently, Cawker City is a hugging type of small town America and it's a damn fine place with a damn fine local restaurant.
Soon a waitress did appear out of no where and didn't seem to be locked in someones trunk after all. We placed our order and I will admit, we had the best home fries I have ever eaten. Anywhere. Home made, hand cut, delicious. The cost of our meal for 6 people was less than 40 bucks and a couple of dirty dixie cups, well worth it.
I found out all about the big ball of twine and they pointed the way to me as we talked for the next hour. I got some town history, a little gossip and several life stories. This is what adventuring is all about. As we got ready to leave, I got a series of high fives, handshakes and one more hug for the road because everyone needs a road hug.
We of course saw the big ball of twine that night. We made it home just fine the next morning. My traveling companion relayed the story to his wife. She remarked that we probably through them off their game a bit, to gay dads walking into a small joint in Kansas. Gay dads?
By god, I bet she is right. I bet they thought we were gay. And what do they do with gay dads on an outing in Cawker City Kansas. Why, they give them a hug of course.
People would ask where the great giant ball of twine is. People would ask me where I would stay when I got there. People would ask me why, why, why I was going to see the ball of twine.
But no one never asked me What the ball of twine is. And there, my friends, is the rub.
I will admit, the idea for going to see a giant ball of twine, several tons, started off as a joke. It was an off hand comment. What are doing today? Oh, going to see a ball of twine. It was that simple, a small little ha ha to make uncomfortable silent moments more bearable, to showcase how funny I am. There the ball of twine stayed, a punchline in an bad joke.
But it refused to stay there. Over time, my mind would go back to it. A few moments of the day here, a few moments of the day there. The joke started to become a little more serious. Questions came into my head, like why wouldn't I go see the ball of twine. What else have I got to do today? The world is open to me, I can do anything I want because my awesome wife makes all this possible.
The kids and I have the whole summer to fill. There are things to see, experiences to be had, memories to build. The ball of twine? Yes, we will see a giant ball of twine strictly because I have been a very unique opportunity to stay home with my kids. An opportunity that most father's don't get. This opportunity won't last forever, it will last only as long as they tolerate me. Sooner than I would think, they will grow up. They will not want to take road trips with dad. They will want to spend time with their friends. They will want to go to summer camps, they will want to spend alone time with guys named Chet. They will go to high school and then college. They will stop coming home on summers so that they can go to retreats in vans so that they can "discover" themselves. And of course, Chet will be there.
I will be at home. With the cat and my fat dog. And no ball of twine.
This all started 2 years ago. I put the word out to the other Dads I hang out with that there was a ball of twine out there and damn it, we were going to see it. My reception was a bit less than enthusiastic. But they were in. But we can't go on a Tuesday, we were all doing something else. We can't go over the weekend, we need to spend time with the wife. Monday is out, Monday is a shopping day.
And so it went. The first year passed and no ball of twine was seen. The second year came and so did summer responsibilities. Soccer camps, vacation bible schools, trips to see families. The ball of twine got pushed back. I talked about it, I waxed poetic verses about how it would be epic. A random road trip to a random attraction. Year 2 went just like year 1.
School came and Little Hoss went to kindergarten. I was locked in now, I couldn't go anywhere. I had a schedule to keep. I had missed an opportunity.
But the thought of the ball of twine was still there and over those two years, it became important to do so. I would think about it, I would research it. Sometimes it felt almost as if I obsessed about it. I realized that the ball of twine had become my white whale, the mythical sea beast that was always just out of my grasp. It would rub against my thoughts every morning I put Little Hoss on the bus and drove Bubba Hoss to preschool twice a week. I thought about it as I did grocery shopping and made lunches. I thought about it as I sat at the soccer fields.
The ball of twine isn't just a ball of twine. It's not just a bunch of farmer's rope that some guy spent 60 years collecting, although that is what it appears to be. It's more than that.
It represents an opportunity. It represents the gift that my wife has given me by allowing me to stay home with the kids until they are older. It is a chance to make memories, to have experiences unique to us only, before the chance to make those precious memories are gone. It is a chance to show the kids our country, to see rolling hills of wheat, to feel wind so hard that it almost pushes you back, to see the kind of communities that dot the landscape of America. To live their culture, to leave the city behind and do something, do something that on the face is completely silly. To make memories that would last as long as I do.
That's what the ball of twine is and that is why we needed to see it. That is why we needed to go. We needed to catch our white whale, which really isn't a ball of twine but the memories of doing something silly with the children, just because we can.
I will go back to work one day. I will get up in the morning and shower and shave. I will put on nice clothes. I will not get kicked in the balls. There will be no stains to clean up. There will be no breakfast to make. There will be no snuggle time on the couch while we wake up. There will be a quick bagel and a commute to an office, that is devoid of color, to sit in a cubicle for 8 hours. There will be the commute home, the talk radio about sports or politics, the deadlines of my latest projects.
But this year, if I do this right, there will also be memories of going on a random road trip with my children.