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  SIX THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT: KANSAS.  
   
   
 

Kansas: it's that really flat place between Nebraska and Oklahoma. Dorothy hails from Kansas. Most people, when they bother to care about Kansas, think of the Wizard of Oz.

In the Wizard of Oz, Kansas is dusty, wind-swept, monochrome, and full of grumpy old people. Every so often there's a tornado. Anyone in their right mind would flee in favor of a brightly colored Technicolor dreamland full of dancing midgets and brainless robotic lumberjacks. But is that the

 
 

real Kansas?

Sort of.

We do have grumpy old people, and it is pretty windy most of the time. Although it's nothing compared to the Dust Bowl, there are dust storms in western Kansas from time to time. But we've been full color since at least 1940.

Finding six things you don't know about Kansas isn't tough - the above is probably all that you, or just about anyone else knows. Kansas is full of unknown things -- here are just six of them.

 

#1. We Really Are Flatter Than a Pancake.

In 2003, a team of researchers from Southwest Texas State University and Arizona State confirmed what many Kansas motorists had long suspected: a drive across the surface of a giant pancake would be more interesting than the drive across Kansas. Also tastier.

The researchers used a laser microscope to map the 'terrain' of a pancake, which they obtained from the nearby IHOP. They were compelled to ignore the lab's "No Food and Drink" sign in order to carry out their brave experiment. After measuring the pancake and obtaining survey information for Kansas, they determined that Kansas had a flatness factor of .9997 or, as they put it, "damn flat."

 

#2. Everybody and Their Cousin Is On a Mission.

John Brown started the trend. Brown was born in Connecticut, but moved to Kansas to help fight the "border ruffians" who were trying to force slavery on the territory. A year later Brown killed five pro-slavery settlers with swords.

Even Brown's fellow militants were shocked by the attack. He avoided capture and harbored delusions of summoning a great Army of God to combat slavery. He had some success, but failed to incite a general slave rebellion. In 1859 he raided Harper's Ferry with his Grand Army of 21 people, and was promptly captured by Robert E. Lee, who had him tried and hanged.

A decade or two after Brown we had Carrie Nation, who went around Kansas smashing saloons and selling little pins with tomahawks on them. Ever since then, people with missions from God have come to Kansas.

We have Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion group that descended on Kansas in 1991 to undertake a "Summer of Mercy." Supporters came out in thousands and chained themselves to fences, picketed, and generally made nuisances of themselves. The event culminated with a rally that attracted 25,000 people. These people were on missions from God.

Then, of course, there's Fred Phelps. It's kind of hard to describe Fred Phelps, really, because he's such a certified nutcase. Phelps seems to think that he's on a mission from God to hate everybody. Phelps and friends went and protested the singing of Handel's Messiah in Lindsborg, Kansas, because Lindsborg is known as "Little Sweden," and apparently Sweden is friendly to gays or something. The fact that Lindsborg has zero current relationship to Sweden apparently never crossed his mind.

 

#3. Toto Loves Fast Food.

Why else would Kansas have spawned so many fast food restaurants? Two prominent national chains, White Castle and Pizza Hut, started on our humble plains. You can thank Kansas for that gem Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. You can also thank Kansas for such inspired marketing schemes as 'P'Zone' and 'Rip 'Em and Dip 'Em.' I mean, you can't get much more authentic than that.

But Pizza Hut and White Castle are merely the favored sons in Kansas's vast fast food hierarchy. Local chains such as Spangles and NuWay have been prosperous in the state for decades. Every time you turn around some new restaurant is trying to get a start. Wichita is the proud home of an establishment named 'Bionic Burger' (it must have sounded cool at the time). I ate at Bionic Burger one time. Their burgers are indeed bionic. They are also huge, and dripping with enough grease for a dozen oil changes.

So, the first thing to do on any visit to Kansas is to drive down the street and find a fast food restaurant that you've never heard of.

 

#4. Arkansas Must Die!

Not for any good reason, really, just for having the gall to steal our name, put an 'arr' in front of it, and then pronounce it wrong. No one from Kansas really knows anything about Arkansas, but that doesn't matter. Those rotten name-stealers can't have any redeeming qualities. And look at this! One of their towns is named Texarkana. Texarkana? What kind of name is that? I bet that no one from Texas likes Arkansas either.

Kansans are fighting back on this issue. After a couple of abortive attempts to get Arkansas to change its name to just 'Ar,' we decided that we would pronounce it correctly, despite what out-of-towners and English teachers might say. Pretty much everyone in Kansas pronounces Arkansas as "arr Kansas." The Arkansas River runs through Kansas, and in Kansas the accepted and most common pronunciation is 'arr Kansas.'

Take that, Arkansas!

 

#5. Darwin Ain't Got No Legs in Kansas.

In 1999, nearly 100 years after the Scopes Monkey Trials, Kansas decided that all that stuff didn't sound so good after all. The school board removed all questions on evolution from state tests. When questioned on this decision, they gave the explanation that evolution is a 'theory, not a fact.' When asked to look up the words 'theory' and 'fact,' the school board members pulled out their Bibles. Kids in school Bible Clubs and religious groups often do the same.

The Bible Club members are a distinct faction at any Kansas high school. They can be seen walking through the hallways in swarms, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with phrases such as 'Got Jesus?' In biology classes, this group usually sits in the front row. Every time the teacher opens his mouth, he has to contend with a room full of religious dissidents that compare the science text-book against the Gospels. As a consequence, everything takes about twice as long.

To Kansas's credit, the 1999 ruling was repealed, and evolution is again taught in Kansas schools. The latest topic of discussion is whether to teach 'intelligent design.'

 

#6. The Republicans Have Conquered the Earth.

Or at least it seems that way. Democrats are in many ways lepers: Kansans wonder what is wrong with them, and whether it's contagious. The most obvious demonstration of this is during elections, when local stations send reporters out to the 'watch parties' on both sides. The Republican watch parties are invariably lavish affairs at the Downtown Hilton, with crystal chandeliers and hundreds in attendance. The Democrat watch parties are (when they're not at someone's house) in the basement of the Motel 6, with fluorescent lights and perhaps two dozen people. Plastic table-cloths. Cans of Pringles. The supposed leader of the Democratic party in Wichita is some scuzzy-looking hippy who doesn't have anything better to do.

If you're a Democrat in Kansas, it's best to keep it to yourself, unless you're a good debater. Or say you're libertarian. No one here seems to know what that is.

 

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Sam Jack spends his days searching for new fast food restaurants on the prarie.