Racing towards Oz with Johnny Law on my tail

Racing towards Oz with Johnny Law on my tail

Yes, this is the brightly-painted Oz Museum on Wamego's Main Street. And you thought Dorothy was kidding about the Kansas part? (Peggy Lowe)

I’ve always had a problem with that spiritual verb “surrender.”

No checkered flag over here, no sir, no giving up. Defeat is painful, shameful, losing. And losing, we all know, is for losers. 

The wise among us say surrender is about letting go of control, about trying to stop forcing our own way and let, gulp, God take over. Yeah but, what if She’s getting a divine mani-pedi and doesn’t have the time to deal with my crap?

I can change the things I don’t like, I’ve always believed. My will be done and all that. Just because I say this through clenched teeth and a jaw slammed tight as a jail cell does not mean it’s wrong.

Confession: I have recently been battling Johnny Law. My problem? Speeding tickets. At last count, I’ve had at least six in the last couple years.

The tickets that infuriate me most are the ones I get here in the Kansas City suburb where I live, Prairie Village, Kansas. There is absolutely nothing for these cops to do in this lily-white enclave often called Perfect Village. Other than handing out tickets, the only other thing they apparently do is wake people up in the middle of the night to tell them their garage door is open. Yes, that’s happened to me, too.

Witness: a recent Saturday morning, when I was stopped by a Prairie Village cop at 9:45 a.m. as I headed to a 10 a.m. yoga class.  Yeah, yeah, I know. Racing to a class aimed at slowing you down. I get it.

I was furious but kept my mouth shut until the officer came back to my window with the ticket. I really wanted to let it rip, really wanted to hurt him, but I tempered my temper because I fear arrest.

Me: You know what? What you do is sad.

PV cop: What did you say?

Me: Your job is sad. Stopping middle-aged women on the way to a yoga class on a Saturday morning, that’s sad. I feel sorry for you.

He got a dumb smile on his face, I revved my engine, planning on a grand exit with a toss of my hair and my tail. But my little car was still in park, so I blushed, put the car in drive and did as much storming as I could do in Prairie Village. Which is another way of saying, I drove 25 mph all the way to the gym.

Given several such run-ins with the law, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I recently received a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue warning me that if I got a fourth violation in the next year, my “driving privileges” would be taken away from me for a month. The fifth and sixth “convictions,” as the letter stated, which I thought was an overly-strong term, offered even more dire restrictions on the alleged privileges.

So it was with some nervousness and a lightening of my lead foot that I set out early on a sunny July day to drive to Salina, Kansas. I was covering a GOP primary race for a congressional seat in what’s called the Big First District. I was off to a press conference in which the most powerful political group in the state – the Kansas Farm Bureau – was denouncing the incumbent. Big story out here when Farm Bureau wants to take out a guy it put there in the first place.

I drove west into Kansas on Interstate 70, corn fields lining the highway, already so high and tasseled, like soldiers standing sentry to the middle country. The horizon shimmered above my concrete path, as if I could cross that imaginary line and drive off the edge of the world, landing in the big blue above.

A couple hours in, I saw a sign for the town of Wamego, along with a huge billboard advertising the Oz Museum. Yes, some enterprising soul in this little place in the middle of Kansas decided to take advantage of Dorothy being from this state to create a tiny Technicolor tourist trap.

Wamego, population 4,372, was very quiet along its three-block Main Street. A few of the storefronts appeared dark not from the early hour but from vacancy. I went into a Daylight Donuts, hoping for a bathroom, a cup of coffee and some local color. The woman who waited on me was dressed in a red T-shirt, her left arm a sleeve of tattoos, her attitude very let’s-get-this-over-with.

Me: You get a lot of freaky Oz people in here?

Tatts: No.

Me. Oh, so regular Oz people?

No response, then she stared at me as I smiled and tap-danced through something about just wanting to know if they got a lot of tourists. She said the Oz Museum helped create traffic on Main Street.

“We had a couple here the other day from North Dakota,” she said. “Or was it South Dakota?”

Most of the town wasn’t opened just yet this morning, including the Oz Museum, and I was bummed I didn’t get to go to Toto’s Tacoz, where the Yellow Brick Burrito was on special that day. I picked up my coffee and hit the road again, thinking that if this really was Oz, they might want to spiff it up a little.  

I told you it was true. And Lord knows I hate to pass up a Mexican restaurant. (Peggy Lowe)

The congressional race proved to be a good story and certainly worth the long drive. The Farm Bureau got behind a local conservative doctor, who ultimately defeated the incumbent, a firebrand leader of the Tea Party’s Freedom Caucus. Do not mess with the farmers and ranchers out here in the Big First, where the land mass rivals an East Coast state and there’s more cows than people.

The long drive left me with lots of time to think. I cursed those rich municipalities ripping off its citizens by ticketing alleged speeders to boost the city coffers. But really, what was my damn problem with all the speeding tickets? I could chalk this up to the culture clash of someone returning home from the fast freeways of California to the slow streets of the Midwest.  And I enjoyed telling my friends that I got these tickets because the pace is literally so slow back here.

But to be perfectly honest, I had to admit that when the only thing you have left to rebel against is the Prairie Village cops, you have hit rock bottom on the surrender scale.

So I drove down Kansas Highway 99, sipping my Wamego coffee, and got back on I-70 headed west, minding the speed limit. It was time this Dorothy surrendered.

Because really, why was I going so fast when I was already home?


RIP Uncle Larry, auctioneer and cattleman

RIP Uncle Larry, auctioneer and cattleman

On JFK, white horses and memories

On JFK, white horses and memories