Midwestern Hospitality: A Series of Awesome Hosts

Written on Sunday, 7/24/11

On a desk chair in Russ’s house in Lebanon, KS.

1)      Ryan in Manhattan, KS

Walking out of the bike shop, I crossed paths with a guy around my age heading in. He looked at my bike and the usual conversation took place.

“Biking across the country, huh? Where do you sleep? Camping?…I can probably provide a couch.”

Called the people with whom he was living, got the confirmation that it was okay, and that was it. Literally three minutes into our conversation and I had a roof over my head for the night. Amazing.

Ryan recently moved to Manhattan from Irvine, CA to attend seminary school and to be the youth minister for the Kansas State Intervarsity chapter. He lives with an old couple who were involved with KSU Intervarsity when they were students. The reason we ran into each other at the bike shop was because he is organizing a charity bike repair where people can bring in their bikes to be fixed-up, as well as building bikes to give to community members.

“I just want to get more bikes out there,” Ryan explained as we chatted in a local café. “Biking’s really a win-win-win; it’s healthy, it reduces traffic, and emits zero emissions. Most environmental damage from cars comes from the short trips like going to the grocery or the bank. If we can get people to bike to those places, I think we can really make a difference.”

I whole-heartedly agree. I also chatted with the café employees, who revealed the any-pastry-is-$1-after-8pm secret. Bonus!

When we arrived at Ryan’s house, I met the couple with whom he was living (whose names I regrettably forget), and despite it being past 9pm, they insisted on making me dinner. Two and a half ham and turkey sandwiches, several bowls of fruit, and a mountain of rainbow sherbet later, I was stuffed and happy. To go above and beyond hospitable, Ryan insisted on giving me his bed and slept on the air mattress.

Thanks Ryan and housemates for your immediate willingness and kindness to offer me your home!

2)      Peggy and Josiah near Concordia, KS.

Getting directions from my CouchSurfing host Peggy to her home was interesting.

“Keep going north on the highway ‘til you see a gravel road on your left called Milo. Follow that, and we’re the first house on the left. Our house number? Don’t worry about that, just keep a look out on your left. There’ll be animals in the yard…”

Sure enough, as I pulled into their lot, I was greeted by chickens, geese, and goats rummaging around. Peggy greeted me with a huge grin, followed quickly by being jumped on by her two pit bulls, tails wagging furiously.

“It’s so nice to meet you! We live so far out in the country, we hardly get any CouchSurfers, so it’s always a treat when one comes through!”

She offered me cold water and leftover pizza, exactly what I was craving after a long day in the heat. As we chatted, I learned that this was once her grandparents’ house, and she took over the property after graduating with her husband from Kansas University. Although she enjoys the freedom of living in the countryside, she doesn’t have much in common with her neighbors.

“They grow corn and keep to themselves. I just met you, but being a Couch Surfer, I already know you’re sociable, trusting, and open to new experiences. That already puts us more in common than with any of my neighbors.”

When her husband Josiah got home, I helped them move the cows from one pasture to another…then fed grain to the goats and chickens…and then I was invited to Peggy’s mother’s birthday party. All in a CouchSurfing day.

While we were getting ready to head out, Josiah explained his view on farming.

“It’s bizarre to me that so much corn is grown in Kansas. I mean, it didn’t happen overnight; government subsidies, massive amounts of fertilizer, and a need to cheaply feed the nation all contributed. Still, Kansas isn’t meant for this kind of farming. It doesn’t get enough rain and the wind blows all the top soil away. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next 100 years. It just doesn’t seem sustainable.”

He and Peggy are in the process of building a new home with more land, and once that’s completed he wants to design their farm similar to Polyface Farms, right in Charlottesville’s backyard. In a very basic sense, it’s a synergistic farm model where cows eat grass, rotate to a different pasture, chickens follow, scratch through the cow dung to get to the fly larvae, spreading the nutrient-filled manure back to the soil, which grows more grass, which the cows eat, and so on. A very cool idea, I hope they’re successful.

Anyway, a quick summary of the night: I hopped in a Jeep that contained Peggy, Josiah, Peggy’s mother, father, two brothers, one brother’s girlfriend, and the other brother’s son – a big, gregarious family. We arrived at a pizza place, and Josiah immediately ordered a round of shots…Peggy’s mother does birthdays right. The rest of the night consisted of pizza, Blue Moon pitchers, and much laughter and merriment.

Thanks Peggy, Josiah, and family for welcoming me with open arms and letting me join in the celebrations!

3)      Russ in Lebanon, KS

First, riding hungover in sun-baked Kansas may be one of the most unenjoyable (and probably not all that safe) activities around. Still, I somehow rode the 75 miles to my CouchSurfing host Russ’s doorstep, thankful I would have an air-conditioned place to rest for the next couple days.

Russ lives in the tiny town of Lebanon, similar to the many tiny towns scattered around Kansas – mostly gravel roads, no stoplights, one grocery, all in the shadow of a giant grain elevator. He moved here from Albuquerque, NM to be closer to his mother, who lives in a neighboring town across the Nebraska border and has some health issues. He actually bought the house from his mother, and despite have back problems of his own, has been working tirelessly to fix it up.

“I’m a computer guy – I know nothing about construction, plumbing, electrical, pretty much everything needed to fix a house. But the internet is an amazing thing. I can go on and find step-by-step instructions for installing a shower, putting in wire, anything.”

I actually helped Russ with the shower, and even after only doing a little bit of work, I was amazed that he was fixing his house mostly unassisted. His more grandiose plans are to install a hot tub and movie projector in the barn out back…that is, after he replaces the walls that have shifted to more resemble the Tower of Pisa.

Highlights with Russ include being treated to delicious BBQ brisket, onion rings, and extra-thick malts at the diner next to the hardware store and going to…wait for it…what put Lebanon on the map…the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States! The Coast and Geodetic Survey discovered it in 1918 by balancing on a point a cardboard cutout shaped like the U.S! Crazy!

Thanks Russ for the couple days of relaxation and taking me to be “centered.” Good luck with the house repairs!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by petri on August 20, 2011 at 12:09 am

    oh man that’s so awesome that they balanced a cardboard cutout of the united states to find that. picturing a group of researchers making a little cardboard cutout for that is pretty great


    • Posted by bcline909 on August 20, 2011 at 12:44 am

      hahah yeah, evidently when computers came out they discovered that the point is actually about a half mile away in a farm, but cardboard is so much cooler than computers


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