Set to reach 70 today, while Britain languishes under snow. I identified a Blue Jay this morning and also found out the birds of prey I have seen are Red-Tailed Hawks. Back to Little Pleasures for green tea and internet. The lady who ran the place came from Hawaii and now she was about as far from the ocean as you can get. She said 79 degrees is a low temperature there. She was so lovely and smiley that I wanted to hug her; I think I'm coming over all American. My only criticism of her cafe related to the play list : Norah Jones, Norah Jones and Norah Jones. Come away with me... You go on ahead, I'll join you later.
Took the 'D Road' out of Hillsboro and beyond Marion it became a dirt track, which was ridable until the limestone turned from powder into lumps that were even worse to ride on than sand. Fortunately 99% of the roads in Kansas run straight north/south or east/west, so if the sun's in the sky it's impossible to get lost. I have lost my compass though, which along with a bottle of headache pills I left in Twin Falls, is my only loss. A big hill today. In Kansas! Then another, in the Flint Hills no less. Cottonwood Falls was a rare find and the purtiest little town I've come across. It had everything my heart desired : a cobbled main street, cutesy shops, tennis courts, a wide river with a waterfall, a masonic hall, docile Mennonite womenfolk... There was a clapboard house for sale here on three floors, with three bedrooms, 1.5 baths (?), hardwood flooring, porch, back deck, 1,853 square feet. Drum roll. $83,000! In a way Kansas is what other states aspire to, even though they wouldn't admit it and poke fun at it. It's the traditional, moralistic, rural, agricultural idyll; with close-knit small communities. OK so it's boring, but boring is what most grown ups secretly hanker after.
And so to Emporia, home of William Allen White, a famous newspaper editor, as well as a preacher who murdered his wife and his lover's husband, but didn't get the chair because there is no death penalty in Kansas - and also of Janice – a famous Scrabble player (she had won this year's tournament in the shopping mall) who had come across me through an advert in the Emporia Gazette. She had given me her location and of course I couldn't find it, so she came out in her car to look for me. Her address was 'x number Industrial Street', but it was actually NOT in Industrial Street at all, but down a side road. How was I supposed to find that? I feel sorry for the postmen. Here I met Janice, her parents, her brother and husband. Her father had been through the ringer in hospital and was now the walking wounded, quite literally, as he had some kind of open wound, which had a drip attached to it. He seemed to be doing very well though, and he, along with his wife and daughter, played Scrabble with me. Janice won, but then luck increases and skill diminishes the greater the number of players. That's how I comforted myself anyway. Janice works for her brother at a doctor's surgery and they all live in town. Janice's parents told me that they were registered Democrats and yet they were reluctantly voting for McCain because they didn't agree with Obama's platform. A lot of people vote in advance here, giving them time to study the complicated ballot paper. Unfortunately I had to rush off because I had double-booked myself tonight and had another game the other side of town.
And so to Lesli's house (also via the Gazette) where she lived with her son, two dogs, cat, tank full of fish and numerous birds. One of the dogs was a white husky with scary, frowning, pale blue eyes. The other dog was a black lab who would sidle over to me backwards because he wanted his bottom scratched and would lift a back leg to illustrate his pleasure when I consented. The house was full of toys, dolls, fairies, pictures of fish and wooden objects carved by Lesli's grandfather – including a 3' x 3' Scrabble board/table with giant inlaid wooden squares and correspondingly giant letters to go with it. It made Scrabble a bit of physical work out as well as a mental one, as you had to stand up to reach the distant side of the board. Tonight's dinner was highly tasty spaghetti bolognese, not so tasty iced tea, followed by coffee cake. We were joined by Lesli's sister and her parents later, who all lived within a few blocks, as do another sibling and a grandchild. I lost a game of Scrabble to Leeanne, Lesli's sister. I'm sure DUFFING is a SOWPODS word. Then beat Lesli in the next two games, with good letters and copious bingos (MANAGERS, TRAINEE, and STAINER – the best letters for bingo-making purposes). We also saw the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay something or other in baseball The World Series. Then it was time to flop on to the couch, accompanied by trickling sound effects from the fish tank.
The next day I weighed myself and found I'd put on three pounds since leaving the UK! Whilst shaving the back of my head I also found out there were tanned splodges because of the holes in the helmet. Foodwise there was scrambled egg and more coffee cake. Lesli introduced me to her parrot, Willy, who sat on her arm and had a black leathery tongue, which she was quite willing to let roam all over her face.