Every Tuesday my parents go to Austin’s Bar & Grill with 25 or more other old people. My parents start talking about what they’re going to order on the Wednesday after they were there on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s going to be salad and onion rings. Other times it’s hamburgers and, perhaps, green beans. They tip bigger than they would because others in their group tip smaller than they should. It’s something to do when you don’t have all that much left to do.
On their way to Austin’s, they will pass Garmin, a complex that started out small and just keeps getting wider and taller. My dad worked at King Radio for most of his adult life. It was founded by Ed King, a K-State graduate who built a company that became the gold standard for small aircraft navigational equipment. I worked there during the summers when I was in college where I shipped more 170B transponders than you could imagine. (Coincidentally, Mr. King paid for the International Student Center on the KSU campus and this is where Pete took me on our first “date” where he ate the food in the refrigerator that was not his.)
Anyway, when he was at King Radio, Dad had a casual friend named Gary. They played softball together, talked about their young kids, got their hair cut by the same downtown barber. Gary and an Asian engineer at King went on to combine their names, Gar and Min, and formed the company Garmin. If my dad had been younger and less close to retirement, he would have gone to Garmin in those days when it was neither wide nor tall. Sometimes, as they drive to Austin’s for tacos and french fries, Mom and Dad mention Gary and wonder how things might have been had Dad been in on the ground floor.
Anyway, Austin’s and Garmin collided two days ago in my hometown. As you might have heard, two Indian engineers headed across the street from Garmin to Austin’s to watch what every sports bar in Kansas would be watching—the KU Jayhawks go for their 13th straight Big 12 conference title. A drunk, known to the Austin’s people, kept hassling the two men and was kicked out of the bar. He later returned, shouted something like “Get out of my country” and shot them. Another young man, who would have had no idea that he was going to become a hero that day, stepped in to help. One Indian was left dead, the other was injured along with the hero. Another day. Another angry white man with a gun. Another dead young man. Another time of us all saying we never thought it would happen in our town. Until it did.
And we’ll all begin the rituals that we’ve become so good at. A few days ago, I looked for a GoFundMe page so that I could donate to the desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Today I will donate to the GoFundMe for the Austin’s bar victims. Young kids and moms and teen girls will bring flowers to put outside the bar. Neighbors of the shooter will say that they knew their neighbor was a bit off but they never expected this. We will mourn the loss of a fellow human who was trying to make his way on this big earth. His body, paid for with GoFundMe money, will make its way home to his family. We are just really really good at this in America. Practice makes perfect.
Anyway, last night, with those words “get out of my country” that have been given more acceptance by Trump bouncing around in my head, I went to the town hall meeting at the church at the end of my street. Senator Jerry Moran was not there. To be completely fair, and I’m trying to be in these trying times, this was not an organized meeting. Moran had not set up this town hall meeting. He had not said he would attend the meeting. Rather, organizers set it up and invited him. Even on the website, it said that no one knew if Senator Moran had seen the invitation and no one knew if he would attend. So I can’t fairly say that he ducked out of meeting that he had never set up.
But his presence or absence isn’t really the story here. I live in Johnson County, Kansas. It’s not totally red like most of Kansas. It’s definitely not blue. But, still, parts of it voted for Hillary. Others voted for the candidates who could not win. If you add those together, more in Johnson County voted for someone not named Trump than voted for Trump. It’s not a purple area yet, but it’s definitely lavender. Olathe, though, is a red dot in that purple. It’s really red. Like maybe scarlet. And, still, the parking lot was packed. Perhaps with as many cars as would be there on a Sunday. It was dark and you could see the headlights of cars driving up and down aisles trying to find a place to park.
My high school friend Verneda was there. We talked about the meanness that we hadn’t known existed in America. We talked about the night Hillary lost. We talked about how all this political activism was something new. We agreed that we needed to keep it up even when it was hard.
The meeting room was full. The overflow crowd had spilled into the lobby. No one in the lobby could hear the speakers inside. What most surprised me was the demographic of those there. I had expected young people in jeans and sweatshirts on this unseasonably warm evening. I’d thought there might be some moms there. They were there. But also there were so many old people. Like really old people. And they, the old people, were the ones in charge. One bent-backed lady with silver hair kept shushing those of us in the overflow area because she wanted to hear the speakers. She looked like those women who always run the polling stations. Those women who show up, do their job, get it done, and go home with no thanks. I repeat. The majority of the people there were old. I was—-surprised.
These old people had us fill out 3x5 cards with messages to be hand delivered to Moran’s office. They had a whiteboard where you could write a message to Moran, take a picture of yourself standing next to it, and as the old women told us, post it to social media. Social Media? These suddenly tech savvy ladies and gentlemen were telling these teens how to use social media to ferment discord.
When I was a teen, there was a song by Buffalo Springfield that I loved and, when I hear it, I remember Vietnam and halter tops and Jesus freaks. The song said:
“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
That’s how it felt last night in this church lobby in scarlet red Olathe where I mingled with angry riled up Kansans. There’s something happening here. And Senator Moran and others would do well to pay attention.
On this day in 1956, Wilt Chamberlain played his 1st ever collegiate varsity basketball game for Kansas, leading the Jayhawks to a 87-69 win over Northwestern. Chamberlain scored 52 points and grabbed 31 rebounds.