birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


I always try to get a window seat when I fly into Wichita, so I can see what's changed. Usually, not much. The east side of town where Koch Industries has its headquarters keeps expanding with new housing developments, big houses in areas with entrances and exists on winding streets isolated from other neighborhoods without being gated. It's where you find the only Whole Foods and a retail cluster anchored by tricked out P.F. Chang's, which was a sensation when it opened. Lines out the door.

Webb Road was the end of my known world in high school, of interest only when I attended city-wide Girl Scout events at Beechcraft's community center. Today, the edge of town is two miles further east along 127th St. East. From the air, I can calculate distances within Wichita's precision gridwork. Main arteries -- north/south and east/west -- are exactly one mile apart.

The main drag, Douglas Avenue, is wide enough to drive herds of cattle through on their way to the slaughter house just north of East High School, where I went. Dragging Douglas was a big thing then. So was getting out of school when a northern wind brought the slaughter house stench through our class windows and made breathing a threat to your health.

My part of town, College Hill, was built in the 1920s and was all the rage for a hot minute. It has a few curved streets to allow for an old fashioned city park with wandering paths, a little swimming pool tucked in one corner and tennis courts at the bottom of sloping hills. I say hills, but that's an exaggeration. The land rises and falls a bit is all. I can see the contours of the neighborhood, substantial houses and lots of trees.

I rode my bike all over town when I was a kid. Through downtown's Riverside neighborhood where my dad grew us, a mess of aging mansions and prairie-style brick homes along with clapboard houses built at the turn of the century when Wichita was a booming cattle and agricultural center. The Arkansas River is the main feature -- pronounced Ar-Kansas in my home state. Even here, downtown is thriving as a new generation prefers the restaurants and amenities of a city center. Parks line the river.

My dad's childhood home was torn down when I was little. But I know where it stood, right on the river, next to the canoe concession. It's one of my favorite places to sit. He was a rich kid, by Wichita standards back then. He and his friends played ditch 'em in their cars in the nearby Sims Park, the city's largest.

I played a safer form of ditch 'em in my neighborhood. And I'll bet they still play it there still. It's still mostly professional families, although now everyone works for Koch.

One stoplight town

Admit One