By Jonathan Oldfield
Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
“Kansas, it’s not that bad”. I’m reading an iron-on patch that I’ve found in a store in Aggieville (the shopping and bar area of Manhattan, Kansas), I laugh out loud, catching the attention of the otherwise distracted owner. I have to buy it. The words perfectly encapsulate the self-deprecating humour of the inhabitants of this town.
“The weather’s nice today”
“It’s not that bad”
“This building is beautiful”
“It’s not that bad”
You get the picture. Kansans are never knowingly ones to brag. Manhattan (affectionately known as the Little Apple) is a compact town flanked by an army base and our host Kansas State University. People are happy here. Not just those we meet, but statistically too. Manhattan has a lower cost of living and higher quality of life than the average US town, and has sparked a brand of well-publicised t-shirts sporting the word MANHAPPINESS.
The other thing you’ll see all over town is a deep purple logo of a cat’s face – on cars, buildings, lampposts, t-shirts, shoes and cutlery (!). KYU’s purple sports team, known as The Wildcats, is hard to miss and whilst none of us are particularly impassioned sports fans, we are very excited to head to see the Wildcats play basketball. After an initial kerfuffle with the tickets, we enter the court (arena? Pitch? Please help me with the terminology!). It’s gladiatorial. A large section of student fans, all on their feet, are chanting “K…..Y…..U!”. Families with kids, couples on dates, alumni from the university, it seems like all of Manhattan is here. Deathly silence falls as the national anthem is sung, then KYU’s band strikes up a song. Without missing a beat, the whole student section begins to dance. A kind of animatronic, puppet shuffle. Forward, back, forward back. Like they’d just pulled their back, or were repeatedly reaching to tie their shoes. It’s thrilling. We join in. The game begins and it’s overwhelmingly entertaining. End to end play, then every time there is a break, a time out, or a change of players, something exciting happens – a quiz, an interview, cheerleaders show us their moves. We’re hooked, and find ourselves turning up on the ‘dance cam’ at one point!
But that’s not the only sport we’ve encountered this week. The Super Bowl, taking place on Sunday, becomes a focus of our week – where should we watch the game? How do the rules work? What time should we try and get a table? It’s a particularly exciting year because the Kansas City Chiefs are playing. So we’re in the second best state to be able to watch them win. Now, bear with me as I explain this confusion. Kansas state is different from Kansas City which is, in fact, in Missouri. But Kansas City, which is very close to Kansas State, has a lot of fans from Kansas State itself, as well as from Missouri. Which is all to say, that the atmosphere in the bar as we enter at 4pm on Sunday was electric. The Chiefs are the underdog of the game, with the Philadelphia Eagles being the favourites.
American football is an odd combination of being both incredibly slow, and deeply violent. The teams stop and start more than they play, but when they play, it’s all-out physical fighting. With less that 1 minute 30 left on the clock, the Chiefs clinch it, and the whole bar storms the street! The exuberant night is rounded off with a local delicacy – the pickleback – a shot of whiskey accompanied by a shot of pickle juice. Sounds disgusting, but I can confirm it’s actually delicious.
Aside from the sports, we performed in the beautiful McCain Auditorium, which feels like a Kansan Barbican, to one of our most enthusiastic (and largest!) crowds yet. We relished the opportunity to grow the show to almost stadium size, making the story all the more funny and all the more tragic.
And now, onwards to Ohio! Bye bye Kansas (I’ll save my Wizard of Oz joke for next time…)