There’s a phenomenon that happens when you cross Interstate 35 at Salina on your way west across Kansas.

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It’s right about that point that you stop measuring distance in miles and start measuring it in time.

I first noticed this when I moved from Dickinson County to the wide-open spaces of Ford County, Kansas. For example, back home, the Walmart and Food-4-Less stores in Junction City, Kansas, were a little more than 20 miles from our house. And my mother stocked up on a weekly run to the store like she was preparing to feed the troops at Normandy. Never mind that it took her just 20 minutes to get to the store, the mileage was the point of contention for her.

Out here, the Dodge City Walmart is the company’s only store in at least five surrounding counties. (Yes, I said “counties.”) Most of the people who live out in western Kansas get by with an essentials run to Walmart twice a month and utilize their little grocery stores and Dollar Generals for the emergencies in between. Even then, this 50-minute one-way trip for some is still just “not too far down the road” or “just a little ways away.” It’s doable.

Another example of this phenomenon would be air travel in western Kansas. Friends and colleagues who work east of I-35 cannot believe it takes me an entire day to fly anywhere out of Kansas. Well, for starters, our regional airports only go to either Dallas, Texas, or Denver, Colorado, and you have to make a connection in those two hubs to get anywhere else. So you start out at 4 a.m. to get to a location like Washington, D.C., sometime before 9 p.m. that same day.

We don’t have the luxury of multiple flights from multiple airlines, kids. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

There are trade-offs for living and working out here that we all just work around and people who don’t live here can’t quite fathom. A “Target run” for my Kansas City, Kansas, friends is a 10-minute drive across town. For me, it’s a 45-minute drive to Garden City, and I’d better have a list so I don’t forget something. Catching the latest tour of a favorite singer, or a Broadway show, or even an art exhibit is “date night” or just another Wednesday for some of my friends, but for me it means planning an overnight stay in Denver, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or Kansas City.

There’s a real lack of understanding just what it means to live and work in the High Plains that even our well-meaning friends and family back east really can’t comprehend unless they experience it themselves.

I got to thinking about this when my brother asked me how far it was from Hanston to Dodge City this weekend. He was picking up a part he purchased online and was going to stay the night with me if it wasn’t too far for him to drive.

“Oh, it’s not that far, just a little ways away, really,” I told him.

“How far is it in miles?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s about 45 miles give or take.” Lucky for me he decided to drive the long ways anyway just to catch up with his little sister.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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