Growing up in Dodge City (Part 1)
I always say, I really enjoy visiting Southwest Kansas, now that I know I can leave whenever I want. My friends and most of the people I grew up with all shared a similar desire, to somehow reach an escape velocity in our lives that sent us on a trajectory full of opportunity and places with trees that were allowed to grow without being planted by human hands. Some of us did launch in to distant places, and some of us settled down and found our place close to home.
That desire to leave really didn’t exist until my adolescent years, by which time we really didn’t even live in Dodge anymore, but in Ingalls, 20 some odd miles to the West. It’s not that I don’t have some retroactively fond memories of Ingalls, just that in the years I actually lived in Dodge, I never had the urge to get out of Dodge. I lived there from age 3 to 12. At that age you just take everything at face value. Not until my teenage years did I get the delusions that I could change the world around me or alter my trajectory in life.
We moved to Dodge City in 1985. I was only three at the time, so I lack the ability to remember things like what time of year it was, if I immediately noticed the smell of manure, or if I noticed any of the landmarks along the way. Most likely I slept through the whole trip as was my preferred style of travel for pretty much my entire youth. What I do remember are the feelings of excitement and knowing that Dad had gotten a new job. I remember knowing that we were leaving Woodlawn and we’d only be back to visit our family.
First thing I really remember about Dodge City itself was the Lora Locke Hotel. Today it’s the home of rather boring Ford County offices, but in 1985 I believe you could still get a room at the Lora Locke. When we first got to town we weren’t able to move into our house right away. I never gave much thought to why at the time. Again, when you’re three, you often just accept the world as it is. We ended up in a small apartment on one of the upper floors of the hotel. Just being on one of the top floors was cool. (An experience I still always kinda get a kick out of as an adult at a hotel.) You could look out the window and see the cars snaking down the streets. We had a small kitchen area if I recall and one or two small rooms attached to the main room with beds. It was fun and exciting to be doing something so different.
A couple blocks away McDonalds on Wyatt Earp Blvd. had the COOLEST booth ever. It was a life sized stage coach with a booth and table inside. You literally had to climb up inside of it to sit in the thing. And of course, I wouldn’t be satisfied unless we did. Man. So far, this Dodge City place was pretty awesome.
I had gotten some plastic train as the Happy Meal toy. I only remember this because, perhaps all my other toys were packed away, un-retrievable until we got into our house and unpacked. Maybe this little train was the only toy I had to play with? For whatever reason I seem to remember rolling it around on the shiny terrazzo floors of the basement in the Lora Locke. I want to say we were in the basement using the laundry facilities. Or perhaps we were just scoping out the joint.
The Lora Locke was really a pretty classy joint as I remember it. Or at least it looked like it could have been at one time. We always came in the east entrance as I believe we usually parked in the lot across the street. As you walked in there would be many mail boxes all locked up. You quickly entered the lobby from the door however and I feel like the counter was off to the right as you walked by. On the north side of the lobby was a staircase that lead up to a balcony. I can’t remember if there was a piano up there or not. Seems like it would have been a good place for one. I’ve tried and tried to find photos of the interior of the hotel, but no such luck.
I remember being told all sorts of famous people had stayed there. Some president, some movie stars. Whether I heard those stories in the time that I stayed there or in the years after the fact, it all lent itself to making it feel like a pretty significant place.
We only stayed there for a few days at most. A few years later I think I returned there to attend a wedding for some friends of my parents. But in the decades that have passed all I have to remember it are the frequent trips driving past the building on Central, and the fuzzy memories of the time we spent there. I’d like to go back and tour the place some time to see if any of what I remember still exists, or even ever did. It could all be simply conjured up from the rapidly spinning wheels of a three year old’s imagination.
UPDATE: I found one picture of the Lora Locke Hotel lobby on Facebook. It only leaves me wanting to see more!