A Tribute to Tribune

Trip Start Aug 06, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Kansas
Friday, August 6, 2010

I didn't know what to expect. Until now, all I had done was drive through these small towns, passing them in less than the span of a yawn.

"You're telling me there's only 835 people in this entire county? Not even just the town...the county?!" I scoffed to my friend, Jon Sparks, who invited me to Tribune for the weekend, and wanted to show me a native's perspective on rural Kansas life and good times.

"Eh, now, I'd have to say more like 535." Sparks corrected me, "More and more people are realizing they live in a shithole and are moving out." We both laughed out loud. He told me the town balloons up to several thousand people this time of year. "This year is especially important." Sparks went on to explain, "This is the year where everybody who has ever graduated high school in this town comes back to do one massive reunion. Blue moons are more common than these." 

What could I say? I was excited to get off work that Friday and hit the road ASAP. I had a 4-hour commute to tackle and it was already 5:00. Racing care free down 70 East was wonderful until it suddenly turned into a torrential downpour that kept the blinkers on and the "traffic" cruising slowly. There was one guy ahead of me who I kept trying to pass, and as soon as I made an attempt to, my car would start hydroplaning like it was going out of style. For 50 minutes, I suffered through this radio-drowning blast of sound, slapping against my windshield with fury.

About 30 minutes outside of Hugo, the rain died down and left two beautiful rainbows in its wake. And not long after, the sun setting right on the horizon, leaving a fiery hue, reminded me that it's great to have a balance in nature. 885 people lived in Hugo, according to the 2000 census. Driving through the town, you could have fooled me. I stopped at the first gas station I saw out of fear I might not see another. I was right. Just about the time when the Big Boi and Ludacris CDs played their way through, I was there: the Kansas state sign. I stopped briefly to take a picture of me doing something super cool in front of it, as I always do with the state signs, and about 15 miles later, I was pulling into Tribune, Kansas.

"Dude...about time! You should be excited as hell man, we've been drinking for quite a while!" Sparks warned me, with a bunch of his rowdy buddies laughing in the background, and then he attempted to give me directions. "Just keep going until you hit town, and then pull into the AM-Pride. We'll meet you there."

"How do I know what the AM-Pride is?" I asked Sparks.

"Because it's the only gas station in town!" He assured me with a laugh, "You can't miss it." When I saw the sign notifying me that I'd arrived in Tribune, I kept my eyes peeled for the AM-Pride, but all I saw was "Eagle Travel & Convenience", and nothing else.

What the hell? I couldn't have missed it. "Sparks!" I had called him back. "I passed over route 27, and have been driving a couple minutes. Where is this place?" 

"Oh dude, no," Sparks sounded disappointed, "turn back around; you missed it."

"But all I saw was the Eagle?" I responded, confused.

"Oh, yeah, that's it. I forgot it's not called 'AM-Pride' anymore." I circled back around and pulled in the parking lot, running inside to preemptively grab some Gatorade for hydration that I was sure I'd need later. Sparks joyfully stumbled in just as I was at the cash register.

"Welcome to Tribune...fucking Tribune!" His enthusiasm was contagious and quickly rubbing off on me. Walking out into the parking lot, we were greeted by a Jeep Wrangler packed full of some screaming, drunk boys, all toting Styrofoam cups containing some unknown-but-deadly concoction. 

"Hop in, boys!" On the surface, this looked like an awful, awful decision. Sparks told me that we were only driving across the street, I thought 'what the hell'? I immediately regretted the decision as we were rolling in a rapid, zero-gravity tumble down this ravine. Just kidding. The house was only two blocks away and the driver was sober as a judge. The first thing I saw when we pulled up was this large, sport boat that was hooked up to the back of a jacked-up truck, and all around it was a bunch of local boys talking it up like it was Mount Olympus.

Emptying out of the Jeep, I shook hands with some boys who I was sure wouldn't remember my name come tomorrow. Sparks led me into the Gooch household, which was apparently the preferred rendezvous spot of the locals in our demographic. "Gooch" is the last name (and now, nickname) of Jeremy Gooch, one of several members of this large family. The Gooch family owned the town grocery store, and in a town of 500-some people, everyone knows the folks at the grocery store. Once I walked into the door into the Gooch's home, it was like I had entered into a time machine all the way back to 1974. They had the old-style carpeting, a living room filled with antique trinkets and no TV, and of course, the entire wall was plastered with pictures of the vast, extended family, no picture more recent than ten years old. For added effect, there were about eight dogs and five cats scrambling throughout the house to make it a true, rural experience.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the house was that it was located right next door to the large reunion party. Out in the back yard and on the porch, there were a few dozen people partying and mingling, most of whom had graduated from Greeley County High School at some point (the only high school in the county, and for many miles outside of it). I made a decent effort to get to know all who I could before everyone got too drunk to remember anything. Gooch’s younger brother, Tooter (people had names like that out here), came up and introduced himself to me. I especially enjoyed meeting those who were quick to share their old "glory days" story. One guy, Thon, I learned used to be all-state in football and a beast on defense, but life got in his way and he ended up fulfilling a new dream and coaching kids his passion: football.

“Boone’s race, gentlemen!” Some guy shouts, as most of the party turns their heads towards the concrete “blacktop” out behind the house. Sparks explained to me that the objective of the game was similar to a tag-team relay. One teammate (teams of two) runs from one end of the court to the other, drinks half the bottle of Boone’s Farm wine, then sprints back to the other end, tags their teammate who then takes off to kill the rest of the bottle. A true drunkard’s bonanza! Getting to know the locals was fun, and although I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb as an outsider, one guy begged to differ. “Hey, it’s Matt Brooks!” This guy yells and walks up to me from a distance, and of course I’m wondering why he’s heading my way. “Wait…you’re not Matt. Haha, you look just like this guy from school. He never comes around anymore, though.”

“Oh…I’m sorry?” I said, with a puzzled look on my face. In fact, he wasn’t the only one who made this mistake. I met and talked with a girl named Ellie who also thought I might’ve been Matt Brooks at first glance. She told me she used to date Tooter in the past, and that the only reason she felt comfortable talking to me was because I wasn’t “just trying to get with her”. Initially perplexed by her unique statement, I put myself in her shoes, imagining what it must be like for her growing up in a small pond of testosterone-laced guys where everyone knew every intimate detail about others’ experiences.

After a while, several of us ventured over to Dual Schneider's house down the street for some similar action. Dual is Sparks' best friend, having held that title since they were young kids. Sparks said that Dual used to look just like that goofy actor, Rick Schroeder, when Dual was younger. Looking closer at Dual, yeah I could definitely see that. I ended up talking to Dual's sister, Kinsey, who looked surprisingly like Dual. It was almost weird. Sparks and I agreed this night had been tapped out, so we headed back to the Trail's End Motel, the only motel in town we successfully locked up for a whopping $35 a night. And yes, it's as snazzy as it sounds. I particularly liked the "Office", which was essentially a condemned shack with the sign consisting of a rotting slab of wood with "OFFICE" spray-painted on it. I chose not to actually go in there so Leatherface wouldn't get me. It was time to hit the sack now and save up our energy for the next day. Reunion Day.

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