To start everything off, first an explanation, then a confession.

I’m not from Topeka. I’m not even from the Midwest. I moved here when I was younger, moved away, moved back again, moved away again, moved back again—and I believe there’s a couple more away-and-back moves in there. The point is, I’ve been inconsistent—Topeka’s on-again, off-again lover. Now is one of those on-again times.

With all the coming and going, this has been a pretty common sight for me over the years.

And that’s where the “Occasional Topekan” bit comes in. I’ve only occasionally been a Topekan, though it’s totalled up to about half my life living here. I’m able to straddle a line sometimes, where I know what it means to be from here and connected to here (my family and in-laws all live here still), but have spent enough time living in other places to have perspective. Hopefully, that’s what this space can be—perspective. Not necessarily a good perspective—I wouldn’t want to be that self-assured—but a perspective, nonetheless.

Okay, enough skirting around the issue. Time to bring out the confession—something I’m afraid will keep me from ever attaining full Topekan status, dooming me forever to the “occasional” realm. Here goes…

I’ve never eaten Porubsky’s chili.

I know, it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, sure. Even my wife has made it out to Little Russia to have some chili and hot pickles, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to tag along that day. But three things keep me from feeling too bad about missing out thus far:

You can bet I didn’t take this picture. If I’d ever been this close to a bowl of chili, the picture would be of an empty bowl.
  1. It’s not by choice. I want to have the chili. I’ve seen the Porubsky’s documentary a few times, and every time they start in with the chili, my mouth waters and I want to taste it in the worst way. When they take Bailey Marable on her blindfolded trek to try it out, I flush with envy. And it’s not like I’ve never been to Porubsky’s, either. I’ve just been there when it’s not chili season, or it’s Friday, or for whatever reason they didn’t have chili that day. Chalk it up to bad timing, laziness, or whatever else has kept me from getting up there at the right day and time.
  2. Matt Porubsky is a coworker on seveneightfive and a friend, and he doesn’t seem too bent out of shape that I’ve never had the chili. As a representative Porubsky, I extend—at least in my mind, if not in practice—his forgiveness for my transgressions to the rest of the Porubsky family.
  3. Most importantly, I know I’m not alone in Topeka. There are thousands—quite likely tens of thousands—just like me, people who’ve never eaten so much as a spoonful of the chili, people for whom the taste of the famous Topeka landmark has been like a phantom limb, and probably people who’ve never so much as heard of Porubsky’s.

This last point is what brings me to writing this blog. The more I move about this city, the more I realize I’m similar in a lot of ways to a lot of Topekans. I represent the outsider, the uninitiated, the clueless among us. And there’s a lot of us.

508 NE Sardou
Map It
Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
No chili on Fridays

We can’t all be lifers and insiders. Not that there’s anything wrong with either, but odds are, the majority of us aren’t. And it’s okay. That just means we get the pleasure of discovery, of exploration and adventure, of perspective. That’s what I hope this blog will be. And I hope there are those out there who want
to jump in with me on an adventure to discover—
and rediscover—Topeka and the surrounding area.

Adventure No. 1: It’s chili season again. Who’s available for lunch?

Lyle Vaughn isn’t an expert on anything, especially Topeka. But he wants to learn. Leave your ideas for a discoverable Topeka treasure in the comments.

[ September 2010 | Lyle Vaughn | photos by Matt Porubsky / contributed ]

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