Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17, 2007
Just finished a whirlwind of appointments and taping. I'm waiting at the Wichita Airport for a 2:49 P.M. US Airways flight home to Phoenix. Jeff Hildebrandt and I appeared on the Johnny Western Radio Show at 11 this morning. Got in a good plug for True West and Old Cowtown. Jeff wanted to eat again at the Nu Way Cafe so we, once again, had a great lunch at one of Wichita's oldest burger joints (founded in 1930).

Last night Jeff and I drove up to Wild West World and got a personal tour from Thomas and Cheryl Ethridge of the new $30 million dollar theme park. Really a staggering array of "cowboy rides" (cost: $10 mil for rides, including changes to the ferris wheel from seats to covered wagons, and mock saddles on all the scramble rides, which by the way, have all been renamed to reflect cowboy themes). Thomas told us his payroll is $86,000 a week and when I asked him what his biggest challenge has been he shrugged and said, "There's a new one every day." And then he added that a Pepsi deliveryman took out two of his pickup trucks during a delivery, and a woman, slightly injured on a tram car, is threatening to sue. "And that's just one day," he added laughing.

The park opened on the weekend when Greensburg, Kansas was obliterated by a tornado (Johnny Western said it "looked like Hrioshima"). That weekend Kansas had 132 tornadoes in 72 hours. So the expected 14,000 opening day crowd turned into some 4,000. Fighting setbacks like this seems to energize Mr. Ethridge, and as we walked through the unfinished park (recent rains have made it hard to finish many of the courseways) he enthusiastically clicked off all the expansion he intends to finish in the next couple of weeks and months.

Of course, I got an earful about Old Cowtown, but I was polite and didn't confront him on my allegiance to the endangered historic park in Wichita (where we filmed for the past two days). The two properties seem to embody the extremes of Western commerce. One (Old Cowtown) is restricted by its charter to be as authentic in every detail as is humanly possible, and the other is hell bent to harness every carnival ride and Country pop phenomenon on the face of the earth. Personally, I understand and empathize with both schools of enterprise and I'm intrigued to see who will still be standing when the smoke clears. Just like an Old West gunfight, I imagine it will be bloody.

"If you are first, it's a race. If you are not, it's just sailing."
—Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records, Airlines, ad infinitum

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