The Black Dahlia Murder 08/20/17—The Crown Uptown, Wichita, KS

I’ve been a Wichita resident for eleven years, and a metal fan for considerably longer. Until recently, those two things—being a metal fan and residing in Wichita—rarely intermingled, as live bands playing anything but country or classic rock were few and far between (Steve Miller Band, anyone?). There  was the occasional metal show here and there, but not much in the way of a scene that people could support.

That may be starting to change.

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Brandon Ellis, The Black Dahlia Murder—sadly, the only zippered leather vest spotted all night.

In 2017, Wichita has seen shows by Mushroomhead, Cattle Decapitation, Superjoint, Amon Amarth, Hellyeah, Born of Osiris, and now, The Black Dahlia Murder. Combine that with the steady stream of shows full of local bands at smaller venues, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an actual scene.

The Crown Uptown is a gorgeous place. Although originally a movie theater when it was built in the 20’s (and dinner theater for years after), it seems almost custom made for concerts. As for TBDM show, turnout seemed a bit thin (blame the bad luck of having to book the show on a Sunday), although the fans who did show up were enthusiastic and appeared grateful to have another metal show in their town.

Kicking off the night was hometown act Parallax, playing a short but energetic set. Vocalist Trevor Rickett gave his all to try and pump up the crowd, with help from some vocal Parallax fans in attendance. The band was also shooting a video for a brand new song, so keep an eye out on social media for that one to drop.

Side note: Parallax is playing at The Elbow Room next month opening for Hed PE 09/22, so do yourself a favor and go see these guys while they’re still playing local shows—it may be only a matter of time before they’re touring nonstop and hardly ever home.

Betraying the Martyrs was up next, from Paris, France as a last minute replacement for Russian act Slaughter to Prevail. Their ultra heavy beats and growling vocals warmed everyone up, but the crowd was perhaps not ready for the occasional clean vocals and prominent keyboard parts that permeated the set.

At one point vocalist Aaron Matts urged the crowd to get moving and jump with the music, which the crowd did eagerly until the heavy riff they were jumping to gave way to keyboards and clean vocals, and the crowd lost their momentum. They’re a good band and they gave a tight performance, though by the end it I was thinking of them as “The THX band” due to the number of times their songs had beats drop like the THX surround sound intro that plays before a movie.

New Jersey’s Lorna Shore was up next, playing a short, tight set that was the first of the night to succeed in sustaining a circle pit for more than twenty seconds and consisting of more than two people. Closing with the title track off their newest LP Flesh Coffin, the band succeeded in loosening the crowd up for the remaining chaos yet to come.

Side note: Lorna Shore is returning to Wichita next month, opening for Miss May I at Rock Island Live 09/21. Don’t miss another chance to see this excellent band.

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Adam De Micco, Lorna Shore—guy liked to shred with his leg propped on his monitor.

The final opening slot (in the disappointing absence of Dying Fetus from this stop of the Summer Slaughter tour) belonged to the crushing Oceano. Led by one of metal’s most guttural vocalists in Adam Warren, Oceano brought an intensity the previous bands lacked. In fact, Warren even issued a warning to a member of the crowd to properly channel his enthusiasm, after he sprayed Warren with water during the opening number. After a reminder from Warren that people at the front of the stage were vulnerable to face-level kicks from Warren if he were splashed any more, the crowd put an end to the shenanigans and put their energy into proper displays of enthusiasm like a frenetic circle pit and the evening’s first instances of crowd surfing. Oceano was the band I was most excited to see and they did not disappoint. They were brutally heavy, buzzing with electric energy, and had the crowd worked into a frenzy for the night’s headliners.

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Adam Warren, Oceano—breaking it down while a fan headbangs.
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Chris Wagner, Oceano—you can tell he’s pounding that bass, look at his top string.

The Black Dahlia Murder capitalized on the crowd’s energy level and never let it drop throughout their hour-plus set. Running like a precision machine, TBDM cranked through song after song without sounding like they were rushing to get through their time on stage. Vocalist Trevor Strnad had a good rapport with fans, simultaneously joking around and keeping them buzzing between songs by encouraging them to keep the crowd surfing and stage diving going throughout the set, particularly among the females in attendance, who were up to the challenge.

TBDM closed with a brand new song, the title track from their upcoming LP Nightbringers, which was reminiscent of some of their most popular material. If that song is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed when the album drops in October.

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Trevor Strnad, The Black Dahlia Murder—pointing to a superfan.

Side note: Brian Eschbach had an absolutely insane guitar tone that made this guitarist and former member of metal and hardcore bands incredibly jealous.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—he knows his tone is sick, look at him.
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The Black Dahlia Murder—orchestrating chaos.
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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—sponsored by PBR.
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Max Lavelle, The Black Dahlia Murder—mid-headbang
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Alan Cassidy, The Black Dahlia Murder—they had him tucked away and not even on a drum riser, like he was some second-class citizen. Drummers are people, too! (Barely)

It was a satisfying night of deathcore and extreme metal, with every band delivering in a big way. One can only hope that attendance was good enough to keep bringing metal acts to town and for a scene to develop. Time (and perhaps turnout at the upcoming D.R.I., Miss May I, and DevilDriver shows) will tell, but when crowds are as enthusiastic as this it’s only a matter of time before word spreads among fans and before you know it you have a thriving scene. May Wichita be so fortunate.

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Soles of shoes in a crowd shot = good concert.
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Ecstatic crowd surfer.
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Stull Cemetery: Of Course Kansas Has a Portal to Hell

I’m a sucker for urban legends. Ghost stories, haunted houses, monsters, you name it. So when the chance came along to visit a somewhat famous “haunted” cemetery touted as a portal to Hell frequented by THE DEVIL HIMSELF, I jumped at it.

Stull Cemetery is located in the postage stamp-sized town of Stull, Kansas–approximately 10 minutes from Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, and a half hour from Kansas City, though it could be pretty much anywhere; acres and acres of farmland, scenic as it may be, tends to be interchangeable after a while, lending a sense of desolation as you wind your way along Highway 40.

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Stories of Stull Cemetery abound on the internet, most sticking to the same handful of “facts”: Tales are documented going back to at least the ’70s, when a professor at KU regaled his students with tales of a speck of haunted land outside town where witchcraft was practiced in abundance going back as far as the 1850s, the witches were hung from trees in the churchyard, and, to top it off, Satan himself made a personal appearance every Halloween at midnight (or Spring equinox, depending on the version you find) to dance with all who had succumbed to violent deaths in the previous year. There was also a hidden staircase if you looked close enough around the foundation of the decaying, vacant church that led straight to Hell—a staircase which, upon descending, there was no return.

Over the years, more incidences were added to the legend—the crumbling brick church was mysteriously leveled, supposedly to stop trespassers from trampling graves and vandalizing the cemetery, though no one in town would admit to knowing who did it; a tree that grew up through a tombstone, splitting it in two, (and was allegedly one of those used to hang witches) was cut down in the (possibly futile?) hopes of eliminating some of the stigma surrounding the property; rain allegedly never falling inside the walls of the church before it was razed (after its roof had fallen in); and perhaps most famously, Pope John Paul II reportedly once refusing to fly over Kansas, citing his desire to fly around the oft-called flyover state due to not wanting to pass over the “unholy ground” of Stull Cemetery. Playing a major role in Season 5 finale of the show Supernatural only added to the Stull legend.

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So it was with great anticipation that I pulled off the highway and onto the supposedly unholy final resting place of perhaps a few dozen dearly departed, judging by a rough look at the markers. I was struck by something right away, before even getting out of the car. Something I couldn’t shake. Something that immediately unnerved me to my very core: it was so…pretty. Portals to Hell should be dilapidated, grungy, dark, gray, decaying places, wouldn’t you think? Instead of finding rotting headstones and being flooded with a sense of overwhelming dread, I was greeted by rows upon rows of green grass and well-maintained tombstones adorned with flowers and wreaths. It probably didn’t help that it was also Memorial Day, so the small lot was actually full of visitors paying their respects. Lush, green grass, flowers everywhere—it barely seemed unholy at all. A travesty, if you ask me.

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Disgusting.
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Gross.

And such began my dilemma, which I debated right up to the moment I started typing this: do I tell the truth—that it is, by all appearances, just a plain old (very old) run-of-the-mill cemetery—or feed you all a few little white lies to keep the legend of Stull Cemetery alive and kicking? I considered writing a mostly fictional recap of my visit, but decided against it.

Instead, I’m planning on a return trip later in the year. October, maybe. When the grass has gone dormant, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, there are no visitors, and everything seems a little less…alive. Maybe on that visit I’ll be overcome by the creepiness, the unease—maybe something supernatural will actually happen!—the grounds possess, and when I tell you about it I won’t have to make anything up. So as of right now, I’m considering this unfinished business.

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A Somewhat Verbose Shout Out to My Fellow Dispatchers

I’ve always been hesitant to talk about my job on here. I work directly with law enforcement and people are extremely passionate about the issue on both sides. Discussing it (as with many other political or hot-button issues) doesn’t really interest me. I’d rather debate which was the best season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer than talk about politics with someone (it’s season five, by the way, and anyone who thinks otherwise is greatly mistaken). But when a mass shooting happens in the county where you work, you feel the need to address it.

Working at 911 is amazing. Anyone who works there will be the first to tell you it’s definitely not for everyone—some people aren’t able to do the absolutely insane multitasking it takes to be good at it, and some just aren’t wired to handle the enormous amounts of stress you have to deal with on a daily basis. In other words, most dispatchers are pretty dark, weird, fantastic people. A few of them also might happen to be normal, but they’re the exception.

As luck would have it, I happened to be off last night when the shootings began, so I won’t get firsthand accounts of what it was like at dispatch when it all went down until I go back tomorrow. But even though I’ve only known these particular dispatchers a month, I know them well enough to know that they rocked it and handled their business, keeping all the responders informed and organized. That’s what dispatchers do: step up at a moment’s notice and do whatever it takes to get the job done. In that regard it’s not unlike the officers, deputies, paramedics, and firefighters we dispatch for.

We generally deal with people at their worst. Accidents, robberies, fights, medical emergencies, all the way down to the crotchety old man who just wants his neighbor’s dog to shut up. It takes a toll, and requires both the ability to deal with the stress in the moment and let it go and decompress during your time off, otherwise you’ll go crazy. This is not work you want to take home with you.

I don’t personally know Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder, the man who went in with no backup and took out the shooter, but I’ve talked to him on the radio. There’s a fair chance I might’ve even rolled my eyes or sighed loudly when he called in a traffic stop while I was busy with something else. But he stepped up and did what had to be done, which is what we as dispatchers do on the other side of the radio, too.

So while praise is being given to Chief Schroeder and all the other responders from all the agencies involved (and rightfully so), I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge my fellow dispatchers in Harvey County, Sedgwick County, and everywhere else. What we do is hard work and you have to be a little crazy to like it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And for the record, there will be no more sighing or eye rolling when someone calls in a traffic stop.

A BoJ Field Trip/Research Project

My dad came to visit over Memorial Day weekend. If you’re wondering after reading my previous post about what happens whenever my in-laws visit, you’ll be happy to know that my dad’s stay was thankfully uneventful.

The timing of him coming when he did worked out fairly well—I’d hit a stumbling block with one of my stories, because I was trying to describe a place I’d never been to; I’d only seen pictures/video. By coming when he did, he unwittingly volunteered to help me research by traveling 45 minutes north to the town of Hutchinson, KS (aka “Hutch” to the locals) to visit the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, otherwise known as Strataca.

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Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much from the parking lot.

Strataca has been a fully functioning salt mine since the 1920’s, but just opened to the public in 2007. They provide tours of the facility, showing how the salt is mined and how they go about day to day operations. There is also an underground vault and storage area, which was key to our visit. More on that in a minute.

As the name implies, the salt mine is underground. WWAAYY underground. 650 feet, to be exact. And there’s only one way down (or back up, naturally)—a huge elevator that plummets you into total blackness for about 90 seconds. When you step off the elevator you have to remind yourself that you really are underground; the area just off  the elevator is just massive. Huge open areas with higher ceilings than you’d expect display the tools they use to cut, drill, and blast into the mine, as well as the vehicles they use to get around, like these Road Warrior-looking monsters:

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There was both a train and a tram that would take you around some of the abandoned areas of the mine, which was incredibly cool. The size of it is really astounding; they said they might be in danger of running out of salt to mine in a few hundred years. But, as interesting as it all was, it was not really the true purpose of the visit—as I said earlier, I was doing research:

A secured area? Exciting!
A secured area? Exciting!

As I mentioned, the salt mine is also home to an underground vault and storage area. Thousands of things are stored down there, with it’s secure, climate-controlled abandoned mines providing near-perfect conditions for long term storage. And the biggest customer to take advantage of the storage area? Hollywood studios. Some of the items are out on display.

Dorothy II !
Dorothy II !
There are a lot of all cool and valuable things in the vault. They also have this suit worn by Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels
There are a lot of all cool and valuable things in the vault. They also have this suit worn by Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels
Probably my favorite thing I saw in there.
Probably my favorite thing I saw down there.

The ‘research’ I was doing was for a story about some nimrod criminals who find themselves at Strataca and realize how much valuable booty is stored inside. And despite being so stupid, they’re also quite arrogant.

Boxes o'stuff.
A few shelves with dummy boxes, to give people an idea how much is kept in the actual storage area, which is vast.
Could these BE better pictures?
Could these BE better pictures?

They start to get a harebrained idea.

Sure, Dean Cain's Superman suit is cool...
Sure, Dean Cain’s Superman suit is cool…
And so is Matt Damon's outfit from Monuments Men. But do you see all those film reel canisters behind them?
And so is Matt Damon’s outfit from Monuments Men. But do you see all those film reel canisters behind them?

 

They start to think certain types of people might pay a lot of money for some of the stuff stored down there. Stupidity ensues.

Strataca is a really neat place, and if you ever find yourself in the middle of the country you should certainly take a couple of hours to visit (and, if you have the time, you should also check out Hutch’s other crown jewel, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center—they have all sorts of rocket/space stuff).

My dad and I walked through the entire mine/museum before heading back to the massive elevator that would take us back up to the surface. While we were waiting, I asked, “So…how would we rob it?”

Research is fun.

I’ve Been to a Magical Land, Full of Free Books for Every Man, Woman, and Child—They Call It a “Library”

When I was in Junior High/High School, the library was nothing more than the place that housed the encyclopedias and whatever else I might need to complete a research paper or other such project. I never appreciated the library for what it was—never saw its full potential. It didn’t help that the local branch, while a mere 2-3 minute drive from my house (also known as walking distance to the non-lazy), was old and run down, with a small selection of books. The library became less and less important as time went on, to the point that I thought they were all but obsolete.

After moving to the Midwest I never thought about the library once, until I started blogging. Among the blogs I started following was Eleventh Stack, run by the fine people at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (they don’t just blog about ‘library stuff’—it’s all things movies and music as well as books). Seeing one of their recent posts lit the light bulb over my head—Hey, yeah, libraries…remember those? I wonder if there are any still around. I looked up my local branch (which, while not walking distance is still very close) and decided to take a trip down to get my library card and have a look around.

I was less than impressed. It was much as I remembered the libraries I’d been to in the desert: small, old, and with a limited selection. After some thought, though,  I decided to try again. My reasoning being that while my local branch was small, I do live in the largest city in my state, and surely the main branch would have more to offer. I located the central branch and went to check it out.

Well now, this is better.
Well, now. This is better.

The building was impressively large from the outside and my hopes began to rise. I walked through the automatic doors into the atrium and my expectations were blown out of the water. The library is three stories in all, with a ground floor, upstairs, and basement level. I realize how silly this sounds, but I was kind of amazed by how vast the library was. Having only been in my small-town desert libraries years before and the local branch recently, this was incredible.

The bottom floor houses administrative offices and a Genealogy department, which I only poked my head in for a look around but did not actually enter. Another time. The top floor is dedicated to the arts and multimedia—CD’s, DVD’s, and books about art/artists, music/musicians, etc. I did a little more exploring here, and on my next trip I will definitely cover every square inch. This visit however, was dedicated (naturally) to fiction.

The landing between the ground floor and top floor.
Looking down from he landing between the ground floor and top floor.

To be honest, for as large as the library is I expected there to be more fiction, but seeing as how this is the biggest library I’ve ever been to maybe my expectations were unrealistic. There was still a very large amount, split between general fiction, mystery, fantasy/sci-fi, and western. Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a section for romance—do most libraries have a romance section? It would seem like they should. Anyway, I perused the shelves and found books by just about every author I could think of except for Chuck Wendig and Jack Ketchum, who I suppose are a little more under the radar. Aside from Stephen King, every author I did find had books I wasn’t familiar with, so I look forward to reading more obscure work from some of my favorites.

From the far wall, looking toward the top floor.
From the far wall, looking toward the top floor.

After some walking back and forth and careful deliberation, I picked a book from an author I knew and another I’d been wanting to read for quite a while. And you know what? As silly as it sounds, I like having a due date—it gives me a deadline. I know I can renew them or simply pay the minuscule late fees, but if I finish these two books by May 16th I’m going to feel like a freakin’ winner.

I’m leaving out the rest of the ground floor, with its technology center (computers with internet access), plus its massive non-fiction area and the references and periodicals, which I stuck my nose in briefly, and what I believe may be the area where you can get the most bang for your buck, audiobooks (seriously, why are audiobooks so expensive?). They had a fair selection, but I didn’t spend much time looking as most of my audio listening is digital nowadays other than in the car, and I’m not currently planning any cross-country road trips. Again, another time.

So tell me, do you guys take advantage of your local libraries? Leave me a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing some reading—I’m on a deadline here.

EDIT: I’ve come to find out that I’m publishing this post two days after the end of National Library Week, so as usual my timing is impeccable. As a tribute to libraries in general, here’s a picture of the Kansas City Public Library, which has the coolest parking garage ever.

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Earthquakes Vs Tornadoes

As a native Californian, moving to the Midwest after over 30 years was quite a shock. One of my friends from high school moved  off to Oklahoma, but the rest of my friends had stayed put.  Their reactions to my wife and I deciding to move were pretty amusing.

You’re moving to Kansas?  On purpose?

Kansas? Like from The Wizard of Oz?

Are you going into the Witness Protection Program?

and the number one question I was asked…

Why?

The answer was simpler than many of them could believe: we needed a change and wanted to be closer to our respective families.  My dad let us know if we moved he’d move somewhere in the vicinity too, so that made it easy. We sold our house, picked up, and plopped ourselves square in The Heartland.

I noticed differences right off the bat.

Despite the bad reputation this part of the country has for being flat, I found it kind of awesome. Driving through the middle of nowhere, looking off in either direction and seeing nothing but green as far as the eye can see is actually amazing. It’s the Midwest version of standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean.

Since I lived in the High Desert of Southern California I could easily drive to lots of different places, but there in the desert there wasn’t much in the way of greenery or wildlife. We had lizards, scorpions, and black widows. I miss the lizards; the other two, not so much.

Since I’ve lived in the Midwest, I’ve seen lots of animals I had never seen before. Raccoons, opossums, even deer have found their way down my street and into my yard. One time we were driving down a busy street and stopped at a red light. I looked around and didn’t notice as many differences as I did similarities – Best Buy, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Circuit City (R.I.P.), etc.

Maybe this won’t be all that different after all.

Then I turned to my right and there, in a vacant lot next to a convenience store, two wild turkeys went strolling past. Much to one of my friends’ chagrin when I relayed the story, I did not ‘pack my musket and go shoot them.’

I haven’t had much trouble getting used to the cold winters. Deserts get colder than a lot of people realize, and I was no stranger to low temperatures. That being said, I’ve been colder out here than I’ve ever been in my life. Pumping gas at 1am in 12 degree weather stupidly wearing a hoodie instead of a heavy coat.

I’ve also been hotter than I’ve ever been in my life. Here I thought it was just some dumb saying, but it’s true – it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I could handle triple-digits in the desert pretty easily most of the time. Here I start to bitch in the mid-80’s. When we hit triple digits here I want to die.

I’m still not used to the way people talk out here. It’s mostly little stuff, but a lot of it is still like nails on a chalkboard. For example, there are no bags out here. Only sacks. I hear the word sack and I think of a giant brown paper bag, but out here it covers everything: paper, plastic, even Ziploc bags. Asking for a soda may get you a funny look, as there is only pop. People will refer to a man as an “Ol’ boy.” Instead of saying thank you, people say “I appreciate cha.” And if you say thank you to someone there’s a good chance that instead of you’re welcome they’ll answer you with a simple “Yup.” Not that any of that is so bad, but it still sounds foreign.

Then there’s the elephant in the room. The difference that everyone always asks about.

I swapped earthquakes for tornadoes.

People out here seem to be terrified of earthquakes. I’ve been told on more than one occasion earthquakes are worse, because “you can’t see them comin’.” As a seasoned veteran of probably a dozen or so earthquakes who now lives in tornado alley, I will say this –

I would trade one tornado for a hundred earthquakes. I know what they say. The Big One’s coming, and California’s going to fall off into the ocean! I’ve been hearing that since I was old enough to understand what an earthquake was, and I’ve never seen anything like what happens in a tornado. A big earthquake is bound to happen someday, and it will probably be devastating, but it’s not like there’s an earthquake season.

I’m not trying to crap on the midwest. Almost every place has something to watch out for. The east coast and gulf coast have hurricanes; in addition to earthquakes, California also has wildfires and mudslides. Helping my dad decide what was valuable and what wasn’t as I helped him evacuate his house due to a looming wildfire royally sucked.

Luckily, my friends and family in Oklahoma are OK, no pun intended. Some of my family have had some close calls, and my friend from high school has lost a house once already. But for now I’m just thankful they’re OK, and I’m really thankful we have a secure storm shelter.