Common commute

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Two people from Hillsboro make weekly commutes into Wichita and two people from Wichita commute into Hillsboro.

They are not the only ones.

These four share a common bond with fellow commuters and yet never realize that some of the cars they pass on the highway are destined for the city they are leaving.

Hillsboro residents Marie Baltzer and Lou Thurston make the long drive to jobs in Wichita, while Wichita residents Ken King and Bruce Plank drive into Hillsboro to work at Tabor College.

Marie Baltzer

Baltzer, 56, and husband, Daryle, have three grown children and 10 grandchildren. She’s been making the trip to Wichita for 10 years.

“I’m definitely the ultimate commuter,” Baltzer said.

A resident of Hillsboro for 11 years, Baltzer began making the long drive when she started working at a Wichita beauty salon called the House of DaVinci.

In 1994, she purchased the salon.

“I worked six days a week-I was going Monday through Saturday,” Baltzer said. “I would leave about 7:30 a.m., and I came home about 8 p.m.”

Baltzer saw the salon grow from four employees to 15. She worked as a stylist and did facials in addition to managing and handling business-ownership responsibilities.

“It had grown so much that it was too much for me with all the commuting,” Baltzer said. “I had such good clientele, and I enjoy what I do. At my stage of life, I felt like I needed to make a decision.”

Baltzer found a buyer and now works as an employee without ownership responsibilities.

Her days are down to Tuesday through Saturday. She leaves about 30 minutes later and comes home about 30 minutes sooner than before.

Her morning drive takes her along Indigo Road to U.S. Highway 50 to Interstate 135; the evening drive puts the whole routine in reverse.

Baltzer uses travel time to make phone calls and listen to books on tape. A confessed baby boomer, her music reflects those years-Barry Manilow to James Taylor tunes with some Andrew Lloyd Weber thrown in.

“It’s real good for me,” she said. “I enjoy it because you get used to doing it. It’s kind of a quiet time for me to organize my day, relax or whatever.”

A morning cup of coffee and an evening bottle of water are a necessity, Baltzer said.

Other commuter necessities are a dependable vehicle, membership in the American Association of Retired Persons for highway-emergency aid, and her cell phone.

During recent construction delays on U.S. 50-requiring long waits at several temporary traffic lights-Baltzer used the time to do paperwork or make phone calls.

“I always tell people I could have written or read (a book) in that time,” she said.

Sharing a concern of most commuters, Baltzer hit her first deer one evening this month on Indigo Road.

“I’ve always tried to be very careful,” she said. “I saw the tail end of one going across the road, I started slowing down, and the other one came at me.”

No damage was done to the car, and the deer escaped without injury after grazing the side of the vehicle.

“It just caused me to lose control and end up in a ditch,” Baltzer said.

Aside from highway dangers, Baltzer said her biggest concern is getting home late, which prevents her from being involved in the community as much as she would like.

But she said she tries to take advantage of the opportunities of existing in Wichita and living in Hillsboro.

She enjoys shopping in the variety of stores in Wichita and evenings with her husband who, on a recent Valentine’s Day, drove in to Wichita to meet her and celebrate with a movie, Baltzer said.

“But I like the safety and comfort of being in Hillsboro,” she said.

Baltzer is a good-will ambassador for Hillsboro, promoting her favorite local restaurants and handing out the “nice Marion County books with the sunflowers on them” (officially known as the Marion County Resource Guide) to her Wichita friends.

“They like to come out on the weekends and visit some of the small towns-and they love them.”

Lou Thurston

Lou Thurston, 43, and wife, Lori, have two daughters, one granddaughter and one grandchild on the way.

A Hillsboro resident for most of his life, Thurston works as a business-development manager for Corporate Express in Wichita.

Although his job requires traveling to other states, Thurston typically drives an hour to work, Monday through Friday, in Wichita.

“I try to leave sometime between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., and a lot of times (I get home) between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m,” he said.

Like Baltzer, Thurston takes Indigo Road to U.S. 50 and gets on I-135. He then gets on Interstate 235 to Kansas Highway 42 to his office at Tyler Road and K-42.

“I listen to music a majority of the time,” Thurston said.

If his windows were rolled down during his commute, the sounds of classic rock might be heard on his compact-disc player as well as books on tape.

“In the mornings, I like to listen to NPR-National Public Radio-just to kind of catch the news and have something different to listen to,” he said.

He also makes use of a cell phone for business calls on the road.

Thurston said he takes advantage of the commute time in positive ways.

“On the way into work, it’s a way to mentally prepare for the day and think about the things that need to be done that day,” he said. “On the way home, certainly it’s a way to wind down and hopefully leave some of the day in the car.”

Thurston said he enjoys the perks of living and working in two different cities.

On those Saturdays requiring work in Wichita, Thurston’s wife will often join him and shop while he’s working.

“Then we’ll go out to dinner and come home-so that’s a way for us to spend time together,” he said.

And the advantages of his home town?

“I would say the fact that we can leave the door unlocked and feel fairly safe here in Hillsboro, and the spirit of the community,” he said.

In preparation for his weekly commute, Thurston is mindful of the need for good tires on his front-wheel-drive vehicle. But he hasn’t opted to join any emergency-aid group.

“I can’t remember a time when I’ve actually been stranded on the side of the road between here and work, so that hasn’t been too much of a problem,” he said.

“In the winter time, I’ll make sure I have a parka, some snow boots and a first-aid kit in the car, and that’s about it.”

And just how many miles has he put on his car?

“I bought my car with about 25,000 miles on it three years ago, and it’s got 142,000 on it right now,” Thurston said. “We try to be pretty diligent about the oil change and get it done once every three months.”

Thurston echoes Baltzer’s concern for loss of community involvement.

“I kind of feel like I come here to sleep, and I’m not always up to speed,” he said. “I also feel I’m not able to be involved in community things-like I’ve had to drop out of some things at church because I’m traveling and not around.”

But he adopts a positive attitude about the beauty around him while on the road so much, Thurston said.

“I’m always on the lookout, especially on 13-mile road, for wildlife,” he said. “But I just like driving at sunrise and sunset. That, to me, gives me a chance to kind of appreciate God’s majesty and the whole creation-helps me put it in perspective.”

Ken King

Ken King, 53, has been a history instructor at Tabor College for two years and is an adjunct professor at Butler County Community College. He lives in Andover, which King said he feels is close enough to be considered Wichita.

He and wife Sherrell have two grown children.

“I work 75 percent time (at Tabor), but that’s considered full time for benefits and voting rights at faculty meetings,” King said.

This semester, his classes are Monday, Wednesday and Friday with office hours on Tuesday. On class days, he’s in Hillsboro by 9:30 a.m. and leaves about 3 p.m., but on Tuesday, he gets in a little later and leaves a little earlier.

King is not new to commuting. He was a union sheet-metal worker-which required commutes to commercial construction sites-for 20 years in Wichita before joining the Tabor staff two years ago.

His first year commuting, King discovered back roads winding into Hillsboro. But after purchasing a new sports car last fall, he chose the more cautious route, taking Kansas Highway 96 to I-135, to Kansas Highway 15, to U.S. 56 into Tabor.

Although he doesn’t pack a cell phone, King keeps a pair of sorrel boots and a goose-down parka in his car, in case he has car trouble. He also purchased special all-weather tires for his car for the winter months and plans to take those off in March.

To prevent monotony during the commute, King said he switches between two things-music and a radio talk show.

“I’ll put in a compact disc, and I have a compact disc burner, so I make those personal mixes,” he said.

Six mixes include songs by John Mellencamp, Stevie Nicks and old cowboy songs-not country western music-by artists such as Don Edwards.

King also confesses to listening to a nationally-syndicated radio program called “Bob and Tom” from time to time.

King said he doesn’t consider commuting as a time to wind down.

“I mean, I’m driving a 2002 Mazda Miata, red two-seater convertible,” he said. “It’s a lovely car, but still, it’s the same old road.”

So why did King take the job, knowing he had to commute?

The answer lies somewhere between two positive draws-a small college and a small town.

“Hillsboro, I’m more concerned with the campus, and I like that a lot because it’s small enough that you don’t have all the red tape,” King said.

“I like the academic freedom I have at Tabor-picking my own textbooks, assigning extra books to read and write papers on. It’s a lot more fun teaching up there.

“The town itself-it’s a clean town, and it’s fairly viable with the industrial park to the east.”

But Wichita offers what Hillsboro lacks, such as movie theaters and discount super-stores, King said.

“And I just like the anonymity in Wichita,” he added.

King said the two biggest problems with the commute itself are the extensive number of miles put on a car and the loss of time that could be used more productively.

The best parts?

“Being able to have the job at Tabor, which I really like, yet live in Andover,” he said. “And I probably enjoy the drive better just because I’m in the Miata. As long as the weather’s good, and you’ve got a blue sky, it’s kind of fun.”

Bruce Plank

Bruce Plank, 42, lives with his wife, Janet, in east Wichita and has five children ranging in ages from newborn to 6 years old.

Like King, Plank commutes to a teaching position at Tabor, where he is an assistant professor of art and design.

An experienced corporate graphic designer, Plank had an office in downtown Wichita until just recently.

“I now regard myself as a free-lance designer,” Plank said.

During the past three years, Plank has increased his hours at Tabor. He began at quarter time his first year and now works full time.

His commute to Tabor is Monday through Friday. The hour-long drive typically begins at 7:30 a.m. and his return trip starts at about 5 p.m.

Like so many commuters going between Wichita to Hillsboro, Plank picks up I-135, to U.S. 50, to Indigo Road and on into town.

He diverted from this routine during the construction on U.S. 50.

“I figured out a way that I could zig zag, take dirt roads, and it would only cost me about five to six minutes on my commute and avoid all of that (construction),” Plank said.

“The cost was you can’t go zipping down a dirt road, but it sure beat sitting at a light for five minutes.”

His mode of transportation is a mini van, which was a necessity because of his large family.

He carries a cell phone but said he purchased it because he closed his office in Wichita. The only “emergency equipment’ he carries are tools for changing a flat tire.

Plank handles the routine of the daily drive by varying his activities en route. A favorite is Scripture memory.

“I use that time to memorize and review verses,” he said. “I also listen to the radio-I have about five stations I’ll go to at different times. I have a variety of good Bible-teaching tapes as well as some motivational-type tapes.

“And I got a cell phone recently. That has actually been effective to make phone calls and get in contact with clients while I’m driving.”

Plank said he follows the speed limits “on the button.”

“It’s not worth the blood pressure when you see a (police car) if you’re speeding,” he said. “And the other thing is, if you ever sat down and calculated it, if you do 10 miles an hour over the speed limit, you save yourself all of 10 minutes.”

But Plank said he felt he could put that daily two-hour commute time to better use.

“My kids would tell me they would do quite a bit (with that time) because when I come through the door, the place just explodes,” Plank said.

“They haven’t seen dad. When they woke up, I was already gone most of the time. And then you get home, and it’s sometimes as late as 7 p.m. or 8 p.m..”

Plank said the pull from two cities-Wichita with his graphic-design clients and Hillsboro with Tabor-means he is looking to move “at least to Newton if not all the way to Hillsboro” by the next academic year.

The attraction in Hillsboro is the teaching environment at Tabor, Plank said. “I took the job because I had a chance to found a graphic-design program, I could write the entire curriculum, and there seemed to be very few impediments at Tabor College.

“Other places that I had taught, this probably is at the upper end of the work environment. Everybody here pretty much gets along, it’s a nice friendly place to be, and there’s not a tremendous amount of politics.”

Although the drive to his job is admittedly not his most productive use of time, Plank recalled one moment that may have helped ease the tedium.

“Just this fall, I was going down 13-mile road-I think it was probably around 9 p.m.-and I saw a deer jumping across the highway,” he said.

Slowing down, anticipating another deer coming along, he was not disappointed when a second deer appeared in front of him.

But this one was different. It was a young deer-not a fawn but yet not full grown either, Plank said.

“It was awkward looking because it was all legs, and he had those little button nubs. He stood on the road in the left-hand lane, and I slowed down to probably 15 mph.

“I knew what deer in the headlights meant because he stood there, and I basically looked him in the eye.”

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