Suzanne Tobias

What does she hate about Wichita? Let her count the ways

Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis designed a Wichita-themed mural that’s on the west wall of the College Hill Deli and has become one of the most popular places to take a picture.
Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis designed a Wichita-themed mural that’s on the west wall of the College Hill Deli and has become one of the most popular places to take a picture. The Wichita Eagle

As is the case with most angry callers, this one didn’t leave her name or number.

Vitriol loves anonymity.

“I’ve lived here 70 years, and I’ve seen some progress, but most of it’s been negative,” the woman’s voicemail message began.

“We need to spend money on Wichita as a whole, not on account of all the ‘millennium age’ that goes to Old Town,” she said. “When they get to be 50, 60 or 70 and retire, who’s going to be down there then?”

In my 25-plus years of reporting on city government, education, neighborhood issues and other topics for The Eagle, I have fielded my share of irate phone calls.

One of my all-time favorites, which I shared on my Facebook page a few years ago, was a man (again anonymous) who criticized our coverage of protests in Ferguson, Mo., and accused me of blatant liberal bias before signing off with the phrase, “Good day, wench!”

So I wasn’t shocked to get another angry, anonymous voicemail recently. But I was a little surprised that the article that so rankled this woman was one titled “Wichita has much to be proud of.”

The story – part of our “Forward Wichita” special section published recently – detailed a few of the major accomplishments of the past decade that have made Wichita a more vibrant place, such as Eisenhower National Airport, Intrust Bank Arena and new exhibits at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

Well, shame on me.

I forgot to mention all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things that happen in this city every day, year after year, but the caller reminded me.

So enthusiastic was she, so unfaltering in her rabid cynicism, that when she hit the time limit on our voicemail system, she called right back to continue her rant.

“Jeff Longwell says the city of Wichita is a great place,” she said, referring to the mayor. “You tell me how it’s a great place when every city and street and highway in this town is torn up for the next four, six, eight years.

“Next year we’re supposed to have a great big basketball tournament coming into town. What, are we going to let them parachute in?” she said.

“There’s going to be no way for them to get in on 235, 135, East/West Kellogg. Guys gotta do some serious thinking and get those people off their butts and start working 24/7 to get some of these roads built.”

Ms. Anonymous thinks the city is “ruining” the corner of Second and McLean with “that new library” and “monstrosity” apartments that ruin her view of the Wichita skyline.

She thinks a giant tornado will blow through someday and knock them down. “And I hope it happens,” she said, “because they are a disgrace to Wichita.”

I could barely catalog her numerous complaints. But my overall reaction? Some people need more fiber.

It’s one thing to be a charming curmudgeon. I went through a phase in early adolescence when I pored over essays by Andy Rooney and came to adore his crotchety take on annoying relatives or bottled water.

But I’ll never understand people who continually bad-mouth a community – or its leaders or residents – for embracing progress and trying to move forward. We might not always agree on specific projects or details, but we should have a little faith and try to be positive.

“You tell me how it’s a great place,” my caller said.

I could go on and on. Wichita is a place filled with people who work hard, have fun, cheer on hometown teams, talk about great books, help others, take challenges in stride and find innovative solutions.

I hope the woman who left that voicemail sees this column and calls me back. She knows the number.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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