3,337 Waffle Houses Away in the little town of Paola, Kansas – I have heard these words so often. They describe the home town of Sherrie, one of the main characters of my favorite musical Rock of Ages. The more the narrator of the musical, Lonny Barnett, told me these words in one of my over 50 performances nowadays, the more I a dream developed: exploring Paola, Kansas, the home town of this magnificent fictional person, who has been played by so many wonderful people and friends. In late July 2022, I finally made it. I first thought about just sharing some impressions of the city as a Pictured Story, but I finally went for a one-day trip report format. If there is something which is sounding weird to you, it might be either my poor English – or a reference to the musical.
I know that this trip was kind of weird. Nonetheless, I would have likely never made it, if there haven’t been fantastic people who brought the character of Sherrie Christian on stage and gave me – at the time of writing – an amazing time for some 50 shows of Rock of Ages. Thus, I would thank all of these people. I am sure that I will miss some, but thanks to Danielle Hope, Jodie Steele, Erin Bell (okay, I have never seen you doing Sherrie, but I know you are a Sherrie at heart as well 🙂 ), Hanna Völkl, Julia Lienert, Annika Wesselkamp, Gabriella Williams and – last, but definitely not least, Rhiannon Chesterman for their effort. I should also not forget Vas Constanti, Zoe Birkett, Jenny Fitz, Phoebe Samuel-Gray and many more playing the parents of Sherrie – it’s their home town as well.
Paola, Kansas – Some facts and how to get there
Paola is a 5,800 inhabitant city in Miami County in Kansas and roughly a one hour drive away from Kansas City (which is, confusingly, part of Missouri). Finally, the only way to get there is by car. In the Rock of Ages musical, Sherrie Christian is finally intending to take the midnight train back home, but that trip would have lead her not closer to her home town than Kansas City Union Station. A direct train ride from Los Angeles to Kansas CIty is still available today. From Kansas City, you take the Interstate I-35 South and then head on the US-169 close to the city of Olathe. By the way, Paola (at least nowadays) does not have a Waffle House breakfast restaurant. The closest one is in Olathe, North of Paola. I visited the place – and it definitely looked like that Sherrie could have had a bite there in the mid-1980’s already.
My trip to Paola, Kansas
As a couple of museums in Kansas City do not open on Mondays, I originally expected to visit them and then head to Paola in the later afternoon hours. Two facts changed my plan: As a key reason, the Aviation History Museum in Kansas City was surprisingly closed for whatever reason (their website says they are open). Secondly, the weather forecast predicted rain for Sunday morning, so that If felt I should see as much of the city’s sacred grounds on Saturday already.
Driving to Paola was easy. In general, I enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere in and around Kansas City. Turning into the US Highway, where the signs stated Paola for the first time was special. When I exited the highway, I knew there was this sign. Welcome to Paola. I would have loved to take a picture with me there – but it is located in the middle of a multi-lane road without any chance to park the car. Likely, they would have called the police. So I decided to head to the city center. I knew that the area around Town Square is likely the most picturesque one of Paola. It is more or less a straight drive into the city, before you have to take a left turn.
Indeed, this is the heart of Paola. The historic city center is really a beauty. Might be different if you are a motivated actor and spent all your teenage years in there, but I loved the main square with the water fountain and the pagoda a lot.
The area around the square is really picturesque. Some really nice buildings are around. For example, you see the City Hall and the amazing Miami County District Court. It took me a bit to understand the street signs – I did not see something similar before. It has also been very nice to walk through the Paola residential areas – ain’t that a beautiful US small town style? A bit too stereotype to be true, somehow. However, you also find some hints like Paola had better times in the past, like the (obviously) left bank outlet.
Dancing, Water Towers and More
Arts and being active feels to be a key parts of the Paola people’s life. The local dancing school had quite a bunch of awards in their windows – this might be why Sherrie is just such an amazing person 😉 The pride of the city feel to be the Paola Panthers, though, the local High School sports team(s). Unfortunately I could not enter the shirt store, as it is not opening on Saturdays. By the way, there is also a German restaurant. It used to be one of the best dines of the city – but the owner changed and the new style did not feel too German any more, according to Google pictures.
I went on to the water tower – majorly in order to do a greeting to the former / current Sherrie actors on my Instagram account. Unfortunately, the dogs of the neighbor don’t really like this kind of stuff next to their home. Finally I did the video – you might have seen it in front of a Christian church.
Midnight Train? Nah!
Towards the end of the musical, Sherrie is aiming for a midnight train back home. There are in fact daily connections from Los Angeles to Kansas City and there are crossing rail lines in Paola as well. But they are just for freight trains. There is also no train station around. Apart from school buses (see below), I could not spot any kind of bus transport. Paola has a small regional airport, but I finally decided not to go that far South. I was initially tempted to have a look if there is a family Christian on the local graveyard… but finally, I regarded this to be a bit too nerdy.
Unfortunately, I missed the Miami County Fair by one day. Looks like the people had a lot of fun in Wallace Park in Southern Paola, where the fair as well as several sports activities are located. The Paola Family Pool actually looks really nice. I went North from there, seeing some impressive farms along the road. Finally, Paola is in heart of Kansas farm land. Already from quite far away, you could spot another water tower, branded with the local sports team.
Take Me To The Lake…
Miola Lake and Park is located at the Northwest of Paola City. Actually, it is a real beauty. On that Saturday afternoon, people loved to hang out in the summer heat, being on their boats or at the beach, listening to much, having a barbecue and many more activities. I absolutely loved to drive around this place.
The Sunflower Elementary School ans well as Paola High are located South of the place. Maybe one day, I need to watch a Paola Panthers American Football match. Would be fun, wouldn’t it? Before heading to the Paola Inn & Suites, where I stayed in, I stocked up at the Walmart Superstore.
I was quite exhausted, so that I just had a short stop at the Miami County Veterans Memorial before going for a bite. I was originally tempted to go for the German option, but I finally went for the local Mexican food provider. El Potro is a really nice choice if you are in the area. By the way, Lonny’s (the narrator of the Rock of Ages story) has a store in Paola as well – maybe the book writers don’t tell us the real outcome of the story? 😉
3,337 Waffle Houses Away – the key question
I did wear Rock of Ages attire at that day. Apart from that I felt that this is the only suitable way to dress up when you do this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was curious whether people would somehow react on it. Finally, this musical has been stages a five-digit number of times – and each and every time, the city of Paola, Kansas, receives these little few seconds of free advertisement. I also tried to ask some people explicitly, whether they are aware of this “fame” and if that means something to them. To make the story short: the (very likely) most famous, even though fictive, daughter of the city is not a big deal at all. I feel they could do something out of it. Most people I talked to felt somehow proud or reacted like “Really? I have to look that up”.
Rock of Ages (Musical)
Here are all postings related to the musical Rock of Ages:
Trip Report Inceptions
Here are the starting postings of each Trip Report I posted in here so far