I didn't see more than a bent QuikTrip awning here or a twisted sign there with the occasional slice of insulation or broken tree dotting the roadside. But I hadn't been to the hardest hit areas, a mobile home park in the Oaklawn neighborhood.
I did find a lot of changes overlaying a lifetime of memories — new grocery stores and houses on farmland, restaurants where I ate high school lunches replaced with convenience stores and layers upon layers of new street lights impeding once-open roads.
Driving through the city, it seems familiar, yet, I am decidedly a visitor in the place where I grew up.
The first night I rolled into Wichita, I headed straight for Harrison Park to run. After seven-plus hours in the car, my body needed to move, so what better place than the park I'd played in as a child and hung out as a teenager? It was definitely new to see it as I ran through it.
Wednesday afternoon, I revisited downtown. I spent a summer working in the basement of the blue-domed Century II Convention Hall as a Music Theatre of Wichita apprentice, and most of the places I'd walk to for lunch are empty or house a different business.
I poked my head into Lawrence Photo, the camera shop where I bought my first Canon camera, a early 1970s Canon F-1, and most of the lenses that go with it. I wandered through the shelves and displays and remembered the first time I went inside 10 years ago as a college freshman even though this store is a newer location.
I followed that with a drive to the river and the museum district. My destination: the Wichita Art Museum, the place where I fell in love with museums and saw my first glimpses of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí.
And even though the building is larger than the first time I went there in first grade, the walls were familiar and many of the paintings were still the ones I loved then. The Dale Chihuly installations were a colorful addition to the new lobby.
Pedestrian bridges I'd never seen now cross the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers and provide a stunning sunset view of the icon.
It felt good to explore a few places I'd been many times before and still find something new to enjoy about them.
I haven't really lived here since 2004 and it shows. It seems like every time I tell my mother I going to run here or there, she tells me it's closed or moved. It's disappointing. Yet I know change is a constant. After all, cities are built to change and live and grow.
I'll probably get used to it about the time I'm ready to roll out for Oklahoma this week.
Vanessa Pearson is a staff writer for the Tyler Courier-Times--Telegraph. She can be reached at 903-596-6267 or email@example.com.