From the Editor’s Files: COVID can’t kill friendships

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I’ve been writing a lot lately about the baby steps our world is taking to come out of this pandemic, which on some days acts like it’s going to be with us forever – changing irreparably the lives we once knew.
And then, there are days when those lives seem within our grasp again.
I was able to savor that hopefulness once again over the weekend when I had lunch with a long-time buddy of mine, Dave Kaup. Dave and I go way back…like high school way back.
Sometimes that seems like a previous lifetime. Other times, like during a lunch date with my pal Dave, the memories are as fresh as vegetables just picked from the garden.
Dave and I have talked a few times over the past year, but we haven’t seen each other since back in 2019, before the pandemic hit. In addition to attending high school together, we both earned our degrees several decades ago from Kansas State University, and both of us pursued careers in journalism – me as a writer, then editor, and then publisher; Dave as a photojournalist who worked for several newspapers and then had a long career as a freelance photographer.
That work brought Dave to Wichita this past weekend from his home on a hill in Wyandotte County, overlooking Kansas City. He had called me Thursday evening, told me about his gig shooting a dance team competition at Century II, and asked if we could get together and catch up for a few minutes between his assignments.

Publisher Paul Rhodes and his longtime friend, Dave Kaup, with the Jester statue at Century II.

As it turned out, I had a free stretch Saturday around mid-day, and plans were made for a lunch date. We could agree to do this because of other similarities between us: we’ve both had our first vaccination shots, and we both follow mask protocols to protect others and ourselves.
When Dave hopped into my truck a little before noon Saturday, it was an energizing experience. This was a friend with whom I’ve nearly shared a lifetime, off and on. We lived together briefly after college, we served as best man at each other’s weddings, we’ve attended each other’s crazy parties over the years, and we’ve traveled together – most recently, to Cuba in 2018.
Simply put, we know each other pretty intimately.
As I pulled out of the Century II parking lot, I started rattling off lunch options for us in the downtown, Old Town and Delano areas. When I got to Nuway, Dave lit up like the full moon this past weekend.
Another thing in common: Dave and I both interned at the Wichita Eagle one year apart, in the late 1970s. He absolutely remembered the famous crumbly sandwiches and was thrilled to revisit the original location on west Douglas.
Over the next hour and a half, Dave and I caught up with each other on almost everything, and sometimes seemingly nothing. We talked about work, our significant others, our families, and the lives we’ve lived this past year through an unthinkable pandemic. We even stretched our memories back to high school and college, and it felt good – although we sometimes had different recollections of the same event involving both of us.
And that’s okay…we’re lucky to remember some of those events, period.
Back at Century II, Dave and I finished our visit outside the concert hall, and I showed Dave the famous Jester statue between Century II and Expo Hall. I told him about a photo shoot of an opera star that I had done years ago with that statue, and Dave figured it was good enough for a selfie of us.
Yep. He was right. When it comes to photo stuff, I always defer to Dave.
Even though we wore our masks as we were riding around in my truck and after consuming our food at Nuway, the visit just felt…well…normal. We even ended our get-together with a hug.
In a couple of weeks, we’ll both be fully vaccinated, and another visit will provide the opportunity to be even less cautious around each other. It won’t upgrade the conversation, because that’s hard to improve upon between old friends like Dave and me.
But it will mark another step in a friendship that can’t be broken…even by something as transformative as a global epidemic.