1. Declan Kenny August 28, 2017 @ 6:40 am

    Sounds like a great place to be. I suspect all ‘midlands’ places have the same psyche; sort of like the youngest child. We have Athlone… not quite up there with Kansas ;-)
    That poem link isn’t working by the way.

  2. Risa Aratyr August 28, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up, Dec. The link was supposed to lead to a page I’d created here on WordPress. Worked when I tested it – but maybe because it’s on my site? Dicking around with it today, I found I could only make it work for others if I make the page public. If I make the page public, “Man as Rich as Midas” shows up on the banner under Neither Here Nor There – and it shows up always and forever, on every post, like a subtitle to my blog. Argh. I stuck it in Dropbox, changed the link. Let me know if it doesn’t work.
    What a great insight! As a youngest child, I can totally relate. Not sure what you mean about Athlone not being up there with Kansas, though (or Missouri, in this case). Athlone – Baile Átha Luain, the town of Luan’s ford – has been a big deal since the Bronze Age, fer gosh sakes. It’s pretty much dead center, right? And the Sinn Féin and others are all for making it the capital of a united Ireland? And it’s a hop-skip from Uisneach? When I was in Ireland, I mostly traveled the rim of the “bowl” and missed much of the midlands. Next time, fer shure. The Catstone is deffo on my bucket list.

  3. Adrian Martinez September 1, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

    Risa, I really enjoyed you railroad blog, although sad to see the slow demise. Thank’s for the “shout-out” regarding the railroad façade elevation drawing.
    You must go to Coimbra, Portugal some day, the station interior is covered with azulejo murals. I find some pics & forward them. We did our entire last trip in May by train from Lisbon, north to Coimbra, Porto, Santiago de Compostelsa, León, San Sebastián & finally Toulouse, France.
    Abrazos y cariño, Adrián

  4. Adrian Martinez September 1, 2017 @ 4:13 pm

    Sorry for the typos. I should re-read before posting.

  5. Risa Aratyr September 9, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

    The pics you sent of the train station in Portugal were simply stunning. But no, you should not check for typos before posting. If you do, it will only heighten my embarrassment about always posting blogs with major typos. ;)
    I hope to hear some travel tales from the Minnesota/100th BDay celebration when you and Mary return!

From the Heart

Write-Minded Comments (5)

Kansas City, Missouri lies smack-dab in the middle of the contiguous United States.

Well, technically, “smack dab” is about two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas.  The spot is commemorated by a small stone monument and plaque, and noted by the town of Lebanon in quintessential, low-key Midwestern style.

KCMO is 260 miles/418 km southeast of the mathematically-correct smack-dab center of the lower 48.  That’s spitting distance out there on the Great Plains, where most of the small towns dotting the landscape are at least 80 mi/130 km apart.  Economically, culturally, architecturally, every way that matters, Kansas City is the true Heart of the Heartland.  And proud of it.

As a kid, I breezed through Kansas City on a family vacation or two.  We might even have spent a night in a KC motel on our way to or from somewhere else.  Still, in all probability, if our long-time, dearly-beloved friend Blair hadn’t moved there a year ago,

I’d have gone to my grave ignorant entirely that KCMO – Paris of the Prairie, Jazz Capital of the World, Cowtown, City of Fountains, and BBQ Capital of the World – is an American metropolitan gem.

We pulled into – you guessed it – Union Station less than an hour behind schedule.  Yay, except it was nearly 11:00pm, and we’d been either on a train or in a train station for the last 36 hours.  Getting a taxi was our only concern.  To get to the taxis, we had to cross the Grand Hall.  Even empty and at that hour, it was a sight for bleary eyes to behold.

Kansas City’s Union Station, the second largest train depot in the United States, opened in 1914 with 850,000 square-feet of space and 900 rooms.  In its heyday, it saw hundreds of thousands of passengers a year.  Then came the inevitable decline, closure in the 1980s, and several brushes with demolition.

Happily, a bi-state renovation initiative enabled the station to re-open in 1999, fully restored to its grandeur.  Its modern incarnation has three 3,500 lb. chandeliers dangling from the 95-foot ceiling.  The clock hanging in the central arch is 6-feet wide.  In addition to housing Amtrak, the station is home to shops, restaurants, the Science City interactive museum, a model railroad, and an historical exhibit on the American railways.  Adrian Martínez, these South Elevation plans are ‘specially for you.

Union Station also hosts a planetarium, an IMAX theater, live theatre, and travelling exhibitions from the Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other international organizations.  When we were there, it was “Mummies of the World.”  Oh, and it’s also an affordable wedding/event venue with conference rooms, meeting rooms, and banquet rooms to suit every need.

We didn’t actually do anything at Union Station beyond train biz.  Didn’t have time.  This 24-hour stop in KCMO was a crazy idea from the start – but we were married to it.  Would’ve been simpler to go from DC to Chicago, Chicago to Denver (our next family-fun destination), but no way were we going to roll that close to Blair and not make the detour.  No way.

Blair and I met in LA (Glendale, actually) in the early ‘80s.  I was singing/soloing with a couple of classical ensembles at the time, but already had quite the rep for traditional and early music.  I imagine that’s why the music director of the Glendale Community College’s production of Romeo and Juliet tapped me for the preshow, a 20-minute program of Elizabethan madrigals for two voices, mostly Thomas Morley’s, like “I Go Before My Darling.”

I’d have to attend just one rehearsal, the show had a short run, and the music was totally up my alley.  I took the gig.  Wasn’t till I showed up for final dress I learned they were also counting on me for the soprano line of a 3-voice dirge sung off-stage at the very end of the play, when both lovers are dead.  A bit of a shock, but I agreed.  They’d never find another soprano at this late date, and besides, R&J is a short one, with a running time of about two hours.

Yes, well, this particular production of R&J was rather long-winded.  Running time was more like three hours.  It would have been a real pisser, if Blair Zarubick hadn’t been playing the part of Mercutio.  Mercutio, as you recall, dies Act III, scene i – about halfway through the play.   I had nothing to do till the dirge, Blair was stuck thumb-twiddling till curtain call . . . we hung out backstage every performance, hydrating, chatting, reading Tarot cards, talking poetry, solving the world’s problems, and becoming forever friends.

Downtown was still hopping when Roy and I pulled into KC.  We were too fried to hop with it.   Our destination was the 1812 Overture Bed and Breakfast.

I’d found it online and decided to splurge.  With KC sandwiched between overnights on trains, I’d figured – rightly – that this night we’d crave something super-comfy.  There were several options to choose from, but I could not resist the 1812’s cheeky name (the address is 1812 Washington St.) and its advertised 1884 ambience.

Having already waited all evening to let us in, Pedro went above and beyond.  He took us on a grand tour of the B&B, brilliantly furnished and opulently decorated with post-Civil War Americana.  He regaled us with the amazing history of the very old house.  And he gave us our first taste of Kansas Citian pride when he started listing just a few of the many places we might want to go/things we might want to do while in town.  Like First Fridays.

On First Fridays, KC’s Crossroads Arts District transforms into a giant arts-and-entertainment venue.  A giant street-party, with open galleries and studios, performances, and food and drink from 5pm on.  As it happened, we’d arrived on a First Friday . . . but just as things were winding down.  Timing is everything.  (Sigh.)

Our room, though, was wonderful – rich in comfort, character, and charm.

Homemade breakfast was delish, thanks to Luke, the 1812’s main man.  After checkout, he kindly let us stash our bags in a corner of the parlor for the day.  So sweet of him . . . and unnecessary, as it turned out.   They would have held onto our bags for free at the station, but how were we to know?  It would be nice if Amtrak could standardize the perks they give their sleeper car passengers.  As it is, you never know what extras you will or won’t be able to exploit at any individual station.

In the pic below (thanks, Luke! one of my fave pics of us ever) we’re sitting cozy on the 1812’s marvelous period sofa, surrounded by a delightful array of late-19th century antiques.

Then Blair was at the door, and KC was at our feet.   First stop, the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts.

While other cities were cutting back in response to the crash of 2008, Kansas City was looking to grow, not just as a business center, but as an arts destination.  The brainchild of philanthropist Muriel Kaufmann, this not-for-profit music, opera, and dance venue was made a reality by her daughter Julia Irene Kauffman – without the use of taxpayer funds.  Home-base for performance institutions such as the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera, and Kansas City Symphony, the Kaufmann Center is also big on educational outreach and community enrichment programs.

The stunning-from-all-angles design (my pics do not do the place justice) is by Israeli/Canadian/American architect, urban designer, author, educator, and theorist Moshe Safdie, the guy who oversaw construction of Expo ’67 Montréal and created Habitat 67 (pre-fab, 3-D modular living units – I saw them at Expo!).  Kansas Citians love the Kaufmann Center, and they love the Kaufmann women for putting KCMO on the cultural world map.

Heading downtown from there, I just couldn’t get enough of KC’s reminds-me-of-home (childhood home, Chicago) architecture.

I mean, omg.  Right?  I especially loved the bits where old-school and modern overlapped.

KC’s Main Street Alamo Drafthouse in the Power & Light District was the first Drafthouse to open outside of Texas, on 21 June 2012.  Another cool feather in KC’s culture-cap, to my mind.

Kansas City Repertory Theatre is the real deal – a LORT Equity house.

The line-up for its 2017-18 season includes two musicals (Between the Lines (world premiere), Sweeney Todd), two popular straight plays (Fences, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), holiday family fare (A Christmas Carol), a piece that garnered mixed reviews (Sex With Strangers), and a real envelope-pusher by resident playwright and KC native son Nathan Louis Jackson (Brother Toad).  Jackson was also a writer on Resurrection, Luke Cage, and 13 Reasons Why, just FYI.

Hot day, we were feeling it, so we caught the KC Streetcar and rode it up to the City Market.  Gratis.  “KC Streetcar.  Running daily.  Always free.”

The KC Streetcar project is two-miles of loop track running from the train station to KC’s historic open market.  With 16 stops – one every two blocks, mostly along Main Street – it provides easy access not just to the end points, but to Crown Center (big commercial complex), the Crossroads Arts District, the Power & Light District, and the central business district.  Positively brilliant.

Situated on the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, KCMO is and always has been a port town.  The City Market has been going since 1857, one of biggest and most enduring public farmers’ markets in the Midwest.

Open year-round, it boasts more than thirty full-time establishments, including specialty food stores, meat vendors, flower shops, home goods, apparel stores, an assortment of restaurants and, of course, a farmers market.  I found exactly the souvenir I wanted for my son there – a long-sleeved KC football jersey to match the tiny, long-sleeved KC football jersey he’d worn as an infant.  Despite that it was baseball season (Kansas City Royals),

Sportibles did have a sizable array of Kansas City Chiefs kits and paraphernalia.

Yes, ok, KC could lose the racist team name/logo.  Then again, an arrowhead is a vast improvement over the logo they “sported” in the ‘60s.

From City Market we moseyed down to the banks of the wide Missouri.

For some reason, the long, elevated road that led down to the riverside park was blocked to vehicular traffic.  Lovely for us, that made the whole thing a pedestrian walkway.  This next pic is terribly grainy – sorry – but click to enlarge, and you’ll see it’s a row of swallows’ nests, a small section of the gazillion nests tidily tucked under and running the entire length of a humongous overpass!

At the end of the trail, we discovered the road had been closed to public traffic to allow official vehicles to reach the event now in-progress on the river’s banks.

Pride is grand, but Roy, Blair, and I had other plans.  In addition to sharing passions for theatre, music, poetry, literature, paganism, and politics, we three delight in our footy and our pints.  Just so happened, the Champions League final was that day, Real Madrid v Juventus.  Like I said, timing is everything – and for this bit, we’d timed it just right.

Plenty of pubs would have put the match on for us, but a moment or two with Google, and I’d located soccer-central for KCMO.  Johnny’s Tavern.  A sports bar par excellence.

The date on the “Serving Up Tradition” banner is a reference to the original Johnny’s in Lawrence, Kansas.  Johnny’s now has ten locations; each location has between 30-65 screens.  Our Johnny’s was in the midst of the Power & Light District and across the street from the Sprint Center (giant sports/music arena).

We walked in, and we were home free.  No need to descend the stairs to the bar proper, with its spacious floor, tons of tables, extensive bar, and who-knows-how-many monitors.

The entire upper (street) level section of the tavern was clearly – and is permanently – reserved for soccer viewing.  All nine of its TV screens were already tuned to the right station.

Neon beer ads and assorted soccer memorabilia were squeezed into the spaces below and between the screens.  Enlarge the 1st photo and see my fave of the bunch; a notice proclaiming Johnny’s an Arsenal America official pub.  Great news for Blair, a devoted Gunners fan.  Now he knows where to go to find his peeps on match-day.

Naturally, Sporting KC emblems dominate the décor.  Johnny’s is also the official home for Sporting KC watch parties.  No small thing.  Sporting KC has racked up several Western Conference titles, thrice lifted the Open Cup (national championship) trophy, and twice won the MLS.  Win or lose, Sporting KC enjoys serious support, as this wall down the block from Johnny’s attests.

We found a cozy spot, ordered our first round, and were downing delicious quaff by kick-off.

Most of us had come to Johnny’s to root for Juventus.  The only Real fans (a charming Spaniard and his Central American girlfriend) were completely out-numbered . . . but they were ones got to cheer at the end.  No worries.  We were plenty cheerful, despite Juventus’ loss.  A cool snug on a hot day, tall pints, yummy hummus, like-minded folks to shout, heckle, whoop, and groan with (or against) . . . more than enough to content us.  Best of all, we’d watched a match together, as oft we used to do, but hadn’t done for ages.

Late in the day, new guests surely arriving, we felt it was time to relieve the 1812 of our luggage.  A few pics I simply couldn’t resist on the way, the Kansas City Star

and this crazy TWA “Moonliner” rocket ship that sits atop TWA headquarters on Baltimore Street.

We rolled our bags down to the station, checked them, and hurried on to the next must-do on the agenda.  It was dinner-time in KC, and we were going for barbecue.

Kansas City BBQ originated with native-son Henry Perry in the early 1900s.  What makes this slow-smoked style distinctive is the wide variety of meats Kansas Citians will throw into the smoker (pork, beef, chicken, turkey, mutton, sausage), the wide variety of woods they use for smoking (apple, cherry, grape, hickory, maple, mesquite, oak, peach, pecan, sassafrass), the topper (thick tomato-molasses sauce), and burnt ends.

Considered a delicacy, burnt ends are the super-tasty “point” of a piece of smoked brisket.  Locals seem to be under the impression that burnt ends are unique to KC.  Not entirely true (my California-born, Colorado/California raised nephew Sasha does burnt ends to die for), but they are certainly a traditional part of the famed local cuisine, and KC certainly does them right.

We looked for a BBQ in walking distance of the station.  Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque was just the other side of the tracks.

Like Johnny’s, Jack Stack has been around a while.  Russ Fiorella opened his original Smokestack BBQ in 1957.  Eldest son Jack went his own way in the early ‘80s, but came back to the family biz in the mid-‘90s.  He expanded with a vengeance, but the rest of the family wouldn’t let him use the name “Smokestack” on the new restaurants.  And so, Jack Stack was born.

There are five locations in the greater KC area.  Ours was the Freight House – which is what the place was before Jack converted it to a restaurant with a lounge-bar, see-through fireplace, 25-foot ceilings, indoor and outdoor-patio dining, and some of the best BBQ on the planet.  Fer reals.  It’s been rated as one of the top US BBQs numerous times, and Zagat Survey named it the “#1 Barbecue House in the Country.”

On the way to Jack’s, I snapped another of my rare arty pics.  Here’s Union Station reflected in the Science City windows.

Across the bridge that spans the tracks, down the side-stairs, and we were there.  Huge crowd, but a short wait, and then the hard part:  what to order.

At Jack’s, those opting for traditional BBQ have to choose from among various combo-options of meats, amounts, and sides.  We wanted to share, but don’t have the same tastes, plus Roy was having difficulty wrapping his brain around the idea that someone could actually prefer beef ribs to pork.  We came that close to ordering way too much.  Luckily, our terrific server had our backs.  I got my beef ribs, the boys got samplers of nearly everything else, and yes, we had burnt ends.  For sides, I think we went with the Cheesy Corn Bake (as sweet and rich as it sounds), Hickory Pit Beans, coleslaw . . . and did we also do the special KC-style fries?  It was all amazingly good.

After dinner we headed back to the station, but continued past it, crossed broad Pershing Road, and climbed the stairs into Penn Valley Park, the site of Kansas City’s World War I Memorial and Museum.

The museum was long closed by then.  No matter.  We were too full and too leg-weary to even make it up the hill to the memorial.  We picked a sweet spot on the cool grass and sat a spell.  Blair gave us one of his poems – a wicked-good, politically-shrewd, Louis Jordan-esque blues-style satire.  It’s a piece that demands performance, but it’s so effing brilliant, I can’t not share.  Click HERE for Man as Rich as Midas, and imagine a genuine bluesman sing-speaking it on the green slope above as an almost-endless day eased into dusk and playful waters rose and fell in the fountain below.

The Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain, to be exact.  One of KCMO’s many.

The nickname “City of Fountains” dates back to a design plan from the 1800s, a vision of KC with “more boulevards than Paris, more fountains than Rome.”  Did KC beat out Roma?  None can say.  Fountain-counting is an imprecise science.  What we can say is KC has 200 officially registered fountains and a whole bunch of unregistered ones at the entrances to corporation headquarters and sub-divisions, in office atriums, and hidden away in private homes and gardens.

Yet, this was the first we’d seen all day.

Since it was our one and only, the Bloch Fountain went all out to make the occasion memorable.  Instead of just spurting and splashing, it put on a half-hour show for us, a remarkable display that employed every possible pattern and permutation of inner/outer jets, rings, heights, and rhythms.  The coolest part (which I tried, but failed to capture on video) was an incredible volley of water-torpedoes rocketing out of the jets into the air with machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat sound effects.  A brilliant finale to a totally brilliant day.

We returned to the station when the mosquitoes appeared, hung out just a bit longer, then at last and regretfully, said our farewells.

Seems we went in a bit early.  Blair tells us the fireflies came out later that night – while we were sitting on hard, wooden benches in a windowless room waiting for the Southwest Chief to arrive.  I am still a bit devastated.  “Lightning bugs,” we used to call them.  I’ve never stopped missing the magical dance of their golden lights of a summer evening.

Took me thousands of words and dozens of photos to capture a day in Kansas City.  A poet, speaking from the heart, wrote just a few lines, and captured its soul.

It’s raining again in Kansas City
Where I’ve been for a year
and a day. It’s a great wet Green city
With a fondness for brick and stone.
Faux Tudor Neo Classical
Flatirons, and Fountains.
The Hippest place is called
Power and Light.
White Knights and Negro Baseball,
The Slave State that would not Confederate,
Where the tunnels and hideaways of
The Underground Railroad
Are preserved like prohibition gossip.
Where Mokie’s Uncle took a shot at Pretty Boy Floyd,
Where Harry Truman Played the Lawyer
And Charlie Parker was Born to play the Horn.
Cattle, Railroads, Western Auto, Stauffer’s Chocolate,
HallMark Cards and the Plaza where Florentine Sculpture
bejewels an Old Spanish Mission as imagined by Macy’s.
A Great Wet Green city,
Horny, Strange, Funny and Kind.

– Blair Zarubick, Lugnasadh 2017



Risa Aratyr @ August 26, 2017

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