Goodbye, Cowtown – I just finished up three years in Kansas City. I went there reluctantly, because of a job. I always knew I would be back in St. Louis eventually, and now I am. A couple of weeks before I left, a friend and fellow transplant made a dismissive comment about Kansas City—something along the lines of how he couldn’t wait to move on. I didn’t say anything. I was leaving too, after all. Although I only spent three years in KC, they were a good three years. I owe the city better than that. This is what I’d tell him if I had another chance:
I’d tell him to go sit in the dining room of LC’s BBQ. Enjoy as LC himself, from his “desk” in the corner, flips channels between Wheel of Fortune and the Royals game while you eat. Appreciate the way the white bread soaks up the grease and sauce like a sponge. Take a whiff every time they open up the smoker—or don’t. That smell will stick with you anyway. I’d tell him to call in his order at Oklahoma Joe’s and walk right by all the schmucks waiting in line. That the Gates on Paseo has the one on Main beat by a mile in terms of atmosphere. That barbecue, more than any other cuisine that I know, is about where and with whom you are eating it. I’ve eaten a lot of barbecue in a lot of great places with a lot of people I’m going to miss. Admittedly, I’ve also eaten a lot of barbecue by myself. It also just tastes delicious.
I’d tell him to go to Loose Park on the first sunny day of the year and see everyone in Kansas City.
I’d tell him that live music is plentiful, and it’s cheap. To go to Harling’s for jazz on a Tuesday night, or Knuckleheads on a Sunday afternoon for the open jam. Spend $3 (at most) on a drink. Enjoy the way that the music and the atmosphere and the crowd come together to feel just right for Kansas City. To watch his head when going down the stairs (at Knuckleheads) and watch everything when going to the bathroom (at Harling’s).
I’d tell him the public librarians are as nice as they come, especially if they know you’re a teacher.
I’d tell him that the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot will blow you out of the water about 8 Sundays a year. That Kauffman might not be baseball heaven, but getting a ticket isn’t hard and guarantees a good time, if you’re not banking on a win. That the ratio of quality sports writing to quality play is higher here than it is anywhere. That the longer I lived there, the more I realized that my rooting for the Royals was more than just an exercise in being polite, except when the Cards were in town.
I’d tell him that the Royals are going to be good, next year.
I’d tell him I can’t think of a better way to spend a Thursday night than sharing a 6-pack of Pale Ale and $2 burritos with friends at Ricos Tacos Lupe. That the food at You Say Tomato is just as good as at Succotash, but the employees are a heck of a lot nicer. To go Cliff Drive on a warm day and play disc golf—a true hidden gem in a city full of hidden gems. Afterwards, drive down Independence Avenue and try to settle on just one taco truck.
I’d tell him to make good use of his porch, if he has one. Everyone else does.
I’d tell him to spend some time on Troost, and East of it. To enjoy a huge section of the city that too many people ignore. That there’s not as much to be afraid of and much more to enjoy than a lot of people realize. Trust me. To stand at the corner of 31st and Troost and look south to admire the buildings and soak in what must have been and what just might be. To head down Troost to 39th and find a little church that will make you feel more welcome than you could believe. To go to the Paseo YMCA and realize the replica field next to it is perfect wiffleball dimensions. That the Brush Creek bike trail is begging for people to enjoy it.
I’d tell him that I never figured out exactly what I’m supposed to do at First Fridays, but it’s nice that other people seem to enjoy them so much.
I’d tell him to stop. Slow down. Give the city time to get inside you. It moves at its own pace. Don’t try to make it what you want it to be, take it for what it is. Get quiet and listen for the rhythm of the place—it’s there. To me, it sounds something like trains passing by and the Fish Fry on KCUR on weekend nights. To you it’ll probably sound different. Once you get the feel of the city, I think you might just come to love it. I have.
I’d tell him about the amazing group of kids in a much-maligned school district who taught me more than I ever could have hoped to teach them.
I’d tell him to get to know the beautifully self-effacing way in which natives talk about Kansas City when they find out you love their city, too.
I’d tell him that I am glad to be home, but I’m gonna miss that town.
I’d tell anyone from St. Louis to spend some time in Kansas City, and vice versa. They’re different, which is nice. See the other as a resource, not a competitor. While friendly rivalry (Denkinger!) can be fun, I see too much petty, unproductive criticism that reeks of insecurity on both sides (here is where I tactfully choose not to deconstruct a certain KC Star article). Growth is not a zero-sum game. Actually, it’s anything but. Maybe if we came to view each other as allies in pushing policy that promotes productive and sustainable urban growth we’d be more likely to make it happen. Maybe we could prevent things like this from occurring. If you take the time to love a place, it can really only make you better for the effort. I think I have enough room in my heart to love two.