Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Kansas City, MO

Kansas City brings back wonderful memories of childhood. I met one of my closest friends here, if only briefly. I spent many hours waiting for the Country Club Plaza trolley with my grandmother, who was healthy at the time. I've spent still more hours sitting in the Crown Center lobby, finishing a crossword puzzle with Mom. We would take walks up and down the plaza, staring at the wonderful buildings lit up on a cold December night. I would get a Mushroom and Swiss burger at the Gran Falloon, typically after a day of college football airing through the speakers of shops we would go in and out of.

I remember staying in a hotel near the airport, and a severe storm hit while I was swimming in the pool. I was floating on the water, looking up at the (window) ceiling -- seeing lightning streak across the sky. I remember seeing the model trains go in circles near the Halls, and the pedestrian bridge linking us from Crown Center to the Hilton.

As you can imagine, with so many fond memories of the place, visiting here is always a highlight for me. Nearly always, we go to the same places. The Westin. Union Station. The Country Club Plaza. The WWI Memorial. A Royals baseball game.

My favorite place in KC is Union Station. Recently, a pedestrian bridge was built between the Westin and the spectacular train station. The building is, essentially, one very large room -- I can imagine any famous movie scene filmed here, with people standing small in a grand hall. You can hear your shoes echo on the walls.

I can see the clock silently tick-tocking away above the hall. I wonder if it silently judges as Mom gets her new pennies. It seems to stare back indifferently when ever I look back up at it. I must look like an ant from up there.

The reason I like Union Station is that it is one of the few places I appreciate purely for the architecture. The ceiling is extravagant, the floors perfectly waxed, and the building itself big and bold. You know immediately what the building is and what purpose it serves.

The walk from the Westin to Union Station is called "The Link" and is an extension of the connection from the Westin to the Hilton. At night, the street is aglow from the lights, with the lanes moving unnervingly as the cars drive by silently underneath. White noise from the vents dominates the ears, making you imagine the sounds associated with the moving lights. Absolutely surreal.

Equally mesmerizing is the walk to the World War I Memorial, which sits on a hill and allows for long, unabridged views of the city. Kansas City is an ugly downtown, run-down, unoriginal, purely mechanical. In many ways, very Midwestern. Sort of the "Rust Belt of the West". I like it that way -- no glamor, no frills.

I remember a summer long ago when I was scorched with three of my friends at Oceans of Fun. Four teenagers, feeling invincible, burned by the invisible rays. We never thought about it, and we paid the price. And yet, it is a fond memory. Kansas City is like this. You think you should hate it -- but once you dig in, it's a place that fills your head with wonderful memories instead.

A Streetcar Named Desire -- fun little diner in the Crown Center

The Westin Crown Center lobby

Union Station -- from The Link

Inside Union Station

Union Station and KC fountains

View from the WWI Memorial

WWI Memorial

A trolley!

The Country Club Plaza