Happy In Bag

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

No Worms In This Apple

There was no "restaurant row" on Kansas City’s 39th Street when d’Bronx first opened a block east of State Line. The informal deli’s food, just as it is now, was solid. Something’s changed, however, and it’s changed for the better. In its formative years, D’Bronx received more attention for its surly service than for its tasty offerings. The East Coast attitude has eroded; it’s a gentler eatery today.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Nelson's Island

There’s an undiscovered magical island of enchantment along the Kansas River in northwest Johnson County.

Well, not really.

Still, the scruffy sliver of land named Nelson’s Island is a pleasant enough diversion for casual hikers and nature lovers. You get there by following the garbage trucks off the Holliday Drive exit from I-435. The county-run park is adjacent to the enormous trash dump operated by Deffenbaugh.

My companion and I had it to ourselves Saturday morning. A paved path meanders through a meadow before reaching a bridge to the island. The lack of water under the bridge somewhat spoils the romantic island concept, but I’ll chalk it up to the winter drought. A couple paths loop across the so-called island.

The land was the site of a mill built for Shawnee Indians that was destroyed by a flood in 1844. And a man named Frank Nelson lived there seventy years ago. Yet recalling the past isn't easy; there's a constant rumble from the dump and nearby train tracks, and industrial concerns flank the north riverbank.

A savvy entrepreneur might propose transforming this obscure real estate into a modest Tom Sawyer theme park, replete with wooden forts, mazes and the like. It’d be a guaranteed hit.

Friday, February 24, 2006


An informal wake for the recently deceased Dan Conn turned into a remarkably well-attended reunion of Kansas City’s current and former music retail community. The event took place Thursday evening at BB’s Lawnside BarB-Q. Pitmaster Lindsay Shannon served as genial host. Kasey Rausch (pictured) sang a couple songs. Dwight Frizzell offered a prayer and performed a duet with Bill Dye. There were a lot of laughs, a few tears and countless fond memories. If only Dan had known.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We've Gone About As Far As We Can Go

Wednesday’s Star reported on an initiative by the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association to train and recruit volunteer "ambassadors." Taxi drivers, bartenders and other people who regularly come into contact with visitors would be trained about Kansas City’s attractions. Graduates of the program- tests are involved- will receive a "KC Ambassador" lapel pin.

As much as I covet that pin, I think I'm going to take a pass. Instead, I’ll offer the convention bureau this photo I took last month. They’re free to use it in their promotional literature.

These two conventioneers are leaving Bartle Hall. They don't seem to be especially pleased with their surroundings, even though that panhandler didn't hassle them. I suspect the woman is already planning a proposal to hold next year's meetings in San Diego.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Matthew Ryan and David Mead

The booze was flowing Sunday evening at Mike's Tavern on Troost. I was there to hear one of my favorite songwriters, Nashville's Matthew Ryan. Intense negotiations went into arranging this photograph. He wasn't especially pleased with the low turnout or with a fanboy bugging him about a picture. But what a shot! Read my review of the show at Patchchord.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rodent Relocation

It’s squirrel trapping season again.

Even after paying a roofer to reshingle portions of my home vandalized by these rodents, I just can’t bring myself to kill my captors. I consider them worthy adversaries. Twice daily, I drive 1.6 miles through three major intersections to release the varmints in a public park.

Most bolt out of the cage and make a beeline for a stand of trees along a creek. Others pause to click and growl at me for a few seconds before they seek security. Even though I don’t speak squirrel, I understand perfectly well what they’re telling me.

I doubt the wisdom of my leniency when the occasional rodent immediately turns back toward my Prairie Village home. It’s evident that they don’t intend to stop running until they’ve returned. Only then do I rethink my failure to initiate a drowning campaign.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Put Your "Can't Beat the Index" Face On

I’ve been amused by the various reactions to the enormous Lance Armstrong image that’s been creeping out Kansas City for a couple weeks. It’s a classic Rorschach test.

In my case, the Lance promotion reinforces my opinion that American Century has lost its way. Jim Stowers founded the mutual fund company in 1958 as a new way to provide the small investor access to Wall Street. His strong ethics and intelligent management made a lot of ordinary savers wealthy. But in the last decade, it seems that the company’s priorities have changed.

Most importantly, their financial results are mediocre. American Century’s most popular fund, Ultra, lagged its benchmark S&P 500 index in 2005, the last five years and the last ten years. At the same time, it seems that the company has shifted its focus from excelling on behalf of its shareholders to becoming a charitable institution. I suspect that the company’s human resources department has taken over.

I cringe every time I read about another award given to American Century for its charitable works or for being classified as one of America’s "best places to work." How about winning an award for being the best place to invest?

Put your "can’t beat the index" face on.

Friday, February 17, 2006

In Your Face, Old Man Winter

This photograph shows winter’s feeble attempt at scaring us yesterday. Those pitiful flakes couldn’t even find purchase on the ground. Unfortunately, the photo also accurately reflects just how ugly Kansas City is in the four month stretch that ends in two weeks. When March arrives and the air smells of life and I’m listening to spring training reports on the radio, I might retrieve this picture, just so I can laugh again at our shared victory over nature.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Kill Mice

After clearing years of what I’ll euphemistically call "stuff" out of my unfinished basement, I noticed a disconcerting amount of tiny brown pellets on the concrete floor. Mouse poop. Since that discovery, the basement has become a virtual rodent killing field. I take no pleasure in the mounting death toll. Can’t they take a hint and find a new home?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

As P.V. Turns

If you’ve ever seen a television soap opera, you’ll know many scenes are shot in a set designer’s idea of an upscale restaurant. There’s usually dark wood, hanging lamps, a bar, and a fern or two. The Blue Moose looks exactly like that. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a film crew materialized yesterday while I dined at the Prairie Village bar and grill. The Blue Moose is going for an upscale Houston’s feel, but instead comes across as a wildly overpriced Applebee’s. The food is acceptable. The service is woefully spotty. I understand that the place does good business with the divorced singles crowd late at night. I’ll have to catch up on As the World Turns to verify this rumor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


The pairing of guitarist Bill Frisell with the legendary Lee Konitz was one of the most exciting and challenging performances I've witnessed in Kansas City. As I wrote in my review of the show for Patchchord, it was improvisational music of the highest order. In addition to Saturday’s jazz performance, the Folly Theater was the site for a classical recital on Friday and an r&b show Sunday. It’s reassuring to see 12th Street’s grand old dame getting a workout. Still, I’d like to see anyone with an expansive waistline try to fit into one of the seats in the upper balcony.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The (Shopping) Center Cannot Hold

It seems to me that there must be an eventual loser in the battle between those backing downtown's redevelopment and the forces behind the rapid race southward. Or can the Kansas City metropolis sustain both?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Don't Touch My Lo Mein

Is it called China Buffet? Or is Oriental Feast? The Chinese food buffet on 39th Street between Southwest Trafficway and State Line posts conflicting signs. What I know for certain is that discriminating diners of large girth, myself included, really appreciate the establishment’s cuisine. The popular $6.50 lunch is not for calorie counters. None of the standard dishes are significantly better than what’s available at the ten similar establishments in Kansas City, but they’re all more than palatable. My favorite is the beef and jalapeno offering. If you go, however, please stay out of the way of us big boys.

* * * * *

I met my reader at Mike’s Tavern last night. In addition to being urbane and handsome, he’s a minor local celebrity. We had a good time. Still, if anyone else from the Happy In Bag world happened to be there, I apologize for using my "crazy hair" as a reference. While it draws open disdain at the grocery store, it certainly didn’t stand out at Mike’s. And I was very pleased to note that attendance for the UMKC jazz mixer was much improved over last week.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dan Conn: He Was a Friend of Mine

Dan Conn was my friend. I was stunned to stumble across his obituary in Tuesday’s Star. He was 55.

For about eighteen months in the late ‘80s, Dan and I shared a small office in Olathe. ("It's an Indian word for stupid place to be," Dan would joke.) I was an ambitious kid and I’m sure I really irritated him. But as he was with everyone, Dan was unfailingly kind and generous. He didn’t hesitate to show me the ropes. We shared a passion for music, and he taught me the finer nuances of the bluegrass, folk and jazz artists he loved.

Dan was extremely fastidious, which often made him a painfully slow coworker. And he was filled with quirks, many of which still make me laugh. For instance, he saved empty toilet paper rolls. I still don’t know why. Dan would unleash his quick wit in his rare lighthearted moods. Before the advent of email and fax machines, salespeople in the field would dictate orders to us over the phone. Once, after enduring a lengthy, disorganized order from our abrasive Chicago rep, Dan asked her in his distinctive central Kansas twang, "Was I supposed to be writing all this down?"

Life was especially difficult for Dan. He was unhappy much of the time. He seemed to be afflicted with agoraphobia, which left him heartbreakingly lonely.

Yet he managed to work steadily, and you probably ran into Dan if you shopped at Kansas City’s independent record stores over the last thirty years. Among his employers were Penny Lane on Broadway (back when it was an exciting store), Disc Connection (north of the river), and the Music Exchange (for the last several years). Dan had silver hair and a short, graying beard. His brother Dave looks just like him.

I last spoke to Dan on New Year’s Eve. We made tentative plans to get together in the new year.

This sweet, gentle man will be missed.

* * * * *
While I could rarely talk Dan into going out with me to see music, I trust that you’re different. Per my post last Friday, I’ll be at Mike’s Tavern on Troost tonight from 6-8pm. UMKC’s jazz students will be on the tiny stage. I’ll be the nut with the crazy hair, a pitcher of beer, and a tear in my eye.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Toilet and Trouble

I don’t easily become unsettled in a public bathroom.

When the men’s room at Arrowhead gets hijacked by desperate women, I don’t blink. Setups where a man can survey the public areas as he relieves himself while standing up amuse me.

But I don’t like filth. Aside from portable toilets at outdoor festivals, there’s really no excuse for bathrooms that make me wish I carried antiseptic diaper wipes in my murse. Sometimes facilities are so rank that they force extreme alternate options.

The thought of a full bladder at the Hurricane or El Torreon makes me cringe. But I nominate the men’s room at the Dark Horse Tavern in Westport as the city’s worst.

What establishment gets your vote?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Milt Abel, R.I.P.

Jay McShann- Blue Monk

Milt Abel specialized in a brand of cocktail jazz that gets virtually no respect these days. But there was a time when musicians like the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner were both popular and critically respected. Bassist Milt Abel enjoyed a similar status in Kansas City.

I became familiar with Abel in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when a swank affair wasn’t complete without Abel and his upright bass. In prior decades, Abel led a successful nightclub act. A handsome man partial to staid sports jackets and slacks, Abel was infused with a quiet dignity. He was an Episcopalian, after all.

Abel died Sunday. He was 77. While his talent was comparable to better known jazz bassists Milt Hinton and Ray Brown, Abel never achieved national acclaim. I recall that Abel had a fine singing voice that matched his smooth tone on bass, but I’m not sure if any recorded examples of his singing exist. And I’m fairly certain he never recorded as a leader.

I wouldn’t typically associate Abel with Thelonious Monk, but this sedate version of "Blue Monk" from a locally released charitable project is a great example of Abel’s sophisticated style. That’s Jay McShann on piano, Tommy Ruskin on drums and Michael White on clarinet.

In a 1998 issue of JAM magazine, Mike Metheny mentioned that Abel sung at Charlie Parker’s funeral. I’m sure he’ll be memorialized with wonderful music at his jazz wake on Thursday.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Wright Game

Wasn’t Sunday’s big game spectacular? It’s been a while since a sporting event put me through so much pain. I thought about borrowing the neighbor’s dog, just so I could kick it all the way to Paola. And then came the epic comeback.

Oh yeah, the football game was pretty good, too.

For me, the big game was the Kansas men’s basketball team’s huge win over Oklahoma. The Sooner’s bullying defense, combined with Kansas’ Mario Chalmers and Jeff Hawkins’ scrappy attempt at breaking the NCAA record for most turnovers committed in a game, made the first thirty minutes a train wreck.

But Kansas outscored Oklahoma 25-8 in the final minutes to win by a point. It feels as if this victory, made possible by the heroics of KU’s Julian Wright, reclaimed the season. March just became more interesting.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mike's Mixer Mix-up

As the students launched into a jazz standard early Thursday evening, I gawked at the man at the next table as he opened his instrument case. He bore an uncanny resemblance to celebrated jazz tuba player Howard Johnson.

Moments later, a brilliant brass sound filled the bar. My neighbor, still seated, was playing tuba along with the band. UMKC professor Bobby Watson ran to a microphone and called out, "Welcome Howard Johnson to the stage." For the next thirty minutes, Watson and Johnson dramatically improved the caliber of the ensemble’s performance, which until then had been slightly amateurish and academic.

World-renowned Johnson is in town to work with Watson at UMKC’s jazz studies program. Johnson played with Charles Mingus in the 1960s and was an instrumental part of Saturday Night Live's house band in the 1970s. He’s continued his career as a forward-thinking artist since then. And as many Kansas City music fans already know, local hero Watson is rightfully acknowledged as one of jazz’s premier saxophonists.

I’d been curious about the weekly "UMKC Jazz Mixer" at Mike’s Tavern on Troost, and catching Johnson on my first visit was an unexpected treat. This is exactly the sort of music experience that’s all too rare in Kansas City. The opportunity to catch a hour or two of live jazz and still get home by eight is too good to miss.

Aside from a half dozen patrons in the back of the bar, I believe that I was the sole person in attendance who wasn’t affiliated with UMKC’s music program. Aren't jazz musicians supposed to have girlfriends? Don’t UMKC and Rockhurst students get thirsty? And where in the name of Charlie Parker were any of Kansas City’s 357 jazz fans?

So, here’s my contribution- I’ll be at Mike’s from 6:00-8:00 pm next Thursday, February 9, and I’ll buy beer for any Happy In Bag reader who cares to join me, at least until my limited supply of money is exhausted. There’s no cover.

(Johnson is holding the tuba in the photograph, while Watson is in plaid. This kid on trumpet stood out, as did the session’s vibraphonist and bassist.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Real Cookie Monsters

Before I kicked the habit, I smoked Marlboro Lights. I didn’t even like the taste, but they offered a distinct sensation, perhaps provided by some kind of additive, that compelled me to stick with the brand. No other cigarette satisfied that itch. A similar insatiable craving accompanies Girl Scouts cookies. There’s just something about them that demands more be eaten.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Porous Zone Defense

My baseball-loving pal convinced me to visit The 810 Zone for the first time Tuesday night. New Kansas City Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek was scheduled to be interviewed at the restaurant’s remote radio facility.

The sports bar meets the two most fundamental requirements of such establishments. The walls are blanketed with televisions tuned to various sports broadcasts. Secondly, while somewhat expensive, the food is acceptable. My chef’s salad is pictured. Service is another matter. The staff at the Leawood restaurant is dominated by recent high school graduates with minimal training. They’re not exactly slick.

The 810 Zone has small monitors in every booth, allowing close viewing of a particular game. Yet none were showing sports Tuesday evening. Sitting in every booth were young children and their parents. They weren’t watching basketball- they were all playing toddler-oriented video games. And a few booths had the games’ volume turned to uncomfortably loud levels. It wasn’t merely irritating; it was bizarre.

We spotted Grudzielanek dining with his family early in the evening prior to his interview with Royals announcers Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre. Yet he chose to leave the restaurant early and did the interview by telephone, presumably on his drive home. Maybe he couldn’t take the video games, either.