Happy In Bag

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Plate Puzzle


What possesses people to get personalized license plates? Isn’t anonymity on the road a good thing?

The practice only makes sense to me if SOCRMOM runs a youth coaching business, YOGA is an instructor, and KSTATE owns a sports souvenir shop. Otherwise, it seems like an odd and potentially dangerous vanity.

It’s not expensive. In Kansas, the cost is $40 for five years. You get seven letters on the cool buffalo design pictured here. Missouri offers six letters for a $15 fee (the state’s site doesn’t make it clear, so I guess it’s an annual charge).

Let me know what I’m missing. In the meantime, I’ll be mulling my options. How about HPYNBAG? Maybe I should just stick with DWEEB.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cold Storage

Who are all those people with cameras at every music event? They can't all work for the Star, and they can't all be family members of the band. Alas, I sometimes join their annoying ranks. But I share. Here are new pictures I took at Saturday's big punk rock matinee at the Record Bar and at Sunday's blues show at the City Market. There's a review of the punk show at Patchchord.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Movement of Jah People

One of the most illuminating experiences afforded by our open society is the opportunity to attend worship services of differing faiths. I did so Saturday, and it provided me with new understanding of today's conflict in the Middle East.

The ceremony’s message directed attention to the community of faith’s family currently serving in another nation’s military, as well as those residing in the embattled region. For all of the speaker’s calls for peace, it was very clear that she hoped that the bullets would stop flying only after the conflict was settled to the satisfaction of her constituency.

While both scripture and the living history of the last century make it abundantly clear, the fact that a small slice of land is the cornerstone of this community’s faith had been an abstract principle to me. Finally comprehending the depth of this truth saddens me, because only now do I clearly see that the pain and hardship ahead is inevitable.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dear Readers' Representative

Dear Kansas City Star Readers' Representative:

I thoroughly consume The Kansas City Star, my hometown newspaper, every day. It used to be a pleasure; lately it’s become a chore.

Perhaps my thoughts on your recent product will instigate improvements. I’ll limit my comments to the front section for today. I’m not a journalist or an art director. I’m just your customer.

Take a fresh look at your front page- it doesn’t take a design expert to see that it’s a mess. All those blocks of colors are ridiculous. Remember- just because you have a fresh box of 64 crayons doesn’t mean you have to use all of them on every page. That yellow block of text about Mark Gubicza is especially appalling.

It’s bad enough that you reduced the size of the Star by 20%, but to use up more than a fifth of the front page with those silly teasers at the top is just plain wrong. Yes, Uma Thurman is mind-numbingly attractive- but what is she doing on the front page? I’ll admire her picture when I read the FYI section, just like I’ll read about Gubicza when I peruse the sports section. It’s an annoying waste of space, and you repeat the blunder daily.

Look what happens when you misuse space- the front page has only four stories. Four! That 5x7 picture of Beirut and the three "idiot blurbs" beneath it don't constitute a story. How can you run the banner headline "Marines Back In Beirut" with a huge photo and not have an accompanying front page story? That’s just dumb. To make things worse, the two compelling stories of local interest- Mark Morris’ excellent investigation of mortgage fraud and Scott Canon’s report on a Shawnee man in Iraq, are buried by your messy design.

There are more unsightly idiot blurbs at the bottom of the page. They refer to seven stories elsewhere in the paper. Again, I’ll get there on my own. This space should have been used for text about the trouble in Lebanon.

Let’s turn the page. The large "Nation Watch" headline is another pointless waste of space. If you’re so attached to it, consider reducing it to a quarter-inch. Your daily "Today’s Top 10" epitomizes my complaints. Not only is it entirely arbitrary, five of the items refer to stories elsewhere in the paper. It’s more needless repetition. One of the stories that’s not featured elsewhere should get this space. I do like your "Corrections" listing, and "The Buzz" is a good idea. "World Watch" on page A12 is similarly redundant. Two of your "Top 5" stories refer to text elsewhere. By dropping this feature you’d make room to more adequately address a third story.

Is it really necessary to run head shots of various figures throughout the paper? Your readers already know what John Bolton, Charles Barkley and Arnold Schwarzenegger look like. The piece on the California governor is three sentences. Maybe not using the picture would have made room for a fourth sentence. Also, silly bits like the glove-stealing cat and the dog show are frustrating. Either devote more than a sentence to a story, or don’t run it at all.

I’ll stop for now; maybe next week I’ll offer you my thoughts on your Local section.



Thursday, July 20, 2006

City Market Sundays

You know that tiresome guy at the guitar shop who demonstrates that he knows every classic rock riff? It turns out that his name is Joe Bonamassa.

He headlined at the Kansas City Blues Society’s free Sunday night concert series July 16 at City Market. Bonamassa does more than just quote "Smoke On the Water," "Layla,"and "Stairway To Heaven"- he makes sure you know how fast he can play them.

Go to Patchchord to read the rest of the review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's What's For Dinner

Look beyond the white fence and green field. That’s not a hill of dirt. Those are thousands of cattle about to meet their maker. Feed lots like this, usually found adjacent to beef processing plants, are scattered throughout Kansas. I’ve never bought into the "soulful eyes" perspective of cattle. I’ve been around the animals enough to know that they they’re pretty vacant. Still, I pity their horrid fly-swatting existence and inevitable fate.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Swope Park Slumber Party

While sweltering in this oppressive heat, I sometimes console myself by pondering a slice of Kansas City history.

An old-timer- I can’t recall if it was a family member or a media personality like Walt Bodine- once said that before air conditioning became commonplace, thousands of locals would sleep at Swope Park on hot summer nights.

While that smacks of desperation, and may not even be true, something about the anecdote holds enormous appeal to me. Swope Park is such a beautiful swath of land, and the idea of a communal slumber party sounds fun.

Just not when it’s this hot.

A long-time favorite of Kansas City blues fans, Sam Myers died yesterday. Myers and Anson Funderburgh released Live At the Grand Emporium in 1995.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Courageous Voice of Danny Cox

Danny Cox did a brave thing Friday night.

Cox delivered a strident anti-war protest song to an unsuspecting audience in Olathe, Kansas, the most politically conservative corner of the Kansas City metropolis. As a renowned folk singer who enjoyed national acclaim in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Cox is no stranger to topical material. Even so, he has probably rarely performed before a less receptive group of people.

"Bring Our Loved Ones Back," with its lines like "We’re killing citizens all over the world" and "Thank God for the internet," isn’t going to make anyone forget "We Shall Overcome." Still, its sincerity and earnestness are quite compelling. Remarkably, no one in Olathe booed or left in protest when the song concluded. Two dozen people even stood and applauded.

Cox was in Olathe as the unannounced opening act for Malford Milligan. The event was part of the city’s free Friday night concert series. Many of the approximately 400 people in attendance walked to the event from their nearby homes.

Cox had been charming the audience with polite folk standards and ditties about the challenges of raising children. Then he was joined by Malford Milligan for a couple songs. The extraordinary voice of Milligan, an Austin-based blues and rock musician, seemed to invigorate Cox. "It’s so great to sing with someone you never sang with," Cox exclaimed as Milligan left the stage. "All we have is a few chords and passion. I can say we felt the passion."

It was then that Cox sang "Bring Our Loved Ones Back." While Milligan and his backing trio later ran through a solid set that showcased Milligan’s marvelous voice, Cox’s courageous act remained the evening's highlight.

Additional photos of the concert are here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Risk Management

I’m sure this confession will come as a complete shock to most of you, but I have a little obsessive-compulsive issue. Let me assure you, though, I use it only for good, never for evil.

That’s why I never gamble online or at casinos. Left unchecked, gambling could easily be my downfall. Being occasionally dragged to a casino’s lunch buffet is an excellent deterrent. It reminds me that casinos are dingy, sad places.

So when I went to Harrah’s to see Los Lobos last night, I barely glanced at the gambling pit. And since I doubt that my regular entourage will follow me into the heat tonight, I’m inviting you, dear stranger, to join me in Olathe this evening. Malford Milligan, an excellent vocalist from Austin, is playing a free concert in Olathe. Temperature aside, it's a bit of a gamble, because Milligan's weak online presence offers few clues as to what to expect from this performance.

It's a risk I'm willing to take.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You Talk Too Much

Only one good thing has come from cell phone use in cars.

There was a time when erratic drivers brought out my ugliest prejudices. Now when I see a vehicle drifting between lanes, slowing down and speeding up, I assume it’s a fool distracted by his or her cell phone instead of suspecting that a blind, old Scottish man is behind the wheel.

Cell phone users almost sideswiped me twice yesterday on I-435. I demand that you cut it out.

And as long as I’m being dictatorial, I think we should all drive vehicles like this.

I hope you enjoyed last night’s WNBA All-Star Game. As I've previously predicted, the sport is coming to the Sprint Center. Forget the NHL and the NBA; professional hockey and men's basketball in Kansas City are sportswriter’s pipe dreams.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Your Entertainment Superstore

I miss Hastings. Since the Amarillo-based retailer closed their outlet on Santa Fe in Olathe when Borders, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy encroached on the territory, the nearest location is now the somewhat unrepresentative outlet in Lawrence. Hastings specializes in offering small markets a surprisingly deep and thoughtful selection of music, books and video. Their folksy, haphazard design is a comforting alternative to the efficiency of their high-concept rivals. And Hastings knows their customer base- the marquee of this store in Hays, Kansas, is promoting a book by the retired Kansas State football coach.

Yesterday I spotted a turkey vulture scavenging roadkill in my neighborhood. Was I hallucinating?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No Birds Were Killed

The Bluebird Café wouldn’t cross my mind if I was an inmate on death row selecting my last meal. But if I was forced to eat every day at just one place, the restaurant at 17th and Summit would merit serious consideration. It’s so good that I wouldn’t even lose weight. Just look at those vegetables!

Was the front page of today’s Star designed by a bored third-grade summer school art class?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Roe? Oh No!

Three O’Clock In the Morning was right. In April I mocked him for wrting rather hysterically about the retail redevelopment in Roeland Park. My delight at the expanded chorizo selection in the spiffy new Price Chopper had clouded my judgement. I’ve been eyeing this retail satellite strip suspiciously for several weeks, hoping that I’m failing to visualize its ultimate form. It’s clear now, though, that these businesses will permanently face away from Roe, Roeland Park’s main drag. It's an urban planner's nightmare.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Do You Hear John Denver?

This just in: Colorado is pretty. Even though much of it has been overdeveloped to the point that it's indistinguishable from Lenexa, it's not difficult to find the state's unspoiled natural beauty.

Friday, July 07, 2006

This Man Would Starve In Kansas City

His handmade nametag reads "Cpt. Earthman." He’s a vendor at Coors Field in Denver.

His antics include subverting every cheer for the Rockies into an anthem extolling beer, tying kids to the railing with licorice sticks and handing out cards with his cell phone number to especially thirsty fans. "What section and row?," he barks when his phone rings. "I’ll be right there."

Even if Kansas City fans could handle Cpt. Earthman, there’s no way Royals’ management would stand for it.

And in a nutshell, that's the difference between Kansas City and Denver.

I wrote briefly about last night's John Hiatt show at my music blog. It was my first exposure to Harrah's VooDoo Lounge. As others have already claimed, it's a great room for live music.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Elbow Room

I've been driving.

Few things in life are as liberating as putting over a thousand miles on a vehicle in two or three days.

The price of freedom in this country is a car and gas money.