Happy In Bag

Friday, March 31, 2006

No Reservations

Take a look at that priceless view.

I snapped this photograph from my room at the Westin Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. The company will sell you a night’s stay for $225.00 U.S. dollars if you beg for the lowest possible rate. But thanks to Priceline, I paid less than a third of that during spring break.

This blog is about second-rate art reviews, anecdotes of squirrel captures and photographs of men’s urinals. Aside from regular reports on restaurants and musical events, I’ve never endorsed a specific product. But Priceline merits special recognition. Their service has dramatically improved my ability to travel, and to travel well.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vote Yes, You Provincial Twits

My opinion on Tuesday’s sports complex vote doesn’t matter. I don’t live in Jackson County. I don’t even like football. While I realize my comments on the tax proposal may backfire with all six of my Missouri readers, I just can’t refrain from offering my admittedly negative perspective.

I don’t know if the proposal is a fair deal for taxpayers. I don’t if the rolling roof will work. I don’t know if the Royals will ever win again. I don’t know if Larry Johnson is a creep. And I don’t know what will happen if the tax fails.

But I do know the following is true.

Kansas City’s best days are behind it. The forces that once made Kansas City vital- the confluence of two rivers, cattle slaughterhouses and pioneer trail heads- are gone or are no longer relevant. Demographic trends favor cities with more temperate climates and more desirable platforms for economic innovation.

It’s simply a matter of how quickly Kansas City’s remaining viability will evaporate. The deterioration would rapidly accelerate should the Royals and Chiefs leave town.

Don’t get me wrong. Kansas City is still a really nice place. But I encourage our youth to find their futures elsewhere. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

High Art Alone Is Eternal

Could it be that the Negative Nellies were right? I finally got around to examining the new construction at The Nelson-Atkins Museum earlier this month. The shrill critics have a point; it sure is ugly. When illuminated after dark, the new wings had better transform themselves into monumental displays inspiring profound awe. Otherwise, this is a boondoggle of epic proportions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Could Do That

Cranks who enjoy denigrating modern art will have a field day with Ping-Pong Diplomacy, a new display at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The massive installation is willfully ugly and deliberately absurd. Illuminated partitions surround a shanty town-like wooden structure. A ping pong table- yes, go ahead and play a game- is the centerpiece. Just for good measure, plants are growing underneath and atop the primary structure. Ridiculous! I like it; just don’t ask me what it means.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Doc Watson, Appalachian Coelacanth

As ocean depths and obscure Indonesian islands are explored, scientists sometimes find living specimens of animal species thought to be long extinct.

A few living fossils still exist in the music world. One of them is Appalachian guitarist Doc Watson. The 83-year-old performed at Johnson County Community College on Saturday night. Let this photograph serve as definitive scientific proof that original American mountain music is not yet extinct.

There will always be old people, of course. But the generation that was born before the great depression is the last one raised in a vastly different world. I’m not about to suggest that today’s music is less real or lacks authenticity. But when Watson, BB King, 80, Les Paul, 90, Robert Lockwood, 81, and Kansas City’s 97-year-old Jay McShann pass on, we’ll have lost our last links to a time in music when even the concept of electricity wasn’t taken for granted.

Celebrate these musical coelacanths before they’re gone.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Utopia, Part Three

When I tell people I’m considering moving to Canada, they usually assume I’m making a political statement. That’s not really the case.

The third and final leg of my spring break trip was a brief jump over the border to Vancouver. It quickly became my favorite city in the world. Its setting on the Pacific among mountains is gorgeous. And not only are its citizens darn nice, as a whole, they’re inordinately attractive. Toss in countless phenomenal Asian restaurants and Canada’s renowned health care system, and I’m sold. Higher taxes? For all this, I’d happily pay up.

This headline from the March 16 edition of Canada’s Globe and Mail provides insight into the sweet- and somewhat pathetic - nature of the Canadian mindset. The newspaper is perversely pleased that Palestinian terrorists decided not to kill a hostage upon discovering he was Canadian. The nation clearly has drastic self-esteem issues.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Like a Hurricane

Here’s a peek into the magic of The Hurricane's men’s room for those who fail to qualify for entry. And to be fair, as people pointed out here, there are far more repulsive places in town. In fact, if the Hurricane would just make soap available, I wouldn’t even flinch.

I opted for The Hurricane on Tuesday, which was one of Kansas City's most promising nights in recent memory for live music of the "alternative" flavor. Other choices included the mighty Wilco, who starred at the Uptown. El Torreon hosted a big punk show. Honky tonker Rex Hobart, buzz band Two Gallants and freak-folkers Pink Mountaintops performed at the Record Bar. Austin’s This Damn Town and Seattle’s New Fangs made noise at the Brick.

Unfortunately, the van of Hurricane headliners Marah broke down in Oklahoma. Saddened patrons heard Lawrence’s OK Jones preview their Zombies-influenced new material and Pendergast blast their muscular barroom laments.

Still, disappointment hung heavy at the Hurricane, especially for the members of OK Jones and Pendergast, all fans of Marah.

It was a real pisser.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Utopia, Part Two

The verdant San Juan Islands are reached by ferry. Thankfully, there’s really nothing to do once deposited on the lush islands save stare at the ocean. During spring break, I spent hours sitting at this spot watching minke whales, killer whales, seals and otters swim through this channel. It was time well spent.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I’m so thirsty.

I abstain from alcohol for forty days every spring. It’s a shamefully trivial sacrifice, yet my weakness makes the annual challenge difficult. It coincides with an especially lively time of year- spring break, March Madness, baseball’s spring training and opening day, SXSW and St. Patricks Day.

This year, I didn’t miss it for the first 18 days, save for a moment when I encountered an especially inviting pub on a rainy night in Seattle last week. But since returning from vacation, it’s been gnawing at me. I feel like a depraved junkie.

I'm putting myself in harm's way tonight. While Wilco performs at the Uptown, I'll be at the Hurricane for three Wilco-esque bands. I prefer the debut release of Lawrence's OK Jones to Wilco's last two efforts. Local boys Pendergast must be the band Bob Seger had in mind when he wrote "Rock and Roll Never Forgets." Headliner Marah used to evoke Springsteen circa '74. The Philly band have lost their way of late, but maybe they'll return to their ragged roots tonight. Feel free to join me; I'll be the guy staring balefully at the bar.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Utopia, Part One

Ocean. Mountains. A downtown oveflowing with vitality. Terrific food and drink culture. Strong music scene, highlighted by a first-tier annual festival. NBA and NHL, in addition to professional baseball and football. Two daily newspapers and two alternative weeklies competing for readers. Billionaires willing to write enormous checks for local charitable causes. Big state university in town. Diverse, happy populace.

Seattle's assets shame Kansas City. Amenities that are exotic here are commonplace in Seattle. I explored Seattle during spring break.

Pike Place Market, pictured here, a sort of bacchanalian version of a farmer’s market along Seattle’s waterfront, contains as many food options as all of Kansas City combined. There’s salmon, of course, along every other local water creature. The world’s cuisines are represented at the market’s restaurants. I bought a salmon curry from a Moroccan man and piroshky from a Russian woman.

Sure, Seattle’s often cold and damp. But take a look out your window, Midwesterners. So, why don’t we all move to the Pacific Northwest? It’s the same old cost of living trap. I'll be content in Kansas City as long as I don’t make the mistake of looking at the seafood offerings at the local grocery anytime soon.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Blue and Self-ish

Seeing my Jayhawks go down in the first round of the tournament for the second year in a row hurts. A lot. I'm not up for spouting platitudes about next year's prospects or the surprising success of this season. Now it's just about cheering against Duke while hoping Wichita State can extend their run.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Regina Carter

I had resigned myself to a Saturday night of preparing tax returns and doing laundry when a friend contacted me about extra tickets he had secured to the Regina Carter performance at the Folly Theater. I immediately took him up on his generous offer to hear one of new music's most promising talents. Patchchord published my review. My special tip for Happy In Bag readers: the sound at the high-ceilinged Folly is far superior in the balcony.


In an effort to spare you my undoubtedly tedious thoughts on the World Baseball Classic, spring training, fantasy baseball drafts and March Madness, I’m taking a blogger’s holiday. I'll return after the best week in sports concludes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Name Is Eve, I'll Be Your Server

I love eating the flesh of dead animals. Almost all my favorite Kansas City restaurants- including Marrakesh Cafe, Oklahoma Joe’s and Gates Bar.B.Q.- specialize in meat. The exceptions are Eden Alley and Blue Bird Bistro. While Bluebird is hip, Eden Alley is located in a church basement on the Plaza. The sound of the sanctuary's Montessori school emanates from a thin partition during lunch. Yet at Eden Alley, eating your vegetables is a pleasure, not a chore. Delicious food and positive energy are served in heaping portions. Just look at that beet salad.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I Loved This Man

I couldn’t be more excited about the World Baseball Classic. Baseball finally has a true World Series. I’m eagerly anticipating today’s game between Mexico and the United States.

Yet as far as I can tell, I’m the only person in Kansas City who cares. Baseball is an afterthought here, and its popularity is waning in the rest of the country.

Given the state of baseball, it’s sadly appropriate that the game’s best ambassador of my generation, Kirby Puckett, died yesterday. While 40-year-olds Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds continue to rack up mind-boggling statistics superior to Puckett’s career numbers, they’re unpleasant men.

Puckett was different. Not only did the stubby man not look like a star athlete, he didn’t act like one either. The title of his autobiography was I Love This Game! The statement was immediately apparent to all who saw him play with unbridled joy for the Twins in their frequent games against the Royals.

Sure, I’ll cheer for the sullen Clemens and the bitter Bonds today. They’re great players. But I don’t like them. I loved Kirby Puckett.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Giving You the Finger

It may be tacky, but I enjoy the downtown Marriott’s lighting display. There’s nothing subtle about it. A block west on 12th Street, Michael Rees’ Putto 2x2x4 dances on a video screen behind its imposing physical incarnation. There’s little nuance here, either. It’s just an exceptionally cool and fun work of art.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Way Out West

The most exceptional thing about Paulo & Bill’s is its location.

It’s run by smart operators, and they’ve tailored the establishment to its location at I-435 and Midland Drive. It’s the only upscale restaurant within five miles, and for years has been the default option for thirsty tie-wearing business people who toil in the industrial district to its east.

And boy, do they make you pay for it. A meal here would cover a week’s worth of burgers and tots at Sonic. While none of it’s great, it’s all good, including the PB&J chain’s popular Cobb salad pictured. The handsome bar that surrounds a fire oven may seem to see most of the interesting action, but dozens of million dollar deals are hammered out in Paulo & Bill's booths every year.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I Am a Kansan

I am a Kansan.

I don’t mean that I’m a property value-watching, school district score-analyzing Johnson Countian, although I am. Nor I do mean that I invest an inordinate amount of my emotional well-being on the fate of a certain college basketball team. But I do.

A real Kansan has shoveled manure, baled hay, fed cattle and posted holes. He has dirt under his fingernails and disdains anyone who doesn’t work for a living. She’s distrustful of government, exceedingly reserved, and lives in a town like Claflin, Russell or Zenith.

A true Kansan is humble, austere and avoids gratuitous physical contact. Book learning and new technology are embraced, but ostentatious displays of physical beauty or prosperity are unacceptable.

While I don’t embody all these traits, the generations of Kansan blood running through my veins makes me feel guilty when I stray from my heritage. I won't get above my raising.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Remember That You Are Dust

The imposition of ashes is the defining act of my faith. The pitifully modest concessions I make for the Lenten season are nonetheless a severe test of my weakness. These small sacrifices miraculously restore my convictions. As the photo I took Friday at Indian Creek suggests, the possibility of new life- literal or metaphoric- beckons.