Happy In Bag

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Kansas City River Conspiracy

River currents are deadly. Giant maneating catfish are lurking just below the surface. Rivers are for commercial barges only. The water is dirty.

Lies. It’s all lies. Well, except for the part about the water. It is dirty.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Two majestic rivers wind through the Kansas City metropolis. But when’s the last time you dipped your toes into either the Kansas or Missouri Rivers? Wouldn’t it have been great to spend part of last weekend on this little boat docked in Kansas City, Kansas?

How did this river aversion happen? Did old J.C. Nichols convince people that they should think only about his housing developments instead of next weekend’s fishing expedition? Or maybe the Corps of Engineers hid the rivers from Kansas Citians to enhance their land speculation at the Lake of the Ozarks. Or could there be a psychotropic additive in our water supply that makes us believe that rivers are scary?

Let’s reclaim the rivers. Let’s get wet.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Change is afoot at the sleepy Ranch Mart shopping center. It was reported over a year ago that The Fine Arts Group would refurbish the long-dormant movie theater at 95th and Mission, but this new sign makes it appear imminent. I was under the impression that the market was already swamped with screens. With Ward Parkway and Town Center minutes away and their own Glenwood Arts just down the street, I wonder how the Fine Arts guys hope to make this venue feasible. Vintage films? Kids' flicks? "Adult" movies?

The Pitch republished a Happy In Bag post this week.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Star Light, Bar Bright

The Hurricane was never "my" bar.

I first went there in the ‘80s for the Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band’s weekly Saturday matinee. I’ve experienced hundreds of hours of music at the Hurricane since then, including the OK Jones performance pictured here, but I never felt at home.

Still, I sympathize with the people mourning its transition into a martini bar. I especially feel for the guy who’s arguably Kansas City’s best blogger. And I hope that this notorious post had nothing to do with the makeover.

Cue the sappy music, because I’m about to wax nostalgic about other Kansas City music venues that are no longer. In approximate order of my first visit:

*One Block West- Because I saw shows here before I was old enough to drive, I don’t even know where it was. Roeland Park? Kansas City, Kansas? I usually gained entry to crummy metal shows because I was "with the band" or because I was escorted by a menacing thug.

*Milton’s (Main Street location)- I starting going here because they seemed willing to serve anyone who’d hit puberty, but I kept returning for the real education it gave me. The library of jazz albums behind the bar were more intoxicating than the contents of the bottles.

*The Grand Emporium- I have nothing against its new incarnation, but it bears little resemblance to its roots. Primarily a day-drinker’s tavern, there was a small stage at the west end of the shotgun-shaped dive where local and regional blues and jazz acts, such as Priscilla Bowman and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, played. And they didn’t card. Man, I miss the late co-owner George Meyers.

*Parody Hall (crossroads district and later at 39th and Southwest Trafficway)- Locals like Steve, Bob & Rich and Fools Face were big draws, and every week featured roadhouse bands from Texas, punk and new wave acts from Minneapolis, and the occasional gig by the likes of English cult artist Richard Thompson.

*Jimmy’s Jigger- Everyone loved the room on State Line now inhabited by Jazz. The Scamps and Kevin Mahogany were regulars. The odd touring act like bluegrass artist Alison Krauss would also perform here.

*The Lone Star- A free-standing building located in what’s now the parking lot of the World Market in Westport, this club fulfilled the role that the Record Bar now plays. Get this- the promoter who booked many of the Lone Star’s shows was Hearne Christopher, Jr., now gossip columnist for the Kansas City Star.

*City Light- The relaxed spirit of the jazz club located at 74th and Wornall lives on at the Phoenix.

*Nightmoves- Back in the blues boom, a rival to the Grand Emporium opened north of the river. Bikers were welcome there, but I don’t think it lasted more than a couple years.

*Guitars & Cadillacs- The dormant venue behind the Westport Library must have had a dozen names. I was first forced to go there when it was an upscale disco; I think jackets were required for men. It later functioned as a country two-step club where country stars like Marty Stuart and Patty Loveless would perform.

*Bonus points for anyone who remembers the late ‘80s nightclub on the west side of Wornall between 85th and 95th . It was a godsend for local bands but it had an awful name, something like Shooterz or Bananaz. Anyone?

Thanks for indulging me on my boozy trip down memory lane. Feel free to fill in the gaps.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Deep End

I saved a kid from drowning yesterday.

It happened at an Overland Park apartment complex. I was reading a newspaper at a table next to an indoor pool. A four or five-year-old girl was splashing in the pool’s shallow end. A teenager- I suspect she’s the mother, but she could be a sister, aunt, babysitter or neighbor- would occasionally check on the child and then leave, usually to sunbathe about twenty yards away at the outdoor pool pictured here.

The situation irked me. There were no lifeguards at the pool, and the child, obviously desperate for attention, was irritating everyone who happened by.

I looked up after I finished reading the newspaper. The child was waving to me from the deep end. Wait a second- that’s not waving, that’s drowning! After failing to get the attention of the two swimmers in the pool, I jumped in fully clothed. By that time the girl had sunk to the bottom of the deep end.

She weighed about forty pounds, so I got her to the surface without any trouble. I held her as she gasped, choked and spewed water. She couldn’t have been submerged for more than twenty seconds, but it would have been at least another thirty seconds before someone else spotted her in the pool’s cloudy water.

After she’d caught her breath, the child ran to the teenager, who continued to lie on her stomach as the child wailed hysterically. When I told the teen what had happened, she seemed more annoyed than concerned. She left with the child and returned to the pool a few minutes later, accompanied not with the girl but by a teenager I presume was her boyfriend and the likely father of the child.

I wish I could feel good about this incident. Instead, I’m just sad.

Attending the Shakespeare festival Sunday reminded me that I still have a lot of work to do if I'm to claim the title of Kansas City's biggest nerd. With that in mind, I've created Hit Random, my third blog. It will serve as an outlet for photographs that would otherwise forever languish on my computer. The first two Hit Random subjects are last week's Warped Tour stop and the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival. Hit Random will be updated irregularly; I'll notify the Happy In Bag reader(s) when I post new material.

Straight For the Juggler

Kansas City’s Shakespeare festival does all the little things right.

The pre-show entertainment is outstanding. I look forward to the on-site lectures, especially Philip Blue Owl Hooser’s slant on the classics. I raved last year about the work of Paul Mesner and his freaky puppets.

I’ve enjoyed this juggler’s antics for three or four years. While he’s good at keeping multiple objects in the air, his real gift is making people smile. Anyone who makes a crank like me laugh out loud is a real talent.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I don’t miss it.

I started smoking regularly when I was a little older than the kid pictured on this library video. I was raised by a family of smokers and I suppose being awoken early every morning to the sound of people hacking up pieces of fried lung made me want to get in on that action.

A girl motivated me to quit a long time ago, and like many ex-smokers, I can’t stand to be around lit cigarettes. Smoke coming from a car window at a stoplight gives me an instant headache. That kind of mild, unexpected exposure is somehow even worse than a full assault at a bar.

Uh oh. Revisiting this subject rekindles a dormant urge. How much is a pack of Marlboro Lights these days?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Willie Mays Hayes

Something changed last night at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals and the Pirates were demonstrating why they’re the two worst teams in baseball. I found myself booing involuntarily. It was the only appropriate response to what I was witnessing.

Then newly acquired outfielder Joey Gathright came to bat for the first time in the bottom of the third. He hit a weak grounder, but instead of dejectedly trudging toward first in the fashion of most current Royals, he ran hard. And fast. Gathright was out, but that was the pivotal moment when things changed for the Royals.

The Royals’ pitching veered toward competency and the Royals put together a comeback win. Gathright, a real-life Willie Mays Hayes, did more than remind his new teammates about the concept of effort.

He changed the atmosphere in the stands. After Gathright's at-bat, the fans came alive. And it was only then that I realized that the mania for the hot dog race, the kiss cam, and Sluggerrr doesn’t really mean that Royals fans are hayseeds. It’s simply displaced enthusiasm. People are desperate for something to cheer for.

I believe they'll get it. Not anytime soon- this year’s team is historically awful. But it’s suddenly clear that Kansas City is still a baseball town.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Where's the Red Carpet?

I expected cheerleaders in bright red costumes. I thought there would be a petting zoo, a marching band and all sorts of whizbangs.

Instead I found a dusty parking lot, a creaky store that smelled of potpourri, and a desultory teenager selling cider, peaches and doughnuts. And, of course, the obligatory taffy.

After decades of hearing wonderful things about it, the Louisburg Cider Mill disappointed me when I finally visited it last week. I’m not down, though. My sea monkey order should I arrive any day. I can’t wait to watch those rascals play volleyball.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I Hope The Shade and Cold Water Play Next Year

Teenage girls were dropping like flies.

I was riveted to the drama in the medical tent as the three oldest bands at yesterday’s Warped Tour- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Helmet and The Buzzcocks- ran through their thirty minute sets.

Most of the ailing girls were revived with an application of ice and a cool mist. The looks on their faces as they regained consciousness only to discover they were seated next to shirtless oafs with bloody noses was priceless.

It was scorching. And the parking lot at Verizon Amphitheater where all but two of the stages are situated offered no relief from the sun. People were so desperate for shade that they crawled underneath parked trucks.

Now that’s Warped.

(Pictured: Youngsters watch The Buzzcocks regurgitate their 25-year-old hits.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bill Grigsby Is Beauuutiful

"Watch for the German submarines in the river."

Kansas City broadcasting icon Bill Grigsby was vamping at the Parkville’s Jazz/Blues & Fine Arts River Jam Saturday night.

The evening’s headliner, Sonny Landreth, had been delayed, and Grigsby was killing time. He promised a perfect season for the Kansas City Chiefs and mused about how a pitiful Royals team was better than no team at all. He extolled the virtues of life in Parkville and when he finally could think of nothing else to say, he encouraged patrons to buy more beer.

Bill Grigsby is beloved for his cheerful work on the Chiefs’ radio broadcast team. A sunny optimist, Grigsby’s "beauuutiful" catchphrase is mimicked throughout the Midwest. (My personal catchphrase is "I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean it like that.")

Landreth never made it to the festival. And while Arkansas journeyman blues-rock act Oreo Blue was fine, and Levee Town demonstrated why they're regional favorites, the evening clearly belonged to Grigsby and his accidental poetry.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Glad To Be In Gladstone

Festival season in the metropolitan area makes the sticky heat seem less unbearable. My favorite such event, the Gladstone Summertime Bluesfest, took place last weekend. My review of this Shirley King show is at Patchchord. I mention in the piece that the Gladstone event is a very loose, happy affair. The same is true of Parkville's annual festival, the awkwardly titled Jazz/Blues & Fine Arts River Jam, where I hope to wind up tonight. As with the fine people of Gladstone, Parkvillians tend to be an exceptionally nice lot. And they've booked hot-shot Lousiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I Scream

St. Louis has Ted Drewes frozen custard. Tourists and locals line up at the famous stand to buy dessert.

Does Sheridan’s count as the Kansas City equivalent? The chain is based on College Boulevard, and tonight, as on every hot Friday night, people will line up to buy their concretes, shakes and cones.

Product categories aside, the two establishments don’t have much in common. Ted Drewes is kind of funky. That’s not a word that can be easily applied to the spotless, largely suburban Sheridan’s outlets. Furthermore, Sheridan’s is in ten states while Ted Drewes remains exclusive to St. Louis.

Is Sheridan’s all that? Are Sonic’s malts and Wendy’s Frostys just as good? Is that new gelato place in the City Market worth a trip? I lack a sweet tooth, so I really wouldn't know. (My tubbiness comes from a penchant for grease and beer. )


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fireflies Are Far Out

Few things in life are as awe-inspiring as the lightning bug. Seeing fireflies flash after dusk is one of life’s simple joys.

It’s magical.

Like all magic, it’s difficult to capture on camera. I rested on my back under a tree last night and tried to time a shot so that I’d capture the bug glow. This groovy picture is the result.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Doggone It, I Need Coffee

My coffee maker broke this morning. I'm useless without the vital brew. Please provide your own title and text to accompany the photo I took last weekend in the parking lot of the Price Chopper in Roeland Park.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jazz In the Woods

While all the cool kids were forty miles west at the Wakarusa Festival, I spent parts of last weekend with the middle-aged lawn chair set at Jazz In the Woods.

The annual jazz festival at the Corporate Woods office complex has grown immeasurably since I began attending over a decade ago. I recall that its early years were held in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant on College Boulevard. Drummer Vince Bilardo acted as emcee and ran the event like a glorified jam session. It soon moved to its present location on a nice spread of grass beneath the pictured monolith in the Corporate Woods office complex. For years, Phill Kline, now attorney general of Kansas, acted as host. Was he ever irritating!

National acts like Spyro Gyra and ‘70s hitmakers The Average White Band headlined this year. I wrote an enthusiastic review for Patchchord on the festival’s most interesting booking, St. Louis’ Erin Bode. Bram Wijnands also impressed me. He and his large band played a convincing set of vintage Kansas City jazz. It’s remarkable that a Dutchman stands to become the strongest elder statesman of the city’s jazz legacy.

Still, the charm of the event is its kid-friendly, picnic-oriented atmosphere. Frisbees and games of catch are on equal footing with the music.

Note to festival organizers- the raffle concept confuses the audience. You should simply ask for charitable donations, as they do at the Shakespeare Festival. And in the name of Count Basie, bring back the local artists. Please get to work on booking the likes of Kevin Mahogany, Karrin Allyson, Marilyn Maye, Angela Hagenbach, Bobby Watson, BCR, Ida McBeth and Pat Metheny for 2007.

Monday, June 12, 2006

This Is Not My Beautiful House

I don’t live in this house. I don’t even live on this street. But I live in a structure very much like this, where I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of similar homes.

Ever since I reminisced about my terrorist friend, this site has received steady traffic from the Middle East. I suspect these curious visitors wonder what my life is like. It occurred to me that I’ve never bothered to feature the defining characteristic of my area- the attractive if somewhat mundane homes featuring spectacular trees and pretty yards.

So, Ali's comrades, now you know.

Friday, June 09, 2006

We're All Going To Die at 43rd and Westport Road

We’re all going to die at 43rd and Westport Road. Scoot referred to it as Kansas City’s "dumbest intersection." Say your prayers if you’re westbound during rush hour. The eastbound cars on Westport Road can either stay right or veer left in front of you. Meanwhile, westbound cars on Westport Road can barrel into you before you can even see them coming. The view is obstructed by the eastbound traffic, as seen in this photo. Even a mind boggling roundabout would be preferable to this mess.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Snack Wrap Unraveled

A day will come when McDonald’s offers delicious gyros, passable Tandoori and savory tempura. It's just not now. I hadn’t seen the new $1.29 "snack wrap"advertised so it was mainly curiosity that motivated me to order the mysterious item yesterday. I was disappointed to discover that it consists of a breaded chunk of chicken, bits of lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise enclosed in a tortilla. It was exactly as appetizing as it looks. Pass the fries.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

This Guilt Is Bugging Me

Have you ever felt sorry for an insect? I feel guilty after repeatedly destroying a wasp’s construction site over the last couple days. My cruelty is justified. The winged menace decided to build just inches from my favorite spot in my backyard. After removing each nest's foundation I beat a hasty retreat to watch the wasp buzz frantically about. The wasp seems reluctant to accept that its tireless work has been in vain. I can tell the wasp is tiring; it didn’t even try to sting me when I stole this effort a few minutes ago.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ghosts Are Real

I believe in ghosts. I just can’t tell you if they exist outside the imagination of living humans. Does it really matter? The demons in my head are plenty real.

I don’t often get spooked, but in March I spent a haunted night in an abandoned dormitory. Until a few years ago, the Kansas institution was home to about a hundred elderly men. The old building’s lights flickered and the rusty water that dripped from the sink looked toxic. Most unsettling were the dozens of doors, each partially ajar, down each forgotten hallway. (The view outside my door is pictured here.) All night I listened to creaks, bumps and rustling, knowing that no one else was in the building.

It’s the uncertainty, the fear of the unknown, that really scares us. We're relieved when the big "Boo!" we're all anxiously anticipating finally reveals itself.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Expired Drugs

While I don’t harbor any nostalgia for Osco, the ‘70s-style fixtures at this Ranch Mart location give me childhood flashbacks. The drug store chain, as with Eckerd before it, will soon convert to the CVS brand name. Skaggs and the locally-based Katz stores have also fallen by the wayside or been absorbed in drug store corporate mergers. How about a moment of silence for Kansas City's departed retailers, from Milgram’s grocery stores to Kresge (now Kmart/Sears)? Maybe someone could compile lists of our defunct toy stores, book stores, and record stores.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Spelling bees rool! And so do nerds. Few events are as captivating as the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I learned a new word during yesterday’s finals that allows me to better understand my problems. The adorable Canadian girl who finished in second place failed to properly spell weltschmerz, which means a
"mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state." This state of mind has a name? I finally feel validated.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Ladies, there are only two types of guys- those who wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, and those who don’t. The ratio is about fifty-fifty.

As a fussy, obsessive-compulsive freak, I’m among the washers. After cleansing my hands in a public sink, I’m often forced to touch a doorknob to exit. I usually improvise by using an extra paper towel to open the door. Then I have to hunt down a trash can.

Sometimes this solution isn’t an option. Many buildings go cheap by using hot air machines in their restrooms. Thanks for the germ carnival, McDonald's!

And it’s not just that I don’t like other guys’ fresh urine and feces on my hands. The bathroom door pictured, for instance, is at St. Luke’s Hospital. Who knows what kind of cooties are on that handle.

Next week's topic in Phobics-R-Us: Handshakes.