Happy In Bag

Friday, September 29, 2006

Up a Creek

The sunken walk along Brush Creek from the Plaza to around Paseo allows for a very pleasant hike, especially now that the cooler weather masks the water’s odor. Even so, one can’t help but think about what might have been. When the big "Cleaver Creek" project was initially floated to Kansas City residents, comparisons were made to San Antonio’s River Walk. And anyone who’s made the brutal six hour drive south on I-35 knows that Oklahoma City’s Bricktown is like a Westport on water. You can’t even take a boat ride at our creek, let alone buy a drink.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I have a thing for overweight baseball players. I empathize so strongly with the big men that I’ve come close to scuffling with fans who taunt them at ball games. Everyone knows that a little extra weight just makes a guy stronger.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of rotund Royals pitcher Runelvys Hernandez. I admire his portly pride. Still, on a team loaded with disappointments and failures, he’s the Royals’ most notable flop.

So when Hernandez took the mound to start the game on September 17, I was stunned to hear Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton hit "Gasolina" booming through Kaufman Stadium. Everyone knows that pitchers are supposed to put fires out. Was Royals management mocking Hernandez? Give fat Elvys a break!

Alas, Hernandez was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning that day. But I don’t blame him for the Royals’ loss. These losers in the bullpen gave up six additional runs in the Royals' 10-5 loss.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is It Safe?

It’s an evil alien. No, wait- it’s a friendly monster. That can’t be right- why would the QuickTrip at I-435 and Roe post a sign promoting fiends? After refocusing my eyes I discern two humanoid figures. That makes the image even creepier. It appears that the large figure is manhandling the smaller form. I’m sure that Safe Place is a terrific organization; their sign is disturbing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It Takes a Village

I’m in a unique position to offer insight into the controversy surrounding the plans of Village Presbyterian Church to expand their charitable enterprise at 99th and Mission in Johnson County.

I’ve been a recipient of the mission’s charity. And because of its size, wealth and influence, Village Presbyterian is to northern Johnson County what the Catholic Church is to Rome.

When my family was in dire need of assistance a year ago, the food, clothing and children’s gear the mission provided were a lifesaver. With each visit, the mission gave us a week’s supply of food, toiletries (I still recall the sharp smell of Irish Spring soap) and $25 packages of diapers. If we needed men’s shoes or a ladies’ handbag, the mission had a remarkable assortment on hand.

As we accepted the mission’s donations I was too overwhelmed with gratitude to give much thought to the facilities’ layout. I now recall that the elderly volunteers moved slowly and had difficulty negotiating the small flight of stairs that allowed access to the mission. I would invariably transport parcels for a number of other recipients during each visit. The quarters were cramped and the mission was unable to adequately display all its offerings.

In spite of my debt to Village Presbyterian, I’ve occasionally succumbed to the temptation of mocking its congregation. Their comfortable conformity makes them an easy target. But it’s their eye-popping wealth that allows them to make substantial contributions to the community. Just because they’re not always selfless doesn’t mean that their generosity means any less to the recipients of their largess. I should know.

I both like and respect the church’s Reverend, Tom Are Jr., even though I’m pretty sure he deliberately avoids me when we’re in the same room. (He understandably tires of hearing about my personal agenda.)

If I lived across the street from the mission, I suppose I'd be concerned about potential aesthetic problems with new construction. The vocal opponents of Village Presbyterian's plans list their grievances here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not My Cross To Bear

As I was leaving the Plaza Art Fair on Saturday I encountered a cross-bearing man. His cross was fashioned with a wheel for easier transport. The man's shaved head lacked a crown of thorns and he wore sneakers. I speculated with the woman pictured here about whether this odd man was an evangelist or a performance artist. While I was tempted to follow him back to the Plaza to get an answer, I decided to let the mystery be. (The art, music, food and weather made this year’s event the best I’ve experienced.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sole Sapping

I once had beautiful feet.

The rest of my body may never have resembled David, but Michelangelo would have been inspired by my lowest extremities. The arches were handsome, the toes perfectly formed, and the proportions ideal.

Today I make podiatrists weep. Decades of abuse have ravaged the old dogs. I’ve snapped metatarsal bones. Nails, rocks and other sharp objects have scarred my soles. The arches are sagging.

The remaining toes have been decimated. They’re splayed and the nails grow at odd angles. My left little piggie has been broken and crushed so many times that it’s now just an immobile bit of discolored flesh wrapped around ground meat and gristle.

Darn right it hurts.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is Green Tea Good For You?

After months of regularly driving past Green Tea at 95th and Nall, I finally stopped in for lunch earlier this week.

The restaurant is a significant step above the decent but generic Chinese fare that’s served at every third strip mall in the area. The tasty Korean-tinged dish pictured was just spicy enough to put me into a sweat. My companion’s chicken curry was tender and thoughtfully prepared.

While the space is remarkably attractive, its aesthetics are corrupted by blaring faux-classical music and a distracting large screen television over the bar. Their patrons would be relieved if management thought to turn off the tube and switch the sound system to unobtrusive cocktail jazz.

The biggest hurdle Green Tea faces is price. The cost of lunch is nearly double the humble Chinese buffet across the street. Sure, Green Tea is better, but is it $4.00 better? And the nearby Red Snapper offers memorable Asian cuisine for about a dollar more than Green Tea's menu.

Even so, staring at this picture has me longing to return later today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Junior Achievement

Tuesday night’s show at the Record Bar did nothing to dispel my bias against live performances by electronica acts.

Because the Junior Boys’ new So This Is Goodbye is imbued with rare warmth, I had considerable expectations. I praised the Canadians’ superior new album here. Aside from witnessing Jeremy Greenspan faithfully reproduce his familiar voice, the modest crowd of about 75 might have been equally served by listening to a CD.

As a friend suggested, computers did all the heavy lifting last night. And even that posed problems. When a technical glitch delayed the start of the third song, Greenspan glumly suggested, "This is the Junior Boys live experience."

Opening act Ensemble, who create happy music perfect for antidepressant pharmaceutical television advertisements, fared no better.

It takes an enormous amount of charisma and audience rapport to make any live performance engaging. Junior Boys, alas, had neither. They were still trying to make a connection when I left the Record Bar at 12:20 a.m., forty minutes after they began playing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I pull for the Royals to reach a dozen hits when I attend their games. Who doesn’t like free Krispy Kreme doughnuts? Even so, I prefer a little doughnut outlet at the southeast corner of 95th and Mission named MAQ’s Oz. While their fat pills are tasty, the real reason I make a point of frequenting the shop has to do with their efforts in the community. I’ve encountered literature for over a dozen charitable events that list this family business as a donor. It doesn’t matter if it’s the husband, wife or one of the children working the counter- they’re always exceedingly pleasant when I visit. And in my case, that’s not always easy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The White Elephant Is Really Quite Nice

The young man with the mohawk stumbled blindly through the deserted concourse of Kemper Arena Friday night seeking an appropriate spot to vomit.

A few yards away, about 15,000 people were getting pummeled by the apocalyptic thump of progressive metal band Tool. When two security guards approached the intoxicated patron I expected them to unceremoniously toss the guy out into the West Bottoms. Maybe they’d even get a few jabs in just for fun. Instead, they escorted the punk to the men’s room and gently patted him on the back as they sympathetically assisted him with his sickness.

That’s the new Kemper Arena. The current management company, Global Spectrum, has significantly improved the event-going experience at Kemper since they began overseeing the venue. While they can’t do anything about Kemper’s absurdly narrow concourses or the dingy West Bottoms, everything else is better in the old white elephant.

The tolerant attitude of the Kemper staff prevented unnecessary conflicts Friday night. Obligatory weapon and recording equipment pat-downs at the gates were efficient and dignified. Inside Kemper, security personnel looked the other way as Tool fans lit up. They smiled patiently as hundreds of vocabulary-challenged Tool fans repeatedly hollered, "F*** yeah!"

I hope the administration of the new Sprint Center is taking notes.

(Some random geek wrote a pretty good review of the Tool show here.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Step On It

I have a friend who keeps a driver on retainer. When he drinks to excess he simply calls his man and orders another round as he waits for his ride to appear. I mocked my pal the last time I saw him break out this routine, but I was actually kind of envious. I’ve never been aboard this locally-based "Magic Bus." I do know that riding on chartered buses with a keg on tap at business conventions is ridiculously fun.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Cowtown Cowboy

Kansas City’s Scout statue gets all the attention. Most of the city’s "one percent for art" money seems to be dedicated to installing cold, contemporary slabs of metal. I happen to like the whizbangs atop Bartle Hall, but that remains a minority opinion. Meanwhile, this Remington cowboy in Barney Allis Plaza is forgotten. Give the old boy some encouragement the next time you see him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"I'm Leaving Because I Can"

How would you like to get a taste of your old bygone stomping grounds, even if just for a few fleeting moments? I’d love to see and hear the old Milton’s or the original Grand Emporium again.

With that in mind, I’ve taken to occasionally setting my clunky digital camera on "movie mode" when I'm out. I hope to capture just a smidgen of the ambiance in current establishments for posterity.

I stopped in at Jardine’s weekly jam session last Saturday afternoon. I started to record a brief video of Gerald Spaits’ bass solo and Paul Smith’s piano, along with a bit of the happy background chatter.

I had no way of knowing that I’d catch this gal uttering what’s become my new catchphrase. "I’m leaving because I can," she declares fifteen seconds in. I’m also a fan of the cheerful waitress who appears at the one minute mark.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Park Your Memories Here

Last weekend’s Westport Art Fair offered little that wasn’t available at similar events in Brookside and Prairie Village earlier this year.

Yet I did witness one thing for the first time. The small parking lot between McCoy’s and the Hurricane was completely vacant. I’d never seen it when it wasn’t packed with cars. It was oddly shocking to discover that it’s just a another grimy little lot.

It’s been the site of countless life-altering moments for generations of Kansas Citians. Romances have begun, ended and even been consummated here. More than a few illegal transactions have transpired on these grounds. And how many people have made the tragic decision not to hail a cab while teetering in this lot?

I think I'll continue to park down the street.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gregory Hickman-Williams

I never saw Gregory Hickman-Williams perform.

His partner Jon contacted me last winter as they were working on a recording. I was skeptical; I never heard of the vocalist. But I became a believer when I listened to a few sample recordings in Hickman-Williams’ home. His operatic voice, employed in a jazz setting, was distinctive.

I circled the March 26 CD release party at Jardine’s on my calendar. I’d finally get to see this man sing. It never happened.

A sudden hospitalization just before that date forced him to miss his gig. To my knowledge, Hickman-Williams never left the hospital. He died August 26. He was 49. The Kansas City Star ran this nice tribute Friday. I wrote this glowing review of his album in May.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Cow Goes Moo

Chicken just doesn’t taste as good.

The curry I made last night was decent, but if I’d used cow flesh instead of white meat it would have been spectacular. My ongoing attempt to wean myself off beef is a trial.

I have nothing against the cattle industry, nor do I feel that cattle are extraordinarily sentient creatures. I’ve spent much of this year around Kansas feed lots and processing plants, and that distinctive odor is stuck in my nose. It sickens me.

Unless the seafood aisle at Price Chopper looks unusually vibrant, I suppose I'll murder a pig tonight.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's Not Cute. It's Evil.

This is the face of my nemesis.

I spotted the fiend at a neighborhood park yesterday. In typical destructive behavior, he and his comrades have gnawed a hole into this trash bin.

With cold weather approaching they’ll soon commence their annual assault on my home. They like to nest in the rafters and between the walls. Inevitably, one of them becomes stuck and dies.

The subsequent smell only increases my revulsion for these pests.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Are You Ready For Some Obsessive Behavior?

I don’t hate football.

I watch a few minutes on television every weekend. I genuinely hope my hometown team wins. And I enjoy going to high school games on Friday nights.

Yet the rabid pigskin obsession of most of my male peers this time of year is bizarre. Listening to guys obsessing over the most esoteric aspects of the sport in such passionate detail makes me wonder if I’m living among psychotics.

Call me a girly-man. Then we'll talk about your emotional displacement.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Betting On the Blues

I got the blues at the racetrack Sunday.

Take a look at my little photo essay here. And even people who don't care for blues music might be amused by the incidental activity in the brief video I shot during a great Bill Dye guitar solo.

It’s no secret that the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival didn’t feature premier talent like Etta James or Rickie Lee Jones, but I figure it’s still a lot better than the alternative. My suggestion is that the festival capitalize on its unique access to off-track betting. How about a "Betting On the Blues" theme next year?

What are the odds?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Irish Eyes

I posted a few pictures of the Kansas City Irish Fest over at my photo blog.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Irish Bloom

I was working at a Penny Lane record store in the mid-‘80s when I fell in love with Irish band Hothouse Flowers. But their passionate soul music never quite broke in the United States and their intial albums became fondly recalled period pieces for me.

I finally saw Hothouse Flowers last night at the excellent Kansas City Irish Fest. I was disappointed. I’d hoped for a fervent, transcendent experience. They were merely good. You can see that singer Liam O'Maonlai made a valiant effort, but he and audience never quite connected.

The band will try again today at 7:30 p.m. on a smaller acoustic stage at the festival. And I expect that they may bloom in that setting. See if this amateur video of a 2004 Hothouse Flowers performance on the streets of Dublin motivates you to make your way to Crown Center today.

Friday, September 01, 2006


The swamps of Louisiana may harbor the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker, and television may host the most annoying animated creature ever, but my pocket backyard is home to several Downy woodpeckers. That I'm able to help raise these wild animals fills me with glee. When I first spotted this juvenile a couple weeks ago, I wasn't even certain he was a woodpecker. There must not be much room for grooming in his parents' nest; he looked like a bedraggled victim of a cat attack. Now he's almost a respectable member of his species.