Happy In Bag

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Night Noise

I practically lived at Super 8, Microtel, Hampton Inn and La Quinta when I worked as a traveling salesman. Bouts of homesickness aside, I really liked the gig. Part of the attraction was the roar of the highway outside my motel rooms. The constant sound of traffic on interstates like I-10, I-20, I-29, I-35, I-40 and I-70 lulled me to sleep. I've never completely adjusted to nights at home. Utter silence is regularly interrupted by train whistles, dogs barking, the bloody screams of cats and their victims, hip hop thump from passing cars, and the scratching of squirrels. I just can't tune out this vivid soundtrack.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bid On a Bushel of Brains

I like to consider myself a well-rounded guy. So I feel a deep sense of humiliation each time the vastness of my ignorance is exposed. One of the worst instances occurred in a classroom. A professor hellbent on knocking his smug students down a few pegs assaulted us with a quiz that included current events, mathematic equations and general trivia. One of his queries asked students to note the current price of a bushel of wheat. I had absolutely no idea. Oh, the shame I brought upon my farming forefathers! (This photo was taken at the wondrous stockyards building.)

Waist Deep In Weed

The "native grass" surrounding the Sprint campus is easily my favorite aspect of the Overland Park office complex. I sometimes wonder if Sprint employees share my enthusiasm for the thick weed. Most are probably too concerned with other matters to even notice it. Even so, Sprint staffers who relocated to Kansas might view the grass as a symbol of their move. Maybe unhappy employees consider the grass the equivalent of bars on a jail cell, while their satisfied counterparts might celebrate it as an emblem of their success.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Chang of Fools

My waiter was chewing gum.

That's obnoxious even at a greasy spoon. At P.F. Chang's on the Plaza, where it's hard to get through lunch for under $12 a person, it's unacceptable.

When I first ate at the upscale chain several years ago, I was impressed by the quality of the food and by the sleek presentation. Earlier this week, I returned to the restaurant for first time in at least five years.

The food was fine and the atmosphere was pleasant. But I wasn't knocked out. The quandary is that my expectations have since been raised. After P.F. Chang's successfully swept the nation, other Chinese restaurants quickly adapted by improving their menus. Additionally, Asian produce became readily available at grocery stores. (I'm making sesame beef for dinner tonight.)

P.F. Chang's seems to be a victim of its own success. Now, about that gum...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt

Even in a room full of geeks I felt like a freak.

Last night I attended a "get-together" with Tim Westergren at Screenland Theatre. He's the founder of Pandora.com. Pandora is a free streaming music service that allows listeners to customize their own "stations." It's eerily effective at making new music suggestions. Even so, Pandora is a diversion of last resort for me. I only listen to my station when I can't be bothered to play a CD, listen to my iTunes library, visit music blogs, stream a radio station or check out a podcast. (Go ahead and listen if you like.)

While it was interesting to hear Tim talk about his company's development, I really wanted to tell him that I'm frustrated by Pandora's insistence on segregating styles of music on "my" station. My tastes include bluegrass, punk rock, bossa, and hip hop. Pandora insists that I have to hear five songs in row within one genre before moving on to the next category. I want to hear Bill Monroe next to Black Flag and Otis Redding next to Public Enemy. But Pandora doesn't allow it.

So I was astounded to find that almost everyone else in the room had the opposite problem. One woman was concerned about keeping her station purely religious. Another wanted to keep the focus on Leonard Cohen. And I was amazed to discover that most people maintain multiple Pandora stations. That concept never even occurred to me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Can't Drive 35

The temporary closure of I-35 near downtown is irritating. Yet it's another reminder that for the most part, Kansas City is a remarkably hassle-free town to navigate. Sure, I've been trapped on a highway at rush hour. Luckily for me, I usually have the luxury of avoiding peak commuting hours. In fact, the only time a crush of KC vehicles has made me lose my mind is after Royals and Chiefs games at the sports complex. This town is easy.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Imagine the best hamburger ever turned out by a Wendy's restaurant. That's what diners can expect at Lawrence's Local Burger. Their simple signature dish tastes like everything you want but rarely receive from the late Dave Thomas' fast food chain. Pictured is a buffalo chili dog; the sugary chili is delicious, the bison dog a little less so. What about the touted "sustainable agriculture," organic aspect of the independent operation? I'll have to take Local Burger's word for it. I don't care much about that jive; I'm all about the taste. Local Burger passes that test. Vegetarians not into grease need not fear- expertly prepared traditional meatless dishes are available. And while it's not listed on the menu, the familiar bohemian Lawrence vibe is also on tap.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ground Control

The old
TWA building has become my favorite structure in Kansas City. Much like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, the formerly decrepit edifice now shines proudly. It's not just the building that's been spruced up. The neighborhood surrounding the site has also been revived. The final touch is the rocket on the southwest corner of the roof.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Playing Chicken

The food at local fried chicken outlet Go Chicken Go is arguably better than that of its competitors, although Popeye's can be pretty darn good. A typical meal comes with bird parts, rolls, slaw and butter-suffused mashed potatoes. It's immensely satisfying. My only complaint is that it's far too salty for my taste. After hitting Go Chicken Go for lunch, I'm parched the rest of the day. Apparently, though, that's just me. Each boxed meal contains extra salt packets for folks who just can't get enough.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's Not Debatable

I'm not a big fan of Joe Miller's blog. It's just not what I look for in the medium. (Although I'm impressed by his ability to attract such a beautiful bride.)

So I picked up Cross-X more out of local interest than from any sense of blogger affinity. I'm floored. I can't recommend Cross-X too highly.

The book is ostensibly about the debate team at Central High in Kansas City. But it's really about Kansas City politics, the criminal failure of the public school system, economic inequity and every individual's struggle for personal validation.

A massive tome, Cross-X is a veritable Moby Dick of debate. As with Melville, there's no tangent that doesn't fascinate Joe, and he digs into every detail with vigor. The subtitle on the book's cover hints at its enormous range: The Amazing True Story of How the Most Unlikely Team From the Most Unlikely of Places Overcame Staggering Obstacles At Home and At School To Challenge the Debate Community On Race, Power, and Education.

I found many of Joe's detours fascinating- including his studies of the complexities behind the district's desegregation, dismal school board meetings, and the mystery of Duane Kelly. I slogged through his digressions of less interest to me, such as the intricacies of debate and the romantic lives of his young subjects.

The book succeeds largely because Joe doesn't pull any punches. His protagonists are portrayed as deeply flawed individuals. Joe also calls out villians by name. He even chastises himself and his motivations. Perhaps most impressive is Joe's unblinking study of the cycle of poverty. It bests similar efforts by my favorite writers, including George Pelacanos and Richard Price.

There's no more pressing issue in this nation than the need to repair our public schools. And there's no more compelling work on the subject than Cross-X.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Intentional irony? Tongue-in-cheek joke? Subversive suggestion? Scientific theory? Sincere political statement? Reference to Kansas' free-thinking history? Double dog dare? I don't know. (Bonus points for being the only spotless car in the metropolis.)

Drab, Dreary and Frigid

The bitter cold isn't the only challenge presented by the long Midwestern winter. Daylight can be illusory. The unrelenting gray skies and dormant brown vegetation can transform mundane man-made objects into spectacular works of accidental art. I catch myself admiring color schemes in the yard signs of political candidates. A red stoplight can seem transformatively brilliant. Yesterday, just as the sun made a rare appearance, I spotted this colorful kite caught in a barren tree. The moment seemed like a divine signal.

Friday, February 09, 2007


They're a common site outside tax preparation services this time of year. Men in Uncle Sam costumes emphatically attempt to cajole citizens into visiting accountants, usually with the promise of an instant tax refund. I'm always startled by the enthusiasm of these barkers. They smile, wave and shout at passing traffic for hours on end. I wonder if they're spiffed for each customer they attract or for each car that honks at them. I hope so.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ward Warp

The actions of an inconsiderate driver put an awful thought into my head earlier this week. I was driving south on Ward Parkway when I noticed a car behind me moving erratically. Legal concerns prevent me from getting too specific about the car's actions, but I'll note that the list price of the vehicle is in the low six figure range. The very real danger it represented frightened me. The evil idea hit me as I assumed a defensive driving posture. A hefty settlement might be available if I allowed myself to get hit. I just couldn't do it. I snapped this shot at a red light instead.

My travels Wednesday didn't take me by the fire in the East Bottoms.


I'm fat. I drink beer and I eat whatever I want, whenever I want it. Here's what I ate at a Waffle House yesterday- a waffle with butter and syrup, two sausage patties, two eggs over easy, two slices of toast with butter and jelly, and a bowl of grits. And I was still hungry when I finished the delicious meal. The most difficult part of reforming would be curbing this gluttony. With Lent looming, it's time to at least consider a change. I'm not so big that a personal trainer couldn't whip me into shape in ninety days. Any volunteers?

I only spotted six confirmed Happy In Bag readers last night at the Record Bar, but I figure that there were at least that many of you there that I didn't know. It was hard to maneuver through the capacity crowd for Camera Obscura. While I wasn't expecting Fall Out Boy, the Scots weren't just dour. They were sour-tempered grumps. Lovely songs, though.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lip Service

It's nice that the ballroom of the big hotel downtown is named after jazz great Count Basie. There are also rooms named for Jay McShann, Charlie Parker and other Kansas City music legends. Across the street on Saturday night, the mayor's office delivered a "proclamation" heralding the performance of Count Basie's ghost band. Such well-intentioned lip service, however, doesn't really accomplish much. It's not unlike the people I know who invest a lot of energy into campaigns to get people like Ella Fitzgerald on postage stamps. These actions do little to address the music's accelerating unpopularity.

Don't Make Him Cry Again

Is litter from McDonalds ubiquitous because the fast food chain is so popular, or because their customers are careless slobs? I'm not the first person to ask this question; it's a common topic of debate at city council and neighborhood zoning meetings. As a typical McDonalds customer, I never fail to dump my leftovers in their trash bins when I dine at the establishment, even though I know the paper placemat will stick stubbornly to the plastic tray. But most people of my generation don't toss their super-sized fry boxes out their car windows, mostly because they don't want to make this man cry.

I was amused by this story on NPR this morning. It's ostensibly about a loony phone call to a newspaper and the creative responses it generated. The piece is really about people who are compelled to participate in a public dialogue, just as we're doing here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Camera Eye

I'm giddy with anticipation for Tuesday's Camera Obscura show at the Record Bar. I'll be there in unadulterated fanboy capacity. The Scottish band's music is adorable; they make me want to dance like the effete yellow-shirted freak in the video of their most popular song. Twee? You bet! Wimpy? Defiantly so. Even though a chocolate malt would be the ideal beverage to sip at this event, I'll be downing the cheapest beer on tap. Feel free to buy me one.

Could the Penguins really move from Pittsburgh to Kansas City? I've never for a second considered that this unlikely scenario might actually transpire, but I'll do cartwheels if there's a miracle later today.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Terror On 29

The car accident on didn't look that bad as I drove by the emergency equipment and police cars yesterday afternoon. It appeared to be a typical snow-related mishap. Only when I watched my favorite television news broadcast did I learn that a woman was killed at the scene. I respect the little makeshift memorials that friends and families sometimes place at the spot of their loved one's demise. I suspect that if these markers existed for every such untimely death we'd recoil in horror at their number.

After he dominated Texas Tech last night, I'm ready to predict that Kevin Durant will probably become the best basketball player of all time.