I could not take my eyes off her, I wanted to remember every curve and every color of her sliding by, unable to capture her and unable to let her go. We were awestruck by the majestic Missouri River. She flowed slowly by like liquid glass reflecting the pink and orange sky, steel bridges and the trees that lined her bank. I had 3.5 days in Kansas City but the Missouri River had been here since the beginning of time; this was prominent in the way she moved – calm, unhurried and uneffected by the city that buzzed around her. She has no beginning and no end, and we only have our lifetimes.
Driving through Kansas City that first night on a maze of freeways and over ornate bridges made me excited to see what this city was all about. I had read about the jazz, BBQ, fountains, and the kindness of the people – which I found, but Kansas City was so much more. Kansas City has a soul, a single heartbeat that throbs the city to life and everyone within it. San Diego is too big, too spread out and too varied for one soul; San Diego has many souls.
I sought the Kansas City experience. I fantasized about raw jazz music on a sticky hot night where everyone had a beautiful glow, and make-up, hair, and clothes were unaffected by sweat. This was not the reality. I was fortunate that I only experienced one hot and humid day, the rest of my time in Kansas City the weather was uncharacteristically and unseasonably like San Diego’s weather. The hot and stickiness didn’t occur the same night I experience Kansas City jazz, which in retrospect, I’m thankful for despite my fantasy.
I was in Kansas City for a long weekend, from Thursday through Monday. On Friday evening, Shanda and I went to The Phoenix, a place we choose because they had a good happy hour, early live music, and good Yelp reviews. It was still long before dark when we arrived and The Phoenix was already a beehive of people and music. The music was in full swing and there was barely standing room. We ordered wine and went to work looking for a table. We got lucky and got a table very soon after arriving. We ordered several appetizers – all of which were delicious.
The music was everything I hungered for and more. The singer was a 3rd generation Kansas City musician who, along with the rest of the band, was soulful and skillful. Together they took me and everyone in the room on a musical journey through Kansas City’s rich history. The singer played the saxophone, piano, and tap danced on the bar. He was charismatic and a showman, every person was under his spell.
Shanda and I are not ones for large crowds and hanging out in bars for extended periods of time, we prefer to retreat to the calm and peacefulness of life. We left The Phoenix very satisfied but needing to escape the noise and people. It was still light outside, but approaching sunset. We didn’t want to go to another bar or crowd, but didn’t want to call it night. We decided to do what would turn out to be the highlight of my trip. We went to the bank of the Missouri River to watch the sunset.
It occurred to me as Shanda and I were going over bridge after bridge on the my first night in Kansas City, that we might be traversing the Missouri River. This thought excited me. I’ve always been intrigued and drawn to mother nature’s attractions. There are no major rivers in San Diego. I rave about beaches, mountains, and deserts, but rivers are sadly missing from my repertoire. Frankly, when I was researching Kansas City, the Missouri River wasn’t even on my radar. There is no river recreation in Kansas City, so it didn’t appear on any of the things-to-do websites I visited aimed at bring money into the city. But there she was, the city’s artery, a large vein snaking through the city, giving it life. The people going about the business unaffected, yet entirely effected by her.
Shanda and I drove to a park alongside the river bank we had spotted on our way to The Phoenix. We parked and approached a jogging path high on the river bank at a safe distance from the shifty, sandy, rocky, crumbling bank that led down to the river. This was not close enough, so we scrambled down to the some old cement blocks midway down the bank. The cute pink wedge shoes I was wearing were perfect for The Phoenix, not so perfect for this endeavor; but we made it nonetheless.
The Missouri River is part of the greater Mississippi River system and together they are the fourth longest river in the world. Ever since humans stopped roaming and settled into communities, rivers have supported life with fish and floodwater, cleansing and curing. The river is like a grandmother, patient and wise. She has tracked and supported our progress and washed away our unbearable pain. She is a historian and keeper of secrets. I was deeply humbled as I reflected upon these things on the bank of Missouri River.
We decided to climb back up the bank to walk along the path that led towards a tall, old-looking steel bridge. We stopped along various lookouts to gaze upon the river still magical and still going by. We walked until well after dark not wanting to give up this experience, but alas sleepy eyes and a veil of darkness stealing our view, we returned to the hotel grateful.
With renewed energy the next day, we hit up Kansas City with gusto and an unrealistic agenda. Our agenda, as it turned out, was far more ambitious than our stamina and discipline. After reaching our first destination the agenda fell to the wayside and we surrendered to detraction after distraction. This made for an exciting and spontaneous day full of unexpected and unimaginable surprises – superior to the trip mapped out on the rigid agenda. It was also the one and only hot and humid day I experienced in Kansas City, MO.
We parked at the highly recommended and highly advertised Country Club Plaza mid-morning with camera, water, cash, and open minds. We wandered around the large outdoor mall that went on for several blocks ooh-ing and awe-ing at statues, architecture and fountains with battle scenes and water fowl. There were lots of impressive stores, but the thought of trying to peel my dress off to try on clothes I didn’t own on a sweaty heat-swollen body dissolved any desire to shop. Plus the effort of doing such would only generate more heat.
A side note on wet heat (Kansas City) verses dry heat (San Diego): chafing SUCKS! When I was young I wanted legs so skinny they didn’t touch each other because I thought that was normal and I was a freak. Now that I’m older and wiser, I understand it is genetics and my body could never and would never be that way. On this day Kansas City, I came to understand that my body has been evolved for dry heat. Because my legs touch in the middle, I do not have the correct body type for wet heat. I feel sorry for those misplaced raw-legged body types wondering painfully around their mismatched environments. I bet the person who invented shorts and female pants suffered transenvironmental-genetics. Chafing was not part of my fantasy about the sticky heat that would give me a romantic glow with perfect hair and makeup, but instead a stinging reality.
I soldiered on despite chafing and sore feet in the quest for history and culture. On our way to Country Club Plaza, we spotted a couple of beautiful parks and we decided to pick up lunch and picnic in a park. But again, distraction would rear its spontaneous head and lead us astray. We were on our way to Gates BBQ, a spot recommended to us by a local and on the way we happen to drive by a magnificent building. It was the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, with a giant poster advertising their current visiting collection: Frida Kahlo.
Shanda got her lunch from Gates BBQ that was every bit as delicious as anticipated and I took a gamble on some weird vegan food, that filled me up but didn’t at all satisfy my appetite. We took our lunches to a beautiful park outside the museum and enjoyed some time in solitude under the shade of a big tree. We strolled the museum grounds before entering it where learned the museum was free, except for Frida Kahlo exhibit. We gladly paid the $8.00, a small contribution for the treat that lay ahead. This was another highlight of our trip, Shanda and I are both huge fans her work and we were also lucky enough to see some of Rodin’s statues.
With battered feet and raw thighs, but smarter and a heart full of love, I departed Kansas City, MO. I see you Kansas City, I understand why those who share your soul swell with pride that lights their eyes at the thought of you. One love, one soul and one heartbeat, united in food, music and history. You engulfed me in your love and warmth, told me I would always have a home with you, and I am forever grateful.