Dear All-Star visitors ...
by Bruce Rodgers
Welcome to our fair city — and I do mean fair. That’s basically what Kansas City is — “fair”.
It’s not necessarily a bad designation. It beats “dull” or “limited” or “dangerous” or “insecure” or “stagnant” or “disjointed” or “corrupt.” Though all those descriptions have a place when talking about Kansas City.
Visitors should know that many citizens here take a sort of schizophrenic approach toward labels that describe their town. They simultaneously worry about some label that could negatively brand the town while at the same time vigorously claiming that such labeling should be ignored.
Editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah of The Kansas City Star seems to have a dualistic writing tic about labels attached to Kansas City. In a recent column titled “Forget the Fear of ‘Flyover’ Curse and Be Proud of KC,” he wants the locals to recognize the town’s limitations but without “apologizing for our weaknesses or suffering insults or putdowns” from visitors.
Most visitors here for the All-Star game won’t verbally put down KC (except maybe those from St. Louis), they’ll just take their comments back home and let people there know about KC’s inadequacies. Talking bad about someone or something behind their or its back is always more effective in forming negative opinions about something the listener knows little about.
As for both recognizing KC’s limitations and not responding to complaints associated with them as Abouhalkah preaches, haven’t the big shots running the town been doing that for the last 30 years? Or at least taking a kind of bandaid approach to creating a better image through building buildings and arenas and talking about great architecture — a mantra of looking up-to-date or timeless therefore we are up-to-date or timeless.
And those resident complainers … the editorial writers and land developers and construction company executives and lawyers and politicians (strangely, the current mayor seems somewhat grounded in reality) think such carpers are just too affected with pessimism to notice the good … er, fair things here. Some doomsayers are in even worst shape, hallucinating that Kansas City is a sort of Midwestern gulag bathed in collective blandness where real originality seeps out of town like a slow tire leak, drifting either east or west in search of some gaseous expansion of liberal creativity to attach to.
Of course some talented people do stay here, rationalizing that it’s a great family environment when raising kids or indulging in a frenzy of self-promotional networking with the goal of being a big fish in a small pond. As a visitor, you may meet such a person and conclude, even living in Kansas City that person is so talented that he or she could make “anywhere.”
For the most part, as a visitor you won’t hear the locals talk bad about their town. No one will the mention the lousy school district, the recent rolling gun battles across town and in public parking lots or the periodic episodes of child abuse and teen disappearances that grab headlines.
As a visitor, you probably will ask questions about getting around town. Locals likely will pause, then hang their heads in mild displeasure over such questions. Get use to it — public transportation in Kansas City is practically nonexistent. But the cab and limo drivers will love ya! And for the most part, they’re a pretty honest bunch.
You will find that there’s really no energy center in Kansas City. Part of the problem is Kansas City mostly has segregated its nightlife and commercial offerings from its residential areas. City hall is trying to breach that gulf downtown, but until there’s public transportation into the area, most of the sidewalk activity will be people walking to their cars.
The Country Club Plaza has lost a lot of its street energy. But if you want a pleasant daytime shopping jaunt, go there. Jazz can still be had in 18th & Vine area and with it a level of sophistication that would fit in bigger cities. People might try and steer you away from the Westport/Midtown area because of a perceived crime element. Don’t listen. There’s still a time to be had there and plenty of uniforms are present.
For my bet and what I consider the best and most energetic street scene in town — with plenty of options for food and drink and populated mostly with locals — it’s West 39th, from Southwest Trafficway to State Line. Though developers have tried to ruin it, it’s still holding its own.
West 39th and Westport/Midtown are what gives Kansas City a “fair” rating. But on some nights, it can go up to a “B-minus.”
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at email@example.com.