For someone as old as I am, it’s hard to keep Kansas City (the fist song ever written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, recorded by everybody but made a hit) by Wilbert Harrison out of one’s mind. With my Kansas City Baby and a bottle of Kansas. Citywine.
Taking a plane, a train and walking are all listed as options by the writers (and Harrison) for traveling to Kansas City. We did it by a black 2000 Passat Wagon, loaded to the gills.
The wagon passed 120,000 miles just nine shy of Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. I’d last been to Arthur Bryant’s in 1987, or whenever it was that Duke lost to Kansas in the NCAA semifinals in the Kemper Arena there. My business partner David Hodskins, a devoted Duke fan (he actually went there, and was at the time an Iron Duke), had won a flight for two to the finals by winning a trivia contest or something on the old M Dung morning show on KFOG in San Francisco. I was his date. We flew there, rented a car, picked up our friend Jon Parker (also a rabid Dukie) dumped our stuff in our hotel, then sought out the one thing we wanted most, other than to see Duke win: a pile of Arthur Bryant’s Meats, on Brooklyn Avenue.
The menu on the wall was written in those red and black letters you insert into a kind of coarse corduroy. One memorable entry bragged about the restaurant’s “legiondary sauce”. The choice was between a sandwich and a plate, as I recall. Large black men behind the counter sliced giant hunks of hot beef fresh from a huge brick oven, threw a pile of it on a metal tray, and ladled sauce over the top. If you got a sandwich, they did the same thing, with the pile between slices of white bread that quickly became soaked in juices. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had.
This time, however, we were in a hurry, so we went to the restaurant’s new location out at a vast big box shopping center just north of the immense Kansas Raceway. It was about three in the afternoon and cicadas loud enough to cause hearing damage were buzzing from little trees growing fresh out of the landscaping. There were almost no other customers. Our choice choice on the current menu was between ribs, sausage, pork and beef, so we got a half pound of each, plus some beans and cole slaw. They were all excellent. But the meats were cold, the sauce came from squeeze bottles on the tables, and the atmosphere was pure theme-bar nostalgia with little of the the original restaurant’s soul. Still, it was the best food we’ve had on this trip, and worth the stop.
The day began in Colby, Kansas, which it turns out Dave had visited a few years earlier. I found it notable for the conscientious Starbucks just up the road from our cheap motel. My wife and I like our cappuccinos strong, and consider it a steep challenge to get the average starbucks not to make a cappuccino (or anything other than a straight espresso) that isn’t mostly milk. Generally, ordering a “double short cappucino” or a “double short dry cappuccino” yields an approximation of the ideal. (Background here.) In this case, the barrista said “I think one of these might be a bit heavy. See what you think.” I did, and it was close to perfect, but a tiny bit milk-heavy. She made it again, and nailed it. Gotta love that.
Colby was also familiar on more obscure grounds. I remember passing through there on a family trip in July 1963, long before Interstate 70 bypassed the town (and everything, pretty much). We were on Highway 24 headed west toward Colorado Springs. A tower with KXXX on the transmitter shack caught my attention. Turns out the station is still there (here’s the topo), on 790AM. No website (well, there is one, but predictably it’s for a porn site), but a big signal that covers much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado with the “5000-watt voice of agriculture”, or something like that, by day. At night the station is 24 watts and covers downtown Colby.
Anyway, except for stopping to eat meat, we made it all the way across Kansas and nearly all of Missouri. Just under 600 miles. The next day (today as I write this) is for having fun in St. Louis. I’m missing it, since I’m sick with some kind of intestinal business, probably exacerbated by sitting on my ass for days at a time. Anyway, Day 5 is when my wife and kid explore museums and see the sunset from the Arch while I try to get well and catch up on work here at the hotel. That’s what I’m almost doing right now.