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“Kansas City, Missouri” is an interesting “city.” I put both of those things in quotes because when I think of Kansas City, I think of the entire metropolitan area – from Olathe, Kansas, east to Blue Springs and north to Platte City. It’s not as spread out as Los Angeles, but then again, it has a fifth of the population of the Los Angeles metro area and can still take forever to drive through end to end. (When I say forever, I mean close to an hour.) I think my view of the label for the metropolitan area comes from the fact that it is the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs and the support for those two teams come from every corner of the greater “Kansas City, Missouri” area.
So, when you’re talking an area that big, spanning two states that have a somewhat contentious relationship going back to the time before the Civil War, there is a lot of differences in possible destinations. Olathe is new and expanding just like the eastern edges of the metropolitan area with newer 30-plex theaters and plenty of strip malls. There are old pockets in Independence, Lenexa and other small towns that used to stand-alone and not as just another segment within the general city’s sprawl. There are the pockets within the pockets and you find neighborhoods like Brookside or Westport that have a different flavor and feel from the areas of the city adjacent to them.
I suppose I’m not saying anything different than what you’d find in any city. I just know that labeling a metropolitan area that includes part of Kansas as “Missouri,” well those could be fighting words. So, that said, let’s get to the fun stuff.
1. Eat at Oklahoma Joe’s
Is this barbecue situated at a gas station in the area known as Kansas City, Kansas worth standing in line for thirty minutes? Simple answer, yes. It’s damn good barbecue. But, that’s because if you’re familiar with all of the various kinds and charms of the different restaurants, Oklahoma Joe’s offers some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. But, if you want burnt ends, you have to go to Arthur Bryant’s. If you want atmosphere and brisket, it’s all about Gates. I could keep going with places like Woodyard and Jack Stack, and that’s the thing – you can find good barbecue in plenty of places. Once you’ve tried a few, then I’d recommend beating feet to head over to Oklahoma Joe’s.
2. Go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is in a beautiful area and I lost myself in the museum and library for two full days and I still felt I could have seen more. However, Cooperstown isn’t exactly on the main byways of New York. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is right in downtown Kansas City, in the 18th and Vine district. (The same area where you can also get some great fried chicken and meatloaf at The Peachtree restaurant.) The magic of this museum is the love behind it. Buck O’Neill, a tireless champion of the game of baseball, talked about this museum to everyone he met and promoted it throughout the U.S. The statues commemorating the great players that didn’t play in the National and American Leagues at the time, (it feels wrong for me to type “Major” to describe those segregated leagues) stand in their positions on an indoor diamond as the centerpiece to the museum. Surrounding it are pictures and memorabilia that take you back to the days of the Negro Leagues. Whenever I look at those pictures and the players smiling as they prepare to play, I think about the injustice, but right on that thought’s heels, I think of Buck’s quote, and the title of his autobiography, “I was right on time.”
3. Have a pie at The Upper Crust Pie Bakery
I got you a main course of barbecue, but for dessert, I have to take you somewhere else, The Upper Crust Pie Bakery located in Overland Park, Kansas. I don’t have much to say about the location, because that’s not the important part. They serve fresh baked hand made pies. That’s all they need to do and they do it well. Apple. Peach. Rhubarb. Banana Cream. I can almost taste the flaky crust as I type this, the texture and flavor found a nice place to live in my brain and I always look forward to another fat slice of that pie.
4. Go to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
Thomas Hart Benton may be one of my favorite artists of the 20th century just because I don’t see his style of painting that often. Big, huge paintings of pastoral scenes painted with bright colors and exaggerated rounded shapes. To see a great selection of his works, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art has the largest public collection of his work.
5. Ride The Mamba
I have bought a season pass to a couple of theme parks in L.A. because if you go once, you might as well get the pass to go again. I rarely do. Once you ride most rides and see most shows at amusement parks, you get the idea. The Mamba at Worlds of Fun is different. It has the best drop I’ve ever experienced on a roller coaster. Held in by only a lap belt, you plunge 205 feet, your ass rises off of your seat and you get that perfect moment of weightlessness. A buddy and I had a season pass and every week we’d head over to the park. We’d futz around, maybe get something to eat, ride the other roller coasters just to warm us up and then we’d hit The Mamba. I think we’d ride it 18 times a night at least. As soon as we were finished, we’d run down the exit stairs and back to the start like a pair of 10-year-old boys instead of business professionals. It never got old. We’d ride with our eyes closed. We’d ride in the front. We’d ride with our hands never holding on to a thing. But, the back of the coaster was where the best weightlessness always awaited us. It’s why we kept coming back, week after week.
Any suggestions for things that I missed? Any additional recommendations for the area? Just let me know in the comments.