September 5 1998, Saturday
n the morning Kim I woke up on the back porch of Josh the Guitarist. It wasn't really his home, it was his parents'. (Like many underachievers in the 90s, Josh has found it's a lot easier to justify sleeping in at mom & dad's than at a house where one has to actually pay the rent.) Judging from the decorations, furniture and such, Josh's parents are the liberal-minded, tolerant, eccentric types, the kind who might believe there are reasons why a man might want to remain an adolescent well into his thirties.
I wanted to work on my musings, but I wanted a cup of coffee first. Kim thought it would be best if we got out coffee at a coffee shop instead of making it at Josh's house, I'm not sure why. So we went for a walk to find coffee.
Josh's neighborhood is typical of the neighborhoods of most of my friends: upper middle class, white and tidy. As we walked away from Josh's neighborhood towards the sound of rushing cars and the distant vision of rectangular flat-roofed buildings, we encountered a couple intersections that had a curious modification. Concrete barricades had been erected across then diagonally, making each intersection into two L-shaped streets that approached but did not touch each other at their vertices. This had the effect of separating the neighborhoods on either side of the barricades, at least in terms of vehicular traffic. When we reached the rushing traffic we'd been seeking, we found the reason for all this rather extreme isolation. We'd come to a section of Delmar Street, and though it was a commercial district as we'd expected, it was obviously a "bad area." The buildings were run down and many were vacant. Suddenly we realized we were the only pedestrians of predominantly European heritage. Nothing much was happening on a Saturday morning, but at night I'm sure this stretch of Delmar sees its share of scary activity. Kim decided we should take a cab back to her car, which she'd left parked in front of Gabe's parents' house. When we climbed out of the cab near Kaldi's, a woman asked if we'd just taken our dog for a walk in a cab. When I responded affirmatively, she said, "That's so cool!"
As we ate our bagels and drank our coffee, a group of leftist middle-aged men and women at the adjacent tables were having a deep intellectual conversation that seemed to be going absolutely nowhere, the kind Matt Rogers would have joined with delight.
ater on, after we'd met up with Gabe at Josh's house (Gabe had been off taking a law exam) and after Josh finally woke up (an event Gabe jokingly predicted wouldn't happen for hours), Gabe and Kim went out to pick up food from Del Taco (a western franchise that competes with Taco Bell) while I stayed back and checked my email on Josh's computer. Josh was incredibly low-energy as he show me what to do. And when the tacos came he ate some quickly and then lay down on the couch watching VH1 and planning a nap.
While I ate my burritos, Gabe kept cracking me up with his various jokes, mostly about the strong relationship between Del Taco food and intestinal distress. He also said, "One thing good you have to say about Taco Bell is that they haven't yet worn out that advertisement with the Chihuahua in it."
e said our goodbyes and hit the road, westward on I-70 across Missouri. I had hopes of seeing the Great Plains gradually take shape towards western Missouri, but that's not what happened. Missouri is remarkably uniform all the way to Kansas City: rolling forested hills and occasional big wide flat-bottomed river valleys. The most spectacular of these was the Missouri, which we crossed twice. The rocky bluffs above the Missouri were the only things that satisfied my desire to see western views.
Missouri has a rather curious method of naming state highways. They're numbered with letters, either one letter or two, and if two are used, they're both the same: A, B, C, D, X, Y, AA, BB, CC, DD, etc.
I thought Kansas City was beautiful in a creepy sort of serial killer-breeding way. It was spliced together with a great many high concrete ramps, though there wasn't a great deal of relief in the city: a few bluffs above the Missouri and the Kansas, that was all. It looked dusty, dingy and well lived in, just about what I'd expect from a town with a name like Kansas City.
hen we were in Kansas. Just about everything I know about Kansas I learned by watching The Wizard of Oz. There was a time, for example, when I firmly believed tornados only happened in Kansas. The Wizard of Oz gives the overall impression that Kansans are intelligent, resourceful and imaginative (even if there are a few wicked witchesque bad apples), and that's how I think about them. The fact that Bob Dole is a Kansan is probably the only thing that makes me want to like him.
But the terrain of Kansas wasn't yet matching the Wizard of Oz-derived image I had in my mind. It was still hilly, forested, fairly densely populated and not especially agricultural. I expected any moment to cross a hill and see endless farms stretching to the horizon. I wanted to see the Great Plains and experience something utterly unfamiliar.
im's mother's heart was in the right place in the days before Kim and I set out for California. She may have put us through psychological hell on that last day, but she also gave Kim big wads of cash and her personal cellular phone. I used the phone in Kansas City to call up Shelly, one of a surprisingly large number of long-time online journal writers in Kansas. She'd invited me to come stay with her at her place in Lawrence, but I needed directions and such. There were lots of extraneous voices and even dog activity in the background, and I got the impression some sort of decadent party was going down, but in actuality it was just the sounds of normal family life in Shelly's household.
After a little back and forth driving, we pinpointed Shelly's big green house in a development in the suburban west end of Lawrence. As we were parking the car, a cute little girl came running up to us and enthusiastically took note of Sophie the dog, told us about her own dog and the fact that she'll soon be in Kindergarten. I've never seen a little kid so outgoing with complete strangers. The girls name was Hannah and she was Shelly's kid. Hannah and her father (the shy Macintosh networking enthusiast who authored the remote-computing package Timbuktu) were just then leaving to go out for dinner.
Shelly came out to greet us. I recognized her immediately from her web site photo. There's usually a baseball cap concealing a most unusual haircut.
Shelly's house is a split level which Shelly and the father of her child have divided into influence zones. He lives upstairs, where he is free to work on his computer diversions. Shelly lives downstairs, with her cable-modem-equipped Macintosh and other fun computing gadgets. The walls of her bedroom (where she often entertains groups of visitors) are covered with layers and layers of magazine clippings, much of it fairly tasteful erotic images of women.
Shelly plays her stereo extremely quietly, perhaps tonight this was a defensive thing; she says her musical interests are very different from mine. But we cleared up one thing: I actually do like 311, a band she erroneously recalled me dissing.
Other people showed up: Jamie, a big funny extroverted guy, and then Hannah and her father returned, but the father stayed upstairs watching teevee while the rest of us (especially Hannah) continued socializing downstairs.
Hannah is a handful. She talks continuously, and when she's not talking, she's bouncing off the walls and running around giggling and squealing. She demands center stage, and this makes things a little difficult for her often weary parents. Of course, for Kim and me, Hannah was delightful. We enjoy socializing with outgoing, intelligent, creative children, even the hyperactive kind. Kim formed a quick bond with Hannah, and the two drew pictures and played all kinds of games for the rest of the evening. Hannah is extremely talkative and speaks in correct English sentence, but since she often fails to pronounce certain letters, she can be hard to understand. But there's a consistency to it all, for example "uhgot" means "forgot."
Jamie had a counterfeit Rolex watch his father bought from a dude on the streets of a southeast Asian city. It was a real piece of metallic crap, but there was the logo and the statement of authenticity.
ventually we (Jamie, Kim, Shelly and I) decided to head into Lawrence for dinner. This meant leaving Hannah home with her father, even though she would have been very happy to go out for a second dinner. As we milled around preparing to leave, Hannah did a remarkable spontaneous pro-social thing: she filled little paper cups with water and handed them to everyone present.
Massachusetts Street, the main drag of Lawrence, was hopping. Cars were tooling through slowly, driven by young people cruising the strip on a Saturday Night. The sidewalks were clogged with pedestrians and diners spilling out from the restaurants and bars. The demographics were unusual; almost everyone was white, and there was a diverse mix of white trash, punks, racist-looking street toughs, goth kids, generic college kids, youthful affluent couples and midwestern rockers. As we walked up and down the street looking for an appropriate restaurant, the proximity to so much seemingly violent masculine force on the verge of explosive expression had the effect of raising my adrenaline level. Several times Kim and I thought we heard people (punks or skinheads) shout insults at us. It was actually kind of scary. Kim was amazed; she'd been on this same street in the middle of a weekday and found the place very mellow by comparison.
But I liked it. This town had a gritty legitimacy about it. The streets had that lived-in dirty look, and the shop fronts weren't trying to impress me with whatever it is that's wrong with Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The place where we decided to eat was Papa Kino's, a pizza place whose slices are "as big as your face." I didn't realize this at first and tried to order a "large" thinking it would be the standard Pizza Hut "large," but the girl at the counter said a Kino's large feeds eighteen people. Kim and I each had a slice of "the Crustacean," featuring shrimp and cottage cheese, along with glasses of Kansan microbrew. We sat out in front and watched the adolescent cruisers, pedestrians and police. The latter would periodically direct certain cars to stop and then harass the occupants. I was kind of stoned and seeing such things was disturbingly fascinating. A couple pedestrians walked by and I overheard one of them saying, "It only sucks if it happens to you."
ansas is still living under quasi-prohibitionary laws. State-owned liquor stores close at 11:00pm, and they are the only places where beer, wine or liquor can be purchased (but thank God for Kansas City, Missouri!). We picked up some beers at a liquor store and headed back to Shelly's.
We stayed up fairly late, hanging out in Shelly's room talking about things over her very very quiet stereo. One of Shelly's restaurant chef friends came over (like most of her friends, he's in his early 20s) and he and Kim engaged in restaurant shop talk for awhile. He showed us a place on his finger where he accidentally sliced off a large flap of skin.
Hannah was fast asleep on the living room couch, and Shelly carried her off to bed when it came time for Kim and me to set up a crash nest in the living room.
one year ago
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